Hackettstown Chapter of Daughters of the British Empire Furthering a Century-old Tradition

By Alexander Rivero, Staff Writer

 

NJ State Organizer for the Daughters of the British Empire, Joan Saunders.

Her measured voice over the phone flows in a subtle but steady British RP. It is quiet, but also neat and definitive, as if projecting itself from deep within a great power that needs no introduction, no mention. The owner of the voice is Joan Saunders, and to listen to her introductory courtesies is to momentarily surrender to the weight and span of the British Empire itself at the height of its glory.

 

Saunders was recently asked to serve as the New Jersey State Organizer for an organization of which she has been a part since her birth—the esteemed Daughters of the British Empire (DBE). This in addition to her role as regent of the organization’s Ocean County chapter. The registered non-profit, which spans over 25 states and has seven chapters in New Jersey alone, is composed of an all-volunteer group of women descending from English ancestry, which includes, of course, the nations of the commonwealth. The organization’s primary mission is to help seniors via the operating of senior living places across the country, although it has, in recent years, expanded to help other charities as well, such as those aiding military veterans (Project Heal) and children (such as Sound Stock Babies, which supports babies with hearing disabilities). 

 

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” she says. “In England, I owned a marketing company, and since I moved to the United States in 1981, I’ve owned stores, restaurants. I went into technology, started a teleconference and webcasting company. Marketing and sales was always my route, as well as start-ups.”

 

The organization itself was founded in 1909 by Sarah Josephine Meredith Landstaff with the idea to aid the elderly, with headquarters in Delaware. Since then, chapters have peppered across the country—from the heartland to the coasts—and welcomed generation after generation of new members to replenish the ranks that preceded them. In New Jersey, Saunders’ primary focus is on the continuation of this replenishing.

 

“My job as New Jersey Organizer is membership,” she says. “Recruiting new members. We want to grow. The original members are, sadly, getting older, and things simply need to change and progress.”

 

As of 2023, the DBE is looking to expand into Somerset, as well as further south in the state, into Cape May, Gloucester, and Salem. 

 

“Most of our chapters are in Ocean County, as well as to the north and west of the state,” Saunders says. “We need to open up into the central portions too.”

 

It is not speculation to suggest that not as many people know about the DBE as one might expect. This applies even for Saunders. 

 

She admits, “I find it amazing that this organization has been around this long. There are members that have served for over 60 years. So few people have heard of the organization in many respects, and what we’re trying to do is to promote and bring it out so people can hear about it.” 

 

Chapter meetings vary in protocol, but generally flow casually, in conversation. Long-time members welcome new ones, offering a seat, a cup of tea, a bite to eat. Once the meeting officially begins, the chapter will discuss fundraisers, new ideas, the state of ongoing projects and campaigns. There are luncheons, national events, potlucks, trips. Although each chapter responds to a national board, there is quite a bit of autonomy for each chapter to run its affairs in the manner it sees fit. 

 

Among the perks of membership in the DBE is the joy of camaraderie—in this case, of women getting together who share a long and storied heritage to a culture that vitally influenced the founding and traditions of our own country. 

 

Regarding the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September, Saunders says the DBE took the news as one might expect. 

 

“We were all devastated. It came so quickly. So unexpected, sudden. Various chapters had their own events to celebrate the queen’s life, and there was a state luncheon to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee that had to be changed in theme for the occasion of her passing.”

 

Saunders adds that her passing is a major moment not only for those of English heritage, but for the world, and that she was, quite simply, an amazing woman who carried herself with a profound sense of personal dignity and grace.

 

“Nobody does everything perfectly 100 percent of the time, certainly, but picked up. She was just so steadfast.” 

 

The Daughters of the British Empire is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For more information on the Daughters of the British Empire, please visit the organization’s website at www.dbeinnj.org

 

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