The year was 1933 when a new social club began meeting in Tiffin. Its members were young women, including college students, working girls and young wives. They met once a month for cards, conversation, cocktails and an occasional cigarette. Dues were 25 cents per month.
This year, Penthouse Club is celebrating 80 years since its founding and a current roster of 131 names. Of those, 14 are listed as "active but no longer able to serve." Several are daughters or daughters-in-law of older members. Dues are now $40 per year.
The 2013 co-presidents, Daryl Gordon and Sara Wax, were neighbors for 25 years. They believe the club's oldest living member is Jennie-Belle Coppus, who now resides in a senior care center. Gordon said she moved to Tiffin in 1971 and joined the club in 1987. Wax has lived in Tiffin most of her life but joined the club in 2011.
"I went from new member to co-president," Wax remarked.
"The first time I went to Penthouse Club, it was at the Pioneer Mill," Gordon recalled.
A newspaper article from the June 17, 1967, edition of The Advertiser-Tribune gives a brief synopsis of the club's origins. The article states an organizational meeting took place in December 1932 to choose officers and plan events for the inaugural year. Lillian Ball Boner is listed as the club's first president. Because the 21 charter members gathered on the top floor of the Carrigan block of South Washington Street, the group decided to name itself the Penthouse Club.
"It was not to be uppity to people. ... It was because of (meeting on) third floor," Wax explained.
"I also understood men had clubs to go to. Women had nowhere to have a drink and a smoke. I think that's why they wanted a night out," Gordon said.
To pay its rent for the club rooms and expenses for dances, parties, teas, picnics and other events, the club conducted rummage sales and bake sales. Club records say the first dance took place April 17, 1933, at Masonic Temple. The club paid $25 to rent the auditorium and $70 for Richard's Ramblers of Findlay to play for the dance.
In October that year, the members honored their mothers at a tea. The club scrapbook contains a dried, pressed corsage from that event. The guests included women from Buffalo, N.Y., Cleveland, Mount Vernon and other locations.
"In 1934, they were paying $4.01 for gas, and 72 cents for lights. They were paying the landlord back for the room. So their bill for the month was $4.73," Gordon read from a report. "Here, they had to pay a janitor $1. The punch was $2. They probably had good stuff. Here's a bill from Isaly's for $3.38."
Accounts from 1935 describe an informal picnic at Meadowbrook Park with swimming and games and music later by Paul Wheeler's Orchestra. The cost was $1.25 per couple. Other activities listed were a skating party, a scavenger hunt, banquets at the Shawhan Hotel, and a gym and splash party at the former YMCA. As members became mothers, the club added an annual children's party.
By 1936, membership had grown to 50, and the meetings moved to the rooms above The Ritz Theatre, where they continued to meet until 1959. A clipping from 1937 states Penthouse members would host a Christmas party for needy children.
In 1941 and '42, club reports say the group did knitting for the Red Cross during meetings. In 1944, members made scrapbooks for the USO; however, the club always has been a social rather than a service organization.
A 1947 poem by Mary Jo Thompson mentions the humble furnishings and a gas stove for heat in the Penthouse meeting room.
"Malicious gossip" and swearing were not allowed. The poem shares anecdotes about the picnic where nearly everyone brought baked beans, the steak fry at which the money collected was tossed into the fire, and the ping pong table that collapsed, scattering their party lunch.
The club's constitution says a minimum of two new members is to be voted into the club at the December meeting.
"The first ladies of Heidelberg University and Tiffin University shall be considered honorary members without being voted upon," the constitution states.
Active members are expected to serve on at least one committee each year. Gordon remembered making 17 apple pies for the club picnic one year. Another time, she served on a committee and was responsible for serving alcoholic beverages. A member came to her requesting a martini.
"I had never had a martini, nor had I ever made a martini. I turned to the person with me and she said 'Don't look at me. I have no idea how to make a martini.' Well, I made one. She drank it, but she did make a face," Gordon said.
Each year, a booklet is compiled with the officers, meeting schedule and theme, membership roster, list of past presidents and the constitution. In the early years, the booklet had a club poem and club song. Although not specified in writing, the club has developed a tradition that the president or co-presidents decide on a theme for the meetings during their one-year term. Gordon and Wax chose an "I Love Lucy" theme. Each meeting was focused on an episode from the television series.
The most recent Penthouse meeting was Sept. 24 at the Tiffin Depot on North Monroe Street. Forty-eight members and several guests were on hand for heavy hors d'oeuvres catered by Aramark, and a program by Ty Cooper of Jeffrey Jewelry. The theme of the meeting was "Lucy's Great Train Robbery." The occasional rumble of a real train passing the depot was detectable above the polite conversation and laughter.
Attending that gathering were Shirley Egbert, a member since 1972, and Marge Gillig, another long-time member. They added a few more details to those Wax and Gordon had contributed. Gillig confirmed the club started as an outlet for unmarried girls or young mothers who needed a night out.
"Our big thing was bridge," Gillig said. "When you were voted in, someone would come out to your house. You had to be voted in."
"If you have a daughter, she can belong, or your daughter-in-law," Egbert added.
These "legacy members" do not have to be voted upon. The Penthouse Club is open to women of any age. Now, the youngest members are "30-ish."
For more information, call (419) 448-9731 or (419) 447-5391.