Editor’s Note: This series of stories examining apathy looks at community and service groups in Champaign County and how some are keeping their doors open, while others have closed for various reasons or are nearing closure. The first installment was published Saturday. The final installment will be published this week.
Declining membership in local service groups and organizations is making it harder to keep the doors open.
Two local groups, the Urbana High School Alumni Association and the Genealogical Society of Champaign County, are dealing with membership declines that are limiting their abilities to provide services. The alumni association may face closure this year if membership does not pick up, officials say.
Urbana High School Alumni Association
The Urbana High School Alumni Association got its start in April 1992. The organization grew to 1,086 members at its high point; it now sits at 302. For the past 15 years, the group has had fewer alumni involved than what is required in the organization’s bylaws for board members, Board Member Janet Yost said.
“It just gets to be wearisome after a time,” she said. “We need more people.”
The board is supposed to have 13 people on it; it has five people now.
The association puts out the Banner newsletter twice a year, collects dues, hosts half-time refreshments in the weight room at the Homecoming game, participates in the Homecoming parade, maintains a scholarship fund for two scholarships every year, and facilitates the Distinguished Alumni Award.
“We used to do more things, but we just don’t have the people to do it,” Yost said.
Yost said she understands how busy people can be, and she thinks part of the issue is the public does not realize just how dire the situation is at the association.
Association President Hayla Sawyer Parker said she thinks many people stay in touch nowadays through Facebook and may feel like they don’t need the association anymore.
“That’s true of many organizations,” she said. “And people have families; people are busy.”
Recruitment efforts range from Facebook posts to notices in the Banner, as well as efforts held during the Homecoming game and other events. These have proven to be unsuccessful, Yost said.
The association may close its doors Aug. 31 if it does not get an infusion of new members willing to take over some of the duties. The scholarship fund will continue, with enough scholarship money for maybe 15 more years of scholarships, though it may be administered by another entity, Yost said.
For more information about the alumni association, email Yost at [email protected]
Champaign County Genealogical Society
The Champaign County Genealogical Society is running into similar issues, though it may not close down in the near future.
The chapter got its start in 1985, when there was a large interest in family history and lineage. The group currently has 133 members, with 65 of those “life” members, said Past President and Corresponding Secretary Chuck Siegenthaler. Of those life members, only 27 live in Ohio and 12 in Champaign County. Members are located nationwide.
Genealogical Society President and Treasurer Denise Gresh is a Logan County resident. She joined the Champaign County group because Logan County’s group does not hold regular meetings.
“In general, most people join a society because they have ancestors they are researching in that area. I’m an anomaly. I don’t have Ohio ancestors, but I belong to the western Pennsylvania genealogy, where all of my ancestors are.”
Membership has decreased approximately 37 percent over the years, Siegenthaler said.
“Trying to get people to hold office or help out in the organization is becoming difficult,” he said.
When the group started, members were probably in their 50s. Now those members are aging and want to do other things with their free time, Siegenthaler said.
“As membership dwindles, the number of people who want to be officers dwindles,” Gresh said. “The officers we have are over-stressed. There is no time or resources to grow the society or get more members.”
Siegenthaler said it may not be just time constraints that keep people from joining the society. Many may think they can find what they need on the Internet.
“Don’t believe everything is on the computer,” he said, noting records put his great-grandfather as buried in Kansas, but he’s actually buried at Oak Dale Cemetery.
“The family trees on ancestry.com are not necessarily accurate,” Gresh added. “I always say if you find an ancestor in a family tree, use it as an arrow to point you in a direction to look at. Don’t take it for truth. Use it as a starting point.”
In the past, the Genealogical Society published books on local history and conducted research. Now it is limited to occasional newsletters. It also serves as a source of information for people researching family trees.
To save money, the group reduced the size and frequency of its newsletters. It has not published a book in a while.
The group does not have the time or membership to encourage more people to join, Gresh said.
“We don’t have the time to put in, or the financial resources to have a website that might bring people in,” she said.
The group currently has three officers, when it should have five or six, Gresh said.
“I think we are in danger of closing,” Siegenthaler said, noting new officers are needed this fall. “It’s very frustrating. I don’t want to see the society fold. There’s a lot of good to it.”
“I would hate to see the society close. It’s an enjoyable hobby,” Gresh added. “I think we do provide a service for people.”
For more information on the society, visit the Facebook page or email [email protected]
The next installment will look at how some groups are holding steady or increasing membership.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.