Newsmakers, August 17, 2017

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Jodi Widuch, David Strudthoff, Tracy Gaskin and Andrew Bakkum
Jodi Widuch, David Strudthoff, Tracy Gaskin and Andrew Bakkum Colin Malliet/WPR

While many service clubs in the United States are struggling to recruit and retain new members, one club in the La Crosse area is adapting to young people and is slowly gaining new members.

The Downtown Rotary Club of La Crosse seems to be bucking the nationwide trend. President Jodi Widuch said the club has had nice growth in the last couple of years, finding ways to attract younger generations through a program called After Hours.

“(A) meeting schedule that is more conducive, less expensive,” she said. “Their structure is not a weekly lunch meeting, it’s after hours, after work. They don’t have a formal weekly meeting. They kind of switch things up and are social.”

Of the club’s 178 members, Widuch said there are now 80 members in After Hours.

Other service clubs in the La Crosse area are struggling to attract new members.

The La Crosse Kiwanis Club has been stuck at 40 members for the past five years. The club has been slower to change the way it does things, still having weekly sing-alongs at its lunch meetings. La Crosse Kiwanis Club President Tracy Gaskin said there are other hurdles to gaining new members.

“Time is just the most discretionary thing that people have. They’re being asked to do so much now,” she said. “We find a lot of people just want to volunteer. ‘Tell us where to go, what to do and we’ll be there. But don’t make us go to a meeting once a week.’”

Service clubs have been a traditional vehicle to get things done in communities. Work ranges from volunteering to staff a festival, to service projects like maintaining a park, to making sure youth sports teams have uniforms. They also belong to national and international organizations and often raise money or collect donations to help people in other countries.

There are about 500 Lions Clubs in the state of Wisconsin. While some clubs are stronger than others, Stoddard Lions Club member and regional director David Strudthoff said there are no Lions Clubs in the city of Milwaukee and clubs in urban areas are more likely to struggle to find members.

The Lions Club is celebrating its centennial year, but Strudthoff said there is concern some clubs in Wisconsin may have to soon disband.

“The very things that kept us alive for the last 100 (years) if we aren’t willing to give some of those traditions up, we could be dead in the next 10 years,” he said. “Maybe some of the old traditional days of face-to-face, sitting down and having lunch together is not gonna work as it used to.”

Service clubs in other countries aren’t having as many issues finding members as they are in the United States. Strudthoff said in countries like China and Japan it’s a status symbol to belong.

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Colin Malliet Producer
  • John Davis Interviewer
  • Jodi Widuch Guest
  • Andrew Bakkum Guest
  • Tracy Gaskin Guest
  • David Strudthoff Guest

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