Palm Beachers still making an impact: Junior League celebrates 75 years

By Shannon Donnelly

Daily News Society Editor

The chairwomen of the cookbook committee on the February 1977 cover of Town & Country. From left, Ione Wiren, Betsy Matthews, Connie Chauncey and Nancy Murray. The committee produced the legendary ‘Palm Beach Entertains’ cookbook, which is still in the kitchens of many Palm Beach County cooks.

The Junior League has come a long way from its white glove days.

The Science Museum that you take your kids and grandkids to visit? Thank the Junior League.

The no-cost housing for parents of seriously ill children at St. Mary’s Medical Center? Thank the Junior League.

The playground areas for children in the community around Gaines Park and Howard Park? Thank the Junior League.

A first-grader’s minor hearing problem caught early enough for intervention? Yup, the Junior League.

»PHOTOS: 75 years of Junior League of the Palm Beaches

What 15 women started started in 1941 with a clothes closet open four days a week for people receiving government assistance has become a major force for community betterment and social change.

PHOTOS: 75 years of Junior League of the Palm Beaches

“Over the past 75 years, the Junior League of the Palm Beaches has consistently made an impact in our community,” said member Dr. Angela Vecellio, daughter-in-law of Kathryn Vecellio, a former president.

“The league founded what is now the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium, established Quantum House at St. Mary’s Hospital, helped establish Howard Park Recreational Center, built the Fun Zone at Gaines Community Park and since 1968 has performed free screenings on thousands of children for vision and hearing abnormalities.”

Even in its infancy, the organization’s local projects had long-range impact. Established as the Junior Welfare League, its main focus was supporting the war effort. With many World War II training bases in Palm Beach County, the league hosted canteen events for servicemen and worked with the Red Cross. And yes, there were the bandage-rolling events and the knitting projects.

Palm Beach connections

Katie Vecellio, former president of the Junior League and honorary chairwoman of the diamond anniversary gala. CAPEHART

The league’s Palm Beach roots are long and deep. Its first president, Sadie Savitz, and several of its original 15 founders were Palm Beachers. For a time, its headquarters was in the Flagler Museum. It worked with the Crippled Children’s Society — now the Rehabilitation Center for Children & Adults — in its therapy programs for polio patients and combat-injured soldiers. Residents Nancy Murray and Kathryn Vecellio served as presidents.

Its volunteers have established or supported the Cerebral Palsy Association, Girl Scouts, elderly assistance, substance abuse prevention programs in the schools, and support for domestic abuse prevention and protection programs.

»Palm Beach Social Calendar

In 1950, the organization began providing hearing conservation services, which has evolved into its legacy project, Eye & Ear Screening. Rather than ask the community for money, the league supported itself and its projects with membership dues and the proceeds from its thrift shop.

It was the conception and execution of the Science Museum that rid the league of its white-glove image and established its members as women to be taken seriously. League funding and stewardship led to the completion of the first wing of the museum in 1961. With that signature project, the organization became known as the Junior League of the Palm Beaches. A second wing and planetarium, named for and dedicated by Buzz Aldrin, came a few years later.

Nancy Murray, former president of the Junior League and a longtime Palm Beach resident.

Its fundraisers include three wildly successful cookbooks (including Palm Beach Entertains, spearheaded by Palm Beachers Murray and Betsy Matthews, among others); the Designer’s Showhouse at the Vanderbilt home in Manalapan; the original Festival of Trees; the Woman Volunteer of the Year Awards Luncheon; and its current signature fundraisers, Worth Tasting on Worth Avenue and the Deck the Palms Holiday Marketplace.

So, 75 years of hard work and success merits a bit of celebrating, no? Time for a party.

Diamond Jubilee Gala

The Junior League of The Palm Beaches’ 75th anniversary Diamond Jubilee Gala will take March 12 at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. Camille Murphy Kubicek and Dr. Angela Vecellio, second-generation Junior Leaguers, are co-chairwomen for the event. Clare O’Keeffe and Kathryn Vecellio, will serve as honorary co-chairwomen.

“The Junior League of the Palm Beaches certainly has a lot to celebrate,” noted Kathryn Vecellio, “and the gala will honor the women whose leadership and dedication have created a better community for all of us.”

Clare O’Keeffe is honorary chairwoman, with Katie Vecellio, of the anniversary dinner dance.

For information, call 689.7590 or visit

Editor’s note: Shannon Donnelly is a former member of both the Junior League of Boston and the Junior League of the Palm Beaches.

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