She's come a long way, baby

If it was ever going to happen, Sally Berry knew it had to happen this year.

Berry was elected the first woman president of the Holmes Harbor Rod and Gun Club Feb. 9. After being known for 70 years as an organization run almost exclusively by men for men's pursuits -- shooting and fishing -- the club has a president who is not only a crack shot and a storied fisherwoman, but who has been in charge of cooking the meals members enjoy after a day of shooting skeet or trap.

Presiding over a club that was started by a few hunters who played cards in Dode Bercot's house on Holmes Harbor in 1932, Berry leads an organization that is changing. The club dumped its women's auxiliary several years ago and started including women as full club members. More and more women show up every year for shooting events.

Something had to give.

By her own description, Berry, who has been a member of the club since 1955, has done everything there is to do at the Holmes Harbor Rod and Gun Club.

"I'm not a good 'ol boy. I'm a good 'ol girl," she said this week.

The difference was evident last Saturday. That morning and into the afternoon, Berry pumped out 150 rounds of shotgun shells on the club's trap and skeet ranges during a single-gun, "Iron Man" competition. By midafternoon, she was in the club kitchen to help prepare an early dinner for tired, hungry shooters.

This week the activities were a bit much for Berry. She wound up with a nasty cold on Sunday. But, she said, somebody had to do the cooking.

The daughter of a champion pistol shooter, Berry spent the past six years on the club's board of directors before making president. Elected by other board members, she accepted the office with some apprehension. It was, however, something she wanted to do.

"It's quite a feat," she said.

Only the third woman to ever serve on the board, Berry's election was by no means pro forma. Had she not been elected president, she would have had to leave the board in 2003 for at least a year to conform with the club's term limits rule. If she had done that, she said, she probably never would have made president.

"I figured if I ever ran for president, this year's the year I'd have to do it," she said.

She does have the credentials. A former member of a traveling women's trap shooting team, Berry learned to love shooting as a teenager. While a student at Everett High School, she got her first experience with rifles during rifle team practice. Students at the school actually practiced shooting .22-caliber rifles in the school gymnasium.

At the same time, Berry developed her fishing skills. An expert at catching salmon, she has landed two trophy fish that weighed in at 55 pounds and one that topped 72 pounds. That big one that did not get away gives her all the bravado she needs to be one of the club's top "good ol'" members.

"It took an hour to land that one," she said.

Though she is the first woman to head the rod and gun club, Berry seems to have plenty of support. Her election by the nine-member club board was unanimous. Klaas Zuiderbaan, who served four years as president and who is currently the club's vice president, said the 5-foot-tall Berry has what it takes to lead the club's 750 members.

"She's not very big, but she likes to beat men in trap," he said.

Club member Carol Buck said she can count on Berry to roll up her sleeves and get things done.

"She helps out with everything," she said.

During the next year, Berry plans to get more people helping out with everything. Like many organizations, the club relies heavily on older members to organize events and do the day-to-day work needed to stay viable. Though it currently boasts its largest membership ever, the club is struggling to attract members to dinner dances and social events.

While shooting events bring plenty of members to the club, Berry said the organization is having a hard time competing with family obligations and night-time television.

"I want to bring back the old-fashioned fun we used to have," she said.

She said she understands why members don't make it to the dances and the Friday-night musical events the club recently started hosting. When her husband, Ray, purchased a rod and gun club membership in 1955, Berry was upset that he had spent half the week's grocery money on a club she had never heard of.

Fortunately, she's gotten used to the idea.

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