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Tag Archive | "Clipper girls"

The Clipper Girls: A Red Flannel Legend


By  Tanya Eldred, The Cedar Springs Historical Society

 

Nina Babcock (left) and Grace Hamilton (right) working on the newspaper in later years. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

Nina Babcock (left) and Grace Hamilton (right) working on the newspaper in later years. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

If you have lived in or near Cedar Springs in the last 75 years, you have heard the story of how Cedar Springs became the Red Flannel Town—many times.

But do we remember the efforts of the Clipper Girls—Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton—to get the Red Flannel town on the map?

When they answered the wire from the Associated Press, it was just the beginning. Metropolitan newspapers and the radio took up the cause and spread the word. They received a flood of letters from all over the United States and overseas inquiring about Red Flannel underwear. There was much more publicity than they expected.

In November 1939, Red Flannel Day was a bright spot in a time of war, when people could forget what was looming on the horizon. That year, the town played host to thousands of deer hunters on their way up north to the deer camps. Merchants and clerks wore red shirts or hunting togs and the town was decorated for event. Five men from Grand Rapids chose the Queen from candidates submitted to the Clipper.

Two “big-city gals” Grace Hamilton (left) and Nina Babcock (right) bought the town’s newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, in 1932, and it was 1936 when they put Cedar Springs on the map. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

Two “big-city gals” Grace Hamilton (left) and Nina Babcock (right) bought the town’s newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, in 1932, and it was 1936 when they put Cedar Springs on the map. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

After Red Flannel Day, orders for the red flannel underwear were received from as far away as Escanaba and Detroit, and other states such as Maine, Texas, California, Kansas, New York, Alabama, Rhode Island, Florida, and Wyoming, and from Canada and Great Britain.

They answered these and news articles appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star, Detroit News and Free Press, Michigan Tradesman, Atlanta Constitution, Life Magazine, Readers Digest, Independent Woman, and even True Comics.

The Kansas City Star sent a reporter to interview the girls and they were interviewed on National Public Radio.

The Clipper girls helped persuade a young man named Gerald Ford to run for Congress in 1948. As a congressman, Ford attended the Red Flannel Festival 25 times. His bus became a fairly common site on Main Street and the girls were always his faithful supporters. He went on to become Vice President and then President of the United States.

The Clipper Girls worked hard to establish the Red Flannels as a symbol of Cedar Springs. Because of their hard work, Cedar Springs had become known as the Red Flannel Town, which evidently it is not anymore.

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Goller-Kilts named Grand Marshal for Red Flannel Festival


Mary Goller-Kilts - 2013 Grand Marshal

Mary Goller-Kilts – 2013 Grand Marshal

As a young newlywed whose husband worked for the Clipper girls, Mary Goller-Kilts could not have imagined that she would one day be Grand Marshal for the festival they made possible. She will be 81 in six weeks.

“I was initially very surprised,” she said, about finding out she had been voted in as the 2013 Grand Marshal. “I didn’t think I was deserving.”

But she couldn’t be more wrong. “The Festival is extremely proud and thankful for the many years of Mary’s outstanding dedication to the entire Cedar Springs community,” said Michele Tracy-Andres, President of the Festival. “Her outstanding community service in several organizations is very impressive and exactly what we look for in a Red Flannel Festival Grand Marshal. It’s very obvious Mary loves Cedar Springs and especially the Red Flannel Festival! Her connection to Festival Founders, Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock is very special to us. The Red Flannel Town is a better place because of her involvement.”

Mary grew up in Grand Rapids. When she was 8 years old her father passed away, and when she was 12, in 1945, her mother died. She had an older sister who was 16 and stayed with relatives, and Mary went to St. John’s Catholic orphanage and attended Catholic Central High School. She graduated from cosmetology school in 1949.

She met her future husband, Oscar Goller, a veteran, when he took some girls dancing in Grand Rapids in 1951. She was 18 years old. “It was a whirlwind romance,” she recalled. She moved here to Cedar Springs in February 1951, turned 19 in April, and was married by June. Oscar worked for the Clipper Girls—Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock—as a linotypist, and the couple rented an apartment from them for a time. Grace, who was also a real estate agent, soon found the couple a house—the one Mary still lives in—near Cedar Springs High School, for $2,800. “We were very close to Grace and Nina,” remarked Mary. “They were very affectionate people.” Mary said she would go into the office and help clean up, and would help out the festival by handing out flyers to the merchants. She also got to meet Jerry Ford, our future president, who used to attend the Festivals. “That was exciting,” she said.

Professionally, Mary worked for both Modern Cleaners here in Cedar Springs and Uptown Cleaners in Grand Rapids. When Tom Cooper, her former manager at Uptown, bought Modern Cleaners, he asked her to return here and manage it. She retired at age 73 after 52 years in the dry cleaning business.

In 1973, she also found a love for volunteering with the American Legion Auxiliary. “I joined for the vets and for the children,” she explained. Mary has served in several different roles in the Auxiliary, including state president. She is currently Unit 287 Chaplain and Membership Chairman, Girls State Chairman, Education Chairman, and Funeral Luncheon Chairman. But her heart is in the Salon of the 8/40 in northern Kent County, an auxiliary organization she founded that is committed to fundraising and scholarships for respiratory diseases in children. The money raised goes to National Jewish Hospital in Denver, Colorado.

“I went and visited and saw the great work they do there,” she noted. Mary said their Salon has grown to 44 partners that also make ditty bags for the kids at DeVos Children’s Hospital. “I feel this work for children is the most important thing in my life,” she said.

Mary and Oscar adopted two children, Addie and Oscar Alan. Mary now has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She and Oscar were married for 45 years.

Two years after Oscar died, Mary met Don Kilts, also a veteran and a widower. They married in 1998, and were married just under 10 years, when he passed away. Since then, she’s kept very busy in her volunteer work.

Throughout her life, Mary has always promoted Red Flannels, both personally and through the American Legion, and finally has the opportunity to do it in a highly visible way—as Grand Marshal of the 2013 Festival.

“It is with a humble heart I accept to serve as Grand Marshal for this coming year 2013,” she said. “Rest assured that I will continue to promote our town, flannels and its great people in memory of the founders of our Red Flannel Town, Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock.”

 

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