Pam Drenner grew up in Denton with four brothers — and her parents made it clear she could do everything they could.

When her husband, Ray, proposed to her in college, Drenner said her father spoke to him and asked for one thing: that she be allowed to finish her education and do whatever she wants in her career.

She took that mindset with her through school at the University of Kansas — where she graduated in 1972 with a degree in business administration — and a 20-plus career as a banker; now, she’s taking that mindset into the boardroom of the Fort Worth Club as the first woman president.

The Fort Worth Club has long been the spot for business leaders to gather and make important decisions about the city’s future. For generations, women were not allowed in that conversation; that changed in 1994 when women were allowed to become members. 

The club’s list of presidents include Fort Worth’s most prominent citizens, including Amon Carter, who hosted guests such as President Franklin Roosevelt. Over time, the club has evolved into a place for people to meet and make connections, said longtime member and lawyer Dee Kelly, 61.

The 137-year-old club has adapted from a men-only organization to one with more diversity, General Manager Walter Littlejohn, 67, said. 

“We feel like the Fort Worth Club should merit what the professional makeup is at the downtown club, and we think we’re there,” he said. “It’s really reflective of what the Fort Worth community looks like. It’s very diverse when it comes to different types of businesses — and now certainly with the progress that we’ve made — with people that are in the business.”

For Drenner, the chance to serve as president is an opportunity to continue her work growing and changing membership. She was elected president in August.

“It doesn’t feel odd at all. I mean, I’ve had so much support from everyone on the board,” Drenner said. “It is an honor, and it was a surprise. I’m just going to try to do the best I can that helps promote our strategic plan and help grow the future management, the future leaders of the club, because the old leadership will be moving on.”

In 1885, the club was established as the Commercial Club. In 1906, the name was changed to The Fort Worth Club, which it remains today.

The club is a place where connections are made and business deals take place in the city. But women were not a part of that conversation during the first century of the club’s existence. That started to change under the leadership of Littlejohn, who became general manager in 1993. In 2016, the club opened a women’s athletic facility.

The club played a vital role in developing all aspects of business in the city — from the DFW International Airport to worldwide oil and gas deals, Litlejohn said. 

The club is an iconic part of Fort Worth, Kelly said, and its history is filled with “leaders who built Fort Worth.”

Drenner joined the club in 1999, but by then she was used to being in male-dominated spaces.

“In entering (banking), I had to deal with a lot of ‘no’s’,” she said. “A lot of people who do have my future career in their hands are not ready to accept females in certain roles. And so, I had to be patient, and I had to prove myself over and over again, which I was happy to do, because I knew I could do it.”

In interviewing for her first banking job in Fort Worth, she chose the place that was more accepting of women looking for opportunity in a male-dominated field, which is how she ended up at Bank of Texas.

Her advice for women navigating a male-dominated workplace is what she said many probably don’t want to hear: patience and a good attitude.

“I think people get the impression today that women have to be more aggressive to get what they want, but I think you can be aggressive but in a tactful way,” Drenner said. “And keeping in mind that you have to convince, it’s like you’re having to do a sales job to somebody to convince them that you can help them, you can help them be a success if they will use your skills.”

During her time at the club, the discussion of opening the athletic center for women started. Once it opened, she said, she became even more involved in the club and took advantage of its services.

Littlejohn eventually approached about her nomination to be on the board. It requires a member-wide vote to be approved, which Drenner did not get the first time around.

But the second time she was nominated in 2014, members voted her onto the board. She served three years on the membership committee, and for those years the club had record membership numbers.

Currently, membership is about 2,010 people, the highest it’s ever been, she said. One of her initiatives is to bring younger members to the club. The club wants to evolve into a place where more people feel comfortable, she said.

To become president, Drenner was nominated by Littlejohn and other board members. She said it was a complete surprise to her, but felt it was the right time in the organization for a woman to lead because of strategic planning prioritizing diversifying membership.

Pam Drenner at the Fort Worth Club. This summer, Drenner was elected as the first woman to lead the club as president.

In strategic planning meetings before her nomination, Drenner said, the goals included being more inclusive, open-minded and inviting more people. In her 20 years as a club member, Drenner said, she’s gotten to know a lot of the members and has done a lot of work to improve the organization.

As president, she presides over board meetings, serves on the finance committee and oversees the executive committee. She also helps coordinate and present ideas for fundraising for capital improvements and volunteer opportunities.

The term is one year. Every year, officers are re-elected or put up for nomination, she said. During her time as president, Drenner wants to continue her work from the membership committee by adding more young members.

She also hopes people start to take advantage of other membership perks, like the wellness program. The club has nutritionist services for members to help with healthy eating, a program Drenner said is the best thing she’s done in a long time.

Other wellness services for club members include blood work, supplements, a sauna and cryotherapy.

Her favorite part of the club is to visit the restaurant, she said, because the chef is outstanding and there is no better place to dine in Fort Worth.

But she also sees the club as a family. When she walks through the halls, she greets employees by their name. When she sits down to eat, she knows the names of those who serve her. She doesn’t want to move out of Fort Worth even though she’s retired from banking; she wants to stay connected to the club.

“We support the employees and staff here,” Drenner said. “We’ve been an employer of choice for a long time, and even after COVID, people who had to be furloughed asked to come back, so we have a lot of the same people coming back. Members treat them like family.”

The board is set to discuss a program to provide scholarships for employees’ children, she said. During the pandemic, members were able to make donations to go to employees to help them during the shutdown.

The attitude and perspective about the club are changing, which she sees as positive.

“It’s a place to make connections with people, to socialize and get to meet people and get to know your own leadership and you get to meet and work with the new leadership,” Drenner said. “It’s not a job. It’s just a place you enjoy.”

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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