VERO BEACH — They were hard at work behind-the-scenes long before it was cool to be a Republican in Indian River, these women who quietly provided the elbow grease for candidates and offered mentoring and help to students who wanted to go to college.
Now celebrating their 60th anniversary, the Republican Women of Indian River are believed to be the fifth oldest Republican women’s club in Florida.
“It’s a remarkable milestone and celebration and we’re so enthusiastic about our history,” said the group’s president Kitty Kennedy, the club’s 44th leader.
To mark the special birthday, the club will host a gala dinner celebration on Saturday entitled “Celebrating 60 years of Leadership” at 6:30 p.m. at the Riomar Country Club. Keynote speaker will be Michelle Easton of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., which promotes conservative principles.
The group continues to grow, particularly in a county were Republicans strongly outnumber Democrats. According to the latest county Supervisor of Elections office statistics, Republicans presently comprise more than 48 percent of the county’s registered voters (versus about 31 percent who are registered Democrats).
Although the club’s beginnings were modest, founding members were dedicated to traditional conservative values, campaigned for Republican candidates, registered Republican voters, mentored the young and actively participated in local community affairs. That legacy continues, Kennedy and Blakelock-Rodriguez agreed.
The club’s roots began March 28, 1950, when a group of 10 Republican women met at the home of Lucille Trent.
Mrs. Thomas H. Forster was elected the club’s first president and a month later, the fledgling organization – known at the time as the Women’s Republican Club of Indian River County – proposed and approved its bylaws. In September of that year, the club’s application for membership into the national federation was accepted.
With the foundation laid, club members and leaders turned their attentions to increasing membership while supporting candidates for office, said Kennedy.
From about 1960 to 1970, the growing club also began to focus on establishing scholarship and mentoring programs for teens.
In 1968, the Teenage Republicans group (TARS) was organized. TARS presently has more than 100 members in Indian River County.
“These teenage Republicans are so energetic and enthusiastic,” Blakelock- Rodriguez said.
“The young people are still moving on with the (Republican) party and what we want to celebrate at this event is a legacy – passing the torch to them. And that enthusiasm is shared by every member because it’s a lot of fun to share the vision,” Kennedy said.
“We’re tying in the past, present and future. Those teens are like shiny pennies. They go to leadership conferences in Washington, D.C. and it inspires them,” Kennedy added.
By 1972, the club’s membership had blossomed to more than 900 members.
Because finding a meeting place to accommodate such a crowd was virtually impossible, the club subsequently divided into three entities, although the Republican Women of Indian River – at 130 members strong – is still lovingly considered by area Republican women to be the “grand mère” of the clubs, Kennedy said.
Republican Women Aware and the Republican Women of the Treasure Coast were organized in 1978 and 1984, respectively, and begun by four past presidents of the RWIR.
Since the 1990s, the RWIR has continued to inspire and develop leaders as well as encourage women to become more proactively involved in politics.
Club members agree that despite 60 years of success in achieving their goals, the work continues.
“Our group is a working club of strong, wonderful women who help and support candidates and whose goal is to get more women and young people interested in politics. It’s a great club,” said Dee Bannon, a nine-year member.