Friendship, sisterhood give Woman's Club staying power
Posted October 13, 2010
ROYAL OAK — When a friend first approached Kelly Mueller about joining the Royal Oak Woman’s Club in the mid-1990s, she dismissed the idea.
“I told her that I didn’t think I was Woman’s Club material. I didn’t have white gloves,” she joked about the formal attire oftentimes attributed to similar groups. “But it’s not like that anymore.”
The club, founded in 1902, has a rich and deep history in the city. Several members said it’s the friendship and sisterhood they get through the group that has helped sustain it over all these years.
“It’s about friendship and it’s about service to the community,” said Jeanne Sarnacki, ROWC president, from the organization’s clubhouse after a recent group meeting. “It’s a fun way to learn about what is going on elsewhere in the city.”
She said the membership makeup — currently there are approximately 130 members — runs the gamut of women in the city, including many who belong to other clubs and organizations.
“That’s not a big group in the grand scheme of things,” Sarnacki said.
“But we’re mighty,” Mueller interjected with a smile.
Every female city commissioner who has ever served in Royal Oak is or has been a member — including current City Commissioner Patricia Capello — said Sarnacki, who served as a commissioner from 1999-2003.
She said because the group has members that reach across various civic organizations, the club becomes a great place to learn about what is happening in and around Royal Oak.
“You can become increasingly knowledgeable about what is going on in the city and how one can help,” Sarnacki said.
Clubhouse a special place
While the ROWC boasts a long history with plenty of memories, it’s the group’s clubhouse that stands out as a major point of pride.
The clubhouse, located at 404 S. Pleasant St., is the oldest building in the city. Having originally served as a church in 1839, the Tudor-style home has had several different uses over the years, among them being City Hall for a time.
The physical building itself has been moved twice; it became the permanent home of the ROWC in 1923. It was designated as a Michigan Registered Historical Site in 1979, and a marker was placed there to honor that fact in 1985.
Sarnacki and the group’s vice president, Mary Ann Carmichael, said they take stewardship of the building as an important piece of what they do.
“Should we ever cease to exist, the clubhouse would go back to the city,” Sarnacki said. “It’s in our bylaws.”
The basement of the building still has the original wooden beams embedded in the ceiling. The first floor has an open area where meetings are conducted, and the basement has tables, a kitchen and space for parties.
The ROWC rents out the space for all sorts of activities.
“We are fortunate that we have enough members that love the clubhouse,” Carmichael said. “We have a core group that loves the house and work really hard on it.”
She said they are proud to rent the facility out for various functions.
“This is our clubhouse,” Sarnacki said, standing outside. “It’s such a wonderful thing.”
Community service is one of the cornerstones upon which the ROWC was founded, and the group continues that tradition today with various fundraisers for local charities, special causes for families in need and scholarships for high school students.
Early in its history, the ROWC helped push for a curfew ordinance that was later enacted by the city. The club also advocated for clean water fountains in the schools and fire escapes at the high school. The ROWC fought for equality when women were given the right to vote, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt even spoke to members.
“We’ve had an ongoing history for advocacy in our community,” Sarnacki said.
She said they also organized the city’s first library and helped with early mail-delivery services.
Today, many of the fundraisers go toward benefiting various charities, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Oakland County, Common Ground, South Oakland Shelter, Girlstown and Mobile Meals, among others.
The club will hold its annual spaghetti dinner at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the clubhouse. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $4 for children 4 to 12 years old.
Members, by the numbers
While they started with just 14 women, the group swelled in size in subsequent years. A portrait in the meeting area of the clubhouse shows a roster of approximately 130 women from when the club moved into the building in the 1920s. Today, there are about the same amount of women involved.
“We have women in their 90s and women in their 20s,” Sarnacki said.
There are three sub-groups in the club, with one meeting during the day, and two others getting together in the evenings; those two are geared toward working professionals.
The group is always seeking new members, Sarnacki said.
And while the name might suggest otherwise, men are not excluded from membership.
“We would accept male members,” Sarnacki said. “I can’t say we have any though.”
Annual dues are $55. For more information on the ROWC, visit them online at www.royaloakwomans club.org, or call (248) 545-8363.
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