The Zonta Club of Wanganui was chartered on October 28th 1980. The Zonta Club of Manawatu SOMed the Club and Alison Gernhoefer became its first President. Zonta International District XV1 Governor, Jean Edgar, presented the Charter at the Charter Dinner, held at the Grand Hotel on Saturday 21st February 1981.

The Grand Hotel was the first of six venues where Zontians have met for monthly dinner meetings.
For many years the Club met at the Wanganui Community College School of Catering, later to become UCOL (Universal College of Learning). When this facility closed and the Catering School resited, the Club moved to other city venues. Over the years, a diverse range of monthly guest speakers have addressed wide ranging issues pertaining to the community and topical matters of the day. The Club has always placed strong emphasis on fellowship and service, with new members welcomed and supported within the club and encouraged to participate in activities and accept responsibilities. Husbands, partners and friends are encouraged to participate in various social evenings outside the regular Zonta calendar.

The Wanganui Club has always networked with other community organisations. A strong relationship with NCWNZ has developed with Zonta holding membership since 1981 The Club has been represented at many events and occasions and Zontians have given practical support at numerous community events. The Club itself has organised Spring Walks including one last year for the ‘Zonta Says No’ project and breakfasts to celebrate International Women’s Day in support of UN Women. Countless toilet bags have been made and filled for Women’s Refuge and breast cancer cushions for the Cancer Society. For the last 20 years the Club has been responsible for the gear-tent at the annual “Round the Bridges Fun Run” (a fundraiser for community charities).

Fund raising has been on-going. Sufficient funds were raised in the first year through a very successful raffle, to enable the presentation of a black and white television set to the Children’s Ward, Base Hospital Wanganui. Another initiative during the early 1980s saw the Club host a basket dinner and auction, with funds going towards the purchase of a mobility van for the Crippled Children Society. The creation of a District 16 quilt was an ambitious project of the 1980s. Numerous gold and brown felt squares were sent to Zonta clubs throughout New Zealand and Australia with members invited to donate 50cents and write their signature in one corner. The squares, with 4 signatures per square, were returned to Wanganui where members set about hand stitching the signatures and assembling the quilt. Club’s details and the date were stitched onto a large gold central panel. The completed quilt was sent to the head quarters of Zonta International in Chicago to be hung on the stairwell.

From small beginnings in 1989, the Zonta Fashion and Design Awards rapidly grew to become the Club’s annual flagship event. Local secondary school teachers concerned about the lack of recognition for girls who enjoyed and excelled in sewing, encouraged the Club to establish a make and wear competition for intermediate and secondary school students.
Prizes were awarded for the various categories thanks to the generosity of business houses, with the overall winner receiving the ‘Zonta International Wanganui Award for Excellence in Clothing.’ This award was in the form of a beautiful bronze sculpture gifted by Charter member. Joan Morrell, a renowned bronze sculptor. School curriculum changes with a greater emphasis on technology, were to eventually spell the demise of the competition. Excellence in sewing technique was also superseded by wearable arts and in 2006 the Club withdrew from this event.

Another community initiative which the Club took responsibility for, was the Annual Christmas Gift Appeal held in conjunction with the Wanganui Chronicle. Members sorted and wrapped donated gifts, ready for distribution by community organisations involved in the care of children. More recently, members have volunteered their time, supporting the Special Olympics fund-raising project, by wrapping purchased items in the shopping mall

The Wanganui Cub hosted the District 16 biennial Conference in September 2002. Wanganui Collegiate School proved an excellent venue. The opening ceremony was conducted in the beautiful school chapel with the Governor General, Dame Sylvia Cartwright in attendance. Many delegates enjoyed the on-site accommodation option. This Conference was one of the first to be held in a provincial centre. Wanganui has also successfully hosted 5 Area 2 Forums.

A Sister Club arrangement between the Zonta International Club of Finland and the Wanganui Club saw correspondence flow between the two clubs for many years. A Wanganui city delegation visit to Toowoomba, Wanganui’s Australian Sister City, in 2013, included a Club member, who was able to make an informal connection with the Toowoomba Club. The Toowoomba president has since visited Wanganui.

Membership has remained relatively stable over the years. However club membership dropped dangerously during the late 1980s when down-sizing of many larger firms and centralising of Government Departments, together with technological and communication changes, resulted in many people, including professional women, leaving Wanganui.
Numbers slowly built up again. Today the Club is in good heart with a higher membership which is reflective of a New Zealand provincial town. Two highly successful fashion parades have been held over the last two years, have benefited the Club with new members joining. Funds raised from these events have gone towards District 16 projects supporting gynaecological and endometriosis research.

Club Presidents: 1980/82 – Alison Gernhoefer, 1982/83 – Joan Morrell, 1983/84 – Sue Engert, 1984/85 – Nola Crawford, 1985/86 – Nola Crawford, 1986/87 – Lorna Bishop, 1986/87 – Jill Sicely, 187/88 – Muriel Beard, 1988/89 – Rosemary Higgie, 1989/91 – Iris Graham, 1991/93 – Frances Tunbridge, 1993/95 – Rema Rankin, 1995/97 – Beverley Sinclair, 1997/99 – Faye Bullock, 1999/2001- Ailsa Stewart, 2001/03 Pam ernie, 2003/05 – Margaret Campion, 2005/06 – Jan Bullen, 2006 – Margaret Lankow, 2006/07 Laura Cleveland, 2008 Ailsa Stewart, 2009/10 Dori McCormick, 2011/12 Heather Knofflock, 2013/14 Philippa Nixon.

Compiled by Historian: Ailsa Stewart