Society for Creative Anachronism
You may not realize that Richmond and vicinity is actually the Barony of Caer Mear, which translates from Gaelic as the "Castle by the Sea." At least, in the world created by the international Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA seeks to re-create pre-17th-century European arts and skills. And there are combat competitions, too.
"But I think more people come into it through the arts and sciences than the fighting," says David Warren, a marine- and industrial-coatings consultant. SCA craftspeople undertake calligraphy, jewelry making, and wood and leather work.
The Richmond chapter holds a fight practice every Tuesday evening at Battery Park Christian Church.
Jewels of the Oasis (belly-dance troupe)
Mary Pattillo remembers dancing under the open roof of the Tantilla Ballroom, the city's most popular dance and music venue of the 1930s into the 1960s. Now, somewhat more mature, she is a belly dancer with the Jewels of the Oasis, an organization she joined a year or so after its 1987 formation.
"We do charity work, dancing at nursing homes," Pattillo explains, "put on shows and benefits, and we have raised money for animal shelters and things like that." There are about 15 Jewels, ranging in ages from 35 to Patillo's 87 years.
Pattillo and her late husband took ballroom dancing for 15 years, but when he couldn't dance anymore, she sought something she could do by herself. Belly dancing seemed natural.
"When I went into it, I was 67 — we danced at all the food festivals," she recalls. "I think today Richmond has more call for belly dancers than 20 years ago. It's good fun and exercise, and you meet all kinds of people."
Virginia Adventure Club
The Virginia Adventure Club is for those who feel that living is meant to be an active endeavor — hiking, kayaking, biking, parasailing. Oh, and polar plunging.
Member Bruce Johnson explains that about 17 years ago, after a skydiving session, some members of the club were drinking beers and discussing another type of adventure. Out of this came the Polar Plunge, a February charity event that invites folks to jump into the cold Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach to raise funds for the Virginia Special Olympics. In 1993, 34 people took the plunge, and in 2008, 3,500 — raising $850,000. "Eventually it got so big that our club couldn't organize it," Johnson says, "so now it's a thing of its own."
Johnson, a Richmonder since 1979, joined the club about five years ago because he was looking for a group for scuba diving. "I came across the Adventure Club, and they do everything."
The Ninety-Nines — The International Organization of Women Pilots, Virginia Chapter
Betty Vinson became interested in flying as a teenager, but life intervened. In 1990, however, with her children raised and on their own, she spread her wings.
"The group is essentially a sorority for women pilots," she says. "Our chapter, which has about 23 people, is part of an international group with about 5,500 members." The group's name comes from the number of pilots who attended the international club's inaugural Long Island, N.Y., meeting in 1920. The group's first president was Amelia Earhart.
Some of the women own their planes, while others rent. Vinson pilots a Cessna 172.
One of the largest events in which the Ninety-Nines took part was a "Toy Airlift" for youngsters in Franklin, Va., which flooded in 1999 in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd.
"Kids won't understand that Santa is supposed to bring toys no matter what," Vinson says. "I came up with the idea for pilots to gather up toys, and I arranged for a Salvation Army truck to pick them up. We had close to 300 toys collected from friends, neighbors and co-workers. I flew two planeloads myself. Great fun."
Richmond Bonsai Society
Daniel Kalman, 87 (pictured), got interested in the art of bonsai during World War II while on a mapmaking expedition on the island of Okinawa. He was a member of the Marine Seabees, a group of combat engineers.
"When we started bombing, the villagers ran to the hills," the Richmond native explains, "and they took their prized possessions, and bonsai was one of them."
Bonsai can often be decades, even centuries, old and are passed from one generation to the next. They require care, "like pets," he says. "They have to be pruned, shaped and styled and repotted."
Kalman, who now tends to some 100 bonsai, joined the society in the early 1990s, though the group started in 1970 as an offshoot from a Bon Air garden club. These days the bonsai group has about 35 members.