Santa Paula Rotary celebrates
25 years of women membership

May 07, 2014
Santa Paula News

It’s been 25 years since one of the world’s largest service clubs was ordered by the Supreme Court to admit women, and Santa Paula Rotarians were told by Club Historian Nils Rueckert, “It’s one of the best things that ever happened to Rotary... “

Rueckert made his remarks celebrating the contributions of women to Rotary at the April 7 meeting where appreciation of his at times tongue-in-cheek presentation was gender-wide.

Women were excluded from club membership until the Supreme Court ruled against Rotary International in 1989: “We have not only survived, we have thrived,” said Rueckert, of “one of the best things that ever happened to Rotary.”

He noted the contributions of women members and those trendsetters-including one Los Angeles area club-that brought in women despite the earlier ban and lost their charters.  

Rueckert said, “In Santa Paula there were reportedly four members who were against women in the club.  

“You might remember Martha Knight, she was the widow of former Santa Paula Memorial Hospital director Jim Knight,” who when speaking to the club years later noted “that all four of those dissenters had by then passed away, including her husband.  

“I really didn’t know how to react when she made that remark,” said Rueckert,  “to laugh or not to react at all. Prior to ladies coming into Rotary we would occasionally host a Ladies Night for the so-called Rotary Anns, the wives of members,” a term not always popular with the women even prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

Rueckert said the first woman member joined in 1989 and was Santa Paula High School Superintendent Caroline Erie who later moved out of state.

Over the years more and more women joined Rotary and several of them including Ginger Gherardi, Maria Bombara, Pam Lindsay and Carol Burhoe, served as president, with Burhoe being the first woman to lead the club in 1998-1999, during which time Santa Paula Rotary celebrated its 75th anniversary. Judy Phelps will be club president in 2015-2016.

“We have also welcomed our widows by making them all honorary members and,” said Rueckert, “inviting them to our major Family of Rotary events.”

Over the years Santa Paula women Rotarians have traveled around the world for Rotary projects, initiated Rotary programs and been honored with Paul Harris Fellowship (changed from the originally named Paul Harris Fellows) as well as Rotarian of the Year awards.

The careers of women Rotarians are diverse, and Rueckert said they have contributed expertise, imagination, talent and determination to all they have tackled, from the Christmas Stocking Program for convalescent hospital seniors to the Faulkner Farm Pumpkin Patch, an event said Rueckert, that is, “probably the next best thing that ever happened to our club... “

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