The optimistic headline in the Friday edition of the Brownwood Bulletin pointed to a growing concern in communities similar in size and history to Brownwood. It is an unfortunate reality that membership in civic clubs and organizations continues to decline in the country. While that presents recruiting and operational problems for the individual clubs, it also does not bode well for the future of many civic traditions which are planned and orchestrated by various civic groups and upon which the larger community has taken pride.
In the body of the story that carried the headline “The parade will roll on” readers learned that for the first time in a couple of decades the Brownwood Jaycees will not be organizing the annual “Magical Highlights of Christmas” parade this year. The membership in the club has fallen to such a low level the group no longer has enough members to continue to administer the parade. Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Laura Terhune reported in the story the search was on to find a replacement organization that will take on the task. The optimism expressed in the headline prevailed – Southside Church has stepped in to assume the duties and become the sponsor of the annual Christmas event. Eric Evans, a minister at the church, said the congregation decided that they could take on the event beginning this year.
In Friday’s newspaper report, Terhune addressed an issue most civic clubs are facing. Given declining membership (nation-wide) the number of volunteer workers available to organize and carry out major civic projects is becoming precarious. The pancake supper held at the coliseum earlier this month is a sizable undertaking sponsored and organized by the Brownwood Kiwanis Club. The event has been an election-night tradition in the community for decades. Would the club’s membership be in a position to assume responsibility for the parade a short month later? What about the Lions Club? Their fish fry events that help raise money for glasses and other sight-related projects are as much a part of the community calendar as the pancake supper. That is the rub – civic organizations have their own projects that require the time and energy of the membership. Most of them are also designed as fund-raising venues to sponsor the goals and mission of the organization.
Another area tradition sponsored and organized by a local civic club is in jeopardy of not being able to continue in its present form. For years the streets in the downtown area and the major traffic arteries leading into Brownwood and Early have displayed the colors of the American flag on holidays. The labor intensive project is sponsored, organized and administered by the Rotary Club, but declining membership has created a burden for the remaining Rotarians and has dictated changes in the project. The number of holidays was reduced a couple of years ago to six specific patriotic holidays to honor our country and those who serve it, past and present. Another change involved constricting the area and reducing the number of streets where the flags are displayed. However, the more manageable distribution task brought with it a revenue problem. Besides being a visible symbol of the patriotism in the community, the revenue generated was used to fund the club’s scholarship program. Each year six scholarships ($4,000) are awarded to Brownwood and Early high school students.
Parades, flags, fish-fries and election-day pancakes all contribute to the community’s culture and social organization. The activities and the organizations that present them demonstrate civic pride and community service. Some sociologists are saying it is the group membership that is really what’s in decline. While religious membership and attendance has remained fairly stable, they report church related group membership is declining.
Individualism is on the rise and with the breath-taking speed in development of individual technologies, it is likely to accelerate. Is the close call with the Magical Highlights of Christmas parade an indication of the future of group sponsored community events?
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield