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Heeding the call of duty
Frances Pratt has dedicated 63 years to Service Guild of Covington

Editor's Note: In recognition of National Women's History Month, throughout March, the Citizen will profile local women who have impacted the community in positive ways. Though many of these women's accomplishments may be mostly unsung, they have each, in their own way, made their mark on history.

COVINGTON - When Frances Pratt makes a commitment, she sticks to it.

For the past 63 years, Pratt has been a member of the Service Guild of Covington, devoting her time and energy to the club's many community projects.

At age 92, she's still going strong.

Pratt attends every local monthly meeting for the guild, as well as the out-of-town district meetings.

She serves on the guild's education committee, volunteers at blood drives, visits patients in personal care homes and assists with food bank collections.

"I'm afraid if I slow down, I won't be able to get back up," Pratt said with a laugh.

By accounts from other Service Guild members, she hasn't slowed down since she joined in 1945.

At the time, as Pratt recalls it, she was a housewife who spent her days playing bridge and swimming.

Her friend, Anne Nesbit, invited her to join a new junior club she was forming as an offshoot of the Covington Woman's Club. That organization eventually became The Service Guild of Covington.

The club was for "ladies who wanted to do more than stay home," Pratt said.

Those ladies soon opened the county's first kindergarten in a building called the Little Red Schoolhouse on Newton Drive. Pratt's late husband, Moncy, and his brother, Everett, built the schoolhouse. The guild operated the kindergarten there for 34 years, until the Newton County School System offered public classes. The building now serves as the guild's clubhouse.

Over the years, Pratt has served on all of the guild's seven committees, each focusing on specific projects and causes.

She was guild president from 1956 to 1958.

But not all of her tasks have been glamorous.

"I've even been the janitor," she said.

Of the many service projects she has participated in, one in particular stands out: Pratt helped to organize the first horse show held in Covington.

Held in 1959 at Legion Field, "it was a real, sure-enough horse show," she said, with competitors from throughout the state attending.

As the only surviving charter member of the guild, Pratt is a mentor to the other ladies, said member Peggy Hawley.

The guild's scholarship fund at Tallulah Falls School in North Georgia is named after Pratt.

"She's just a dynamic lady that just personifies the Southern belle," said Lynn Garrett, another guild member. "She always is very beautifully put together, and she's just a sweet, sweet person and can do anything and is very capable."

In 2007, guild members volunteered more than 4,000 hours to more than 300 projects and raised more than $59,000 for various causes.

"(Pratt) was just as much a part of that as anyone else," Garrett said.

What keeps Pratt devoted to the cause?

"The camaraderie," she said. "To know that the ladies, whatever committee they're on, they're enthused about it."

Pratt also likes that the guild isn't a social club; it's about hard work.

"Through the years, when I've asked someone to join, they'll say, 'No, y'all work too hard,'" she said.

Pratt was finally recognized for all that hard work in February, when the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the guild's parent organization, sent her long-overdue 50-year service pin.

The honor came about after Garrett heard the General Federation was seeking its longest-serving member. Though Pratt didn't qualify for that honor, the federation did notify Garrett that she would be mentioned in its national publication.

Pratt has no intention of taking a rest now.

In addition to her work with the guild, she is an active member of The Church of the Good Shepherd.

Pratt still plays bridge four times a month, a hobby that's about as old as her Service Guild membership - still more proof that she's not one to let go when she finds something she's passionate about.

"When I first came to Covington, I did not play bridge. They told me I had to learn. It's been a bridge-playing city all along," she said.

Born in Macon, Pratt moved to Newton County as a new bride in 1938. She has one son, three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a host of women who consider her a role model.

Asked how she wants to be remembered by the women she's inspired and the community she's helped, Pratt answers like a true servant: "I hope they remember me as being a kind and considerate person, caring, thoughtful and helpful."

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.