Caroline Ahmanson 1st L.A. Woman Rotarian

Times Staff Writer

The venerable Rotary Club of Los Angeles has admitted as its first woman member a socially prominent business leader, Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson, club president Thomas P. Sullivan said Wednesday.

Sullivan said two other women "are in the pipeline now" for membership in the Los Angeles organization, the fifth oldest Rotary club in the world. They probably will be admitted to the 700-member downtown club in the next two to three months.

He said the club, called "L.A. 5" by its members in honor of its 1909 pioneer status within the Rotary movement, is enthusiastic about admitting women since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that service clubs must be open to both sexes.

"The Rotary clubs of the United States have taken the position for years at Rotary International meetings in favor of professional women in Rotary," Sullivan said. "But we have been outvoted by the international clubs. The folks in New Delhi, India, could care less about women. But there were many Rotary clubs just waiting for this decision, and we were one of them."

Ahmanson, 69, the widow of financier Howard K. Ahmanson, is the head of a business, Caroline Leonetti Ltd., a modeling and talent agency.

In the course of her career, she also has been chairwoman of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a member of the Peace Corps national advisory council, a member of the board of directors of both the Fluor Corp. and Walt Disney Productions and a member of the board of governors of the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center.

Sullivan said that at Ahmanson's recent induction into the club, "there was an instantaneous standing ovation of acclamation for her membership. Her granddaughter started to cry. It was very emotional."

He noted that two years ago, Ahmanson was the first person to be awarded the club's Distinguished Citizen of the Year award.

The downtown Rotary club is one of several private clubs of various kinds in Los Angeles to move recently toward inducting women members. The Jonathan Club, for instance, voted overwhelmingly last spring to let women join and has admitted seven women. The Hillcrest Country Club has also admitted its first regular women members.

The California Club voted in June to change its bylaws to allow the admission of women, and club members said this week that the first women memberships are being "expedited" and are expected in two or three months.

At the end of June, a Los Angeles city ordinance went into effect making it illegal for the city's large private clubs to exclude people from membership on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability.

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