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Calling it quits after 91 years

Dwindling membership forces Lake Placid Kiwanis Club to disband

December 22, 2017
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The Kiwanis Club of Lake Placid would have been 91 years old on Dec. 8.

Now, instead of having dinner together at Mr. Mike's Pizza on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, members have free time to do other things. After almost a century of community service for the children of Lake Placid, the Kiwanis Club officially disbanded on Sept. 30, just after its biggest annual event, the Teddy Bear Picnic.

"It was very difficult," Kiwanis Club President Kelly Conway said in early September, sitting around a table at the NBT Bank Outpost Branch, where she is the manager, with four of the remaining nine members.

Article Photos

Former Lake Placid News Editor Ed Forbes was president of the Kiwanis Club of Lake Placid in November 2006 when he joined board member Lori Martin to present dictionaries to Lake Placid Elementary School third graders. Every fall, the club gave dictionaries to all third graders in Lake Placid, both at the LPES and the St. Agnes School.
(News photo — Andy Bates)

"When I decided to be president," she continued, "a lot of it was to the loyalty of the history of the club and the people who had been in the club, these four, the Reg Clarks, the Dr. Harts, the long-standing people who had been in the club, Barb Kelly, Shirley Seney.

"And so, when it came time to realize that we couldn't continue, it was very difficult. It was a very emotional decision. ... It is the right decision. There's no question there. But it's still hard when you make a decision like that."

The decision to disband, made in August, simply came down to numbers.

"I think you need a critical mass," Conway said. "You have to have 20 people. You can't do this with 10."

Richard Kelly, who had been a member with his wife Joan for 18 years, agreed, but also said that having more members isn't just about having enough "horses to pull the wagon for the events."

"It's the inspiration, enough people to keep it constantly interesting," Richard said. "You don't want the same suspects always sitting down together."

When the club celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2006, they held a big party with more than 150 guests. At that point, they still had about 40 members.

"I think it's a lot easier in a big geographic area, in the city," Richard said. "There you can easily have a club with 50 to 100 members. When we started, there was probably about 45 members of the Kiwanis Club back then."

Yet it's been difficult recruiting more people as members move on - in life or death.

"I went back and looked at the list of members when I was president," said Richard, who was president in 2002-2003, "and in that period of time, we lost 60 percent of our members because they either died or moved. So we had an older group that got too old. Even right now, that's really part of the problem. The next generation really didn't come along."

The problem of recruitment isn't a new one. Seeing a steady decline for years, the club tried numerous ways to get more members. One idea was to contact all the largest organizations with the most employees in town such as the hotels and hospital.

"We approached them and said, 'Can you encourage people who work for you to join?' Some of them said, 'Well, we'll pay their dues.' But still, our dues are $100 a year; that's not a lot of money," Richard said. "That's not the problem. People have to put in the time."

The club also tried to recruit people who are familiar with Kiwanis, such as longtime residents and former Kiwanis Club scholarship recipients who have moved back to the community.

"They're here and their children are getting older, getting to the point where the kids were getting out of high school," Richard said. "So we thought that might be a nice pool. We were not successful. Maybe we didn't touch the right people."

Betsy Baxter, one of the youngest members of the club, spent the past six years reaching out to younger residents, but that didn't work either, according to Conway.

"She did a phenomenal job reaching out to people in her age bracket," Conway said. "We knew we needed to have a critical group. There had to be more than one person who was a 30-year-old who came in with her. There had to be like 10 people. ... She tried incredibly hard."

As they tried to recruit, Kiwanis Club members heard the same story over and over. People are busy. They're overextended. They have more than one job or have a busy family life.

"It is hard," Conway said. "As a banker, I see the two jobs, three jobs that a family needs to work to make a living. Very few people here work one job."

That's why members tend to be older. Many spend their winters in the southern states, making meetings in those months difficult. Some, like the Kellys and 17-year veterans Len and JoAnn Folin, are couples, which gave the club a boost in numbers - two for the price of one. But even couples didn't want to join.

It's a familiar problem in small towns such as Lake Placid. There always seems to be a core of involved citizens that do almost all the volunteering. And without an infusion of new blood, clubs such as Kiwanis in Lake Placid sometimes reach a breaking point.

"Everybody's volunteering," Richard said. "If you think about it, all the things get run by volunteers around here, so most people have multiple hats they wear. ... You do need a minimal number because it takes a lot of people to run the events."


Moving forward

During the months before disbanding, and the months following, Conway spent much of her time trying to keep some of the Kiwanis Club programs going.

"We don't feel like we're just walking away from this," Richard Kelly said.

For example, they reached out to neighboring Kiwanis clubs to sponsor the Builders Club and Key Club at the Lake Placid Middle-High School. Yet they could only save a portion of their programs.

"I think we're going to leave a bit of a hole because, although all of the civic organizations do a great job here, we're really the only one that's mission is children, specifically children," Conway said. "So there are a few events that won't happen."

Those events include the Teddy Bear Picnic and the Valentine's Day party at the Greenwood Apartments.

"They just so much appreciated what we did and they loved the desserts," Joan Kelly said about the Valentine's Day party. "It was just one day, one night of having them so excited, so enthusiastic and so appreciative of what we did. I'm going to miss that."

JoAnn Folin said she was going to miss getting together with the club and doing positive things for the community.

"I think the camaraderie of it," JoAnn said, "and would you believe there is camaraderie in cleaning up the highway, picking up the garbage and trash? And the fun that we had doing it. It's kind of silly, but it was fun doing it. And all of the other things like the Teddy Bear Picnic."

In addition to the Teddy Bear Picnic and Valentine's Day party, the Kiwanis Club of Lake Placid was the sponsor of the Lake Placid and Keene High School Key Clubs, the Lake Placid Middle School Builders Club and the Lake Placid Boy Scouts. It has also supported the Girl Scouts, the Shipman Youth Center's I Love BBQ and Music Festival fundraiser, the Holiday Village Stroll, the Afterschool Program's Touch A Truck event and giving out free dictionaries once a year to all the third graders in Lake Placid, both at the Lake Placid Elementary School and St. Agnes School.

Kiwanis also gave out thousands of dollars in scholarship money to Lake Placid High School graduates.

"Up until three years ago, we were still giving out $4,000 a year, and we had to raise money because the scholarship at that time was $1,000," Kelly said. "Instead of one child getting $1,000 for four years, we spilt that money, and they got anywhere between $250 and $500 for four to six kids. It helped the kid that was going to vocational school. Or the kid that maybe was going to North Country for two years and wasn't going to apply because they didn't need it for four years."

What would they do with their remaining funds? Spend it on the community, of course.

"It has also made me feel very sad," Joan Kelly said, "but a little bit happy is the money that we have that we're going to distribute to so many organizations in town."

Last year, the club gave $25,000 to the village's Teddy Bear Kiwanis Park on Hillcrest Avenue to buy equipment. That was their last big project.

The end of the Kiwanis Club of Lake Placid doesn't mark the end of volunteering for its dedicated members, though.

"Certainly, we've all been encouraged to join other groups," Conway said. "They're calling us left and right, so we must be doing something right or they wouldn't want all of us."

And even though the nine final club members - Kelly Conway, Richard and Joan Kelly, Len and JoAnn Folin, Reg Clark, Peg Doran, Joe McCranels and Betsy Baxter - will most likely move on to other volunteering activities in the community, they are not yet convinced that 2017 will mark the end of Kiwanis International in Lake Placid.

"The hope is maybe there will be a group in five years who decides they want to form Kiwanis again," Conway said, "and that would be wonderful."



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