Kevin Coulter from the Knights of Pythias hands out a scholarship at the RSS grad ceremony.

Is the fraternal service organization a dying breed?

In Revelstoke, fraternal service organizations are enjoying a mix of successes and struggles. What's the key to them staying relevant?

Last month, Buddy Rozander was on CBC radio, discussing the situation of the Revelstoke Lion’s Club. The club’s members are aging and membership is declining. He was hoping to drum up support.

I spoke to Rozander not long after that interview. Why are the Lions struggling and what impact does the club’s decline have on Revelstoke? What about other service clubs and fraternal organizations?

Revelstoke has no shortage of such clubs – there’s the Lions, the Elks, Rotary, the Knights of Pythias, the Knights of Columbus, the Loyal Order of the Moose, the Masons, the Legion and the ladies’ equivalent of most of those clubs. But are their days numbered?

For the Lions, the struggles started about five or six years ago, said Rozander. “We were five years younger and we could get away with it,” he said. Now, when a chance comes to raise money by running a beer garden, or volunteer on a project such as fixing a portion of sidewalk like they’ve done in the past, many times they have to say no.

“When you’re doing a project, as for getting help – I can get some people to help out,” he said. “But the commitment – someone asks you do something at the rec centre or a beer garden. We used to do that quite often but now we just have to say we don’t have the bodies.”

Rozander mentioned the Lions weren’t alone – he told me he’d heard the Elks were having similar troubles. When I spoke to George Hopkins, he said the club was doing OK, with 25 members, including a few recent recruits. Still, he did mention that eight members were in their ‘80s.

“I like to emphasize that we value our long-time members,” he said. “We have two of our members that have over 50 years in the lodge here in Revelstoke. The lodge has been here for over 50 years so these fellows have been in since close to the beginning.”

The Elks’ youngest member is in their late-20s and he serves as treasurer. The groups newest recruit volunteers as the secretary.

For fundraising, the Elks serve drinks at various community events, weddings and parties.

“What we really would like for ourselves and our organization is just to be better known around town,” said Hopkins. “There’s still a lot of people that really have no idea that the Elks is the largest all-Canadian charitable fraternal organization in Canada. Locally we do a lot of wonderful things in the community by contributing and performing the services that we do. It would just be great if we were better known for what we do.”

The struggles of service clubs is not new, nor is it a local phenomenon. A Google search on the subject turns up many similar articles to this one. It’s also not likely due to a lack of volunteerism – the Community Futures volunteer directory lists more than 100 organizations that rely entirely or in part on volunteers.

Jill Zacharias, Revelstoke social development coordinator, said people tend to volunteer for what their passionate about.

“Many of these groups, the service organizations, they evolved in a very different time,” she said. “Now people are drawn less to ritual and more to being active to hands-on volunteering like the community garden, the trail alliance and the volunteers at the seniors centre.”

It could also just be that people are busier these days, she added.

Membership with the Knights of Pythias sits at 41 in Revelstoke – the strongest in B.C., past Grand Chancellor Kevin Coulter told me. He said the Knights have done well because the community is aware of the organization through its weekly bingo nights and charitable donations to groups like the cancer support group, the Dragon Boat Society and minor sports’ organizations.

“The community being aware of what the Knights of Pythias do – they want to become involved,” he said. “People know of the Knights of Pythias and what it means to the community.”

So what about the Lions? Rozander said they attended the volunteer fair in the fall and people have expressed interest in joining, but they haven’t been able to secure any new members recently.

Now they’re finding it difficult to reach out to the newcomers to town, who are generally much younger than they are.

“I’m just looking for somebody, for people that have new ideas, the energy and are able to pull it off without relying on all the old guys,” he said.

 

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