The Wauseon branch of a national charitable institution has disbanded due to waning interest.
The final meeting of the local National Exchange Club chapter was held Sept. 29 at Ryan’s Restaurant on North Shoop Avenue. The agenda covered plans to finalize the disbandment.
Sue Dieringer, a member who served twice as chapter president, and also served as treasurer, said membership had declined over the years, from about 25 at its peak to 11 members.
“We just haven’t been successful in our recruitment efforts,” she said. “It seems like people don’t want to volunteer as much, or they’re involved in different things. People still have volunteerism at heart, just not so structured.”
Other reasons for the decline could have been the quarterly $105 district and national dues and the noon schedule for the Tuesday meetings.
The final meeting became emotional, Dieringer said. “Some of the members won’t see each other any more on a regular basis. It’s sad to see what was a vibrant club at one time end.”
The local branch contributed to numerous causes. They included the annual Freedom Shrine speaking contest at Wauseon High School, and the Freedom Shrine displays at the high school and at Swanton High School, the Fulton County Administration Building, and the Junior Fair Building at the county fairgrounds, among other locations.
The club also sponsored donations to Wauseon’s Safety City program, Fulton County Christmas Cheer, and Buckeye Boys State and Buckeye Girls State. It also manned the bingo stand at the Wauseon Homecoming and gates at the Fulton County Fair, and sold ads for the fair book. And it participated in the Ohio Department of Transportation litter pick-up program by removing trash four times a year from a two-mile stretch of State Route 108.
“Those that were involved in what we were giving for will notice a difference,” Dieringer said. “I think it’s harder and harder for Homecoming and the fair people to find volunteers.”
The National Exchange Club was founded in Detroit, Mich., on March 27, 1911, and has grown to nearly 20,000 members in more than 650 chapters across the United States and Puerto Rico. According to the organization’s website it supports youth activities, promotes national pride, and works for the prevention of child abuse.
The Wauseon chapter was chartered in 1991 with about 15 members. Charter member Mary Behnfeldt said a spring recruitment drive this year didn’t go well.
“It was a disappointment. People will volunteer to help with things, but they just don’t want to join things anymore,” she said. “It’s just a different world out there. It’s kind of the truth of the times.”
Behnfeldt said signing up temporary volunteers was never a problem for the club. But it seemed as though some people weren’t aware of the club’s mission.
“Maybe we weren’t able to convey public relations as well as we could have,” Behnfeldt said.
Tracey Edwards, executive vice president for the national headquarters in Toledo, said, contrary to Wauseon’s loss, The National Exchange Club is going strong.
“Last fiscal year, we showed growth in the organization,” she said. “This is just unfortunate in the Wauseon community. I just wish we could have kept that club alive. They’ve serviced the community for quite a number of years.”
While disbanding, the Wauseon chapter distributed its treasury funds to Sara’s Garden in Wauseon, the Wauseon Community Dinner, Fulton County Christmas Cheer, Wauseon’s Safety City, The Exchange Club Parent Aid Program in Mansfield, Ohio, and the Ronald McDonald House in Toledo. The chapter also has established a trust to keep the Freedom Shrine contest continuing for as long as 15 years.
Both Dieringer and Edwards said it may be possible to reestablish the Wauseon chapter in the future.
“I could see that happening,” Dieringer said. “All of the members will really miss giving back to the community this way, and being together, because we enjoyed being together and participating out in the community.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.