Not many to take their place

Service clubs battle declining membership

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three part series which examines the history and decline of service organizations in Manistee County, as well as how younger people are stepping up to fill volunteer roles in the community.

MANISTEE COUNTY — The culture of service in Manistee County isn’t what it once was.

Growing up, Anna Mann, president of the Manistee Rotary Club, was immersed in this culture.

“I’m a 30-something and growing up (my mom) volunteered for everything,” Mann said. “I just don’t see a lot of younger people volunteering anymore.”

Organizations including the Rotary Club, Manistee Fraternal Order of the Elks Lodge No. 250 and Bear Creek VFW Post No. 6333 in Kaleva, are facing their own unique challenges when it comes to retaining, and recruiting new, particularly younger, members.

The Bear Creek VFW Post No. 6333, located at 13300 Nine Mile Road in Kaleva, nearly closed last year, citing lack of membership as a reason.

“It’s peaked and it’s in the decline,” said Calvin Murphy, post commander. “We’re not getting the younger generation to come in.”

Even though the organization officially has 72 members, about 80 percent of them do not live in the Kaleva area anymore, according to Murphy.

“They’ve gone to other areas seeking employment,” he said. “Some are just inactive. A lot of people just don’t get into organizations. The VFWs (are) in decline all over the country and, personally, I think it’s so sad seeing them in such a decline. It’s like (they’re) turning their backs on what they did.”

With fairly active WWII and Korean War veterans, few members are from America’s most recent wars including Operation Desert Storm in that took place in January 1991 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Our biggest problem is getting the younger generation coming in and joining,” Murphy said. “We’re working to attract younger people by word of mouth, we’re letting the hall be used by the veteran center in Traverse City, and some of them are younger guys in our area.”

Murphy said veterans’ lifestyles have changed from those who served in WWII and Korea to those who served more recently.

“I think a lot of them, they’re young, they have families and they’re employed,” Murphy said. “We’re older, (and) retired.”

The VFW post celebrated its 70th anniversary on March 26.

Elks Lodges merge

When the Ludington Fraternal Order of the Elks No. 736 merged last April with the Manistee Fraternal Order of the Elks Lodge No. 250, the latter lodge accepted 105 members.

However, a number of them transferred their membership from Manistee to other clubs, said Lodge No. 250 exalted ruler Jim Smith.

The lodge, located at 432 River St., has 477 members as of 2015, which is up from the 441 members the club had in 2011, according to statistics provided by Smith.

“We’ve been attracting new members and holding pretty steady with our membership,” Smith said. “We do alright with our fish fry and our member dinners. We’re not rolling in cash but we’re not in financial distress either. We’ve improved the last couple years.”

The organization has been attracting some new members in their 30s, he said.

The merger has also allowed the Manistee Elks’ Student of the Month program to expand.

“When we look at our community service, we’ve expanded into that area as to not leave a void,” Smith said.

The Most Valuable Student scholarship is open to all seniors in the lodge region, which for Manistee Lodge No. 250, now covers all high schools in Manistee and Mason counties.

This year, the Manistee lodge had 11 students apply with six moving on to the district level, four moving onto the state level and one moving onto the national level.

Contact local service organizations for more information about how to join them: 

Downsizing facilities

While one organization had chapters merge, another is looking to downsize its facility.

The Manistee Eagles Aerie 1975 have occupied a building on Division Street since 1908, however, the local chapter announced this particular intention in December.

Long-time member Tom Amor Sr. said this news has come among years of declining membership combined with increasing expenses.

“We have to upgrade our kitchen,” Amor said. “That’s really been kind of the trigger that has diminished our potential because it’s a $10,000 to $20,000 investment and we don’t have the money.”

This lack of funds has decreased some of the events the organization has usually done in the past, such as fish fry and monthly dinner events.

“We can’t use our deep fryers because of the ansul system and the exhaust hood. So that takes away the fish fryes,” he said. “We used to have monthly suppers and we can’t do that. If you don’t have something to offer … even the older crowd (doesn’t) drink like they used to. You just can’t risk it.”

With 225 members as of December, he said the club picked up 12 new members in February, many of them younger than the average member age of 60.

“I would say (membership is) kind of steady,” he said.

He hopes younger members will be the club’s savior.

“With the casino not having live bands like they used to have, there’s a void and I’m hoping that the Eagles can help to fill that,” Amor said.

Declining membership

As a 22-year-old fresh out of the U.S. Army, Ron Kaminski joined the Loyal Order of the Moose.

Kaminski is now administrator of the Manistee Moose Lodge No. 1128, located at 1010 Robinson Street.

The number of the lodge’s male members — approximately 190  — and the Women of the Moose Chapter No. 2315’s approximately 135 members haven’t changed much in recent years, according to Kaminski.

However, at one point, the lodge had approximately 250 members, and he said a factor in the membership decline is that younger people don’t seem eager to join organizations such as the Moose.

To join, prospective members must be 21 years or older; he said there haven’t been many members between 21 and 30 years old.

“I would say the biggest age group is probably in their late 40s to their early 60s, then you’ve got a few of them that are older than that,” said Kaminski, 70.

However, he said the Moose is always working to replenish its membership.

“We always want to grow bigger, and of course membership strength is obviously what helps us in the fraternity as a whole,” Kaminski said.

At the local level, the Moose are “holding our own”, according to Kaminski.

About eight years ago, though, he thought the lodge would go under because of various problems.

“The group of the volunteers kept us going,” Kaminski said. “What got us out of that going down was the fact they joined forces. People said ‘no, we’re not going to let that happen’ and they got in, rolled up their sleeves, pitched in and today, I feel we are successful.”

Through the Moose’s civic affairs arm, the organization adopts a portion of highway through the Michigan Department of Transportation Adopt-A-Highway program, works with Relay for Life and the Wertz Warriors, a group of snowmobilers that raise money for the winter Special Olympics.

The organization is also working at contributing toward Tight Lines for Troops.

The thing to do

Amor echoed Mann’s sentiments with a saying that is part of a ritual the Eagles perform: “Happiness is the best, Happiness will always be to him who serves humanity.”

“When I grew up, that was part of my indoctrination and training and part of the culture,” Amor said.

He used to attend regional and national Eagles conventions, what he said was “the thing to do”.

“It’s not that way so much anymore,” Amor said. “You’re all there working for the good of the community and that has to be inspired. That’s part of the reason to belong, too, is to be able to serve the community.”

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Posted by Sean Bradley

Sean is the city and cops and courts reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the entertainment and Reasons to Celebrate pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3109 or sbradley@pioneergroup.com.

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