Local P.E.O. club looks forward to centennial
September 14, 2023
WAITSBURG—As luck would have it, the timing of a recent call to Waitsburg’s Deanna Coulston was almost perfect. Getting in touch with Coulston to talk about the P.E.O Sisterhood (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Chapter BE revealed that the local group will celebrate 100 years of existence in May 2024.
“This is great!” Coulston said in a recent interview. “Our chapter started in 1924, and we’ll soon be starting to make plans for how to celebrate next year.”
Waitsburg’s Sisterhood has plenty to celebrate.
According to its website, the International Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood was founded in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869, when seven young women at Iowa Wesleyan University came together to take the bonds of friendship beyond their college years and make a positive impact on womanhood and humanity. Their mission was revolutionary; their first philanthropic project was an educational loan fund created in 1907 when women could not apply for bank loans.
“It really is a sisterhood,” Coulston said. “Becoming a member of P.E.O. changed my whole outlook on the community. It provides a strong sense of connection and support. You gain a whole family. And in our meetings, we hold programs focused on educating each other further.”
Coulston has been a member of P.E.O. since 2017 and has served as its President since 2021. The Waitsburg Chapter currently has 31 members. Coulston describes Waitsburg’s chapter vision as “Women helping women reach for the stars.”
Like other fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry, there has always been an exclusive and private aspect to the inner workings of P.E.O., according to Coulston. This includes traditional practices such as monthly meetings, which are closed to non-members. Coulston said this has to do more with cohesiveness and confidentiality than anything else.
“During the last five years or so, we’ve talked about how the group needs to be more open,” Coulston says.
A five-member volunteer executive board governs the International Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. Local chapters report to state, provincial, or district chapters governed by the International Chapter. Over time, local chapters have been titled simply using letters of the alphabet.
“We have a duty to support P.E.O. International,” said Coulston. “But local chapters focus on being aware of community needs while helping local sisters as much as we can.”
In Waitsburg, P.E.O. Chapter BE has served the community through support for flood victims, Christmas gifts for local families, and support for residents of Booker Rest Home in Dayton (now Riverswalk Assisted Living).
But it is perhaps best known for its Citizenship Awards, given to local female students graduating from high school who demonstrate community involvement and a desire to further their educational goals. The most recent recipients were Class of 2023 Waitsburg High School (WHS) graduates Natalie Teal and Sarabeth McGowen. Amy Farley, a 2020 graduate of WHS, was a recent recipient of a separate P.E.O. support program, the STAR Award.
Another level of distinction for local P.E.O. chapters is the stewardship of Cottey College, a nationally ranked, fully accredited, independent, liberal arts and sciences college for women located in Nevada, Missouri. The school has been owned and supported by P.E.O. since 1927 and offers baccalaureate and associate degrees in various majors. According to Coulston, Waitsburg native Patricia Wilson of Walla Walla is a graduate of Cottey College.
Last June, the Waitsburg club garnered another distinction when Coulston attended the P.E.O. Washington State Convention in Tacoma.
“Waitsburg was recognized at the Designated Chapter level for various Washington State P.E.O. projects for giving as much as we had,” says Coulston—a fine distinction for a small-town Sisterhood.
P.E.O. is open to all women interested in membership, but Coulston says there is a process involved. Local women wanting more information may contact Coulston at email@example.com.