Kay Heuer

Kay Heuer

Order dissolves over lack of membership

NANAIMO – Order of the Royal Purple has closed after more than 60 years in Nanaimo. Other fraternal groups also face challenges.

Members of a Nanaimo service club are hanging up their purple hats after more than 60 years in the Harbour City.

It’s the end of an era for Nanaimo’s Order of the Royal Purple, which is dissolving this year after grappling with an aging membership and lack of new volunteers.

The service club for women has met and volunteered since 1949. They did bingos and bake sales, fashion shows and teas. They put up lights in Nob Hill park, created student bursaries and contributed to the Elks and Royal Purple Fund for Children.

But the organization has also faced challenges, including getting new membership. And it’s not the only one.

Organizations like the Elks and Odd Fellows have also seen a decrease in membership and difficulty replenishing the ranks – an issue that has some executives forecasting an end for other fraternal orders.

“Everybody is getting too old, I think this is the problem,” said Dorothy Dool, 86, a Royal Purple volunteer for three decades. “We are not getting new members and I don’t think any of the other organizations are getting new members either and you get to a certain age where you just can’t do it anymore, or [you] really don’t want to.”

Dool said it’s hard to put into words how she feels about the end of the ladies’ group, which will meet until their membership winds up in December. The charter was surrendered in June.

“It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the closing of the lodge because it’s really hard to give up something you’ve had for so many years,” she said. “It’s like losing a good friend.”

Nanaimo’s fraternal organizations have deep roots in the community and report an investment of thousands of dollars each year to help pay for hospital equipment to bursaries and hearing aids. But with the struggle for members, executives with the Elks, Odd Fellows and Royal Purple agree more will face the question of closure.

Deborah Munday, former Royal Purple treasurer, said younger people just don’t join fraternal groups anymore as they’re too busy with their home lives. The organization saw membership drop from an estimated 100 to 27 over about 35 years.

Nanaimo Elk Lodge president Kay Heuer says it’s also a “totally different” society than when fraternal organizations were established. The Elks Lodge began 97 years ago for men only, a time when it was also easier to fundraise.

By the late 1990s they had about 150 members.

Today they sit at 25, with a mean age of 72.

“I really believe it’s just a matter of time before all the fraternal organizations are gone … we are all struggling for membership,” she said.

The Elks contribute about $12,000 annually into the community. She questions where money will come from once they are gone, but she also doesn’t see a way to save organizations. “We are all in our 70s or 80s and sure we want to keep on, but how much longer can we?” she said.

Nanaimo’s Odd Fellows have been in the city for more than a century and by the 1950s, noble grand Sheldon Smith says they had more than 200 members.

Today there are 14 and it has a hard time getting a quorum at meetings. It’s sister organization, the Rebekahs, have stopped meeting.

Without interest in an organization, continuing to make it grow, “yeah, it’s got a life expectancy,” said Smith of his belief fraternal groups face an expiration date.

Like a CD or record player, “some things pass and there’s no need for them anymore because they have been replaced by something else. In the situation like the Odd Fellows, our credo is to look after the sick – the government does that. To help the orphans – the government does that. To look after the widows – the government does that. In effect, we are becoming dinosaurs,” Smith said, adding the only thing they do is the fellowship.