Roll call: Veterans and fraternal organizations' membership drops

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On Saturday, Stillwater Elks Lodge No. 179 and the Stillwater Veterans of Foreign Wars will join forces at the VFW's location. The Pioneer Press reports grand opening festivities at the newly-named "The Heights Hall & Club" will include a pig roast, prizes, games and live music. The Elks closed their Stillwater location in April.

The move comes as both fraternal and veterans organizations are experiencing declining enrollment. Earlier this month, KARE reported on the closing of the Lakeville VFW hall and noted "VFW halls are being shuttered across the state. Where a dozen once stood in Minneapolis, only one remains. None are left in St. Paul."

At its peak Minnesota had 320 VFW posts; now just over 220 remain.In April, the Northlands News Center reported on the closing of Hibbing VFW Post 8510; the the club didn't have the required eight officers needed to keep its charter.

"It's not a decline in membership across the state, it's a decline in membership across the nation," State VFW Commander Frank Presfield said at the time.

Earlier this year, the Yakima, Washington Herald reported VFW membership has dropped from about 1.8 million to 1.4 million. The primary problem is demographics, with today's veterans not replacing the World War II and Korean War veterans as the old guard dies off. Less than 1 percent of the American population today serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.

Fraternal organizations are also seeing a precipitous falloff. The JewishWorldReview noted that every major fraternal organization, from the Elks to the Moose, Shriners, Masons and Eagles, have seen steadily declining membership over the past two decades.

The story said the Elks have lost 35 percent of their members since 1980, when it peaked at 1.6 million, and there are now about half as many Shriners and Masons today as 25 years ago. The Loyal Order of the Moose has lost about a third of its membership since 1980. Some smaller groups, such as Odd Fellows and Red Men, have all but disappeared.

AM New York considered some of the reasons behind the decline in the groups. Younger generations are more likely to network online than in club headquarters, while longer commutes and work days leave people with less time for organizations.

"Also, many aspects of the old 'invitation'-based groups seem stuffy or unappealing to many younger people," the story said. But it added that "the main culprit in their demise is a dramatic shift from collectivist to individualist values and thinking."

Scott Thumma, a sociology professor at The Hartford Institute in Connecticut, suggested people are "simply less interested in being members of organizations in which their own individual needs are not paramount."

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