Nearly 100 years on, Woman’s Club of Oldsmar still going strong

Women's Club of Oldsmar-5

Woman’s Club of Oldsmar board members Christy Fraser, Laurie Bonham, Lisa Smith and Bonnie Theal pose on the front porch of the historic former library that serves as the near-century old nonprofit organization’s headquarters.

Is it possible that an organization that’s been around for nearly a century could be overlooked and under-appreciated?

For the answer to that question look no further than the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar, and the sign that hangs over the door of its historic headquarters at 207 Exeter Street; it reads ‘Oldsmar Woman’s Club.’

Chartered in 1919, three years after the community was founded by automobile pioneer Ransom E. Olds, the club was officially incorporated in 1939, but it went through an identity crisis over the decades as it changed from a library and meeting place where women of the day gathered to discuss parliamentary rule and current events while their children played after school into a nonprofit organization that assists with several local charitable endeavors and provides scholarships, books and other items to the community.

Callbacks to the Women's Club of Oldsmar's near century-old history can be found throughout its headquarters.

Hints of the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar’s near century-old history can be found throughout its headquarters at 207 Exeter St.

Now, thanks to an infusion of new blood on the board and within its membership, plus more interaction with the community, the group once known as the Oldsmar’s Woman’s Club is making sure its name is being properly recognized today as the organization closes in on its centennial birthday.

“In the early 2000s, the club was broke,” Christy Fraser, the WCO’s treasurer and longest tenured board member at 12 years, said recently. “They hosted card games to help pay the electric bill. Then we started renting it out to the Garden Club to help bring in funds.”

“So it has struggled at times. A lot has happened throughout the course of 100 years.”

Fraser and fellow board members Bonnie Theal (president), Lisa Smith (vice-president) and Laurie Bonham (secretary) said the key to the club’s turnaround was turning its focus outward instead of inward.

“What we do now is all about the community, what we can do for it and with it,” Theal, who has been with the WCO for five years, said. “We sponsor classes at Oldsmar Elementary, we donate books to the library, we provide a pair of $1,000 scholarships for young Oldsmar women.”

“We do a lunch bunch every third Tuesday to support local businesses,” Smith added.

“A lot of what we do is little acts of kindness,” Bonham said. “The club used to be very political. We don’t step over that line anymore.”

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Woman’s Club of Oldsmar members pose on the stairs of the City Council Chambers after making a presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

While community interaction has been a key to the WCO’s recent resurgence, another aspect that can’t be overlooked is the addition of new, and admittedly younger, members.

According to the club’s membership statistics, in 2013 there were 20 members on the roster, with roughly 8-10 participating in the monthly meetings; in 2017, the WCO has 35 active members, with 20-25 making it to the meetings as well as attending other, non-mandatory events.

“Our membership has doubled in the last three years,” Fraser said. “We are rolling, with members ranging in age from their late-30s to their late-80s. It’s amazing because there’s a 50-year age gap.”

“But we host pot luck lunches—we all know how to cook!—we respect each other opinions, and we get along great. And when you can get that many woman together and accomplish things without arguing, that’s saying something!”

“In 2013, there would be seven members at a meeting, all older,” Theal said. “Since then, it’s grown and we’ve gotten younger. We started a Facebook page. The City has helped promote it, and it’s really started to take off. The main difference now is they all have a say. They all know they can speak up.”

Dan and Paula Saracki.

Dan and Paula Saracki.

Paula Saracki, a graphic designer who is married to Oldsmar Vice-Mayor Dan Saracki, has seen the club’s resurgence up close since she joined three years ago, and she has been enjoying the experience.

“I joined the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar about three years ago, and have recently become more active,” Saracki, president of Impact Graphix, Inc., wrote via email.

“The group has experienced a rebirth lately with new, younger members, interesting programs, and fun events. I attribute this to an improved Facebook presence which has resulted in several new members and increased awareness, and the work of WCO’s President Bonnie Theal, Secretary Laurie Bonham and Treasurer Christy Fraser. All the ladies in the club are fun, friendly, and very generous with their time and donations to support WCO’s numerous causes.”

Women's Club of Oldsmar members recently made a presentation at the City Council meeting on Feb. 21, 2017.

Women’s Club of Oldsmar members recently gave a Power Point presentation on the state of the nonprofit organization during the Oldsmar City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Thanks to this infusion of new blood and renewed commitment to the community, the WCO has started to emerge from the shadows and receive more attention for its efforts.

Several members recently appeared before the City Council to give an update on the state of the club, and Council member Jerry Beverland spoke about the significance of the organization and its iconic headquarters.

“I don’t know if you mentioned this, but the Woman’s Club was also the first library in Oldsmar,” Beverland, who has written four book on the city’s history, said after the Power Point presentation.

“And I take some pride in the fact that I was somewhat instrumental in making sure the Woman’s Club was not torn down and that the city refurbished it in the late 90s.”

A couple of weeks later, after being invited to check out the recently renovated building, Dan Saracki and fellow City Council members Gabby McGee and Eric Seidel toured the historic cottage, located kitty-corner from the Council Chambers.

Women's Club of Oldsmar

Oldsmar City Council members Dan Saracki and Eric Seidel (far left) and City Clerk Ann Nixon and Council member Gabby McGee (right) pose with Woman’s Club of Oldsmar board members (center, l-r) Lisa Smith, Bonnie Theal, Christy Fraser and Laurie Bonham during a recent visit to the club’s historic headquarters, located at 2017 Exeter St.

“My wife’s been a member of the club for years, and she loves it,” Saracki said as he checked out the house’s interior touches, including new paint and crown molding, retro signs and antique china.

“What I like is they do so much for the community. They really give back to the citizens of Oldsmar.”

Formed in 1919, the Women's Club of Oldsmar is the city's oldest club.

Formed in 1919, the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar is the city’s oldest club.

This Saturday, the club will have a float in the Oldsmar Days parade after finishing in second place last year, and its annual tea parties, Installation Day dinner in May and arts and craft show in November continue to provide key sources of revenue to help fund their scholarships and other endeavors.

According to Theal, it’s all part of the plan for the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar to continue to grow and succeed as it heads into its second century.

“We’re trying to bring the club to the forefront of the community so we can keep getting new members,” she said.

“That’s our goal—to get as many members as we can in order to keep this club going strong for another 100 years.”

For more information on the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar, visit their Facebook page.

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