Jean Esplin

Former Bingham County Clerk Jean Esplin (left) is shown with Natalie Stiffler, an officer in the Blackfoot Zonta Club, during an interview at Jean’s home south of Riverside. She is being honored as the club’s “hero” during Zonta International’s 100th anniversary for her work in establishing the local chapter.

BLACKFOOT – Zonta International, an organization dedicated to elevating the status of women throughout the world, will be 100 years old this week, and one of the ways it’s celebrating is by having each chapter choose a “hero,” whose photo will be placed on a “Wall of 100’’ at each district’s headquarters.

In this case, the word “hero” means a member with an outstanding record of community service and mentorship to individuals, and in the Blackfoot chapter this year, that means Jean Esplin.

At age 90, Jean is still active in the local chapter, never missing a meeting and volunteering her services and sage advice whenever a need arises. One of the accomplishments she’s being lauded for this week is being instrumental in founding the local chapter.

In recognition of being chosen “hero,” Jean will be feted at a luncheon Thursday at noon at Tommy Vaughn’s Restaurant

The year was 1992 and Jean was in the first year of her fourth term as Bingham County Clerk when she got the notion of doing something to let other women know there are things they could do to improve their lot in life and demonstrate their worth.

Besides, she said, she had been a widow for seven years and her world consisted of home, work, and church.

“I felt I was missing the camaraderie of other women,” she said.

She had made the acquaintance of members of the Zonta Club in Pocatello and when she learned what it was about, she got together with a few women in Blackfoot and the women from Pocatello came up and gave them a presentation. “We met a few times and the next thing I knew, we had a chapter,” she added.

Some of those early members who helped with getting the chapter started were educators or wives of educators, and included Dorothy Bertin, Maude Owens, Bonnie Gardner, and Marilyn Peterson.

“But it wasn’t just all teachers,” she said. “We had other professional women, like Doris Wallace, who at that time was the manager of the Eastern Idaho State Fair.”

Jean said Zonta International was founded in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, a time when the status of women needed raising. Missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart was one of the founding members and the organization has since grown to 34,000 members in 12,000 clubs in 67 countries.

Since its inception, Zonta International has been dedicated to serving women, fulfilling its goal of improving their legal, political, economic, educational, health, and professional status throughout the world, and the Blackfoot club has striven to do that locally as well as whatever it could elsewhere when the opportunity arose, and by supporting the community.

It conducts various activities throughout the year to raise money for scholarships, mainly to help “nontraditional” female students — women and girls who desire to return to school and further their educations and those who don’t qualify for scholarships through regular channels. The members also mentor women and girls who want to develop leadership skills and gain self-confidence.

Each year, the Blackfoot club donates more than 1,400 hours to community service, including decorating and donating a tree to the Christmas Tree Fantasy, makes gifts to the extended care facility at Bingham Memorial Hospital as well as clothing and other items for newborns and their mothers who are in need of a little help, and donate monthly to the Bingham Crisis Center. Each year they hold a “Women of Achievement Luncheon” to present awards to outstanding women in the community.

And they have the Yellow Rose presentation, an activity started by Jean that presents a surprise yellow rose for her contributions to the community.