America has a terrible leadership crisis. It is caused in large part, in my opinion, by the decline in service club membership. Memberships in organizations such as the Kiwanis, Civitan, Rotary, Lions and Optimist have suffered precipitous declines within the past three decades.
Why are these civic clubs important? They afford speakers an opportunity to reach groups that can have a positive impact in their communities. In completing valuable projects, these clubs provide a valuable community service. Furthermore, members learn valuable leadership skills.
Within the past few decades, the quality of American leadership has become pathetic. To keep from becoming political, I will not mention names. Suffice to say our leadership is not reflective of our great nation. We deserve better.
What has caused this decline? I contend we no longer have local leadership training. Why? In 1984, the Roberts v. Jaycees U.S. Supreme Court decision decreed that women be admitted to this all-male civic club. It was followed in 1987 a by a similar Supreme Court 7-0 ruling against the Rotary. With these decisions, all service clubs became coed.
The Supreme Court acknowledged the right of association. However, they trampled this right by ruling that admitting women would not harm worthy civic causes. With the advantage of hindsight, we can now say, or at least I can, that the court made a horrible mistake.
What happened? In 1976, the Jaycees had a peak membership of 360,000. That number has declined to 12,500 members in 2018. Other service clubs are losing members like autumn leaves.
In the 1970s, there were Jaycees chapters in Johnson City, Tenn., Kingsport, Bristol, Erwin and Mountain City. Today, the nearest Jaycees chapter is in Knoxville. Since those Supreme Court decisions, the East Tennessee chapters I’m familiar with no longer exist. At their peak in 1976, Jaycees membership was 360,000; today Jaycees membership is 12,500.
Locally, I attended a Civitan club meeting in Mars Hill in the 1960s. There is no longer a Civitan club in Mars Hill.
I will admit that there are other factors in membership losses. TV, computers, government programs and changes in American lifestyle have been cited. True. But I contend that these two capricious Supreme Court decisions are the main culprit.
Our court has effectively denied the “boys” a night out. Shouldn’t men have places where they can socialize, bond, network, serve the community and escape the cares of family life for a couple of hours each week? With membership dropping, service clubs are closing forever. How can you have community leadership training and the free exchange of ideas without these priceless clubs and without membership?
Once, at almost every city limits sign, a small town had plaques to proudly display their civic clubs. Today, most all of them are gone, and only a memory remains. Silently and insidiously, we have been robbed of a vital artery that provided the leadership lifeblood of America.
It seems that men are not inclined to attend civic club meetings with women. They probably feel that if they want to be bossed, they can stay at home.
Would our nation be the same today had women had been in Philadelphia in 1776? Would we have our Constitution today, or would it have been approved at all? With the negative impact of coed membership on civic clubs, one is left to wonder.
— Anthony E. Ponder