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New arrivals once got white-glove treatment page 2
Welcome Wagon

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Date published: 11/6/2012

By Jennifer Strobel


Hewetson's basket was full of small gifts, coupons, advertisements, a city map and information on local services. The group posed on the Mary Washington College campus, where Hewetson's husband, Henry, was a professor of economics.

She knew first-hand the feelings of being the newcomer in town. In 1948, she, her husband and daughter moved to Fredericksburg from Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta.

"She loved this town the minute she got off the train," her daughter recalled in a recent interview, speaking of her mother's first impressions of Fredericksburg.

Hewetson became her adopted hometown's first Welcome Wagon hostess, a role she filled for 15 years with the national organization consisting of local chapters.

According to the website--welcomewagon.com--the organization was "founded in 1928 by an insightful marketing man in Memphis, Tenn., Thomas Briggs. Mr. Briggs was inspired by stories of early Conestoga 'welcome wagons' that would meet and greet westward travelers, providing fresh food and water for their journey."

As stated on the site, the Welcome Wagon organization expanded into a national network of hostesses. Home visits stopped in 1998 because the increase in two-income households meant that few families were home to receive calls.

Hewetson's daughter shared a scrapbook of memorabilia, including clippings of her mother's experiences.

According to one Free Lance-Star report in 1963, Hewetson was "a familiar sight to local residents making calls in an all-white car with official seals. She always wears a hat and gloves (a job requirement and quite acceptable with the hostess who has a flair for hats.)"

In the article, Hewetson recalled one particularly memorable adventure when a snake slithered into a newcomer's basement apartment. According to the article, "The man of the house killed it, and that particular family moved from the apartment about two weeks later."

Most visits were more tame, with Hewetson fielding questions about restaurants, groceries, churches, medical care and the like.

She would also arrange newspaper and milk deliveries.

Looking back, I realize what a massive job my mother had in getting us settled, and our Welcome Wagon visitor was most welcome.

Hewetson's welcome didn't stop with the initial visits. The hostess also invited newcomers to join the Welcome Wagon Newcomers Club, a path to community life. The club met to hear speakers, take field trips, and sponsor fundraisers for organizations including the March of Dimes.

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