Like for most service clubs, 2020 was a difficult year for the Century League of Lonoke Club.
“We had more deaths and sickness within our group, and even job loss, so it was more of a challenge because we couldn’t get together in a big group,” membership chair Nina Shelton said. “We had to think outside the box to be able to serve in our communities and still be safe.”
Shelton was recently named this year’s Century League Club Woman of the Year.
“It was really special to me,” she said. “This last year has been an especially difficult year for our group …, so this award meant a lot.”
Shelton said the Century League has been in existence for 49 years and is currently made up of about 36 women from various backgrounds and leaders within the community. She said the purpose of the group is to serve the community and make it better.
“We have fundraising opportunities for scholarships for our local seniors,” Shelton said. “Last year, the nursing homes were struggling during [the COVID-19 pandemic], with loneliness without people able to visit, and we were able to provide snack cupboards so they could get a special treat.
“We are also a big supporter of our local food pantry.”
She said there has been a special need in the community for extra food because of job losses as a result of the pandemic. She said there have been extra food trucks at the food pantry, and the organization helps distribute the extra food throughout the community.
“It was very beneficial,” she said.
Elizabeth Anderson, who is serving her second term as the league’s president, said Shelton makes a significant contribution to the organization.
“She has been such an asset this year because of COVID,” Anderson said. “She is such a creative individual. She is always giving to her neighbors and to the schools. She is just an incredible individual.”
Anderson said she has known Shelton for 10 years, but the two of them have become closer in the past five or six years.
“She is constantly encouraging and supporting our 36 members,” Anderson said. “She will send them a birthday card or organize food trains whenever there is an illness or death. … A lot of our members tested positive for COVID-19, and she has done all of the organizing.”
Shelton said that in March of last year, when the virus was at its height, she went to her local fabric shop and started making masks for the teachers and hospital workers — “different people who had to have them but couldn’t get their hands on them,” she said. “We also did a breakfast for our elementary school during Teacher Appreciation Week, just to kind of boost their spirits.”
She said the league also hosted a Chalk Day, when families would go outside and draw inspiring messages and share them online.
“We also did a local ‘bear hunt’ for people, when we would drive around and spot pictures of bears in the neighborhood,” she said. “My kids found like 300 bears. It was just a way to lift the kids’ spirits when they were in quarantine and couldn’t get out.”
Amanda Rather, a member of the Century League of Lonoke, said Shelton was chosen for Woman of the Year not only because of her consistent dedication to the organization but, most importantly, to the community as a whole.
“She goes above and beyond to serve and be a light for others,” Rather said. “If you have the opportunity to know Nina, you have been blessed because she is just an amazing woman.
“This was a well-deserved recognition.”
Shelton has lived in Lonoke since 2008. She is originally from Wyoming, and she and her husband, Brad, met in Idaho while in college, and the couple decided to move back to Arkansas, where his family lives. The couple have five children, including one foster daughter.
“I have been a foster parent for about five years,” she said. “I have been really involved with that and working for Early Head Start — I’m a big advocate for that.”
Shelton is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Anderson said Shelton comes from a big family and one that has always had a heart for the community.
“She is always willing to help and be engaged in the community,” Anderson said. “She has five children of her own, so for her to constantly think about other people just amazes me. She goes the extra mile without being asked.”
Shelton said she got involved with the Century League because she wanted the community of Lonoke to be strong.
“I want there to be a feeling of love in our hometown that is tangible when you come here,” she said. “I know the value of strong women who are working hard for good things.
“When we work together, we can make a real difference. I believe service in our own homes, churches and communities is the biggest way that we can show that love to each other.”