Doris Fisher Irwin, our founder
The Scholarship Fund board is honored and delighted to end our year with a word of thanks and tribute to Doris Fisher Irwin, the founder of both the Scholarship Fund and the former Great Falls Woman’s Club. Late last year, her husband left us a bequest in her honor in the amount of $20,000, knowing how much she loved the Fund and wanting it to carry her legacy forward. The money has since been placed into our existing endowment at Northern Virginia Community College, where it will meet the college’s increasing need of financial aid for women returning to school to further their education. We are so pleased to announce that every year going forward, a stand-alone scholarship in her name will be granted.
Our board wanted to learn more about Doris, in order to properly honor her contribution. We conducted a little research over the past several months, and learned that she was a truly remarkable, passionate, and dedicated woman who whole-heartedly believed in supporting students in their academic journeys. She also had a genuine passion for creating friendships among women and community among neighbors here in Great Falls. From what we’ve been told, it all happened one day in 1980 when Doris put an ad in a local Great Falls newspaper asking if there were any women who wanted to start a women’s club. Several women responded, and they all met for lunch one afternoon at her country club to talk about starting a club. In July of that year, the Great Falls Woman’s Club was created. The Club quickly grew in numbers and included women with unique abilities and varied interests. Many monthly meetings were dedicated to artistic themes. Tours and luncheons were enjoyed. Doris started a Poetry Contest for students at Great Falls Elementary School, using savings bonds as prizes. Supporting local students quickly became a central fundraising and philanthropic cause for the Club.
Thus was established the Great Falls Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund, which formally began in 1983. Doris and several other founding women felt strongly about their mission to grant scholarships to local students. They started off by supporting students at Langley High School. One of the first scholarships was awarded to a Langley H.S. senior planning a major in performing arts. Performing arts, dance, and poetry were at the heart and soul of the Scholarship Fund. These passions came from the women themselves. Doris was a writer and an artist. Bette Carter, another one of the founding women, was an advocate of dance as a therapeutic art. Bette’s family would later bequest a Dance Scholarship in her name, which ran all the way through 2018.
It wasn’t hard to raise money for the Fund. The initial start-up revenue came from dance gala proceeds, garage and rummage sales, ice cream sales, solicited donations, and interest received annually from bank deposits. A favorite event became the Bridge Jamboree, hosted every December. Some women ran the bridge games, and others cooked and prepared food together. Many of the women with whom we spoke fondly remember these occasions when everyone gathered in the kitchen, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The Jamboree quickly became a well loved and well attended event. It was also a highly successful fundraiser. After almost a decade of these annual bridge events, the Scholarship Fund had saved enough money to later fund two endowments in 2016, each for $25,000, at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. A small event, born of the spirit of comradery and friendship, resulted in a lasting legacy that will continue to support women students for decades to come.
Now, with her bequest, Doris’s personal legacy and dedication to education and supporting local students will continue in the years going forward. Current board members of the Fund are incredibly thankful to her and her family. Every day that we gather to organize fundraisers, and every time that we grant scholarships to women, we do so in honor of her and all of our founding women. Our success and dedication to this cause rests on the foundation built by Doris. For her long-standing passion and success, we are truly grateful.