Soroptimist International of Coronado (SIC) is celebrating its 75th anniversary with an exhibit of artifacts from its archives in the Coronado Public Library’s exhibit cases. Not only is the club commemorating 75 years, but Soroptimist International itself has hit a milestone of 100 years. The exhibit honors both.
On display through Nov. 14, the exhibit showcases exceptional women of Coronado honored by the club throughout the years, notable club accomplishments and projects, and even the club’s original, hand-signed charter from Oct. 25, 1947.
For those unfamiliar, Soroptimist got its start in Oakland, California, in 1921, an era when women were not allowed to join service organizations. But things changed in 1920 when women won the right to vote. The name Soroptimist derives loosely from the Latin for “best for women.” Its mission is to give women and girls access to the training and education they need to become economically self-sufficient. The organization gives scholarships and helps women who are struggling, for example victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking, or women who are homeless. Today, Soroptimist has clubs in over 120 countries around the world, making an enormous difference in the lives of women and girls everywhere.
“To see the impact that our local club has made on some of the women and organizations that we support has been gratifying, to say the least,” said SIC’s president, Jennifer Alvord. “We gift $65,000 in scholarships and grants to individuals and organizations around the county. Our goal is to uplift young women through education to reach economic empowerment and support organizations that promote this vision. We choose to grant money to groups that seek to eradicate human trafficking and help individuals transitioning out of a life of being exploited for financial gain.”
SIC has been actively serving Coronado and the San Diego area through scholarships for young women, service awards for high school girls, and grants to organizations assisting women and girls including the Barrio Logan Institute, Circulo de Mujeres/Circle of Women, Just in Time for Foster Youth, and many others. These efforts help homeless pregnant and parenting women, abandoned children, youth who have incarcerated parents, and children living in and near Tijuana’s municipal dumps.
“We have a common goal of supporting one another on our journey to help others,” said Alvord. “This was especially challenging during COVID, but we retained all of our members and added four new ones.”
Several of the current long-term members joined in the 1970s at the urging of a mutual friend, Linda Pipes, a local hairdresser and former SIC president. Eighteen-year member Blossom Sanger was one of them.
“I remember thinking ‘these are the women I’d like to be friends with,’” Sanger said. But the meaningful work done by SIC “changes your friendships. You’re not just talking about shopping or going to the movies. It adds more depth to your relationships.”
Sanger, who was an anesthesiologist by profession, first came to Coronado in 1959, relocating from Maine with her obstetrician-gynecologist husband. Sanger became the hotel doctor at the Hotel del Coronado, out of which her husband based his office. She remembers the job came with free membership in the beach and tennis club.
One of Sanger’s favorite things about SIC is its partnership with Southwestern College. The club gives scholarships to women students who are working heads of household in financial need. While this is something done on a larger scale by Soroptimists everywhere, SIC decided to do a special version of this program, just focused on Southwestern students.
“Even the modest amounts of money we gave for emergencies changed people’s lives,” Sanger said. “We receive notes from people 10 years later, ‘your $50 changed my life that day’ or ‘I can never thank you enough for your scholarship.’ That’s the kind of impact we have.”
The friendships between members are the icing on the cake. Sanger explained how, on a recent birthday morning, half-asleep, she opened her door to find her fellow members decorating her front walk with chalk and balloons. “When it’s your birthday and you see people you love decorating your sidewalk, that’s hard to resist,” she said.
Retired educator Tippy Thibodeau is a 30-year member of SIC. “I wanted an all-women’s group, and it was the only one in Coronado at the time,” she said. She was also recruited by hairdresser Linda Pipes, her friend.
“In those days, you had to be either a business owner or manager to belong,” Thibodeau said. “Later, the regulation was changed so women at home could join, and that opened it up to a lot of people.”
One of the things Thibodeau likes about Soroptimist is a service award which is unusual in that it is awarded to a Coronado High School student who is involved with a cause but is not on the verge of graduating. “We give the scholarship to the student and match that amount with a donation to the organization they are involved in,” Thibodeau said.
She also feels proud to help honor accomplished local women through the SIC’s “Legends Luncheons,” founded by members Penny Duermeyer and Doug St. Denis, which would get huge turnouts. “It wasn’t unusual to have 250 people at a luncheon.” The luncheons ceased during the pandemic but the club hopes to hold them again soon.
“These legendary women serve as role models of caring for and commitment to a better world,” said Alvord. “One of the legends featured in the [exhibit] is a current member named Cathy McJanet. Formerly director of the nursing program at Southwestern Colege and still an active ER nurse at Sharp Coronado Hospital, she was instrumental in getting the COVID vaccine clinic up and running.”
Candice Hooper, a Library Assistant who oversees the exhibits and archives, said the SIC archive at the library came out of an exhibit of SIC artifacts at the library years ago. After the exhibit came down, SIC “asked if we’d take on the care and storage of the collection and to have it be preservation quality versus how it was originally stored, which was well-organized but wasn’t in containers for long-term sustainable storage. The Library purchased the supplies to add to the longevity of its life.”
Alvord encourages everyone to visit the Library to see the exhibit. “The archives at the library are invaluable to our club because they allow us to document the past, celebrate all of the women who have been a part of our organization, acknowledge our accomplishments, and provide a map of our work for those who come after us,” she said. “In addition, we have a committee of women who have spent several years and hundreds of hours poring over old photos, newspaper articles, luncheon programs, et cetera to organize our history in a succinct format. In turn, we are thrilled the library partnered with us in this endeavor to preserve our history in a secure place properly.”
The club welcomes new members. For more information, visit coronadosoroptimist.org. Visit the Library to view the Soroptimist exhibit through Nov. 14.