Ladies of the Royal Purple include Nancy Kurta (standing), Myrtle Webster (left) and Ellen Hammer. (Leah Blain photo)

Friends and Neighbours: Royal Purple ladies turn food into funds for charity

By Leah Blain, Observer contributor

Nancy Kurta, Myrtle Webster, and Ellen Hammer couldn’t begin to count the roasts and turkeys they’ve cooked or the number of desserts they have baked and they can probably all make meat pies in their sleep.

All three are long-time members of the Canadian Royal Purple Society, an organization whose goal it is to promote and support community service with the special emphasis on the needs of children.

Every year they donate about $15,000 to many causes which they raise primarily by catering to banquets and funeral teas, making meat pies, and their annual craft fair.

“I’m a charter member,” says Ellen referring to the Salmon Arm chapter, Lodge #279. “It was a long time ago. I heard about the Royal Purple and I didn’t know much about it but I knew it was volunteer and it helped kids.”

When Myrtle joined 65 years ago in Prince George she knew what to expect because her mom had been a member in Aldergrove.

“My mom baked pie after pie for Royal Purple.”

When Myrtle moved to Prince George in 1952 to work for the Hudson Bay company as an accountant she joined the lodge there. Those were busy times for Myrtle, fur buyers would come from Edmonton to buy pelts from the First Nations trappers and Hudson Bay was the banker. Her social life was the Royal Purple and some of her more cherished memories reflect the happiness they brought children from their fundraising.

Each lodge supports local organizations and every province has its special focus; in BC the focus is children with hearing impairment. Myrtle remembers sitting in a mall and seeing a little boy whom they had helped.

“The little guy stopped at the window of Radio Shack and said, ‘Dad – look.’ It was the first time I had heard him speak. It made me cry.”

Nancy Kurta has been a member for 35 years.

“It’s gone very quickly. I was asked by a neighbour to join and my kids had finished figure skating, softball and hockey, and I thought, ‘I’m ready for something new.’”

Those years have been very rewarding, says Nancy.

“It’s a way of life for me. We’re able to help so many people that wouldn’t have been helped otherwise. It’s the friendship, the camaraderie, and the ability to help. I could just sit at home but then nothing would happen.”

It’s so rewarding she even has a special term for being a member of Royal Purple; she calls it “a pleasure system.”

Most of the fun memories the women share centre around the kitchen. Have they ever an unhappy memory when it comes to catering? Disasters yes, unhappy – no.

“We had one disaster in the old Elks Hall,” says Ellen. The other two start laughing because they know what she’s going to say.

“We were all there and Nancy was doing whipped butter.”

Nancy takes over the story: “There were three settings, one, two, and three. I didn’t know which one was high and low. I thought, ‘I hope this is low….’”

It wasn’t and within seconds there was butter everywhere, covering the table, walls and the women.

“We were all covered with butter,” says Ellen.

“My face was full of butter,” says Nancy, adding after a few seconds – “We don’t have that mixer anymore.”

When the Salmon Arm lodge started it was 90 members strong but now the numbers have dropped to 23. They would like to see more women join the group. It’s not as regimented as it was in the old days, says Ellen.

“It’s changed so much, we’ve had to change with the times. We welcome any woman 15 or older. We do fun things. We work hard but we have fun.”

The Canadian Royal Purple Society meets on the second and fourth Wednesday at 11 a.m. Anyone wanting to know more can call Ellen at 250-832-6507.

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