Friday, 29 September 2023, 13:25
Jean Lepkowski is one of the last remaining American members of the American International Club in Nerja. The club, which she helped to establish and for which she has been both president and vice-president, is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary in October.
Jean, who was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Connecticut, told SUR in English that when she and her late husband first arrived in the Axarquía, there were five American clubs along the Costa del Sol, with one in Nerja. However, while the four on the other side of Malaga city had higher numbers of American citizens, "even between Nerja, Almuñécar and Torrox, we never got near enough to reach the 40 per cent American quota stipulated by the organisation. The president and vice-president also had to be American," she explains.
So Jean, 82, her husband and other members at the time decided to split away from the larger organisation and form the American International Club in Nerja.
The couple had arrived in Torrox in 2006, after retiring from careers as teachers in international schools that followed the US curriculum. They had taught in Iran, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and decided to come to Spain because they "couldn't decide" where they would live if they returned to the US, had "never visited Spain" and wanted to "try something new".
The evening that the new American International Club was due to be established, Jean's husband was in hospital following an operation. He was due to be elected as president, however, tragically he died that night. The man who was going to be vice-president stepped up to the role of president, with Jean agreeing to take on the role of vice-president. Two years later Jean became president, a position that she held for a further two years.
"Back then we had around 50 members. Maybe around 10 were American, which is why we changed the name. We've always accepted people from other nationalities," Jean explains.
They had "adhoc meeting places" in the early days and "moved around a lot". Jean admits that there was "sometimes confusion between them and the Club Internacional de Nerja", which has always had its own premises.
The club has always maintained a full programme of activities, from regular petanca matches to a weekly quiz night, lunches, excursions and more and all with a strong focus on fundraising. It has mainly raised money for Solidaria - the Nerja-based food bank, but Jean explains that they have also helped local schools and organisations including the Red Cross and Taller de la Amistad, which supports people with disabilities and their families in Nerja.
"Part of the purpose of the club is to acknowledge that we live in Spain and so it's important to contribute to charities," she says.
Although Jean has stepped back now from the day-to-day running of the club, she is still very involved and "as the token American" organises the annual Thanksgiving Day event.
She says that the club attracts more other nationalities now, including British, Irish (the current president, Kevin McSorely is Irish) and Scandinavians and it currently has 60 members.
Jean explains that when she first came to Torrox, it wasn't important for the couple to find other Americans, but to meet "like-minded people who enjoyed doing the same things" as them.
Jean also belongs to Nerja's Arts Society and Nerja History Club, she's a member of a book club, goes bowling and plays bridge. "I usually try to have one activity a day," she says.
About the future, Jean says, "I don't see myself moving back to the US but my children see me dong so. It will depend on my physical fitness. If I can't manage on my own that will be a different decision."
The club's 15th anniversary celebration will be a dinner held on 6 October at the Hotel Rural Almazara, to which current members and anyone interested in joining is invited. They will be fundraising for Solidaria and Jean says she is "looking forward to meeting some of the new people" and catching up with current members.
A plaque in Jean's husband's name will be presented to the person who has contributed most this year to keeping the club alive. "Most people who have received it are still members," Jean explains about the plaque which gets passed on every year.
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