The saying, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me..." has often been associated with a new style of aging. But it's actually part of a poem written by Jenny Joseph in 1961 titled "Warning" which now has become the mantra for a delightfully fun, women's 50+ age group called The Red Hat Society.

"We're like a rebuttal to the 'Empty Nest Syndrome'," Suni Jordan, 58, queen mother of the "Sassy Red Hatters" Santee chapter said with a laugh as she described the organization. "We've done our nurturing, raised our kids and all that, and now it's our turn to nurture ourselves a bit!"

Long before the "Ya Ya Sisterhood," craze, enthusiasm generated by the Red Hat Society (www.redhatsociety.com) began as a result of a few women who decided to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. The founder, Sue Ellen Cooper, while visiting a friend in Tucson several years ago, impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop, for no other reason than it was cheap, and she thought, quite dashing. A year or two later she read the poem, "Warning" by Jenny Joseph and decided she'd give a copy of it along with a vintage red hat as a birthday gift to a friend.

Both women enjoyed giving and receiving the gift so much they repeated it seveal times over and before they knew it this friendship group of Red Hat recipients became the Red Hat Society which now boasts 150,000 members in 5,500 chapters worldwide!

"It's all about celebrating life and having fun," said Suni (pronounced like the weather). "And we never let age get in the way of that!"

Unike many women's organizations, this one is not about charitable fundraising. But that's not to say that these women are not involved with those types of efforts because many of them are, just not in conjunction with the Red Hat Society.

"This is a group that's just for us --- to nurture ourselves and each other by simply being together, playing, enjoying each other's company --- so we don't ever think about the age thing," Suni shared. "We're enjoying life together with no expectations of each other, other than just accepting each other for who we are."

With a group made up of women over age 50, many members are widowed or divorced, but regardless of marital and/or life status,the Red Hat Society enables the outrageous side of them to come out.

"Imagine the response to a group of 20+ ladies, all dressed in purple, wearing chic red hats and converging on a local restaurant for lunch," Suni said. "It's quite a site and a way for us to say to the world, 'Hey, look at us --- we're over 50 and we're OK!'"

Far from traditional, this group beats to their own drum which undoubtedly makes it so fun. An "hysterain" keeps a scrapebook, instead of a historian, and the Red Hat Soceity oath states each member must "Uphold our non-existent rules, promise to always enjoy life, and always have fun, especially when wearing my red hat."

Gatherings vary from high teas, wine tastings, and chocolate parties to outings like Julian, casinos, shopping, and bay cruises, and even a Friday night pajama party is thrown in now and then.

With fourteen chapters now in San Diego county, with just a couple offering openings, Suni says they're always looking for queen mothers to start new chapters. So if you've been looking for an opportunity to be Queen for a day, (well actually, it would likely have to be longer than just a day) check out the web page, grab a few gal pals and you go girls!

Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at ageangel@earthlink.net. Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126 web: http://www.ageangel.com

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