The month of March was designated by Congress as Women’s History Month in 1987, the same year that the Port St. Lucie Business Women was founded. Diane Gallagher, chairperson of the Port St. Lucie Business Women’s History Committee, presented a program paralleling the establishment of Women’s History Month and its significance with the history of the formation of the organization at their March 2 meeting held at Tutto Fresco.
“In 1980 we had garden clubs and other clubs, but no professional organizations,” said Gallagher. Several women wanted to join local chapters of various national organizations, but the chapters were told they would lose their charters if they accepted women.
Instead, four local women in banking decided to get together to mentor and support each other, focus on issues with which they were concerned, as well as to encourage professional development. Soon after these women, along with 17 other charter members, formed the Port St. Lucie Business Women. In light of their experience with national clubs, they decided it was best to forge their own path independent of any national organization.
Port St. Lucie Business Women Charter member Lee Hicks spoke about her fellow Charter member Strelsa Schreiber, former long-time Port St. Lucie resident, columnist, author and activist. Hicks said that Schreiber worked behind the scenes, including writing the by-laws for the Port St. Lucie Business Women. “Strelsa Schrieber believed women could contribute much to the community,” said Hicks, and indeed, they have. This included raising funds for the first Port St. Lucie Community Center. The Business Women also offers the Strelsa Schreiber Professional Development Fund scholarship for members to enhance their professional knowledge or expertise. The Schreiber Conference Center at Indian River State College’s St. Lucie West Campus carries her name as testament to her community leadership and her staunch support of the College and its students.
Carol Wyatt, co-owner of WPSL, WSTU and WJNX radio stations, said the Treasure Coast has been very open for women to own broadcast stations. Genevieve Glascock, who owned 102.3 FM in the 1980s and 90s was the first, followed by Alice Lee with WFLM in 1993, and the late Helen Horton, who emerged from an eight year regulatory process with the license for WHLG 101.3 FM.
Wyatt also pointed to changes in the once male-only service clubs in town. She joined the Port St. Lucie Rotary Club in 1995 and served as the first woman president in 1998. She is proud that the growth in many service clubs is in their female membership, which is especially strong in Port St. Lucie.
Business Women member Patricia Christensen was the first female mayor of Port St. Lucie. When she ran for office in 1990 she was the youngest woman to do so. “I noticed back then that there were few women who worked for the city of Port St. Lucie. I got involved politically because we lacked a lot of services and I wanted to address this,” said Christensen.
There were other firsts for Port St. Lucie Business Women. Helen Ridsdale was the first person hired for the Police Department in 1981, and she was head of Animal Control for over 20 years. Nina Baranski was the first Communications Director for the city of Port St. Lucie, and she was the one responsible for bringing television crews to broadcast City Council meetings. Linda Valure was the first female Human Resources Director for the city. Paula Lewis was the only one to serve on the City Council and St. Lucie County Commission until recently, when Linda Bartz won a seat on the County Commission after serving on the Port St. Lucie City Council.
Gallagher pointed out that women’s history was virtually an unaddressed topic in the schools or in the consciousness of the general public prior to the 1970’s. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter’s addressed the nation when he designated March 2 through 8 as National Women’s History Week, saying, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed, But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
Indeed, throughout its 37 year history, the Port St. Lucie Business Women have awarded thousands of dollars to local non-profit agencies that work with women and children through their Community Action Grants & Awards, and assured the futures of dozens of women attending Indian River State College with scholarships.
The Port St. Lucie Business Women is a professional organization dedicated to promoting the interests of business women and serving our community in an effective way. For more information visit www.pslbw.com. “Like” their Facebook page for updates about events, programs and community involvement.