Opinion

Jourgensen: Remember what Groucho said 

Question: Has the club — that community-oriented organization that served as the mortar holding productive society together — gone the way of the rotary-dial telephone?

I can hear legions of Rotarians, Masons and League of Women Voters members shouting an emphatic “No!” But I reply to their protestations with a simple question: How many Americans under 40 are joining clubs, compared to the same number 20, much less, 40 years ago?

Time’s passage means change, but there was a time when a well-calibrated résumé included a section devoted to clubs and organizations. The intent was obvious: The prospective employer reading the résumé might form an immediate bond with the applicant by virtue of shared club membership. 

Anyone running for office as late as 20 years ago relied on the same logic in listing clubs and affiliations in campaign literature. A candidate’s membership in an impressive slew of clubs told the voter their ballot choices included a busy person who had time beyond work, even family, to rush off to this club, and serve as chair for that club. 

The Daily Item archives include an entire file drawer full of articles about clubs, including the Lynn Young Democrats, who enjoyed enough influence 21 years ago to attract to their campaign forum top area Democrats running for office.

The late Thomas W. McGee and former Mayor Edward J. Clancy squared off during the August 1990 forum. It was McGee’s last hurrah as a vaunted Lynn politician. Clancy, then a city councilor, famously campaigned on the reminder to voters that McGee was elected state representative when John Glenn went into outer space. Never one to duck a fight, McGee reminded his young Democratic audience that Glenn was still a U.S. senator in 1990.

Political junkies will be thrilled to know that McGee’s nemesis, George Keverian, also attended the forum as a candidate for state treasurer and also failed to escape McGee’s ire. 

Let’s not be quick to forget young Lynn Republicans. No less a personage than Alan Tattle was elected president of the Greater Lynn Young Republican Club in 1959, when Ike was the GOP’s White House standard bearer. Formed in 1956, the Lynn club won “best teenage club of the year” from the Massachusetts Young Republican Association in 1967.

Longtime local Republican and amusing conversationalist Stephen Zykofsky’s name appears in a 1969 article about the club. Not surprisingly, Zykofsky stood at ground zero that year during a dust-up among local Republicans over machinations involving club membership. 

Politics helped spur the North Shore Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s formation when a half dozen gay and lesbian area residents participated in political organizing in 1978. Their activism grew the group to 30 members who decided to keep working. The Alliance lent its voices in 1991 to successful efforts to end discrimination against gay foster parents. 

Read about the Alliance’s early struggles and fights to end institutionalized prejudice and it’s hard not to conclude that Americans have come a long way as disciples of equality and still have a long way to go.

Clubs also served a purpose — and maybe they still do — in welcoming people into a community. You have to be older than 50 to remember the Welcome Wagon. But The Daily Item reported how Pat Davern of Swampscott embarked on 52 “Welcome Wagon calls” in spring, 1977. Her efforts helped spur formation of a local newcomers club with assurances that “.. the welcome mat will be out for single women and single men, new to the town …” That snippet sounds quaint and even corny. But is swiping and Instagram making people feel any more connected and welcome today? 

Swampscott obviously wasn’t alone in its welcoming attitude: The 90-member Marblehead Newcomers Club celebrated 25 years in 1975. Club President Ann Misoda marked the occasion with this culturally-revealing comment: “We’re not your average women’s group.” 

She may have inadvertently had in mind organizations like the Peabody Assembly Order of the Rainbow. Wearing white dresses and broad smiles, the women participated in Masonic Temple ceremonies complete with honorary titles ranging from confidential observer to sunshine girl. 

In a melting pot like Lynn, clubs included ones with ethnic orientations like the famous Polish American Citizens Club. Its founding in 1910 reflected its origins as an organization founded by and for immigrants. The club commemorated its half century mark by honoring four members each with 50 years membership. 

It’s fascinating to research and contemplate how clubs — never mind religious institutions — have formed and shaped Lynn across the centuries. Veterans groups and ethnic organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic post on Andrew Street, played major roles in that formation process.  

Safari Club International easily takes the prize for most unique club. Most clubs don’t hold meetings complete with demonstrators. But Safari Club International could count on animal rights advocates picketing club dinners where members dined on monkey, rattlesnake and hippopotamus while listening to tales of tiger and polar bear hunting. 

A 1979 dinner at the New England Aquarium featured big game dishes prepared by Luther Witham caterers of Lynn with help from a special chef. 

Oh, by the way, champion of iconoclasm Groucho Marx had this to say about clubs: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” 

 

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