Contributed by Oviatt Library Student Assistant Debbie Salazar
It was 1958 when the San Fernando Valley State College was established, now known as California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In that same year, a few of the faculty wives decided to meet at Mrs. Hazel Oviatt’s home to have tea and talk about forming a bridge team. Hazel was the wife of San Fernando Valley State College’s first executive officer, Dr. Delmar T. Oviatt. As time went by, the discussion over cards began to include the possibility of establishing a more formal club. Soon after, the Faculty Wives Club began in earnest with about 10-12 members, and Lois Prator, wife of the first president of San Fernando Valley State College Ralph Prator, became the group’s first president.
The women shared wonderful moments together. “We were big party people,” recalls Betsy Stelck, a founding member and the club’s president from 1960-61 and 2005-11. Members planned a variety of events, including: spring and fall luncheons, Easter egg hunts, Valentine’s Day dances, and Christmas parties. Later, when the San Fernando Valley State College became California State University, Northridge (CSUN), the Faculty Wives Club changed their name to the CSUN University Women's Club. Two years later club members came up with an idea to try and provide scholarships to help students who might be struggling to afford tuition. The club began raising money for the scholarships with rummage sales, bake sales, lost book sales, and the CSUN Police Lost & Found Auction. The efforts were extremely successful and the group raised a generous amount of money with all of the proceeds going to student scholarships.
When Estella Templin became president of the club in 1986, she suggested the idea of establishing a permanent endowment for the club, and fundraising for the club’s legacy soon began. Member Brenda Lewis-Ruggiero recalls that Mary Cleary, wife of then CSUN President James Cleary, was very instrumental in helping to raise money. “She donated, tickets to events and whatever proceeds we collected went to the endowment fund,” says Lewis-Ruggiero. Members also donated by renewing their memberships which helped contribute to the fund. The CSUN University Women’s Club Endowment was established in 1987. The club’s endowment currently sponsors a Lois and Ralph Prator Scholarship and a Mary and James Cleary International Scholarship. Both of these scholarships are awarded annually to students working in the Oviatt Library.
The current members all agree that the roots of the University Women’s Club are deep and important. The group is proud to be part of such an important and welcoming institution, and happy to be able to give back to the community that once helped them. It brings them joy, they say, to know that they can help support student success in a time when funds for education can be scarce or hard to come by. The CSUN University Women’s Club continues to focus on their mission of service, friendship, understanding, information, recreation, social activities, and student scholarship. The Oviatt Library is grateful to the many decades of support that the club has provided, and forever indebted to its esteemed and caring members – both past and present.