Women of purposeAn endowed scholarship fund at The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County supports scholarships from a historic women's organization.
ON A SATURDAY NIGHT IN FEBRUARY 1918, 31 women gathered in a Greensburg home for the first meeting of what became the Greensburg College Club.
They were friends and neighbors, and a few were sisters. All of them had been fortunate enough to earn college degrees despite living in the era when women were denied the right to vote. Undaunted, they were committed to leading projects to benefit their communities.
In the several years before the club’s founding, when World War I was raging and American troops had taken up the fight in Europe, the women made bandages and sold war bonds. By June of that year, the war had ended and the women began searching for a new cause.
“They decided to change the purpose of the group to — and this is a direct quote: ‘Foster ideals of higher education and contribute to the educational and civic welfare of the community,’” says Carol Constantine, a former club president and 42-year member.
The group started fundraising and, in 1921, awarded the first College Club scholarship to a Westmoreland County student headed to higher education. The scholarship check totaled $150. Now, as back then, the scholarships go to students who think critically, demonstrate good character and leadership, and go beyond academics to care for others and the community at large.
Over the last century, the women of the College Club have also been contributing to the civic well-being of Greensburg by partnering with community institutions, including the public library, to provide scholarships and enrichment opportunities to girls and young women.
The scholarship mission resonated with Dorothy Ruoff, a local teacher, school principal and devoted member of the College Club. Ruoff, who died in July 2015, left a bequest of $343,300 to the Greensburg College Club. The Club then used the bequest to permanently endow a scholarship fund at The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. “We were shocked that she’d named us in her will,” Constantine says.
[The original 31 Greensburg College Club members] were visionaries who, in a time when few women were able to pursue higher education or formal government positions, refused to be left out of the conversation.
-- PHIL KOCH, executive director of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County
Proceeds from the endowed fund, which are supplemented by those the club raises through special events, ensure that scholarships will be awarded in perpetuity. If there is a point at which the Club members no longer wish to remain involved, CFWC will continue to manage the scholarship program. It’s a win–win for philanthropy and higher education.
“Any woman in Greensburg who was involved in the community was a member of the College Club,” says Phil Koch, executive director of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. “That’s significant when you consider the gender divide — how much women were limited back then in terms of education and careers. In many ways, the club enabled Greensburg-area women to step into civic leadership roles without being challenged by men.”
Koch says the club has continued to offer women leadership opportunities on projects beyond the scholarship awards program. Members have continued to focus on post–high school educational opportunities by underwriting community classes and discussion groups. The goal is to grow a community of learners who enhance the cultural life of Greensburg.
“We’ve had drama clubs and teas for senior girls,” Constantine says. “We’ve given dance lessons to teenagers. We had, at one time, a singing group that did concerts at churches and civic centers.”
Through these events, the club supported the community’s civic and cultural development, offering artistic opportunities and using event proceeds to fund the scholarships that have been its hallmark for more than a century.
“This fund does great honor to the values and traditions of the original 31 Club members,” says Koch. “They were visionaries who, in a time when few women were able to pursue higher education or formal government positions, refused to be left out of the conversation.”
Today’s Club members are college graduates, civic leaders, educators, businesswomen, historians, storytellers, friends, neighbors and sisters, all eager to support the next generation.
“The applicants for scholarship awards from this fund must demonstrate community leadership and community service,” Koch says. “This sends a message that civic engagement is important — that it is a life-long value. I am confident that 30, 40, even 50 years from now, we’ll still be giving out the Dorothy Ruoff Scholarship of the Greensburg College Club.”
Original story appeared in Forum Quarterly - Winter 2018