Enumclaw Rotary celebrates 30 years of women

“We’re celebrating the anniversary of the Supreme Court seeking to allow women in Rotary,” Club President Mike Nelson said.

The sun made a rare appearance as the Rotarians honored some gender equality.

On Thursday May 4, members of the Enumclaw Rotary Club came together to celebrate the women of the past and present in their 48-year-old organization.

“We’re celebrating the anniversary of the Supreme Court seeking to allow women in Rotary,” Club President Mike Nelson said.

“Back in the 80’s, Enumclaw Rotary was really known for being an exclusive men’s club, nothing else. And so when it came to the decision that we could no longer exclude women, I was told that there were four, maybe five women who were ready to join the club,” said Gene Fagerquist, who was the Rotary President at the time of the Supreme Court ruling on May 4, 1987.

Fagerquist told of how some members were against the ruling and threatened to leave if women became involved with the club.

“Most of the people were for it, thank goodness, so we brought the women into the club and we lost some members but it wasn’t a loss; we gained women and they were organized and they did the club very much good,” he said.

One of the women who joined the Enumclaw Rotary at the time was Alice Peeples, who became the club’s first female president in 1992.

Peeples was one of the guest speakers, along with her daughter Jean Hill, and she told of the early days in the club, joking about one of the hardships the women to face were chairs they had to sit in.

“We were tired of having to buy new stockings just for the Rotary meetings and so I made an announcement at a meeting one day that I’m tired of coming to meetings and having all my stockings ripped up,” Peeples said as the Rotary members laughed.

She said that there weren’t any real intimidations by the male club members, saying that those who did would only try it once or twice.

“Those who did would be verbally slapped or the other men in the club, I think, would take care of it. I always felt such a strong support,” said Peeples.

Another speaker was Dorothy Sleigh who joined the club with Peeples.

“Looking around, it’s not a good ol’ boy’s club anymore,” Sleigh said. “I was delighted actually, when affirmative action came in and I think it makes for a much better working condition when you have both women and men involved.”

Sleigh talked about how she became a part of the Chamber of Commerce and was met with contempt since it was, according to her, another boy’s club.

“The very first meeting I went to, I’ll never forget it as long as I live, I sat down across this table from this guy that was in the oil business and he looked at me and he says ‘who the hell invited you?’ and I says, I paid my dues – did you?” she said.

Sleigh went on to say that she became the president of the Chamber of Commerce and that believes the world is better now than it was “because men and women do know how to work together.”

Sleigh and Peeples are two of the five women who were welcomed into the Enumclaw Rotary after the Supreme Court ruling. The other women – Shirley Heen, Judy Radliff and later, Cindy Uhrich – have since passed away.

Though Peeples was the first female president of Enumclaw’s Rotary, she was not the last.

There have been eight women since Peeples who have been the club’s president, including Wendy Walker, Thelma Struck, Laura Curnan, Kory Keath, Linda Kleppe-Olson, Lauren Hardman, Juanita Carstens and Tami Dunn.

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