The XX Factor
Women Make Big Impact At Rotary Roswell Rotary adds tennis to its annual golf tournament fundraiser.
By Harold Keyserling
Recent cases brought before the Supreme Court involving affirmative action and marriage equality have focused public attention on these issues and are reminders of the civil rights struggles our society has overcome. Considering the progress that has been made in civil rights, it is hard to believe that Rotary International, an organization recognized for inclusiveness and international humanitarian service, once did not accept women as members.
It was only after a Supreme Court ruling in 1987 that Rotary International allowed women to join its ranks. Today, the organization’s worldwide membership of 1.2 million people is 15% female. The percentage of women members in North America is even higher at 22%. Local chapters founded after the Supreme Court ruling tend to have a larger percentage of women than clubs established prior to the ruling.
The local Roswell Rotary is now 21% female. It inducted its first two
female members, Emily Dolvin and Patsy Wolff on September 26, 1991. Wolff is still an active member of the club. The following year, the club inducted Pat DiGeorge, a successful real estate agent. “Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to join Rotary,” states DiGeorge. “Bill Lewis, my old boss and Past President said, ‘You are going to join.’” DiGeorge, the fourth female to join the 180 member club recalls enjoying a sort of notoriety for being one of the club’s few female members, “I told someone, ‘Everyone knows who I am, but all you guys look the same.’”
The first important leadership position given to a female was in 1995 when DiGeorge was asked to become the Program Chair. DiGeorge went on to become the first female president of the Roswell Rotary in 2001. “I never felt any different than any other president, and if a member had been unhappy about a female president, I never knew it,” states DiGeorge. At the time of her presidency the rotary’s roster was less than 10% women. “I had a goal to get female membership up to 20%. I didn’t realize that goal in my year, but a decade later we got there.”
Since then, Roswell Rotary has had several female presidents including Cheryl Greenway and the current president, Jacque Digieso. Cheryl Greenway, a local CPA firm owner, went on to lead a district of 80 rotary clubs serving as their district governor. Digieso was also a member of the former Roswell East Club prior to joining Roswell Rotary. The Roswell East Club was established after the Supreme Court ruling. “I viewed the invitation to Roswell East as an opportunity to spend important time with other business leaders in my community. I didn’t view myself as one of the few women, because coming in I didn’t know the history,” states Digieso. “I was only greeted with welcome and acceptance, and it was very respectful.” The Roswell East Club eventually dissolved, and Digieso joined Roswell Rotary, later to become the president of the club for its 2012 – 2013 year.
Not all areas of the club have been touched by female leadership until this year. The club’s annual golf tournament fundraiser had never had a female lead in its 35 year history until this year. Men make up 80% of the golfers in America. Theo Keyserling, a small business owner in Roswell, is the first female lead. When asked about how the tournament would run differently this year, Keyserling answered, “I don’t expect it to run any differently for the golf tournament itself, but we’ve added a tennis tournament in the afternoon to incorporate more participation in the fundraiser.” Keyserling, who was also last years’ co-chair, executed along with a majority-female subcommittee a Vegas style gambling casino at the 2012 tournament after-party. “It was a huge hit, especially with our membership that wanted to participate but didn’t know how to golf—which just happens to be a majority of females.” Incorporating non golfing events not only added more appeal to the tournament, but it also increased tournament revenue. “We did have some initial feedback from some members that the tournament should focus on sponsorship dollars instead of the after-party, which we did take in to consideration, but in the end our after party for the golf tournament generated 22% more than the previous year. Being that our female membership makes up about 20% of our club, I don’t think the additional revenue was coincidental.”
The Tennis Tournament Round Robin, dubbed “The Hagan Cup Classic” after local philanthropist and Roswell Rotarian Bob Hagan, will be held on the same afternoon as the club’s annual golf tournament. This year, the Tournament will be held at Country Club of Roswell on September 9. Keyserling states, “It’s a natural and easy progression for the tournament and the Country Club of Roswell has the perfect facilities to hold both tournaments simultaneously.”
When asked about being a younger female in Rotary, Keyserling answers, “I’ve never felt like a ‘woman’ in Rotary or been made to feel that way. I’ve never felt like a youngster either—I just feel like a Rotarian.” DiGeorge also commented on present day Rotary, “My theory is that everyone would be in Roswell Rotary if they could. There is purpose and impact in Roswell Rotary—if you think it is a lunch bunch, you won’t be in the club for very long.” Jacque Diqieso adds, “I think that Roswell Rotary coming from 62 years ago in a very small town and a very tight knit group has been able to change with the times. Roswell is no longer a tiny town and Roswell Rotary reflects that.”
The Roswell Rotary is always eager to hear from individuals interested in our mission and in joining a Rotary club. Please visit www.roswellrotary.com.