Soroptimist’s name derives from the Latin words “soror” meaning sister, and “optima” meaning best – in short, Soroptimist works for what’s “best for women.” A service organization for businesswomen founded in Oakland, California in 1921, Soroptimist today has clubs in more than 120 countries, where it works to improve the lives of women and girls. Soroptimist started in Klamath 81 years ago and the history of Soroptimist in Klamath is a history of giving back to all parts of our community.
On June 14, 1938, fifteen members stood with first president Laura Bertram at the chartering ceremony of the Klamath Falls Soroptimist. Dues were $16 per year and lunch, held in the Blue Room of the Willard Hotel, cost 75 cents a person. As its first project, the club purchased 24 dolls at 37 cents each for needy children.
Over the years the club’s civic contributions soared.
World War II struck and in 1944 the Klamath Falls Soroptimist sold $42,000 in bonds, putting the club in line for an army citation. The federal government built the Marine Barracks Recuperation Center and the club purchased the Soroptimist House at 73 Pine Street for friends and family of recovering servicemen to stay.
When the former Marine Barracks became Oregon Technical Institute (OTI), the club established the Soroptimist Nursing scholarship, which by 1951 reached $1,000 a year. In 1961 the club built the Gingerbread House in Moore Park, with member Norma Muller serving as the contractor.
By the 70’s Klamath Soroptimist’s service budget grew to $4,000. Soroptimist continued to support students through scholarships at OTI and pledged $10,000 for a Presidential Scholarship.
In the 80’s the Ross Ragland Theater renovation began and Soroptimist produced “A Day with the Stars,” raising over $9,000 for the building fund. Soroptimist’s dedication to scholarship continued in the 90’s with $20,000 for the newly established Klamath Community College (KCC).
Marta’s House for protection of domestic violence victims was the brainchild of member Marta Kollman. Marta donated the building and Soroptimist donated $30,000 to make this dream a respite for women in need.
In 2006, Sky Lakes Medical Center expanded and Soroptimist donated $25,000 toward its atrium healing garden. In 2007 Soroptimist pledged $50,000 to Oregon Tech, which named a room for the club in the new Dow Center for Health Professionals. In 2013 Soroptimist partnered with the Columbia Pacific Foundation to establish a $15,000 scholarship at Oregon Tech.
Soroptimist members have rung the Salvation Army Bell at Christmas, decorated the train station during the holidays, volunteered at the airport gift shop, packed food boxes, decorated women’s shelter rooms, hosted community baby showers, supported military families, and maintained a knitting support group for breast cancer survivors.
In 1938 Soroptimist’s service budget totaled $632. Eighty years later and some 60 members strong, Soroptimist’s service budget has grown over forty-fold to top $26,000. Today the club provides funding to the Food Bank, SMART, KCC, Oregon Tech, Miss Klamath County Scholarship Program, CASA, and other worthy local causes. The OIT endowment has grown to over $46,000 and the collaboration with the Columbia Pacific Foundation continues. But Soroptimist isn’t just a charity. Soroptimist members are business and civic leaders. In the 50’s Kathleen Thompson and Phyllis Slater were declared the First Ladies of Klamath Falls. Lucille O’Neil served on the State Board of Education and she and Isabel Brixner both have schools named for them. Governor Hatfield appointed Olive Cornett to a White House Conference on Ageing. Winifred Favell helped build the Favell Museum. Bea Bell, Barbara Wardell and Phyllis Cavanaugh helped develop the bike path. Karla Knipes was the first female judge in Klamath County and Martha Ann Dow the first woman president of Oregon Tech. Today, members are active on many local boards and have played key roles within the Soroptimist organization on the state, national and international levels.
The list of leaders goes on. And you can be one of them. In this season of giving, consider joining Klamath Soroptimist.
Sue Shapiro served as President of Klamath Falls Soroptimist and as Northwestern Region Secretary. For information about joining Soroptimist, contact this year’s president Judy Phearson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Sue Shapiro