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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
Penny Horner joined just a few years
ago after coming by the Thrift Haus when members were sorting
“I was so impressed with all the
laughter,” she said. “They were having fun — what a great
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