Neptunian members Kim Castner and Tricia Courtney celebrate at Saturday’s event, titled “The Grand Fundraiser, Supporting 105 Years of Philanthropy and Community” at the Neptunian Clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Sharer
In May of 1909, a group of 10 women formed the first organization in town with a clear mission: to gain Manhattan Beach independence from the City of Los Angeles. They called themselves the Neptunian Woman’s Club of Manhattan Beach.
“Their main thrust was education,” said Jan Dennis, former mayor, city historian and longtime Neptunian. “They wanted Manhattan Beach to have its own school system. The same went for the water supply, police department and fire department.”
The Neptunians would open the first library in town, as well as the first school and botanical garden. They also designed Manhattan Beach’s first flag. Three years later, the town was officially incorporated as the City of Manhattan Beach.
At the Neptunians’ 105th birthday party at its clubhouse last Saturday, club president Elaine Trotter observed the festivities around her and wondered what the 10 founding members would think. They’d certainly be proud: not only was the event a fun success, the club that night raised $12,700 through a live pledge for the paramedic scholarship fund of the Manhattan Beach Firefighters Association. With these funds, the Neptunians will help send four Manhattan Beach reserve firefighters to Paramedic Training Institute.
Manhattan Beach Fire Department’s captain Derek Edmonds, firefighter/paramedic Matt Simkins and engineer Steve Fairbrother make a guest appearance during the live pledge Saturday.
“We had the single most successful fundraiser in Neptunian’s 105-year history,” said Suzanne Sharer, vice president of fundraising. She expects 2014 to be the “first six-figure fundraising year,” she said.
Today, the Neptunian Woman’s Club boasts 245 active members whose age ranges from 30s to 90s, according to Trotter. Members come from all walks of life: young mothers, women who have freshly entered the workforce, those with grown children as well as several mother-daughter duos.
Dennis, who served as Neptunian president in 1996-1997, noted that the club largely involved retired women in the past and had a very formal recruitment process; prospective members were interviewed by the Board. It’s not so anymore, she said, probably for the better. Membership during that time was dwindling down, she remembered.
“They’ve done a very good job of attracting women,” Dennis said. “When I went onboard, I was probably one of the youngest ones.”
The Neptunians today carry on the legacy of supporting education with a number of annual scholarships, amount varying each year: eight Mira Costa High School Need-based Scholarships, five for academics, two for the arts and one for music; the Marilyn & Charles Owen Policewoman Memorial Scholarship, issued to a qualified female student pursuing a career in the police department at El Camino College; the Maude Withers Nursing Memorial Scholarship, issued to a qualified female student aspiring to become a nurse at El Camino College; and the Curt Frank Scholarship, given annually to a qualified eighth grader from an inner-city school to attend a private high school of his or her choice. This year, they’ve established two additional El Camino scholarships, one for business, the other for science.
Proceeds from fundraisers also benefit child-centered charities, including Cheer for Children, 1736 Crisis Center, Community’s Child, Project Needs, Events for Kids and USO.
Trotter, the current president and former teacher, joined the Neptunians in 2005 — she had been a Dolphin, a Neptunian Junior Club which has since disbanded. With the club’s focus on Manhattan Beach and the South Bay, she noted there’s a bit of overlap with other female philanthropic organizations like Sandpipers and Soroptimist.
Yet the club sets itself apart with its signature events like its Art and Photography Show, hosted for 36 years and counting. Manhattan Beach students from Kindergarten to 12th grade are awarded some $2,000 in cash prizes; at this year’s show on March 9, more than 160 artists will present their artwork, Trotter said. Judges will include Helen Marish of Art 2 Go, Noelle Parks of Noelle Interiors, Oliver Sehulster of Pelicon Brand Development, and for the first time, photographer Bo Bridges will join the panel.
The Neptunians meet on the second Tuesday of every month from September to May at its clubhouse on Highland Avenue and 10th Street, the group’s home base since 1924.
“They were a real stable entity in Manhattan Beach and worked for the betterment of the community,” Dennis said. “They still are.”