JOLIET – Joliet Zonta Club charter member Dr. Patricia L. Miller recalled mentioning the Equal Rights Amendment to a class of college students when she was teaching at the University of St. Francis in Joliet a few years ago.
“Lo and behold,” said Miller of Plainfield, a retired Joliet psychologist, “only one person had heard of it.”
While the status of women has changed in the United States in the 40 years since the Joliet chapter of Zonta was formed – good stenography skills is no longer a condition for employment – it’s by no means perfect, Miller feels, not as long as double standards and sexual harassment still exist.
For women in the rest of the world, there is much work to be done, which is why Zonta is still relevant, Miller said. Zonta is known for its warm and open attitude among members, even when walking into an unfamiliar chapter.
“They greet you like a long-lost sister,” Miller said.
Although Miller grew up as an only child to parents who felt anything boys could do, girls could do too, the larger world did not see it that way, Miller said. As a teen, Miller stood up to an entire school board trying – unsuccessfully – to convince them to change policy so she could take shop class.
Through Zonta, Miller has met and connected with other professional women who want to support women, she said. Other members at the time included former Clerk of the Circuit Court Helen S. Harshbarger and Dorothy Cryder, former writer for the Living section of The Herald-News, Miller said.
Projects in those early years included reading stories to children in Groundwork and assisting a halfway house for alcoholic women, Miller said, as such women were generally not well-received when they returned home.
“It was wonderful that we could support something that helped take the stigma out while they were trying to put their lives back together,” Miller said.
Every two years the Joliet Zonta Club sponsors an organization that helps women, said Mardi Wunderlich, current president and police social worker for the Joliet Police Department.
Currently, that organization is Will County Habitat for Humanity because most of its recipients are women, Wunderlich said. Other organizations from past years include Groundwork and Lamb’s Fold Center, both in Joliet.
Wunderlich, who likes knitting and crocheting, would love to begin a jail ministry one day.
She feels it would not only spark engaging interaction, it would sharpen the inmates’ math and reading skills through the following and adjusting of patterns.
“It’s always good to assist,” Wunderlich said. “And we always benefit way more than they do.”
Thankfulness at being “damn lucky for the opportunities” she’s had, as well as a desire to help women in her community and fellowship with others who had the same aspirations, led Wunderlich to accept an invitation to join the Joliet Zonta Club 11 years ago.
Like many organizations, Joliet Zonta Club has a scholarship program. It also honors women within and without its ranks. This year, Lynn Noell, a Joliet Junior College nursing professor was the club’s 2014 “Woman of Distinction” for her educational work with nurses in Uganda.
Peggy Field, a Joliet Zonta member, received the club’s “Woman of the Year” award for her enthusiastic involvement, Wunderlich said.
“She always starts off meetings with an inspirational quote to put things in a positive light,” Wunderlich said. “She is very humble and the first person to volunteer.”
Membership, Wunderlich said, is by invitation only. Candidates must be professional businesswomen in the community.
“Some are entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers,” Wunderlich said. “We have an anthropologist, an audiologist and a judge. We seek out women with different backgrounds.”
The confederation of Zonta Clubs was organized in New York on Nov. 8, 1919, with nine other charter clubs. Permanent headquarters were established in Chicago on Jan. 21, 1928. There are now more than 1,200 clubs in 68 countries throughout the world with nearly 33,000 members.
For information on the Joliet Zonta Club, call Mardi Wunderlich at 815-741-2071 or visit www.jolietzonta.com
Source: Joliet Zonta Club