ALTOONA − A circle of 10 women bantered and laughed as they stuffed envelopes at the Eau Claire Golf and Country Club Tuesday afternoon. Kiwanis Club tapestries hung on the walls behind them.
It isn’t just these 10 women: All 43 members of the Clear Water Kiwanis Club of Eau Claire are female. It’s one of the only Kiwanis clubs in the nation with an all-female membership, club leaders said.
Just like Eau Claire’s other three Kiwanis clubs, the Clear Water club is dedicated to social issues that impact children, and welcomes both men and women as members.
“We’ll take men if they’re interested,” said LaVone Sneen, lieutenant governor of the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan District’s Division Nine.
Between five and seven men have become members during the club’s 30-year history, but Clear Water hasn’t had a male member in several years, said member Dianne Hughes.
“It just evolved that way,” said Clear Water treasurer Sue Tietz.
“It’s not something we’re trying consciously to do, make it all-female,” Hughes said. “It’s just how it’s happening.”
The Clear Water club donates scholarships, volunteers at community events and has organized its signature event, the Doll and Pet Parade, since 2017, said MaryEdna Hagen, a Clear Water member.
At international conventions, Clear Water members have encountered only one other Kiwanis club that’s all-female, Sneen said.
The Kiwanis Club of Coweta County in Georgia is another all-female club, the Newnan Times-Herald reported in 2016.
“If you mention you’re from an all-women club, people all start to gasp,” Sneen said. “This is still very rare within the Kiwanis world.”
A small majority of Kiwanis members at regional district conventions are men, Sneen said.
The Clear Water club doesn’t isolate itself from other local Kiwanis, members said. Eau Claire hosts three other Kiwanis organizations — the Indianhead, Early Risers and Noon clubs — and “we work together really well,” Hagen said.
History turned on its head
An all-female Kiwanis club is rare, Sneen said, but the Clear Water club has had roots in the female community since its beginning.
Kiwanis International was founded in 1915, but didn’t allow women to join clubs until 1987.
Hughes participated in UW-Eau Claire’s Circle K Club, a Kiwanis college program, but when she graduated in 1981, she waited six years to join Kiwanis.
In the meantime, she co-founded a local “Kiwanianne” club, similar to an auxiliary club.
“We were very interested in converting to a full-fledged Kiwanis club once they changed their bylaws,” Hughes remembered.
In August 1987 the Clear Water Kiwanis Club began, with the help and sponsorship of the Eau Claire Noon Kiwanis Club, Hughes said.
Despite its mostly-female membership, even in past days the club always welcomed male members, said Clear Water secretary Kelley Simon.
“I think what tends to happen is you invite the people you’re comfortable with, so we’ve just gravitated toward inviting women,” Simon said.
At conventions, the Clear Water club is known as “the all-female club,” Hughes said.
“People ask us, ‘How do you get women into your club?’ We joke and ask them, ‘Tell us how to get men,’” Hughes said.
But Clear Water collaborates with other local clubs too, including for the annual Paul Bunyan Flapjack Feed in Eau Claire, Hughes said.
“We (all) have a very vibrant presence in our community,” Hughes said. “We wouldn’t exist, quite frankly, if the Noon Club hadn’t have sponsored us.”
“The camaraderie of the group keeps us together,” Sneen said.
The Clear Water Kiwanis Club meets at noon Tuesdays at the Eau Claire Golf and Country Club, 828 Club View Lane, Altoona.