P.E.O. celebrates 150 years!

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise


The seven original founders of P.E.O.

Recently, I noticed a billboard in Bartlesville announcing P.E.O. is celebrating 150 years in existence. This billboard became the catalyst for my interview with a member of P.E.O.

With the blessing of its President Dixie Squires, I met with Kathy Triebel, a chapter CH member, and past president.

Triebel, met me at the Bartlesville Community Center’s Lyon Gallery, where an exhibit about the organization’s history is now on display through Tuesday.

Triebel, a certified archivist retired from Phillips Petroleum, guided me through the exhibit. As she did, the organization’s mission and legacy became clear.

P.E.O. stands for Philanthropic Educational Organization. At its foundation, it is a Christian-based sisterhood. However, P.E.O. also reaches outside its membership with a higher purpose — to help women achieve their academic goals.

P.E.O.’s tagline is “for women, by women, about women,” and the organization provides educational assistance to elevate women, Triebel said.

Started in 1869 by seven young women, ages 17-21, who were students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, P.E.O. has become a major philanthropic organization — helping more than 105,000 women with $321 million in educational assistance.

The statistics for their four types of scholarships/grants demonstrate their commitment to that goal.

• P.E.O. Star Scholarships are for exceptional high school senior women to attend accredited post-secondary education institutions in the U.S. or Canada. P.E.O. has awarded $8.5 million in Star Scholarships.

• P.E.O. Scholar Awards provide merit-based awards for women in the U.S. and Canada who are pursuing doctoral-level degrees at accredited colleges and universities. They have awarded $24.5 million in these scholarships.

• P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education provides need-based grants to women in the U.S. and Canada whose education has been interrupted and who need to return to school to support themselves and/or their families. P.E.O. has given $55.3 million in these grants.

• P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship provides scholarships for women who are international students pursuing graduate study in the U.S. and Canada. They have provided $37.9 million in these scholarships.

And, P.E.O. has made $195.4 million in low-interest educational loans to women for higher education.

Triebel said P.E.O. also provides funds for trade schools.

P.E.O. also owns Cottey College, a women’s college in Nevada, Mo., which operates debt free, Triebel said. According to their printed material, Cottey College is a nationally ranked, fully accredited, independent liberal arts/sciences college for women offering baccalaureate and associate degrees in a variety of majors.

“Cottey College is a member of the intercollegiate athletes, second in lowest student debt, and second in best value by the U.S. News and World Report, and No. 6 as a top women’s college.”

One of the things Triebel said she hears from the women they help are expressions of appreciation for, not just the funds provided, but also the emotional support.

Triebel shared about a Tri-County Tech student chapter CH had helped in 2018.

At exam time “everyone wrote a card and gave a gift. They gave final exam tips to remember — tidbits of help when studying or words of encouragement.”

Some of the gifts given were — a stethoscope, scrubs, gas cards, homemade cookies and snacks.

“The great thing about P.E.O. is that age doesn’t matter,” Triebel said.

They recognize that through a divorce or the death of a spouse, women find themselves needing to increase their skills to better provide for themselves and their families, she explained.

As part of the exhibit in the Lyon Gallery each Bartlesville chapter has a table set up along the wall describing their chapter. The adjoining wall contains life-size cutouts of the seven original founders of P.E.O.

“The portraits were done many years ago by Jean Threlkeld, a member of the CH chapter,” Triebel said.

“They ended up in an estate sale. Someone saw them and bought them. Louise Reich of chapter ED repaired and touched them up. We added the skirts for the exhibit,” she said. “We’ve been asked to bring them to the state convention.”

The seven women who founded P.E.O. were fortunate enough to attend college, but they saw the need to lift up other women by providing needed educational funds, Triebel said.

Part of their legacy is that today P.E.O. has 6,000 chapters and some 230,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.

In Oklahoma P.E.O. has 180 chapters and some 6,600 members. Bartlesville has five chapters, each with 35-45 members on average. The chapters are named using the alphabet in the order they are formed. In Bartlesville the chapters are — AW, CH, DW, ED and FT.

In chapter CH “we have two members, Sandra Waldo and Margaret Boesiger, who have been members for 62 years. I’m sure the other chapters would say the same thing. The women who’ve been members 50-plus years are honored with a luncheon at the state convention every year,” Triebel said.

As for how they find women to help, “we go to college fairs at high schools. A lot of it is word of mouth,” she said.

They also inquire at Jane Phillips Medical Center to discover employees who want to pursue higher education in health fields. And, they seek out teachers pursuing higher degrees, she said.

Each chapter has a committee that plans fundraisers. For example, one Bartlesville chapter will soon have a murder mystery fundraiser, she said.

Within each chapter, as expressions of sisterhood, the members reach out when one of them is dealing with a health issue, loses a spouse or has another need. New members are recruited by other members, she said.

The members meet once a month at one another’s houses and have a program and a meeting. In addition, they have social events, such as day trips and meetings at which they bring their husbands or significant others.

“Last year we had a hay ride and cookout,” she said.

One fun program Triebel had was when she and another member dressed as outlaws with water guns and bandanas over their faces and “held up” the others — having them weigh their purses and pay money based on the purses’ weights — as a fundraiser. Then, they had the members give them all of their loose purse change.

“We weighed the purses before we had them give us the change,” she said with laughter.

State Sen. Julie Daniels is the member of chapter CH. She maintains the chapter’s historical archive. Triebel said Daniels had shared that on the chapter’s second anniversary, the members met for lunch. Someone baked a cake and put a dime in it. That year it was a marble cake held the special dime, and whoever got it was supposed to have had good luck.

This is a tradition chapter CH has continued.

“I still have that same dime,” Triebel said. “It’s a 1924 dime 87 years later.”

If you are a woman needing a scholarship or grant, email me at the EE at rmckee@examiner-enterprise.com, and I’ll pass the information along to the members.

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