Demure as they are determined, the Altamonte Springs Women’s Club has been quietly making our community a better place for 70 years
These women have been a staple in Altamonte Springs for decades, having recently celebrated a milestone 70th anniversary. Their work in the community is priceless, yet they receive little fanfare, have no website, nor an official office to call their own.
From its humble post-war beginnings, the Altamonte Springs Women’s Club has met continuously since 1946, offering help to organizations in need. Today, the group of mostly (but not all) retirees meets once a month at the Westmonte Civic Center to plan fundraisers or discuss a community group that may be in need of assistance.
“We try to raise several thousand dollars a year, plus we collect a lot of supplies,” says Joan Zoltek, president of the 50-member club.
The undisputed leader of the organization, Joan joined the Altamonte Springs Women’s Club in 1980 after moving south from Illinois with her husband. She has served as club president on and off for the past 20 years and was inducted into the same role once again on June 1. She has also held the title of vice president 12 times.
Joan says three local charities receive the majority of the organization’s fundraising efforts, led by the Altamonte Springs Advisory Board for the Disabled, which the club has been assisting since 1987. The board provides social and recreational activities for special-needs residents. SafeHouse of Seminole is another major beneficiary, a recipient of the club’s generosity since 1995. The newest cause, Angel Gowns of Florida, was founded in 2014 as a ministry to create gowns from donated wedding dresses for newborns who pass away in the hospital.
The Women’s Club raises its money through dues, fashion shows, and silent and live auctions. The ladies also help out the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and Meals on Wheels.
Jeanne Gold, a former club member and the chief executive officer of SafeHouse of Seminole, says the club has been donating funds and supplies to the domestic violence shelter since its inception. The 92-bed facility for women and children escaping domestic violence recently used the club’s donations to purchase mini-fridges for the teenage children staying at the shelter.
“The Women’s Club is a dedicated and loyal supporter,” Jeanne says. “And it’s not just the money. It’s the supplies they collect – and their caring. They are very down-to-earth, community-minded ladies.”
The club dedicates one month out of the year to collecting supplies just for SafeHouse. The group collects canned goods, toiletries, and other household necessities and fills Jeanne’s SUV.
“Our main purpose is raising money and helping local groups,” adds 86-year-old Evelyn Vihlen, who has been club treasurer for the past 12 years. “But I also love meeting new people and getting new people into the club.”
While the trend of joining community service groups – especially some women’s clubs – has been on the decline nationwide, Evelyn says her club has gained seven new members this year. A resident of Altamonte Springs since 1953 and twice retired, first from banking and then the United Way, Evelyn truly enjoys volunteering. For the past 15 years, she has given her time to Florida Hospital by knitting booties for babies and helping the Altamonte Springs Women’s Club assist local charities. Evelyn says she finds a new tradition that the club undertook very moving.
“We have had a lot of members pass away over the years,” she explains. “So what we do is find out what they were interested in, buy books on that subject, and then donate them to the library.”
While charitable work is the key mission of the club, it’s not all business. The ladies also get together every month to dine, tell stories, and show pictures of their grandkids and great-grandchildren.
“Every fourth Wednesday, about 20 of us go out socially to a restaurant,” says Joan, who is 83 years young and insists that this year as president will be her last. “Our youngest member is 60 and the oldest is 91, although she had to move back to Illinois but still sends arts and crafts for the auctions.”
Age, like distance, is no barrier to entry for these delightful, determined ladies.
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