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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The last gasps of fraternity

Today's newspaper announced the closing of the Eagle's club in Aberdeen.   When a large farm and fleet-type store closed and left a large building empty, the Eagles took it over and for years operated a facility much used by the community for various kinds of gatherings.  Over time, the membership of the Eagles declined and the facility was not used enough for community activities to cover its operating expenses.  The building will be put up for sale with the intention of finding a smaller facility.

The Eagles club is following a well established pattern for fraternal-type organizations in Aberdeen and across the nation.  At one time, the Elks operated a facility that was a popular gathering place,  It included a ballroom, a swimming pool, and an upscale restaurant .  The pool provided a place for the establishment of a swim club.  Declining membership make its operation untenable, and it abandoned the building for a smaller place.  The building is now used to sell used items for a non-profit organization.

The American Legion went through the same process.  It maintained  a hall in the downtown area, where it featured weekend dances and 1-pound hamburgers.  A decline in membership and fewer people attending its weekend activities, it sold the building and combined its activities with the VFW.  But then the VFW gave up its facility, and Legion moved what was left of its operation to the Eagles.  After a time, the Legion disappeared from that venue, and now the Eagles is closing.

It many smaller towns, the Legion has operated the last standing meeting place for the communities.  But old soldiers do die and fade away and take the Legion with them.

In Aberdeen, of the fraternal organizations the Moose club is still operating and the Elks still maintains its smaller facility.

The decline of fraternal organizations is a nationwide trend.  As younger people matured to the ages at which their parents joined clubs, they did not have those kind of social interests. Society is much more fragmented, and as sociologists have noted, people expend more effort trying to avoid each other than seek out any kind of brotherhood.  A sense of community is not important to them.  Churches have also noted and been affected by this trend.

The atrophy of social organizations is just one symptom of a dying community.  It is endemic throughout the nation, but is particularly lethal to smaller communities.  South Dakota has a multitude of small towns whose main streets are lined with boarded up buildings that once housed Legion halls and commercial buildings.  A few have converted a building to a senior center, but they, too, are closing.  There are many abandoned sites of towns that used to be,  places where lives were once lived, but no more.  

Concurrent with the dying out of social organizations is the ending of commercial activities.  Those abandoned buildings along the once-main streets were occupied by grocery stores, drug stores, farm implement and automobile dealers. and other retail stores serving the communities.  The competition from big box retailers and shopping malls made it impossible for small-scale merchants to compete.  Now the shopping malls are closing down, largely because customers are lost to internet commerce.  

Aberdeen is experiencing this loss of large retailers, also.  This past year, Aberdeen lost Kmart and Herberger's department store in the Aberdeen Mall.  Before that, it lost the J.C. Penney store, whose space is now occupied by Kohl"s department store.  Half of the Aberdeen Mall is empty.  The major retail centers are now Walmart, Target, and 
Shopko.  Shopko recently announced store closings, which included its Hometown stores in Redfield and Webster.   The Aberdeen Mall seems destined to join the many that are being abandoned.

Economists can trace the movement of retail business from Main Street to the malls and big box stores and then to the Internet.  Sociologists have noted the dying out of fraternal organizations and the decline of community gathering places in general, but the reasons for that decline have not been studied with any concerted effort.  Communities are dying, and they have lost their will to live.  Few people have observed that the factors that have caused the widening political gap in the nation began decades ago in the small communities.  People do not wish to fraternize.

The French tout their democracy as characterized by liberty, equality, and fraternity.  In America, the fraternity part is all but gone.  Try to find it in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  If you get tired of looking for places where fraternity is practiced, try shopping.

Good luck in your quest.  You are facing the future, and democracy in decline.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Newquist Shopko evidently was purchased by a venture capital company years back and it teetering on bankruptcy. Shopko would be a another huge loss for Aberdeen and especially for cities like Mitchell where many in the regional trade area shop. The days of retail where service, selection and the locally owned stores that contributed so much to the local economy are vanishing.

South Dakota Progressive Escapee

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