When a Waco public service club turned 64, its members did indeed lock the door, but not before sending out one last birthday greeting, minus the bottle of wine, to the Waco community.
Membership in the Northwest Waco Rotary Club had dwindled to 22, and at 64 years to the day since it started, club members voted to disband June 30, the club’s last president Bryan Fonville said. The former members are looking to join one of Waco’s three other Rotary clubs to continue their service-above-self mission, Fonville said.
“I think it helped that as we were making that decision, we also were making a decision about what we wanted our club’s legacy to be,” Fonville said. “We’re establishing an endowed scholarship at MCC (McLennan Community College) that will benefit generations of students in perpetuity. That’s something that’s always been important to the club, giving back through scholarships.”
The endowment, known as the Northwest Rotary Club Memorial Scholarship, is about $54,000. With interest, it will allow MCC to give an estimated $2,500 scholarship to someone every year, former member Kim Patterson said. That’s about 70 percent of a full-time student’s tuition and fees, she said.
“From now on, until the end of time, as long as we’re all here, a student will know that club name and have their tuition and fees paid for,” Patterson said.
She was with the club for nine years and left shortly before it disbanded because of her new job as the executive director of the McLennan Community College Foundation, which gives scholarships to students.
She is now part of the Waco Rotary Club.
The club had a group of core members that kept it active, but social media and other digital tools have given people other ways to connect for public service projects, Patterson said.
She said she sees a nationwide struggle for service clubs.
But the membership for Rotary clubs overall is steady, said Brian King, the membership and development director at Rotary International. With more than 1.2 million members in 35,000 clubs across more than 200 countries, retention has been a challenge, King said. And Rotary International is promoting a more diverse membership, with more women and younger members, he said.
“We are definitely aware that there is more competition than ever for people’s personal time and resources,” King said. “Because of this, we have adapted to meet today’s expectations.”
Rotary International even lets clubs use more flexible ways to meet through online platforms like Zoom and Skype, he said.
The Northwest Rotary Club tried everything members could think of, but it always felt like taking one step forward and two steps back, Patterson said. Plus, Waco also has more than 500 other charitable organizations registered with the IRS, so there is no shortage of ways to give back or serve the community.
Though they didn’t have the numbers in front of them, Fonville and Patterson estimated the club gave more than $100,000 in scholarships over time.
“I think a lot of our club members were in a stage of their lives where keeping up with the weekly tasks of hosting a meeting and all that comes with just running a club was beginning to take more effort to do that than focus on the good the club could necessarily do in the community,” Fonville said. “When we started confronting that, it turned into a question of could we maybe do more good by joining forces with other local clubs.”
When it comes down to it, Patterson said she thinks the club made the right call.
“It’s a sad thing, but volunteer fatigue is a real thing, and when you have a group of people who give and give and give to keep something going over a period of time, after a while the same people would say they just don’t have anything left. . . . There just wasn’t enough new blood coming in to fill those leadership roles. It was the grown-up decision to make, but it was a sad thing,” she said.