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Women’s club has helped shape Park City

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

Wives of miners hoped to establish a semblance of normality as their husbands toiled beneath the struggling town of Park City. In 1897, the Woman’s Athenaeum Club was formed to make life above ground a better for everyone, taking a special interest in education.

The women’s Athenaeum Club was named after Athena, goddess of wisdom. Not only did club members take it upon themselves to become more world wise, but they wanted education to become a focus of the community. These days, that focus continues with efforts like making it possible for the outstanding sophomores at Park City High School to attend the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference, a tradition with the club since 1987.

The second oldest women’s club in Utah, it has benefited education, promoted the arts, helped in the community, donated to international projects, and has added conservation to its benevolent efforts. "Women by their very nature want to help end social ills," Athenaeum Club president Lynda Simmons said. The club is a subsidiary of The General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the largest international, nonreligious women’s organization in the world.

"The Woman’ Athenaeum Club formed in a time when women didn’t work," Simmons said. "It began as a social club. Many of the miner’s wives were not educated. The women wanted to educate themselves, and conducted research that they presented to the club." She said that, over time, the club began reaching out "to make a difference in the community."

Times were tough in the community when mining dominated the Park City economy. Ella Sorenson, who said she has been with the Athenaeum Club for "50-plus years," said the house where she grew up, 1063 Park Ave., is still there, "but it has been remodeled so many times, I wouldn’t recognize it." Her father worked the town’s Daly Judge Mine as a motorman, driving a "man train" of miners to and from the depths. Miners had to chip out a living for their families, returning to mines day after day to pay the bills. "Mines paid $3.75 per day, less than that for a mucker," Sorenson said. She said miners often found themselves in financial trouble and sometimes had to borrow from the mining company’s own stores. "I’m sure you’ve heard the Tennessee Ernie Ford song that goes ‘St. Peter don’t call me, cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.’"

The club at one time met in the Memorial Building, which is now occupied by Harry O’s. While Harry O’s patrons now dance into the night, Ella Sorenson, said that, for a time, public dancing was banned in Park City. "I was born to dance," she said. "When I hear a guitar, my feet won’t stand still. But people were supposed to be home studying the scriptures."

Sorenson said club members no longer give presentations. One of the last ones she gave was on patriotism. "I am a flag waver, you bet I am," she said. "But the politicians today there is not an original thought among them." She expounded on her views. "Park City is one of the few places in the state that has not been Republican. Not all the way, at least." She said of Sen. Orrin Hatch, "I think it’s time he came home."

These days the Athenaeum Club involves women of all ages and interests, Simmons said.

"Most of the old-timers have moved," Simmons said. "Park City around 1969 was depressed. Skiing was just beginning. Of the many (long-time residents) who moved away, few came back. Maybe it’s the cold. Maybe it’s the prices." The only time the old-timers reunite these days is when there is a funeral, Simmons said, because it gives people a chance to visit.

These days, the Athenaeum Club has about 20 members, Simmons said, and is always looking for members. Members tutor English-as-a-second-language learners. They sponsor Career Day for girls. They educate on the prevention of abuse.

This year, PCHS student Robbie Malcolm was chosen to attend a two-day Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference in Utah in May, 2007, funded by the Woman’s Athenaeum Club.

Malcolm said he made strong friends at the conference and was interested to find "all the religious presenters valued basically the same things."

The club also donates and raises funds for local and international humanitarian efforts. The list is extensive.

"We want to make a difference. We want to make the community better," Simmons said.

For more information about the Athenaeum Club, contact Lynda at (801) 910-0300.


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