Death of Kiwanis another sad ‘Bowling Alone’ chapter

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

It was with great sadness that I received the news this week that the Wayland Kiwanis Club is calling it quits.

Kiwanis, which did a lot of quality things to help the local school system and its young people, is another group on a long list of fraternal “do-gooder” community organizations that have ceased to exist. And this awful trend, which has been going on in the American landscape for more than half a century, severely hurts local communities when the call is sounded for doing something to benefit friends and neighbors.

I’ve told you so more than a couple of times about the book “Bowling Alone,” by Prof. Robert Putnam, which outlines the process of loss of community spirit and alienation of individuals from one another.

In these modern times, we barely know or speak to our neighbors and the only times we engage in the community arena is to go shopping, go to a concert or go to an athletic event.

In “Bygone Days,” groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, the Lions, Exchange Club, Grange, the Odd Fellows, Rebekahs and the Knights of the Pythias would gather periodically for food, fellowship and planning projects to improve local quality of life.

These days, a tiny percentage remain, such as the Knights of Columbus, Gun Lake Federation of Women’s Clubs-Gun Lake, Wayland and Martin Lions Clubs and Chamber of Commerce. Virtually all of them readily admit to their biggest problem being finding enough volunteers to help carry out projects.

This problem is so severe that I daresay the Then & Now historical service for northeast Allegan County will die a horrible death when the few remaining volunteers shrug off their mortal coils. Who will replace them?

Putnam, in “Bowling Alone,” listed several reasons for the decline of social capital in modern American society:

  • The entrance of women in the work force, taking them away from neighborhoods and community activities and placing them in offices, plants, stores and agencies.
  • The meteoric rise in the popularity of television, beckoning people to stay home rather than go out into town events.
  • The Internet and other tech devices that lure citizens into comfy personal spaces at the expense of meaningfully interacting with other human beings face to face.
  • The recent dominance of social and political philosophy that elevates the individual self above the group or wider community. We aren’t encouraged to organize or gather, unless it’s to spend our money.

The social and economic consequences of “Bowling Alone,” the latest of which is the death of Wayland Kiwanis, are continuing to be felt.

I mourn the passing of this wonderful collective approach to living.


  • Also don’t forget the enormous contribution of labor unions to charity and community work! At one time one third of the working population donated millions of dollars and hours of time and resources to national and local charities, public schools, and community involvement.

  • Could one add to that list Government dependence and regulations? The townsfolk used to decorate the streets but now the government takes care of that. Townsfolk used to take care of and erect parks now the government does. Folks used to help each other build houses and barns but now regulations make that difficult if you’re not a contractor. Folks used to bring each other meals when your sick or out of work now we have unemployment insurance and food stamps. I would dare say the government has ALSO contributed to the declining of neighborly values. These are all noble causes the government has stepped in to help with or take over responsibility for but one can’t deny it has assisted with the decline of charity. Why go over to your neighbor with a loaf of bread when they are out of work when you know they have the government to lean on and you pay taxes to allow that? Why help your neighbor build a handicap ramp into their house if you might get sued because of some regulation that was missed during construction but it was good enough to the neighbor at the time?

    • Mike do not give up .We live in a neighborhood that cares about each other. Most are retired not all we have some young families on all sides. If you care about them they care about you. My wife had a stroke almost two years ago neighbors old and young helped anyway they could. Food lawn help what ever we needed. I had some older neighbors that needed help I would go over and help they always wanted to pay me I declined. Better than money I got home made bread cucumbers sometimes a cold beer. Just a wave and a smile can go a long way. Your answer to why because you care?

  • Until the casino came to the township next door to Wayland there were a whole lot more businesses (and employees) leaving than coming to Wayland. Its difficult to have a Kiwanis International or any community based organization whose leadership is often made up from a pool of local business leaders when many of those businesses are gone.

    Wayland used to have The Penasee Globe, at least one (maybe more) locally owned bank, 4-5 new car dealerships, jewelers, a clothing store , Five & Dime along with companies that created customers like a Pet Milk plantand small scale manufacturing of 250 people or less. Most of the businesses that created jobs have closed. The one remaining new car dealership is owned by a dealer own also owns 2 dealerships in Greenville where the principals live.

    Wayland like other outlying formerly agricultural communities has become an edge city. People live in Wayland but its a bedroom community. Many work use 131 to get to their jobs elswhere. Locally owned businesses are fighting for their existence while businesses like Dollar Store and Speedway supplant what were local businesses when Kiwanis and others were in their heydays.

    No finger pointing to blame any one group of local officials who could turned the tide. The 21st Century is all about consolidation, manufacturing efficiencies, just in time manufacturing/ distribution eliminating the need for warehousing.

    We saw local retail lose out to the allure of malls 25-35 miles away in GR and Kalamazoo. Now we see those malls struggling as even their own tenants like Hudsons and JC Penney are using the internet compete with Amazon so shoppers in Wayland with internet don’t have to drive to their brick and motar locations. Shopping from your home and getting nearly everything delivered to your door step. The only thing local that’s left is the customer who’s receiving the delivery.

    And so it goes

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