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The rise and fall of service clubs, part one

By Darrell Arnold

Part 1

LA VETA- One of the things I remember fondly from the 1950s and ‘60s is how many men’s and women’s organizations were active throughout Huerfano County.  In La Veta, several such organizations enjoyed strong membership,  such groups as Grange, the Masonic Lodge, Eastern Star, and the Rotary Club.  In Walsenburg, there were several, including the Rotarians, the Elks, the Lions (later to become the Walsenburg Club), and the Senior and Junior Civic Leagues (women’s groups).

    Today, many of those organizations no longer exist, and those that remain suffer greatly diminished membership.  What are these clubs about, and what has happened to reduce interest in them in recent years?

    In La Veta, one of the veterans of such clubs is noted novelist, 85-year-old Eugene Vories.  Throughout his life, Gene has been active in both the Masonic Lodge and Rotary, both of which are still surviving in La Veta.

    "My grandfather was the Master of the Walsenburg Masonic Lodge in 1885.  It was mostly a fraternal organization established to reach men on how to become better men through example, most of it based on the teaching of the Bible.

    "Another tradition has been to take care of a fellow Mason in need, and to help provide for the widows and orphans of deceased Masons, including educational scholarships."

    "We have about 25,000 Masons in Colorado.  Our local lodge has 40 men on the roll, but we have a hard time getting seven people there to have a meeting."

    Why has interest diminished?

    Vories explains, "Back in the old days such organizations were how men got together to socialize, for fellowship and entertainment.  Today, people have so many other entertainment options, like television and videos.  They prefer to stay home."

    Rotary is the other organization Vories is active in, and he currently serves as treasurer for the La Veta club.

    Vories says, "Though fellowship is a big part of it, Rotary is more of a service club.  It serves all people, not just Rotarians.  It is a worldwide organization with several thousand clubs in virtually every civilized country around the globe, about 150 countries.

    "Rotarians worldwide have given millions of dollars to dig wells and provide safe drinking water, to supply vaccinations, medical supplies, and sanitary systems, and to eradicate polio."

    In addition, local clubs provide money for projects in their own communities.

    "In La Veta," says Vories, "we built the pavilion in the park, we helped pay for lights at the La Veta Airport and the La Veta football field, we help with the upkeep of Charley Park, and we give scholarships each year to graduating seniors.  We’ve helped local kids get glasses, we give every third grader in Huerfano County a dictionary, we host the annual Easter egg hunt, and do Santa Claus for the kids at Christmas."

    Today, the La Veta Rotary Club is down to 14 members, down from more than 40 when the club was at its height, back in the 1960s.

    Vories says, "Rotary in Colorado is losing overall membership, but it is growing worldwide.

    The main idea of Rotary International is world peace through understanding.  When you know somebody, and you meet people from all around the world through Rotary, you have a better understanding of them.  Peace is much easier if you know each other on a personal level."