Getting down to business
Tired of being marginalized by male-dominated groups, women joined together to form their own organization
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
In 1980, Port St. Lucie was not exactly the busy and booming city it is today. There were a mere 3,500 residents and many of the neighborhoods west of the turnpike had dirt roads. While the population may have been small, people still had to work and new businesses continued to open. Many residents traveled south to Palm Beach, Broward and, then, Dade counties for work.
Career plans and professional concerns became a hot topic for a group of local women. Charlotte DeVane, Joyce Nix, Patty Brink and Susan Barber were close friends who all worked in the banking industry. At a time when there were no local professional organizations that welcomed women or addressed their concerns, these women changed all of that.
Since there was not a local organization in the late 1970s and early 1980s that catered to the challenges and concerns of businesswomen, many career-driven women felt isolated and oftentimes were not treated as equal to their male colleagues.
“Starting in the 1980s, professional women could and did join national organizations that had local branches,” says Dorothy Kamm, publicity chair for print media of the Port St. Lucie Business Women’s group. “But at the time, PSL did not have a local branch and women could not hold office within these chapters.”
NO WELCOME MAT
The Jaycees did not admit women until 1984 after a Minnesota Supreme Court ruled “that the requirement that the Jaycees accept women as regular members did not unduly tread on male members’ freedom of association.”
Lions Club International allowed women to participate in Lioness auxiliary programs and finally admitted women in 1987. After more than 20 years of trying to allow women to join, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that Rotary International was to welcome women around the world to its group.
“While women were finally admitted to be part of these groups, many of the men were not welcoming and sometimes created a very hostile environment for the women,” Kamm says. “Additionally, the career women of Port St. Lucie did not want to join organizations on the coattails of their husbands; they wanted to play a larger role and have a greater voice.”
WOMEN SHARED A VISION
These women did not accept the status-quo of remaining in the background. They remained strong and worked hard to pave the way for women to succeed in today’s world.
After meetings with other professional women who shared the vision to better themselves and their careers, the local foursome founded Port St. Lucie Business Women on Sept. 30, 1980. The organization started with 21 charter members, a few goals and a mission that expanded over the years.
“The women wanted to feel a part of the community and have an organization where they would be able to discuss workplace challenges, serve as mentors and enjoy the camaraderie of other women business owners and managers,” Kamm says. “They knew they had a lot to give to this young city to make it the best place to live.”
The women believed their shared talents, intelligence and motivations would positively impact the community where they lived and worked; and they were so very right.
The first fundraiser the group participated in benefited the city’s proposed Youth Community Center. The building still stands at Prima Vista Boulevard near the Ravenswood Swimming Pool and Port St. Lucie Branch Library.
FOUND STILL ACTIVE
Lee Hicks, one of the founding members, is also the only charter member still active today.
“When we first started, our main purpose was to get ladies interested in executive positions and be part of civic activities,” Hicks says. “We were and still are very active in the community.”
At 86, she continues to meet with the group and has formed a tight-knit circle within the organization called the wise women that includes eight older members who meet and discuss current affairs. Hicks speaks with great fondness and respect for the organization. Much of her work has been involved in the membership committee to retain and bring on new members.
“We really support each other through all of our joys as well as concerns,” Hicks says. “It’s fantastic to be amongst women who want to give back to our community and support other organizations as well.”
Over the years the group has done much for those in need. Members have done everything from painting walls at the Pace Center for Girls and SafeSpace to purchasing and filling backpacks with school supplies for Stuff the Bus. They also participate in Day of Caring and food drives for Treasure Coast Food Bank and bring out members to swing hammers for Habitat for Humanity.
LENDING A HELPING HAND
The group certainly prides itself on its ability to help others.
“For 10 years, the PSL Business Women has participated in and sponsored the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk,” Kamm says. “We have raised more than $16,000 for the American Cancer Society to provide free rides to cancer patients, provide wigs free of charge to women, and to support the search for a cure, education, and outreach.”
For 29 years, it has held an annual fashion show, a sellout event that is the talk of the town, to raise funds for local nonprofit agencies serving women and children and scholarships for women attending Indian River State College. To date, more than $200,000 in grants has been awarded. Through the Business Women’s partnership with Indian River State College, 68 women have benefited from awards of $124,500 in scholarships to continue their education.
And in September, grants totaling $10,000 were awarded to seven Treasure Coast nonprofit organizations that benefit women and children in the community.
Donna DeMarchi, an attorney who handles personal injury cases, is the current president. She has lived in Port St. Lucie since 1986 and has been with the PSLBW group for about nine years.
“I was recruited to join Port St. Lucie Business Women by a colleague in the legal field, Robin Delgado,” DeMarchi says. “I was drawn to this organization because of their community programs providing both scholarships to students at IRSC as well as grants to area nonprofit organizations.”
PLANNING AN ANNIVERSARY
While the pandemic has certainly changed the trajectory for some of its annual events, the group has not let it keep them down. Members have continued to meet monthly via Zoom and are still planning on celebrating their 40-year anniversary, the Ruby Jubilee, in the spring.
“Many of our programs were highly reliant on one of our larger annual fundraisers, which we were not able to hold this year due to the pandemic,” DeMarchi says. “So right now our strategies are to find fun, creative and safe ways to ensure the viability of our scholarship and grant programs for 2021. I am very pleased to report that because of the efforts of several of our members, we should be perfectly fine.”
As far as their membership demographic goes, they are either owners or management level employees of their respective businesses.
“We have no target business areas per se, and we have an incredibly diverse group made up of bankers, insurance brokers, real estate brokers, attorneys, medical professionals, marketing professionals,” DeMarchi says. “You name it, we likely have it. It is not about what business they are in, rather, it is about their dedication to supporting each other and the organization.”
One of the group’s lesser known contributions is its idea for the city’s slogan: A City for All Ages. In the late 1990s, when the city called for slogan suggestions, it was the PSLBW’s submission that was chosen.
In 2011, all the years of hard work and dedication to the community was noted when the group was given the Spirit of St. Lucie Award from the United Way of St. Lucie County.
In 2015, to commemorate its 35th anniversary, a live oak was planted at city hall and a plaque dedication ceremony was held in the group’s honor.
“This year, to commemorate our 40th anniversary or Ruby Jubilee, we are working with Yellowstone Landscape, who donated the live oak for our 35th anniversary,” Kamm says. “They will be providing the design, materials and labor to install a brick paver pathway extending from the sidewalk to the tree.”
As a fundraiser and as a way to customize the pathway, the group has invited the community to be part of its celebration and purchase an engraved brick to honor someone, memorialize someone special, celebrate a special event or showcase a business in front of city hall. Each personalized brick becomes a lasting tribute that will be seen and remembered by visitors, guests and members of our community.