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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nonprofit marks 150 years of educational service: P.E.O. awards $2,500 scholarship to Ferris grad

UPDATED: Thu., June 27, 2019, 1:44 p.m.

Ferris grad Allie Vu was presented with a $2,500 scholarship on June 11 by members of an organization that’s older than our state.

Vu was one of 18 exceptional high school seniors from Washington who received a STAR scholarship from the Philanthropic Education Organization.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the organization, which has 6,000 chapters across the United States and Canada.

Vu, who will attend Whitworth University this fall, said she didn’t know much about P.E.O., other than that her grandmother is a member.

“This will really help,” she said, thanking the members of Chapter CQ, who presented her with the award.

Chapter CQ nominated Vu for the scholarship, and is one of 19 P.E.O. chapters in the Spokane area.

The P.E.O. began as a bond of friendship among seven young women in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and is now one of the oldest women’s organizations in North America.

“My great-grandmother was a P.E.O. in California,” said member Marion Park.

Since its inception in 1869, the nonprofit has helped more than 105,000 women pursue educational goals by providing more than $321 million in grants, scholarships, awards and loans.

Through membership, the P.E.O. Sisterhood has brought together nearly a half a million women in the United States and Canada who are passionate about helping women advance through education, by supporting and motivating them.

“We have 15 meetings a year,” said Sue Plummer, president of Chapter BO. “Some groups meet in the evenings, or on Saturdays, and there’s special interest groups like hiking, knitting, and book clubs.”

Chapters hold fundraisers throughout the year to support the organization’s scholarship programs, as well as the stewardship of Cottey College, a nationally ranked, fully accredited, independent, liberal arts and sciences college in Nevada, Missouri. The women’s college has been owned and supported by the P.E.O. since 1927.

The fundraisers are as varied as the chapters that hold them.

“We have an auction at Christmastime,” said Betty Quinn, Chapter CQ president.

Plummer said her group holds a spring fundraiser. “We sell geraniums. We raised over $6,000 this year.”

In addition to supporting the national organization, those funds help local women like Vu and others.

“Chapter BO gave financial assistance to a local woman who is married, with two preschool children, works part time as youth minister and is attending seminary,” Plummer said. “She has to fly to California for weeklong seminars. She has received tuition scholarships from her denomination, but the two $500 checks we gave her, help pay for airfare or carfare, incidentals that scholarships won’t pay.”

Membership is by invitation only, and you don’t have to be a college graduate to join.

Ann Sundgren grinned.

“The school of hard knocks works, too,” she said. “I became a P.E.O. 63 years ago. My mother and my grandmother were P.E.O’s.”

Though philanthropy is the primary goal of the organization, friendship is its cornerstone.

“Once you’re a P.E.O., you’re a P.E.O. for life,” said Ella Gaye Williams, who’s been a member since 1959. “We have a long legacy of sisterhood.”

Williams and Sundgren grew up together in Lewiston.

“It’s friendships that bring you in,” Sundgren said. “And it’s friendships that keep you in.”

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