Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Karen Buhler wants to make one thing clear: Daughters of the American Revolution is not a ladies' social club.

Yes, the organization does consist of women who meet monthly from September through June to visit, share personal stories and bond.

But the DAR primarily is a service organization, Buhler said, dedicated to promoting patriotism and historic preservation and education in their communities.

"It's not your grandmother's DAR anymore," said Buhler, a nearly 30-year member and current registrar of the Salina Area Mary Wade Strother Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. "We do a lot of things, and people don't realize that."

Members of the DAR consist of women age 18 and older who can trace their ancestry to someone who either fought or served in some capacity in the American Revolutionary War, whether as a soldier, supporter or political figure, Buhler said.

The organization, founded in 1890, is 168,000 members strong with 3,000 chapters in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and in many countries around the world.

Many famous women have belonged to the DAR, including former first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower and Nancy Reagan.

Many DAR members also belong to the Daughters of the American Colonists, another patriotic organization founded in 1921 and consisting of women who can trace their ancestry before the Revolutionary War -- some as far back as Plymouth Rock.

The Salina DAR chapter was founded in 1922 and has about 65 members, including women from Salina, Minneapolis, Lindsborg, Tescott, Assaria, McPherson and other area communities.

The Rose Whitlock Parker Chapter of the Daughters of the American Colonists, founded in 1991, has about 16 members, said Jean Lightner, regent of the local DAC.

"It's a young chapter," she said. "We meet four times a year."

Both organizations focus on service projects instead of social events, said local DAR regent Sharon Foust, who has belonged to the organization for more than 20 years.

"We do things in service to our country and to preserve history," she said.

The local DAR chapter supports education by giving money to DAR-affliated schools nationwide, Buhler said.

The DAC also helps preserve archival records and teaches people about genealogical research and patriotism, she said.

Each member of the DAR and DAC has had to provide proof of their lineage back to the Revolutionary War and beyond. That can take a lot of research, Buhler said, "but it's a lot easier to track now with the Internet."

Buhler said she is a descendent of William Brewster, who came over on the Mayflower. Lightner is related to William Duncan, a county militia member before the Revolutionary War, and his son, Charles Duncan, a soldier in the Continental Army under George Rogers Clark.

"You have to have documents showing you have these relatives," Lightner said.

Once accepted into the DAR or DAC, one can be a lifetime member with the payment of yearly dues. The problem, as with many other organizations, is attracting younger people to join and remain members, Lightner said.

That's why she's glad a few younger members, such as Erika Nelson, have joined the DAC. Nelson, a working artist and teacher who lives in Lucas, said she joined the organization to carry on her grandmother's legacy.

"She was into genealogy and recognized that where you came from was an important part of growing up," Nelson said. "She made sure we were members of the DAC and DAR. Now that I'm settled in (Kansas), I decided to renew my membership."

Nelson said she likes belonging to both organizations because they accept women from all walks of life and all viewpoints.

"It isn't about liberal or conservative, it's about the founding fathers," she said. "I don't need to belong to a social club. What we're really looking at here is heritage and history. We're giving back to the community or preserving something that might be forgotten or discarded."