The Women’s Club of Costa Rica (WCCR) is celebrating a big birthday throughout the year: Seventy years of amazing women making history.
I documented the Club’s history in a movie for the celebration on February 10, 2010. Some have asked me how I made the documentary. The answer varies depending on the day. Sometimes I answer, “While watching Volcano Irazú from my window.” Other times I say, “While traveling,” or “Just old fashion shoe-leather reporting.”
I’m not an expert in movie making. My dad loved photography and moviemaking; through osmosis, it must have rubbed off on me. I have a master’s degree in liberal arts, journalism (2009) from Harvard University, and an undergraduate degree in computer science with a minor in business (1981) from World University. After ten years working as a system analyst, I actually graduated to homemaker, wife, traveler, freelance reporter/writer, caretaker, vegetarian cook, and student of many subjects that appealed to me.
President Bonnie J. Murry asked me to produce the WCCR’s documentary film in October of 2009. With little tenure in the Club—just seven months, and three of those out of the country, I tried to “hit the ground running.” After all, the movie had to be ready for an exhibition during the organization’s 70th anniversary in February.
I teamed up with Joan Dewar who was as new as I was with the Club. Joan worked on publicity, and we shared reporting. I was present at approximately 80 percent of the interviews, which meant I had a lot of transcriptions to do. Yikes! Carpal tunnel set in. Joan and Datascension, Inc. came to the rescue—Joan with a wrist brace for me, and Datascension with transcription and translation services donated to WCCR.
President Murry initiated the Women’s Club historical timeline research, probing through boxes of Club’s historical documents. Joan continued this along with others. I had decided to uncover what was missing in the Women’s Club archives. My goal: to produce a movie with an overarching theme that would be of interest to Club members and others.
I embarked on this quest the only way I knew: doing some good shoe-leather reporting—hunting down sources and documents. I also dove into Internet social media to contact high profile people such as musician Edín Solis (member of the three-time Grammy winning group, Editus), who allowed me to use his music for the movie.
Interviews with Patricia Miranda and Betty Mooney (long term members) served as the “icing on the cake.” Betty contributed with anecdotes of Club events. Pat linked us to historical events, such as the Volcano Irazú eruption during President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Costa Rica and the Women’s Club publication of five cookbooks. Our two oldest members, in age and tenure with the club, Norma Lenkowsky and Tobel Cosiol also contributed with historical information not found in the archives.
With so much information, I was able to find interesting data on the WCCR donations to the country. In 1980, for instance, the Women’s Club celebrated its 50th Anniversary by giving the women of Costa Rica and Hospital San Juan de Dios (a government-run hospital) the first mammogram machine in the country, worth $50,000. This was just one of many donations made to hospitals such as Hospital Nacional de Niños.
My research led me to the success of the radio novela La Otra Cara del Amor. It has been broadcast in over 20 countries, received the prestigious Moondance award, and made a difference in women’s lives. After each radio episode, an announcement encouraged women to call a hotline to report domestic violence. The amount of complaints increased with each broadcast. This 60th anniversary celebration gift made a huge difference to women not only in Costa Rica, but also throughout Latin America.
During reporting, through Internet and phone research and many times physically going places, I found missing links such as Club founder Elizabeth Robinson de Oreamuno’s son, who referred me to Adelia Oreamuno—one of the granddaughters and the family historian.
Another was the mysterious certificate from Escuela Andrea Jiménez for a decade of service (1974-84) the WCCR provided to special needs children. These are just a few of the many wonderful endeavors the WCCR undertook in seven decades—over 25,550 days of public service. Neither World War II, nor the Costa Rican Civil Revolution stopped them, and their legacy continues.
That’s what the Women’s Club of Costa Rica is all about. The organization pushed the envelope beyond what some thought could not be done. Positive attitude along with courage, determination and hard work produced inspiring and staggering results during seven decades. These women, throughout decades, teach timeless lessons—as seen in the documentary movie.
During the final week of the movie production, President Murry and I invited Grace Woodman-Fernandes (2006 President) to help us with the documentary’s final phase. We had seen Grace’s photos in numerous newspaper articles throughout several decades, and there was no doubt she would be an invaluable historian.
We finished the voiceover script, recorded narration and even did some editing to the movie just before I finished production—all of it a day before turning it in for the grand celebration of the 70th Anniversary at Aurola Holiday Inn.
The reporting, production and direction took me nearly four months and way over 500 hours (and I stopped counting when a dog bit me two weeks before deadline). I’m so proud to have worked on this movie with such amazing women today. The voices from the past, echoes from history also accompanied me during the production process and still resonate with me.
The stars in this successful project are every single woman who participated in every event, rally, and raffle. I can’t leave off my list those involved with the fundraiser for the first mammogram machine, Voces Nuestras radio novella: La Otra Cara del Amor, the scholarship program, “Reading is Fun!” and “Writing is Fun.” This last one, directed by Gloria Lehmann, embraces students. In 2009, one of the “Writing is Fun” students won the prestigious international award: PAILI (El Programa Internacional de Acercamiento a la Literatura Infantil) at la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico.
The imagery of a woman working for seventy years, which represents the soul of WCCR, and the motto “friendship through Service,” says it all.
My appreciation to everyone who helped me make this documentary possible.
Story originally published at WCCR’s March 2010 newsletter.
La Prensa Libre: Women Club celebra sus 70 años de existencia
Starring: Betty Mooney, Isabel Atienza, Fresia Camacho, Tobel Cosiol, Phylliss Crist, Margaret Dickeman Datz, Anne Kreupeling, Norma Lenkowsky, Pat Miranda, Laura Montes de Oca, Anne Sobel
Producer & Director: Margarita Persico
Co-Directors: Bonita J. Murry – President WCCR 2009-10; Grace Woodman Fernandes – President WCCR 2006
Voiceover Narration: Bonita J. Murry, Grace Woodman Fernandes
Music: Pasaje abierto by Edín Solís — Three times Grammy winners EDITUS (2000 & 2003)
Researchers: Joan Ritchie Dewar, Bonita J. Murry, Margarita Persico, Grace Woodman-Fernandes
Reporters & photographers: Joan Ritchie Dewar, Margarita Persico
Scriptwriters: Bonita J. Murry, Margarita Persico, Grace Woodman-Fernandes
Above photos: Elizabeth Robinson Oreamuno‘s photo (1922), courtesy of Oreamuno family; the other photos by Margarita Persico in 2009. Artwork: Marian Zerpa, Jenny Mesen, and Joan Ritchie Dewar. Our models (LtoR): Elizabeth Robinson Settle de Oreamuno (Club Founder 1940; Club President 1940, 1953); Norma Lenkowsky (Club President 1984-85); Sacgen Chan (member since 2000); Ileana Borbón (member since 2008) Tina Roman (member since 2008)
Thank you to so many other silent contributors in the production of this documentary … the transcriptionist and translators, local newspapers, presidential and local libraries. This is a collaboration of many people, most of them members of the WCCR who shared their time and knowledge.