Rest in Peace, Crescenta Valley Rotary Club
Recently my friend Joe Kroening (owner of Andy’s Transfer in Montrose) sent me a write-up of the Crescenta Valley Rotary Club’s history in order to ask me a question about one point in the group’s history. The piece he sent me was fascinating! Here was this local organization, made up of all the top community leaders, whose sole purpose was to do charitable work. What a cool concept!
In the ’40s and ’50s, there were a dozen or more of these “service clubs” here in the Crescenta Valley, all of them dedicated to charitable work and service to the community. Nearly everyone was a member of at least one – Lions, Kiwanis, Moose, Elks, Woman’s Club, Masons, JayCees, Optomists, American Legion. They provided scholarships and supplies for local students, bought equipment for hospitals and sponsored youth sports. Most community events were organized and funded by them. Besides that, they supplied social and business networking for the members. I know how important they were to our town in the past, what a big part that they played in the development of the Crescenta Valley.
I told Joe that I’d like to do a column on the CV Rotary. If he could just fill me in on what they are doing lately, that would wrap up their history nicely. Joe, a former president of the local Rotary, sadly told me that they folded a couple of years ago; just not enough members to keep it going.
This is a phenomenon that is happening nationwide. Nearly every fraternal and service organization has experienced precipitous declines in membership, mostly having to do with an inability to attract younger members. The reasons are many. Many young people juggle multiple jobs with varying hours. With most households having both parents working, precious time off work is spent with family. And for many young people, their social and business lives are cyber-based. Social media is an area that many service clubs have not effectively embraced. Some of these groups have survived, and some have disappeared entirely. A scant few have held their own.
And so what was to be a history of the Crescenta Valley Rotary and an update of its current charitable works will instead be an obituary.
Rotary International started in Chicago in 1908. “Rotary” referred to the founder’s concept that its meeting location would “rotate” to various member’s homes and businesses, a practice that fell out of use. CV Rotary was founded in 1940. It originally met at the Three Oaks Lodge (what was recently The Mix on Honolulu Avenue). Homefront war work was its first project. Members volunteered as plane spotters, bought medical equipment for local first responders, and even raised enough money to build a bomber, named “Crescenta Cañada.”
After the war, it launched into creative money-raising projects such as pancake breakfasts, shows and raffles. With the money raised, Rotarians bought equipment for local disaster relief groups, funded local parks (they helped purchase and build Two Strike Park) and bought musical instruments for CV High. Their largest project was buying a local fixer-upper house and having members do the work. Needless to say, hilarity ensued, but it was eventually sold for a profit. The eradication of polio became the club’s focus in the 1950s.
Membership swelled and CV Rotary spun off a La Cañada chapter. Women assumed leadership roles by the ’80s. But in the ’90s the membership contracted, and continued to slide. In the 2000s CV Rotary was down to a handful of members, not enough to continue, with no new members coming in. In 2016, the few remaining members resolved an ultimatum. Recruit six new members by the end of the year or fold. They ended up closing their doors, and distributed their remaining funds to local charities.
But there’s hope for other service clubs. A friend of mine retired last year and when I caught up with him recently he told me he had joined the Lions. He raved about the community service projects he was working on with them. As the “boomer” generation retires, perhaps these service clubs will receive new blood and revive.