You’ve probably seen them around town — a group of elegant elderly ladies, their heads crowned by fancy bright red hats.
The Red Hat Ladies, as they’re known, was started when Jean Takkinen was about to turn 65. She decided she wanted to have a party but that it needed to have a theme. One of her friends had read about the Red Hat Society in Vancouver in a write up in the Province newspaper.
“We’ve been going ever since,” said Takkinen. “But we’ve lost a lot of our members. The original group was on my 65th, but the ones that came 65 afterwards expanded it to include their friends.”
The Red Hat Society is a U.S. based registered society. Takkinen said while the group is supposed to keep records and collect memberships, the group in Revelstoke is more of “a disorganized organization.”
“We don’t want any of that. We just meet on birthdays to go out for lunch. The Hillcrest spoils us rotten. They’ve got decorations and they set up the table in a u-shape, and provide us with free chocolate mousse,” said Takkinen.
Of course, they all dress up in red hats and purple jackets.
Takkinen is from Eckvile, Alberta, and she first moved to Revelstoke in 1964 when her husband Lawrence was transferred here by CP Rail. At the time, Jean was trained as an X-ray technician and a job almost fell into her lap when they moved here.
“In 1964 when we came, my husband’s boss, he needed an X-ray, but he couldn’t get one because it was the weekend or the X-Ray tech was sick or something,” she said. “And my husband’s boss said, ‘Oh, I have an employee who’s wife is an X-ray technician.'”
The family had to leave Revelstoke for Cranbrook for 14 years. During that time, she trained as a care aid. When the family returned to Revelstoke in the 1980s, she worked at Queen Victoria Hospital and Moberly Manor.
“I’m a people person and that was my niche,” said Takkinen.
Photo: The Revelstoke Red Hat Society – pictured here in 2008. ~ Revelstoke Review file photo
While she is now retired, Jean lives in the same house on CPR Hill the family moved into in 1984.
“It was empty so they wanted somebody in there,” she said.
Originally, the houses on CPR Hill were intended for railway managers and supervisors to live in.
“The one I’m in is a master mechanics house. The one next is a divisional engineer’s house,” said Takkinen.
“The woman who became my aunt, her father was the divisional engineer in 1909. I have a picture of this little girl on the front step. It’s just amazing.”
The Takkinen’s originally moved into the house as a rental in 1984. In 1992 CP decided to sell the properties. Whoever was living in the houses at the time got first dibs.
“By that time we knew we liked the location but we had to make sure we could have carport next to the house,” she said. The lands had to be resurveyed as property divisions had been done by whoever was living there at the time.
“We were lucky because we gained about 20 feet when they did the actual survey.”
Takkinen’s husband died in 2000. Long-retired, she remains active in the community. When she isn’t celebrating birthdays with the Red Hat Society, she can be found volunteering with the United Church and the Hospital Auxiliary. She helps out with catering at the church, and can be found at the Hospital Auxiliary thrift store once a week.
“It usually costs me $10 a day to work there. We have a lot of fun,” Takkinen said. “At the church we do the catering. I don’t organize it, but I’m a part of helping.”