The Soroptimist Thrift Shop first opened its doors 50 years ago and the volunteer workers and dedicated shoppers are getting ready to celebrate.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Soroptimists will host a Thrift Shop Open House with prizes, raffles, grab bags, and of course, a big birthday cake. The shop is located in the basement of the Odd Fellow's Building next to the library in Enterprise.

Almost everything in the shop costs less than $3, with most items costing 25¢. 

"The shop is run completely by volunteers and 50 years is a lot of hours worked, quarters earned and revenue donated back to the community. If you count 'em up, that's more than 2,000 Mondays," said Ann Browder, current manager of the shop. "In 1983, the shop started opening on Tuesdays, as well, so you're looking at almost 5,000 days of service by Soroptimist volunteers."

Soroptimist International is a professional women's service group that is dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. The organization boasts active chapters all over the world. Local clubs raise funds to support college scholarships and local projects that focus on helping women and children, as well as contributing to international efforts to protect women and girls from violence, poverty and gender discrimination.

The Wallowa County Soroptimist Club was chartered in 1947 - the club itself will be celebrating 60 years of service in December - and immediately started providing scholarships to county high school students. In an effort to consolidate fundraising efforts and provide a much-needed service, the club voted in September 1957 to open a thrift shop to supply inexpensive clothing and other household goods to local families.

The shop opened in the hallway of Harold's Dress Shop in the now-defunct Haller Building (on the "Toma's" site). Wilma Haller, Mildred Clark and Ruth Anonino, the "thrift shop pioneers" called for donations of "clothing, miscellaneous items and white elephants." The shop was opened and Soroptimist volunteers sorted and sold used items every Monday.

Pearl Collinsworth, a charter member of Soroptimists, said, "We had no idea where it was going to go. Just like anything, you have to try something and see. And it was just like Mopsy - it grew!"

Within a year, the shop moved briefly into the old Stockdale Building (now gone), then onto Main Street in the Berland Building (the EM&M) and finally, in 1983, into the basement of the Odd Fellow's Hall. Each space was larger than the last, and with this final move, the shop expanded its hours and opened on Tuesdays. The shop took up residence in the then-unused Rebekah's Dining Hall and the old dining tables were lined up and stacked with clothing and house wares. The shop grew again, expanding into an adjoining room, equally large. The clothes stayed put and the house wares, tools, small appliances and knickknacks moved into Room No. 2.

Over the decades, the shop staff of course has changed as well.  "Ruth Anonino volunteered every single Monday from 1957 to 1982," said club president Caryl Coppin, who worked the shop in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983, when Vera Stonebrink was unable to continue volunteering, she had worked at the shop for 20 years. When that first group moved on, a new crew took up the reins as they, in turn, retired from their careers. Mabel Osborn, Alice Lessman and retiring County Clerk Marjorie Martin stepped in and donated countless hours of their time.

Martin was known for opening the shop any time of the day or night if she heard from someone in need of a warm coat, a blanket or a child's rain boots.

In the late 1990s, a new group of women joined Soroptimists and helped give the shop a facelift. Jeannine Baird, with help from husband Dick, opened the boarded-up windows and gave the place a coat of paint and new lighting, while June Colony and husband Scott constructed bins and shelves. In 2003, Arlene Herbst brought 20 years of thrift shop experience from Western Washington and constructed easy-to-access racks, sewed curtains, organized merchandise and donated hours each week to the shop.

The shop is full of surprises for customers and staff alike. "I remember a man from out-of-town waiting for his wife, who was buying clothes," Coppin said. "He glanced into a bin and found a bolt he'd been looking for in three states!"

Then, as now, old cotton T-shirts were sold by the box for rags, and buttons are removed from unsold clothing, sorted and sold for 25¢ a bag. Torn and damaged denim, corduroy and polyester are sorted for quilting and rug making.

"High school kids would come in and go through the bins of quilt jeans and buy pants with the knees out - the rear out - and they'd wear them," Coppin said. "The great thing about the store is you never know what you'll find."

"Most Soroptimist clubs hold various fundraisers and events throughout the year to earn money for community projects," Browder said. "We are lucky enough to have an on-going service that funds our local projects."

Even with very low prices, the store does make an impressive amount of money to return to the community. "We don't pay any wages, the Oddfellows give us a great deal on the rent, and our expenses are minimal so we can give over 85 percent of our earnings to local projects," Browder said. "Every year, the Soroptimists give out $15,000 in scholarships as well as the Women's Opportunity Award, a $2,000 award to a woman attending school who is a head of household. The Soroptimist Club provides free vouchers for mammograms for women at risk and also supports the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, Community Connection Senior Meals, Safe Harbors, Fishtrap's Friday College, Wallowa Valley Health Care Foundation and the Children's Arts Festival."

"It funds numerous requests from local organization's services and projects. People shop at Soroptimist's for all kinds of reasons - out of necessity, in order to make their paycheck stretch a little further, as a way to spend fun time with friends or family, and often, just to know that they are helping the community by spending a dollar or two - and getting something priceless in return.

"The thrift shop is a remarkable legacy of community service," Browder said. "It makes you want to keep it going another 50 years."

- Submitted by Ann Browder

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