November 2023 – Minnesota is home to nearly 40 chapters of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Within this regional network, no other club boasts a membership even half as large as the well-reputed Edina Federated Women’s Club (EFWC). Ask current EFWC President Patty Halvorson why this is so, and you will hear a straight answer: “It’s because of Arlene. We owe it all to Arlene Clapp.”
Clapp is the club’s Vice President of Membership, an officer role that the octogenarian resident of the Lake Cornelia Neighborhood is uniquely qualified to fill.
“In my professional life, I used to be an executive recruiter specializing in commercial real estate and construction,” Clapp explained. “When you do that, you learn not to be shy, to make direct asks of [candidates] who interest you.” Her bona fides also include years as a teacher – “a good job for a ‘people person’ like me, and one where I learned how to explain myself effectively.”
Although long since retired, Clapp still deploys her hard-won skills on a near-daily basis. The Edina Federated Women’s Club is the clearest beneficiary of those efforts.
“I have lived in Edina for 53 years, since 1970 … but only became involved with Feds fairly recently, back in 2012,” Clapp recalled. From Day 1, her fellow members could not help but notice her charisma, work ethic and penchant for relationship building. “I still don’t know quite how it happened so fast, but just two years later I was serving as the group’s president!”
After her one-year term, Clapp agreed to helm EFWC’s membership recruitment efforts. Most would enter into that position with a degree of trepidation. On the national scene, social clubs of all kinds are finding it difficult to maintain membership and stoke engagement.
“Feds” is not immune to that trend. As a case in point, Clapp points to the Twentieth Century Club of Duluth – a storied GFWC affiliate with a service record stretching nearly 120 years. “Duluth had to close [in 2016]. There was simply no one left to run it. That’s why it’s important to get youth on board.”
Under her leadership, Edina has bucked the national trend by doing exactly that. “I’m proud to say that we’ve grown our [ranks] from 82 to 117 members,” Clapp shared.
“That includes a lot of women in their 30s and 40s,” Halvorson added. “Most of these recruits are involved because of direct efforts from Arlene, and many actually view her as a mentor.”
“In my role, I represent our club at meetings of the larger General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Minnesota,” Halvorson continued. “Many of the state’s groups don’t have even a third of our numbers. They all know exactly why we’ve grown, and they all want Arlene or a ‘connector’ just like her.”
Clapp is quick to point out that part of her effective pitch is simply making candidates aware of what they are signing up for – and how it will benefit both the individual and their community. “With a word like ‘federated,’ you could possibly get the wrong impression … Feds is not government. We’re partly philanthropic and partly social in nature, operating as both a 501(c)3 and 501(c)7.”
She is active with both faces of the organization. Clapp coordinates EFWC’s popular bridge leagues, and also plays an integral behind-the-scenes role in support of the group’s biggest annual fundraiser – both of which are hosted at the Edina Country Club.
“We call our [gala] Feds Fest, and it’s a great time,” Clapp explained. “We have 150 to 200 people in for a dinner, live and silent auctions and some nice entertainment.” Proceeds benefit two area charities aligned with EFWC’s mission. “For 2023, those causes are the Edina Education Fund’s Mental Health Campaign and KARA, a nonprofit that assists neglected and abused children.”
In an average year, Feds Fest raises approximately $50,000. Clapp is a key reason the night's revenue is consistently high. “I sit on the sponsorships committee [with her] and can tell you that Arlene knows everybody in Edina,” Halverson explained. She parlayed those connections into financial support from the gala's two lead sponsors, Crown Bank and Key Cadillac.
“Arlene really is larger than life like that. She goes into the supermarket for lettuce and comes out with two new Feds members she met while in the produce aisle.”
“Something a bit like that happened once,” Clapp conceded. “It was at Target, though, and I was there for a good sale on pop!”
For her work, Clapp received the 2023 Mayor’s Outstanding Senior Commendation.