“Actions speak louder than words”

The Spark Plug club paved a pathway to community greatness in Pueblo, Colorado, beginning in 1923. Mabel Henry, who was head of the Women’s Department at the Steel Works “Y” began welfare work in the field of education by teaching women and foreign men English. She founded the Spark Plug club for women based on religious values, service minded CF & I women employees, and raised money for and participate in charitable and community service projects. She began her charity work by playing Santa Clau to needy children and asked some Colorado Supply Office girls to help and after several years of doing this they began to call themselves a club. Other charter members included, Mildred Anderson Rischer, Ruth Beeson Lewis, Rose Brahier and Vendla Broberg Studinski. The Spark Plug club name means the “spark which grows into the light of human kindness.”[1] The colors of the group were blue which stood for fidelity and truth while gold symbolized the real worth and merit of true womanhood. The image for the group is not only the physical spark plug but also an ivy leaf that represented consistency, "faithful to the end and through storm and wind it clings unto the wall though brick shall fall on brick it still holds fast." The Spark Plugs was a bonding sisterhood where ladies could socially gather while helping the community by providing assistance to those who needed it the most.

The club began with the purpose “through fun and good times to promote deeper interest in our common ties, truer friendships, and useful service.”[2] Women had to meet certain qualifications for membership including being permanently employed at the Main Office, Colorado Supply Division, Corwin Hospital, and “Y” staff workers. They had to attend meetings, social activities, and carry out assigned duties of the club. The qualifications changed with time and were less restrictive so that women who were wives of men employed at CF and I could apply and women who were no longer employed but attended business meetings. Once a member qualified, each woman went through an initiation that involved certain events such as lighting candles and singing songs. The members maintained work and participated in their off hours in the club's activities.

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All of the charitable activities the Spark Plugs did involved many fund raising events throughout the year. Dances and balls were held at Valentines, Thanksgiving and other social functions at the “Y” where numerous people were invited to help fund their charitable work. Halloween parties seemed one of the most festive social gatherings of the year and allowed the group to collect much needed money for their charities.

Photograph from Bessemer Historical Society
The group began in the 1920’s to play Santa Claus to hundreds of needy and poor families residing in Pueblo. The Spark Plug’s would have events all year long to fund the money to buy toys, dolls and socks full of candy and oranges for children. They provided hope for many youngsters at the chance of having Christmas gifts when parents could not provide for them. As time progressed, the Spark Plugs created the Santa Claus Shop where toys and clothing would be handed out to needy children. They continued doing this until the end of their disbandment in the 1980’s.
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The cedar chest became an infamous charitable contribution of the Spark Plugs. The cedar chest contained household linens and clothes where people purchased a ticket and a winner was drawn at the end. Usually they raised enough money from this one event that it could fund their entire next year.

Photograph courtesy of Elsie Crawford at Bessemer Historical SocietyThe next project the Sparkies took the initiative towards involved many young women who dreamed of becoming nurses. From their inception, the Spark Plug club realized the importance of female nurses and wanted to help in any way they could. They helped by granting non-interest loans that yielded returns following registration. This provided revolving funds for assistance to other young women requesting this help from the Sparkies. The loans usually amounted in five to seven hundred dollars for registered nurses and ninety to one hundred and fifty dollars for practical nurses. They continued this fund for many years.secretary handbook_2_wheelchair.jpgnurse brochure.jpgPhotographs courtesy of Bessemer Historical Society
During the 1960’s the Spark Plugs added another charitable event to their referendum which included the purchase of motorized wheelchairs loaned to needy individuals. The group raised money by selling baked goods and candy, according to Marla Fox, and then donated the motorized wheel chair to individuals. They also raised money to donate to Cancer Research through the American Medical Center in Denver, and in 1968 they donated $2000 to the center. The women in the organization continued working at CF and I while doing charity work on the side to help improve the community.

As more women were allowed to work at CF and I, women joined the club with the height of their enrollment in the 1940-1950’s. The war years led many men away and opened numerous positions to women workers where they gladly rose to meet the need. Women in the Spark Plug club filled many positions throughout CF & I in places such as General Accounting, Comps and Stenos, Tabulating and so on. Some even filled positions that had only been filled by men such as Betty Thompson in the wire mill, Mildred Diffendaffer in the forge plant and Ann Randolph in the coke plant. Eight members of the Spark Plugs even served U.S. Service in women’s auxiliaries to the armed forces (WASP, WAVES, and WAC). Wherever one turned, Spark Plug ladies were present and accounted for.

The club began in 1923 and survived well into the 1980’s. The Spark Plug club was known “as one of the best clubs in the city, envied for their good times and genuine accomplishment.[3] It served not only as a philanthropic organization but a social club where ladies could get together and have fun. They went on outings every year to places like the Baver Li Lodge, where they took hay rides and enjoyed some relaxation. The organization endured for many years but eventually came to an end in the 1980’s. According to Jane Bailey and Marla Fox, who were members for many years in the sixties, it was a great organization and very glad to be a part of it.

[1] Spark Plug Box 1, Secretary’s Handbook, “Membership Qualifications.”
[2]Secretary Handbook
[3] The Blast, “Members of the Spark Plug Club and other CF and I Office Staff” 4 no. 18, May 6, 1926.