Letter: Changes forced on civic clubs yield leadership decline

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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
Mars Hill

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Changes forced on civic clubs yield leadership decline

  1. Jason Williams

    Oh, man! I’ve been waiting for this letter.
    So the letter writer is basically saying that the decline in American leadership is due to the Supreme Court decision that allowed women to participate in traditionally all male civic organizations. Or put more simply: that women are to blame for this decline.
    Now the decline in numbers of these organizations is certainly regrettable and I hope that Mr. Ponder doesn’t speak for all civic organizations, but if this type of thinking is still prevalent among them, all I can say is: good riddance.
    The mindset that inclusion and diversity are somehow a detriment to “American Values,” and that things were better when white men made all the decisions is a mindset that needs to be thrown on the compost heap of time. Blaming half of the American population for the declines in membership of your clubs are not a way of attracting new blood. It’s time to be open, welcoming, and receptive to all types of people who want to work to make their communities a better place.,
    If these “boys clubs” are failing, maybe it’s because attitudes are shifting, and people are choosing to volunteer with civic organizations like: The YWCA, United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Riverlink, Brother Wolf, Meals on Wheels, Mountain Housing Opportunities, etc; all of who’s mission statements included language about being diverse and inclusive from the onset.
    It’s time to get past a decision that was made in 1984, and start figuring out how to attract, listen to, and work with people who have different outlooks from you. Evolve or face extinction.

    • jason

      Now if the decline in churches would hurry up and occur at a faster rate. Then we can all rest better at night.

    • Stan Hawkins

      Mr. Williams,

      I will not support this posts author for singling out gender parity as his reasons for the demise in civic organizations membership. Nor will I support you as the first and only one to introduce “race” into this piece as a portion of your rebuttal. Shame on both of you for such shallow thinking, or so it seems.

      Yet, it seems easy to change the subject and offer alternative reasons for what still remains a fact, that membership in civic organizations has declined considerably. Why is the question? The author of this piece provided statistics to support his position that something significant has changed. Mr. Williams, you offer no statistics as to your “supposed” destination of ex-civic club members. Why not?

      The main point of this posts seems to me a desire to address the decline or avoidance in those willing to step up and lead. Surely hanging the hat of decline on women by Ponder and race baiting by Mr Williams are neither attributes we look to in our leaders. If we simply choose to point out others flaws then we are leading from behind, or as was said long ago – “plowing the ground looking backwards.”

      The questions are – are we satisfied with leaders on all sides who can’t think for themselves and simply wave the banner they are told to wave by those who put them in power? Are we satisfied with leaders who refuse to listen to all sides of a position, thus eliminating any synergistic outcomes? Or is it all just for show to achieve power? Surely, we deserve better, if we are fair minded thinking people before we pick up a banner.

  2. bsummers

    Right you are, Ponder. And it’s even worse than you think – did you know that some damn fool gave the fillies the right to vote? Soon, she’ll want one of those new “double beds”. And before you know it, she’ll be going off to work, while you stay home to cook.

  3. Lou

    Wow…all I can say is that misogynist, self-important men have been controlling and destroying this nation for centuries. They have also tended to blame women for everything that has happened as a result. No different today.

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