Re­tired phar­ma­cist stak­ing her own money to keep bridge alive

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY PAULA BURKES Staff Writer pburkes@ok­la­homan.com

Su­san Wil­liamson was 14 when her par­ents taught her to play con­tract bridge. She played through­out her school days at John Mar­shall High School and dur­ing col­lege at the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa.

Wil­liamson then took a 45-year hia­tus to raise two sons and work as a hos­pi­tal phar­ma­cist and con­sul­tant.

It wasn’t un­til she re­tired in 2011 that she re­turned to her beloved game.

When Ok­la­homa City’s long­time bridge club at May and Hefner re­cently closed, Wil­liamson was un­de­terred. She sim­ply started a new one, a mile up the street in North­park Mall in July of last year — putting up a sig­nif­i­cant amount of her own money to make it hap­pen.

“This lovely lady gave us her en­ergy, pas­sion and or­ga­ni­za­tional skills,” said Mar­ian Jeter, one of 84 play­ers at a re­cent Fri­day game.

Bob Sch­wen­den­man is equally grate­ful for the non­profit club, which is named Fun and Games Du­pli­cate Bridge Club Inc.

“Bridge helps keep my mind ac­tive, and al­lows me to be around won­der­ful peo­ple,” said Sch­wen­den­man, a re­tired re­gional of­fice man­ager for Equifax credit re­port­ing agency whose daugh­ter typ­i­cally drives him to the games from his home at St. Ann Re­tire­ment Cen­ter.

All ages, ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els

Play­ers, who range in age from 15 (the grand­son of the club trea­surer) to Sch­wen­den­man (who‘s 96) pay $8 for a 3½-hour game, which in­cludes a 20-minute in­tro­duc­tory les­son that of­ten is taught by Wil­liamson.

There’s a game ev­ery day, in­clud­ing evening games on Mon­day and Wed­nes­day — held partly to ac­com­mo­date work­ing mem­bers. The next class for be­gin­ners will be of­fered on Thurs­day nights, start­ing in Jan­uary.

Mem­bers com­pete for points in hopes of at­tain­ing Life Mas­ter sta­tus with the Ten­nessee­based Amer­i­can Con­tract Bridge League, which sanc­tions the club.

Wil­liamson said she’s “for­ever in debt” to her hus­band of 49 years, Richard Wil­liamson, for sup­port­ing her pas­sion.

“He was a good sport and played early on with me,” she said, “but bridge is my thing; not his.”

Among other ef­forts, Wil­liamson paid a con­trac­tor to com­bine two re­tail spa­ces into one 5,500-square-foot space in the club’s south­east corner of the mall, next door to Shogun Steak House of Ja­pan.

“We’re try­ing real hard

to make this a 21st Cen­tury bridge club,” she said. The club boasts elec­tri­cal scor­ing de­vices, com­puter and au­dio­vi­sual equip­ment to dis­play re­sults in Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions, and comfy club chairs and ta­bles, many of which were funded by donors.

Tom and Jo Corbin, mem­bers of the club’s 10-per­son board, brain­stormed a long-term vi­a­bil­ity com­mit­tee of donors, which en­sures the new club will live on, and Wil­liamson no longer must guar­an­tee the lease.

Wil­liamson is more than pleased with the legacy she helped plant.

“Many of our mem­bers are phys­i­cally un­able to play golf or ten­nis, but bridge can be played by most peo­ple as they age,” she said. “And, it’s a much bet­ter way for peo­ple to oc­cupy their minds than watch­ing TV,” she said.

“There’s also the free snacks at ev­ery game, which draw bridge play­ers like lo­custs,” she said.

[PHOTO BY DOUG HOKE, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Su­san Wil­liamson, founder and man­ager of Fun and Games Du­pli­cate Bridge Club Inc. in North­park Mall, ar­bi­trates an ir­reg­u­lar­ity dur­ing a re­cent game.

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