Soroptimist Club turns 60

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In a time when few women owned their

own business or worked outside the home, a group of Whitefish women

began a mission to make their community and world a better

place.

Roughly 20 women organized to form the

Soroptimist Club of Whitefish. They began raising funds to help

women and children.

That was 60 years ago and the

Soroptimists are still a driving force here. They’ve raised

hundreds of thousands of dollars for local schools, hospitals,

libraries, theater, food banks and other non-profits. Last year

they gave away $100,000.

Since those early days in 1951 the club

has more than doubled in membership. The club’s Thrift Haus has

continued to expand and is their main source of fundraising.

Still it’s a simple idea that the

members prescribe to that keeps the club moving.

“There isn’t anything we can’t do,”

said longtime member Sally Porcarelli.

Soroptimist International, a business

women’s philanthropic organization, was formed in Northern

California in 1921. The term “Soroptimist” is derived from the

Latin words “soro” for “sister” and “optima” for “the best”. Put

together they represent the “best for women.”

“The focus has always been on helping

women and children,” club president Lynnette Hintze said.

“You name it and we’re there,” added

Annie McLaughlin.

The Whitefish women have always been

creative at raising funds. In the early years, they gathered and

processed choke cherries then sold homemade syrup. They sold baked

goods, costume jewelry and held rummage sales to raise more

cash.

In the 1950s, they created an annual

scholarship to help girls study nursing and donated $900 to the

high school band so students could have uniforms.

A new endeavor has been the Make A

Smile program. More than $9,000 was spent in the first two years

helping women in need of dental care. This year they donated to

Flathead Electric Co-op to help pay electric bills for people in

need.

The Thrift Haus has been the face of

the Soroptimists. Members volunteer their time to run the shop on

Lupfer and First Street. After years of earning income from rummage

sales, the group purchased the land and paid off their mortgage in

2000. The Thrift Haus continues to be a solid source of

revenue.

When other non-profits are struggling,

the shop has thrived, notes Hintze.

“With the recession a lot of the other

non-profits have had big budget cuts,” she said. “People are

shopping at the thrift shop. We’re unique because we’re doing

really well in the recession.”

Education is another foundation stone

for the group. Annually Whitefish Soroptimists give out thousands

in scholarship funds to local high school students and

head-of-household single moms who are working their way through

college.

Member Barb Mansfield still remembers

the scholarship check she received as a high school senior from the

Havre club. It was $250.

Mansfield, a counselor at Whitefish

High School, again became aware of the Soroptimists through the

local club’s scholarships. She began to look into joining the

group.

“I wanted to be in an organization of

women helping out there,” she said. “I had seen the scholarships

and knew they were working. These women are neat.”

Annie McLaughlin remembers as a young

woman shopping at the Thrift Haus.

“I was in social work and I knew I

wanted to help women and children,” she said. “This was a welcoming

group.”

Penny Horner joined just a few years

ago after coming by the Thrift Haus when members were sorting

donations.

“I was so impressed with all the

laughter,” she said. “They were having fun — what a great

group.”

It’s not unusual for members to see

each other downtown and run over to say hello. They’re there too

when a member gets sick — sending cards and preparing food.

“It’s a sisterhood,” explains

Mansfield. “You see members that are presidents of a bank or shop

clerks, but we’re all in it together.”

When the Soroptimists saw a need for a

retirement home the women raised funds, purchased, then remodeled

Dr. John Simon’s home on Baker Avenue (known as “The Castle”).

Soroptimist Manor opened in 1960 with the ability to house up to 10

residents. A few years later the club sold the house, but it

remains a registered historical building today.

Another project funded by the club was

the creation of Soroptimist Park in the City Beach neighborhood.

The club purchased the land in 1975 and donated it to the city. The

club has purchased playground equipment for the park and recently a

few members spent time pulling weeds at the park.

Much of the club’s work is quiet. The

Thrift Haus isn’t always connected with the club. Sometimes a

student earning a scholarship will prompt a family to donate to the

shop after realizing the connection.

Combined, the members volunteer about

20,000 hours every year in the shop and elsewhere.

Whether noticed or not the women

continue their mission of helping.

“We don’t toot our own horns,”

Mansfield said. “We toot Soroptimist’s horn.”

The Soroptimist Club of Whitefish will

hold a 60th anniversary celebration during the Whitefish Chamber of

Commerce’s Gone Fishin’ event Sept. 15 at the Thrift Haus at 303

First Street.

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