Priscilla Gilkey turned a page of history last week when she presided over her first meeting of the Spokane Club’s Board of Trustees.
But the first woman named president of the 106-year-old private social club doesn’t see that as a big deal.
“It’s important to me to keep the tradition that has been here but to provide opportunities for the club to move forward,” said Gilkey, 55.
“I’ll not treat this position any different than the United Way board. There are things to be done.”
Indeed, the club has evolved, and many members say a woman president is one more indication of that trend.
“It’s just another step in the right direction,” said Steve Hasson, county commissioner and 10-year club member. “It’s just right. It’s supposed to be that way.”
The club recently spent millions of dollars on modernizations, including converting a formal restaurant into casual dining and changing a squash court into a day care. About two years ago, smoking was banned from the club.
“It used to be that the gentlemen went into the men’s bar to smoke cigars,” said Cory Yost, a past president. For some of the older members, he said, the ban on smoking was a big change.
But, said Yost, who led the nominating committee that chose Gilkey as president, more of the club’s members today are accustomed to women in leadership positions.
Gilkey joined the club in 1974, when she and her husband, Harold, founder of Sterling Financial Corporation, moved to Spokane. They believed joining the club would help them meet people and get involved in the community, Gilkey said.
“When you come to town, you do things that help introduce you,” she said. “We believe you get out of the community as much as you put into it.”
In addition to the United Way, Gilkey also has served on the board of directors at the YMCA, was president of public television station KSPS, and is active with Community Colleges of Spokane.
For the first six years she was in Spokane, Gilkey concentrated on raising the couple’s two daughters. But in 1980, she heard about an appealing job opportunity. St Luke’s Memorial Hospital was looking for a public relations director.
Gilkey took the person who held that position to lunch to “pick her brain” about the job. She applied for the position before it was officially open, and was hired.
The position with St. Luke’s evolved into Gilkey’s present position as vice president of community relations for Empire Health Services, the non-profit holding company that manages Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center.
Many club members say it’s Gilkey’s training in public relations that will be her greatest asset as president.
“We have a lot of hierarchy in the club, people who are not conducive to change,” said club member Corky Mason. “The changes have to be made gradually. I see Priscilla being able to handle that. She knows how to handle people.”
Immediate past President Tim Fennessy agreed, saying Gilkey’s greatest assets are her communication skills and strong value for tradition.
With those skills, he said, she should be able to meet the needs of both older and younger members.
“Catering to the interests of all was a very time consuming task,” Fennessy said.
Another challenge Gilkey will face this year is an ongoing parking problem. Plans are in the works to build a multi-level parking garage west of the athletic building.
Keeping the plans on track is crucial during her term as president, Gilkey said.
Among her other goals for the year are to emphasize membership - which is just 10 below capacity, at 3,190 - keep the club’s focused on serving families, and ensure the athletic facility has state-of-the-art equipment.
“I like balance and I think the leader of the organization needs to look at the big picture,” Gilkey said. “We are serving 3,200 people and not every one has the same interests.”
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