Anne Redlus, center, is surrounded by family after being presented with the South Carolina Jennie Award from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Jennie Awards. From left are husband Howard Redlus, Phyllis Sippel of GFWC, daughter-in-law Rachel, granddaughter Ellie and son Eric Redlus. PHOTOS BY DIANE BRAYDEN

It took several months, spy-level secrecy, and a lot of paperwork, but the efforts were worth it when Sun City resident Anne Redlus learned she was South Carolina’s Jennie Award winner for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. There are 19 GFWC chapters in the state.

It was not something Redlus expected, especially since she is the Jennie Award chair for the Southern Region, which also includes Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. When Lowcountry GFWC President Phyllis Sippel made the announcement at the club’s September meeting, Redlus realized why she had not received any nomination packages.

“The Jennie Award is named in honor of Jane Cunningham Croly, who wrote for national newspapers under the pseudonym Jennie June,” said Sippel. “The award highlights extraordinary clubwomen who epitomize her spirit of independence, courage, and persistence in purpose through their roles as volunteers in their clubs, the community and as members of a family or extended family.”

The application process is detailed, Sippel said, and they were allowed 25 pages. The initial file began with 32. Gathering the information meant getting a family member involved, and Redlus’ daughter-in-law Rachel became the covert operator, keeping the plan from her husband and father-in-law. She tasked her daughter Ellie with interviewing a grandparent as “part of a school project” in order to collect information for the family portion of the application.

The subterfuge was a success, and Redlus was suitably surprised.

Since joining the organization in 1975 when she lived in New Jersey, Redlus’ participation in GFWC has included holding positions on local, state and national levels, establishing the Lowcountry club in 2015 and serving as its president for four years, working as the South Carolina GFWC Health and Wellness chair, and as assistant to the International GFWC president.

Among the many service projects in which Redlus has been involved are Canine Companions, providing service dogs to people with disabilities. Redlus herself has raised five puppies, beginning when she was in New Jersey.

She was also involved in Bridge of Hope, a New Jersey organization that aids homeless women and their families find safe shelter and support. Among the international outreach projects in which she has participated is Operation Smile, sewing gowns and masks for children who are being treated for cleft palates.

Locally, Redlus runs the annual Christmas poinsettia sales, turning her garage into a temporary holiday garden to raise funds for the club’s projects. She spearheaded the first GFWC Military Women’s Tea in Sun City Hilton Head, bringing together former servicewomen and local first responders for an afternoon of stories and shared experiences.

She has worked with the Agape Family Life Center in Hardeeville and the Red Cedar Elementary School cereal box drive for the Guinness World Record.

Among the many ongoing annual efforts undertaken by the GFWC organization, Redlus has participated in Heifer International, CAPA, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and various soup kitchens.

“Official presentation will be made at the state convention, and you will represent South Carolina as our Jennie Award winner,” said Gail Elfert, a surprise guest at the meeting and state chair for the Jennie Award. “I’ve enjoyed reading every word in (the nomination package). No one could be more deserving. You’re the epitome of the Jennie Award.”

State award packages are forwarded to the regional clubs for selection – which means that this time Redlus will not be on the selection committee, she noted. Two packages from each of the eight national regions will be selected by Dec. 1 and will be sent to the national committee for selection in March. Out of the final eight, one nominee will be named the national Jennie Award winner.

“I was the South Carolina Jennie Award winner, and nothing’s ever touched me or surprised me or honored me more than having your peers in the state honor you,” Elfert said. “Anne is the most deserving person, hands down in every aspect: her family, her community and her club. She has a heart for volunteering, and it shows in everything she does, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

There are GFWC clubs in all 50 states and at least a dozen countries with more than 80,000 members, according to the organization’s website.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.