Liz O’Keefe: Community Starts Here

By: Steefenie Wicks

In 1911, when Susan Sroufe Loosley became the first president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club, she was a lady to be reckoned with. Trained as a painter in Europe, she led an independent life that kept her single until she was 39 years of age.  It was said that when she went out to paint, along with her paints and brushes, she carried her rifle, rod and shotgun.  It was her sense of independence that led her in life, along with her involvement with civic organizations.  When she became Woman’s Club president, her father worked in the liquor Industry and her husband at one time had worked as a bartender.  Yet this did not keep her from becoming a strong member of the group as they set about to close some of the 19 bars that had taken over downtown Sausalito.

“They called her ‘The Pistol Packing President’,” says current President Liz O’Keefe. “It didn’t matter that she was not an advocate of abstinence, what mattered was her desire to help change.”

Elizabeth O’Keefe worked for 40 years in the printing industry doing commission sales before she retired to Sausalito.  She was born in Exeter, California and attended the University of Utah where she studied ballet. Her father owned a small business and her mother was part of the Exeter Woman’s Club, so she grew up being very much aware of what the Club was about, the work that they did as volunteers, and how this affected the community. So when Liz moved to Sausalito it was not long before she became part of the Sausalito Woman’s Club, where she has been a member for over 20 years, becoming President this past year.  Now that her one-year term is coming to an end, she reflects, “The Sausalito Woman’s Club has always been very actively involved in the civic projects of the community.  Our members are dedicated volunteers who work to give back to the community.  The City in turn works with us on projects, making it a win win situation for all. We are so lucky to have this relationship with the City.”  She was able to reflect on the work that was done this year by the organization.  “Our goal this year was ‘Community Starts Here,’ she explained. “For instance this year the scholarship committee raised over $60,000 that will be provided to students from Sausalito and Marin City.” The Club has had a successful scholarship program for the past 60 years.

Like most Sausalito organizations, the Woman’s Club was founded on a single act of civic activism, in 1911.  It began one morning when resident Ella Wood was walking along Bulkey Avenue and came upon a group of workmen cutting down a row of mature cypress trees.  Outraged, she raced to gather her friends and neighbors to protest the cutting of the beautiful trees.  By the time the women returned only one tree was left standing, in front of the newly built Presbyterian church.  Ten of the women joined hands to encircle the tree while others rushed to help.  The town clerk, William Tiffany, joined the women and ordered the cutting stopped.  Today this tree is known as The Founders’ Tree.

Julia Morgan was selected as the architect to build the Clubhouse on Central Avenue in 1917.  At that time Ms. Morgan was already a famous architect with a very impressive portfolio of work, which included a number of building at Mills College.  She was particularly known for working with feminist organizations that favored female professionals.

Liz O’Keefe feels it’s important that people know that the members of the Sausalito Woman’s Club are an eclectic group.  “We have artists, writers, retired CEOs who all come to work together for the good of the organization, the community.  Our members are involved, they know how to get their hands dirty, complete projects, work with others; that’s what makes a strong community.” O’Keefe continues, “Members of the Club come together but they also work as individuals.  They volunteer and integrate into the community to see how they can be of help.  But when you state that ‘Community Starts Here,’ it is the actions of these individuals that prove the point.”

O’Keefe feels that her 20-year involvement with the Club, along with this year’s duties as president, has shown her how important the Club is.  She speaks of the closeness of the members, of how if something happens to one member it affects all members.  The Sausalito Woman’s Club has a reputation of being one of the most active in the nation.  While other women’s clubs are starting to disappear around the country, the Sausalito Woman’s Club remains strong after 100 years in existence. As O’Keefe’s term draws to an end, a new president will be chosen. Her successor is again a good friend in the Club, named Laurie Wright.

In closing O’Keefe offers a final statement, “Sausalito has sweetness about it.  It is a small town where everybody knows each other and hopefully does the best for each other. When a group like this comes together to work together, then like the three Musketeers we are one for all and all for one”.