BANGOR, Maine — Renee Hudgens was changing careers midlife when she discovered Tuesday Forum. Esther Littlefield heard about the group through a friend and thought it would be a good way to get the word out about her home business. Sue McKay, the longest-running member, joined because the local Rotary was off-limits to women at the time.
They all came to Tuesday Forum under different circumstances and for different reasons, but each found a women-only networking organization that suited them perfectly.
Late last month, the group celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“When I joined [in 1982], the Rotary wasn’t an option, but I wanted a way to network,” said McKay, now an insurance professional. “I was self-employed at the time, and it became vital to me in terms of mentoring.”
As the most senior member, McKay, 55, is now the mentor.
Hudgens, a 43-year-old real estate agent, said the relationships she has built through Tuesday Forum have been invaluable.
“It’s like having 80 advisers, 80 friends and 80 salespeople,” she said. “The more familiarity I have with the women, the more I get out of it.”
Added Littlefield, 30: “I wish more people knew about it.”
Although Tuesday Forum has been around for 30 years, its existence remains unknown in many circles.
“I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it. I usually am pretty aware of things like this,” said Littlefield, who joined in 2007.
In 1980, six women decided to start the group as an answer to the “good old boys” network that was pervasive in the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. The women met on Tuesdays (the same day as the Rotary) at the Tarratine Club in downtown Bangor.
From its inception, the group had three goals: exchange ideas and support in business; offer a forum and opportunity to develop business contacts; offer a resource center for information and encourage cross-referrals between members.
Tuesday Forum expanded considerably in its first few years, appealing to women in management positions or working toward management positions.
The late 1980s was the group’s heyday, according to McKay. Every month, they attracted renowned speakers, and by the end of the decade, the group had nearly 100 members. For the 10th anniversary celebration in 1990, top NASA administrator Sue Stevens was the featured speaker, an event McKay recalls as special.
Just as Tuesday Forum was cementing itself as the go-to organization for Bangor-area women professionals, the Kiwanis and Rotary began accepting women. Many Tuesday Forum members faced a quandary.
By 1994, membership began to wane, and there was even talk of disbanding the group, but a core group didn’t let that happen. In order to survive, Tuesday Forum needed to alter its mission statement to be more inclusive.
That inclusion still exists today, new members agree. There is a yearly membership fee but no attendance requirements.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Littlefield. “But it’s a really diverse group in terms of background.”
“Each year, it seems to appeal to different people,” added Hudgens, who like Littlefield joined in 2007. She even brought her college-aged daughter to a meeting recently.
After struggling through the 1990s, Tuesday Forum had rebuilt its membership to about 50 people by its 20th anniversary.
On its 30th anniversary, the group listed 77 active members and has become a unique and vital part of the business community. Tuesday Forum still meets every Tuesday and offers a diverse slate of speakers and topics for women to learn from.
“No matter the topic, you always get something out of it,” Hudgens said.
For more information about Tuesday Forum, visit its website, www.tuesdayforum.com.