UP service clubs face declining membership

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Sixty years ago, service clubs like Elks, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary and Masons were the cornerstone of many American communities, but membership has been steadily declining for decades. The same is true for U.P. service clubs.

“I would say that our membership over the last 25 years has gone down, but we as an Elks Lodge overall are still very prominent in the community,” said Dawn Lambert, exalted ruler of the Ishpeming Elks Lodge.

Membership there fell from a high of 1,500 to a current 400; the Kiwanis Club of Marquette went from 130 members in 2003 to around 60 in 2017.

Part of the reason why may be new technology and the generational divide. Young people are spending more time socializing online.

“Society has changed so much that we are more of an individualized society rather than a group,” said Sally Davis, former president of the Rotary Club of Marquette. “The result of that is the social media, so younger people often connect more through social media.”

Clubs have to adapt to maintain their membership and grow.

“I think all the service clubs are trying to figure out ways to change and bring more people in,” said David Aro, board member of the Kiwanis Club of Marquette. “I know there's a service club in town now that's meeting only a few times a month. I know that they're doing stuff online now.”

Other service clubs are trying strategies like member recruitment drives and the merging of smaller clubs. The Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club, founded in 1991, successfully adapted to its to members' busy schedules by holding meetings at 7:15 a.m., before work starts.

“As you would guess, Marquette Breakfast Rotary is a morning club, and is a club where you see your friend every week and we have fun,” Breakfast Rotary President Katie Koch said. “We've had a surge in membership over the last year. We've grown to 55 members and our average age is in the 30s and 40s.”

Service clubs still provide essential services to U.P. communities, including doing community service, putting on events, donating to causes and serving as social outlets. Though it will be a challenge, people continue to search for ways to keep service clubs alive.

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