Controversial curves 

About 100 women joined the new women’s-only Curves fitness club in Frenchtown in the first week after its Sept. 20 opening, says Frenchtown franchise owner Terry Lyn Venable. But none of those women, she says, are talking about the controversy surrounding Waco, Texas-based Curves CEO Gary Heavin’s charitable donations to what the San Francisco Chronicle mistakenly called “radical anti-abortion group[s]” back in April. The Chronicle has since published a correction stating that Heavin in fact never gave to the militant anti-abortion group, Operation Save America, and that only one of his recipients, Waco’s Care Net, runs pregnancy crisis centers that encourage women to consider adoption over abortion.

But the controversy also led Curves to disclose information about what Curves Communication Specialist Becky Frusher calls “a very small part” of Heavin’s philanthropy: $200,000 annually for five years to Care Net; $750,000 a year for five years to the Family Practice Center of McLennan County in central Texas, a family healthcare center for uninsured and underserved residents; and $50,000 a year for five years to the McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Project, which “advocates and teaches abstinence programs in central Texas area schools,” according to an April Curves press release.

Media nationally have been reporting that some Curves members feel torn between the workouts (and the small business owners) they love and an anti-abortion stance they don’t want to support. Frusher says they’ ve only seen drops in Curves memberships in areas near San Francisco, New York City and Washington state’s Vashon Island.

How do Heavin’s conservative choices resonate in Western Montana? Peggy Stokes, staff member at the Brooks Street Curves, says she hasn’t heard any members rumbling about the controversy. In Frenchtown, Venable says, “Gary Heavin gives millions to all sorts of organizations, and I do know he is pro-life. If he wants to give to pro-life, good for him. It’s his money.”

During her recent one-week Curves training camp in Waco, Venable met Heavin and his wife, who are, she says, “the most meek and lovely people.” As for the new Frenchtown Curves members, she adds: “Our ladies are cool.”

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