OCEAN PARK - The small group of ladies sat calmly, listening closely as notes from a composition by Jan Sibelius drifted through the air. As Susan Holway, who was giving the presentation, answered questions from the rest of the audience regarding her profile of the Finnish composer, you could tell the ladies were sincere in their inquisition.
"I think the thing I notice most about the ladies there - they're enthusiastic about learning," said Kathy Aase, current president of the Mentor Study Club. "They genuinely love to talk about something, bring up some interesting fact about a composer or a building in Australia. It's a genuine love of learning - learning for learning's sake."
The most recent meeting of the Mentor Study Club was to held in honor of the group's 75th anniversary, a milestone of significance for the all-women's club.
The club was created in a time when women did not have an equal footing in the world, in terms of rights. Though many of the eventual members had college degrees, their lives were made up of the stay-at-home variety and the club offered them an opportunity to have something of their own.
"It was something that we could look forward to doing," said longtime member Elizabeth (Lib) Moore. "Learning something, as well as giving something back."
Many of the women did not have outside-of-the-home jobs, namely because when it started in April 1929, there weren't a lot of jobs available for women. The club was a chance to get away.
"Quite a few of them had previously been school teachers. They married, and they were bored with not having anything to do besides housework, so they decided to get together and have a study club," said Moore as she described the origin of the club.
The women would learn through a series of presentations given each year by the members. A topic would be chosen for a year, then each member would decide on a facet of that topic in which to do their presentation. For many of the first years the topic was geography, with the women doing profiles on individual countries. Moore said that years later they revisited that same topic since the landscape of the world had changed so much.
The meetings were, and still are for the most part, set up like social gatherings, with each woman hosting one meeting per year at their home, where they put together a luncheon and their presentation.
"It's a rare time that we meet someplace other than one of the members' homes," said Aase. The 75th anniversary meeting was held at Caswell's By The Bay in Ocean Park in order to comfortably cater to all who came.
The presentations are supposed to last around 20 minutes, though sometimes they go a little bit longer. Once finished, the ladies take a sweets break, with fancy candies and the like, passed around in beautiful bowls.
"It's always candy, never dessert," Aase noted.
They also give a role call, where each member gives a short speech on a topic they have chosen for themselves for that year. For example, Ann Driscoll chose Oregon History for next year, while Barbara Poulshock chose singing and singers.
"I did for many years fashion, when fashion was fun," said Moore. "Now fashion is so cooky, I've given up on that."
One of the things that make the club interesting is some of the traditions, brought on the by the founding members, and still observed today. For example, in the club records, which notes the original 10 charter members, all the women's names are listed as their husbands, Mrs. Vernon Brumbach and Mrs. John McGowan, for example. In the programs for current meetings, the roll call of ladies are still listed in this way.
"Part of the charms of the group are these traditions that have not changed in 75 years," said Aase.
During that 3/4 of a century, the members of the club have given nearly 1,000 presentations on a wide variety of subjects. Unfortunately, some of that wealth of information has been lost, as the club does not have an official archive.
The good news is, many of the individual members and past members have held on to their own over the years.
"I never thought my papers were that great," joked Moore, who also added that in the early years of the club, the ladies would give their speech from memory.
"You studied it. You might have a little note or something in front of you, but they did them all [from memory]. Scared me to death when I started."
Another tradition of the club that has not changed over the years is membership - you have to be invited to join the Mentor Study Club.
"It's not something that you just want to belong to and can be, you have to be approved by the group," said Moore. "We're not snooty about it at all."
Moore said they prefer people who are important in the community, who have something to offer, are interested in what they're interested in studying and have a nice personality.
Each potential member is nominated by a current member and then has to be voted in by the group. There are currently no members under the age of 40, something Moore says is not by design, but because most people under a certain age work now and wouldn't have time to be committed to the group.
"We have a lot of lovely ladies we could have, but they can't do both. We meet in the afternoon. If we had an evening meeting, then they could come," said Moore, who was around 30 when she was asked to join.
Aase is one of the newer members of the group, having only been in for about four years. Like some of the past members, Aase spent her career as a school teacher before joining after retirement. She said she had secretly wanted to join the club for sometime but never really said anything about it.
"Low and behold, they invited me," she said. "I didn't call anyone and seek membership, but that was a secret desire of mine."
The group would prefer not to have more than the 16 members they currently have, and any new members would have to come if any were to leave the current group for some reason.
On the recent occasion of their 75th anniversary, all 16 members were on-hand, as were the four honorary members - past members who are no longer active in the club - as well as guests, around 25 in all.
In their spirit of giving back, since the 1960s the mentor club has been taking part in foster children programs overseas. Through donations by members, the group supports their child up until their sixteenth birthday. Most recently they have been sponsoring children from El Salvador.
"We would take a child, and correspond with them," said Moore, who has served as club treasurer for many years. "They would send pictures to us, and we all make a pledge. In so many cases, it doesn't go just to that child. She is helped, but the whole community in which she lives is helped. That way the child doesn't feel like she's more privileged."
Through their pledges, they send several hundred dollars annually.
So now the diamond anniversary year has come to a close, the group meets September through May, taking summers off. They will begin again in the fall with a topic that may make some cringe by this point - that of the Lewis and Clark expedition. But through a bit of creativity, the ladies will be looking at it from many diverse angles.
"We're not just doing the individuals," said Aase, "they're doing any aspect of the whole journey that kind of intrigues them."
Loma Billups plans to do hers on supplies, food and salt work. Barbara Bailey will be profiling the flora of the trek, and Lucille Pierce plans to do a genealogical overview of the expedition.
"I'm not really sure how she's going to do that, but I think it's kind of interesting," said Aase, who said that her topic was "kind of boring," choosing to profile William Clark.