Looking back, I realize my education regarding fraternal clubs may have been incomplete.
The Shriners, Lions, Loyal Order of Moose, Rotarians, Independent Order of Oddfellows — each has a story fostered by concern for those less fortunate, with most dating to the 1800s.
At a time when philanthropy was in short supply except for churches, and the need was great for people to join together for the common good, benevolent hearts took note and service clubs began to form.
Nearly everything I knew about these organizations I could have recorded from a 27-minute rerun of the "Honeymooners." Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) served (?) as devoted members of the International Order of Friendly Sons of the Raccoons — Brooklyn, NY, Bensonhurst Chapter.
Raccoon hats and military-style coats with giant epaulets gave them an official air of incongruity. Most of what they didn’t accomplish seemed to orbit around shared shenanigans made over-the-moon enjoyable by trying to exclude their fuming wives.
The theme echoed in the feature "Sons of the Desert," starring my favorite comedy duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The Boys, in high spirits, secretly motored off to their SOTD convention in Chicago. But that is another story, which had nothing to do with helping others and involved drinking a thermos full of what they thought was alcohol, but was actually cold tea, water-squirting boutonnieres and handshake buzzers. Clearly I had false information that could use clarification.
Recently I did some digging and discovered that we have service clubs in the valley whose members do not wear raccoon hats and epaulets (more’s the pity), but who actually dress like everyone else and perform admirable services within the community and abroad. Not only are women not shunned, they are encouraged to join. Ralph and Ed are rolling as I type.
One such club is a global organization with chapters virtually everywhere — Rotary International, whose motto is “Service above self.” Members are made up of business and professional leaders representing a broad spectrum of vocations. Their goal is to build goodwill and peace throughout the world.
There are several chapters in Southern Oregon that meet weekly at the same time and location, usually over breakfast or lunch. Not only do they contribute generously of their time and raise money for worthwhile projects, but they do it within an atmosphere of camaraderie, like a family coming together.
The Bear Creek Valley chapter is just one example of local Rotarian huddles, of which my optometrist, Dr. Kurt Wilkening, is not just a member but the recipient of the 2016 Service Above Self award. One project their chapter promoted last spring involved free eye examinations and glasses for low-income residents of Phoenix. They even welcomed a Rotary friendship exchange team from Wales to help distribute glasses.
The Rotary Club of Ashland involves students with a hands-on gardening program, which teaches kids about growing produce for local food banks. Klamath County Rotary, as well as most chapters, gives scholarships to local students and takes part in an annual book giveaway to area first-graders.
So, if you decide to join efforts with a local Rotary group, you may not be able to say with Ralphy Boy that you opened the first clamshell at the annual Raccoon Clambake, or shoulder alongside Norton in lobbing the first water balloon from the convention hotel window, but you will enjoy a shared satisfaction knowing you were able to help shine a light in dark places.
— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Reach her at email@example.com.