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Lake club persists as attendance dwindles

News editor

Marion County Park and Lake Chat and Dine club members got tips on resuscitation from EMS director Brandy McCarty at their annual potluck cookout Saturday.

They might need to apply some of those techniques to the club itself.

Chat and Dine was formed in the 1960s as a service and social club for lake residents. In its heyday, as many as 120 people attended club functions.

About 20 turned out for Saturday’s cookout, and other recent meetings haven’t fared so well.

“We had the woman that’s involved in Circles, who lives down here just past the Kingfisher, Jackie Volbrecht. I think we had six people that night,” club president Paul White said. “I felt so embarrassed.”

Marjorie Richardson and her husband, Jerry, have been attending Chat and Dine since the mid-1990s.

“It’s completely changed,” Marjorie said. “It was very good. We had a lot of people here and we always did stuff. We took up donations and made little bags of pencils and notebook paper for kids at school. We made bags to take to people in the hospital, things they might need.”

Richardson said that whenever a member needed help, others provided it.

“It was extremely neighborly,” she said.

The club also built benches and planted trees around the lake, and regularly picked up litter along Airport Rd., White said.

These days, the club is primarily social, having monthly potluck dinners from April through November. Members try to have programs at most of them.

White said the club provides two of his favorite things.

“Being with people and eating,” he said. “We’ve got some of the greatest cooks you’ll ever find at this potluck dinner.”

But food and entertainment haven’t been enough to hold onto members.

“I can think of maybe 20 out here that used to come that don’t come anymore,” White said. “In one way, it’s a habit. If you miss a few, you get out of the habit.”

White has put notices in newspapers and flyers in businesses, posted on websites, developed an email list, and put out signs around the lake advertising meetings. Dinner dates used to be the first Saturday of the month; now they’re the second Saturday to try to avoid conflicts that keep people from attending.

Still, attendance remains stagnant.

White sees the decline as a sign of the times, in which people’s social habits have changed from the club’s early days.

“These kind of events, this kind of wide-range social event is declining in its popularity,” he said. “Social events have become more compact and packed within small groups. You don’t have three- or four-block parties anymore; you’re lucky if you have a one-block party.”

The lake has changed, too. Many of the stalwart members from years past have moved to be closer to children, while others have died. Younger families have moved in, but they don’t connect with the history, White said.

Politics also may have played a part in the group’s decline, he said.

“I was told they let politics get into it, they started doing things, and some people didn’t like what they were doing or how they were doing it,” White said. “I stay away from anything political.”

White is frustrated in no small part because he believes Chat and Dine has something valuable to offer.

“It’s a great social event,” he said. “The camaraderie, it’s regular through the warmer months. It’s a way to meet your neighbors and people that live across the lake from you, or down the road, that you might not get to meet otherwise. It’s just a good old-fashioned get-together.”

If attendance doesn’t pick up, soon will come the day when all that’s left of Chat and Dine are the benches and the trees.

“We decided here a few meetings ago that we’re just going to keep going, however many come, until we run out of money,” White said. “When we run out of money, it’s over.”

Last modified July 16, 2015

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