CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Some who attend the high school prom in 2013 will wear gowns that once belonged to West Virginia’s first lady.
Joanne Jaeger Tomblin on Wednesday afternoon donated formal gowns to Ronda’s Closet, where girls preparing for the prom may choose dresses at no cost.
She said the prom gown giveaway is a good project, and she hopes others will follow suit by donating dresses to a place where girls may shop for free.
“I remember shopping for my prom dress,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”
Tomblin donated two taffeta floor-length gowns with jackets in the colors of eggplant and wine. She also donated two basic black cocktail dresses that may be worn by chaperones.
She doesn’t recall exactly where she wore the clothing but believes it must have been some legislative events. While she can’t remember the details, she believes they were all purchased locally and she wore them more than once.
While details of these dresses remain sketchy, she remembers her high school prom well.
“It was the event everyone waited for,” she said. “You knew you were graduating from high school, and it was the last big event before going different ways. I wore a long, floor-length yellow dress. We had the Brooklyn Bridge as the band in a big country club on Long Island. We had a great time. “
While many clothing styles come and go, gowns are fairly timeless, she said. However, gowns often hang in closets when they could be put to good use.
The first lady asked her executive assistant, Susan Fox, and Tina Amburgey, public information specialist, for ideas about what to do with gowns.
After some discussion, they decided Ronda’s Closet would be a good choice. Tomblin plans to send more gowns there in the future and hopes others will make donations as well.
“You get more out of helping and giving than receiving,” she said.
Ronda’s Closet, housed at Aldersgate United Methodist Church near Sissonville, opened during the prom season of 2006 in memory of Ronda Jones Howard, who died of breast cancer in 2004 at age 44. Howard was a model and a special person, said friend Julia Black.
Just days before her death, Howard sent a beautiful gown to Black just because she wanted her to have it. Black looked at the dress and thought about a place in another state where she heard that girls could get free gowns. She decided to begin a similar program in memory of her beautiful and generous friend.
The program has continued through donations of new and gently used dresses from individuals and businesses. Gardner’s provides dry cleaning and storage as needed to keep the project going.
Rick and Cathy Leach, owners of three Gardner’s locations, were on hand Wednesday along with Black to accept the gowns from the first lady and to thank her.
Black accepts donations of gowns throughout the year in preparation of each upcoming prom season.
Last prom season, more than 50 girls from several counties selected gowns from Ronda’s Closet. A wide variety of styles and sizes are needed each year to accommodate all tastes and sizes.
The gowns are free to all who need them with no questions asked. The only request is that the dresses be returned so others may wear them the following prom season.
Black is grateful to all who donate gowns and feels blessed each year to have enough to go around.
“It’s almost like God sends us more,” she said. “It replenishes itself.”
For more information about Ronda’s Closet or to donate gowns, call Black at 304-389-4604.