The numbers themselves are impressive: about 350 scholarship and award recipients totalling more than $350,000, with a legacy dating back three-quarters of a century.
But it’s the personal stories that echo through the ages, Cat Xander said, from a woman who used funds to improve her Spanish in a ceramics class in Spain and decided to live there, to a recipient who’s now a wedding photographer in Italy, to a third who used a scholarship to get an internship at Rayonier Mill and will now write for the company’s 100th anniversary.
“You do something for someone, you never know where it’ll take them,” said Xander, Soroptimist International of Sequim’s president.
Xander and fellow club members are busy collecting contacts and stories as the community nonprofit looks to celebrate its 75th anniversary later this year.
They hope to highlight to the community the value of the group’s work and scholarships; for more information or to send in stories, email Xander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They’d also like to fete scholarship and award recipients of their efforts, she said.
“We would like to celebrate them, (their) life accomplishments,” Xander said.
Some in-person events are being considered to recognize the group’s 75 years of efforts, Xander said. Check sisequim.org for updates and information.
Boosts for peninsula women
Chartered in 1947, Soroptimist International of Sequim provides continuing support for women and girls in Clallam County.
“We are guided by our mission …providing women and girls with access to the education they need to achieve economic empowerment – as well as the ever-changing needs of our community,” the website notes.
Soroptimists provide that support through a number of scholarships and awards, including High School and Continuing Education scholarships, Professional/Technical scholarships and the annual Live Your Dream Award.
Scholarships in the past 75 years ranged from just $17.50 in 1949 to as much as $4,000, Xander noted.
Misty Palmer, now a loan officer with Evergreen Home Loans in Port Angeles, was the recipient of a scholarship. The Sequim High graduate (1997) said that funding was critical to her going to college.
She went on to study business at the University of Washington.
“Getting their scholarship, along with other organizations, was the kicker allowed me to go and feel confident that I could afford going,” she said.
“It was huge also a confidence booster at the time,” Palmer said. “(They said), ‘Hey, we believe in you, go and do all can do.’ (I thought), ‘I’m going to take that step, take that chance; these people believe in me.’”
Sequim Soroptimists are funding nine Continuing Education scholarships this year, boosted by a $6,000 donation from an anonymous source, noted scholarship chair Linda Rotmark.
She said the organization received 15 applications for those scholarships this past year.
“Everybody was just amazed,” Rotmark said. “I got teary on some of them what they’re trying to do in this crazy world right now. They need the money but (there’s a) drive to do better than the vulnerable service jobs.”
More about the club
The group also operates a Medical Loan Closet, one that opened in 1972. Though closed for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closet has provided key items for residents such as walkers, wheelchairs, shower seats, bed rails, knee scooters, canes, crutches and the like.
That’s what attracted Xander to the group.
“I was so impressed that an organization — for no money — (would let you) borrow from the medical loan closet,” she said. “It’s been horrible being closed during COVID.”
To fund these activities, the organization hosts an annual Gala Garden Show. This year’s event, the club’s 24th, includes an online auction and is set for April 27-May 1; see sequimgardenshow.com for updates and more information.
A little history
Soroptimist is a global women’s organization founded in 1921 whose members work to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.
After forming their club in the late 1940s, Sequim Soroptimists finished much of the inside of the State Park building now known as Camp Ramblewood, including kitchen appliances, shelves, doors, lighting and more.
Helen Haller, principal of Elementary School #323, was the second president of the Sequim club. In 1950, the club sent a letter to the School Board saying that the new elementary school should be named after Helen Haller.
The Soroptimists also installed “resting benches” in town made by the high school shop classes in 1969. In 1983 they refinished the benches.
Along with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Soroptimist started Sequim’s first club for senior citizens. It was first called the Exploring Golden Age Club and then became the Leisure Hour Club, with 50 people in attendance at the first meeting.
In the 1980s, the club rented out a Santa suit to the businesses in town for $10, used to cover the cost of cleaning.
“It amazes me how many aspects of the community Soropimists have been involved,” Xander said.