Local

102-year-old founder helps Kansas City club for women celebrate 70 years

Mila L. Banks, 102 years old and a founding member of the Saturday Night Sixteen Club, was greeted by well-wishers Rose Jones and her sister Donna Fowler. The social club for African-American women celebrated its 70th anniversary Saturday at the Grand Street Cafe, 4740 Grand Ave.
Mila L. Banks, 102 years old and a founding member of the Saturday Night Sixteen Club, was greeted by well-wishers Rose Jones and her sister Donna Fowler. The social club for African-American women celebrated its 70th anniversary Saturday at the Grand Street Cafe, 4740 Grand Ave. Special to The Star

In the days after the end of World War II, some ladies in Kansas City found themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Times were changing. The women, mostly teachers by profession, were affluent enough to enjoy the finer things in life. Their husbands worked as doctors and businessmen and could afford fur coats, champagne and automobiles at a time when not every family had one.

But they were African-American, and segregation still ruled in Kansas City.

Barred from patronizing many of the restaurants and nightspots in the city, the women created their own exclusive society in the Saturday Night Sixteen Club. The club now stands as one of the oldest such societies in the city and celebrated its 70th anniversary Saturday with a lunch at the Grand Street Cafe.

Of the original 16 founding members, only one survives. Mila Banks, 102, presided over a review of the club’s history Saturday, prepared to correct any errors.

The ladies threw their first party on a Saturday in September 1946. Membership dues totaled $15 a year. The first meal consisted of pork and beans and wieners.

“We, as black people, had nowhere to go for entertainment,” Banks said. “So we had to find our entertainment through one means or another.”

The women had only fun and fellowship in mind, as Banks remembers it, without any thought of starting something that would last into the 21st century.

“We had no idea,” Banks said. “I thought it would go on, but I didn’t think I would be the only living original member.”

If their inaugural function was modest, the women went on to throw some parties that live on today in club lore. A Christmas bridge party at the Street Hotel, then located at 18th Street and the Paseo, called for ladies to come in their finest hats, gloves and furs.

In 1972 the Sixteeners, as they called themselves, rented a penthouse at the Hilton Inn — then located at 610 Washington St. — for a champagne dance party.

The hotel is no longer there, but it offered a beautiful view of the Missouri and Kansas rivers, Banks said.

“We tried to rent some of the better places.”

After 70 years, the club continues much the same as it began, with one exception: The ladies now make it a point to hold their meetings wherever they want.

  Comments