Service clubs kept communities together for decades until recent generations.
Belonging to the Lions, the Kiwanis, the Masons or the Odd Fellows said something about a person. Outside of church, it was the basis for community, friendship and giving.
But then Ed Sullivan happened. Membership in service clubs began declining as soon as there was a television in every household. More women began entering the workforce. Jobs became more demanding of time. Americans were too busy, too distracted, not interested enough to join.
While membership in service clubs remains far behind what it was in the heydays of the first half of the 20th century, some are making comebacks in Oak Cliff.
A secret society
In our neighborhood, the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 44 is one of the fastest-growing lodges in the country.
The secret society, not to be confused with the unaffiliated Oddfellows restaurant in the Bishop Arts District, dates back to 1700s London, and it arrived in Baltimore in 1819.
The first Odd Fellows lodge in Dallas, the one that’s now in Oak Cliff, predates the official City of Dallas. It opened in 1854, two years before the city incorporated.
At one time it was the largest Odd Fellows lodge in the Southwest. The lodge had a few buildings downtown before moving to a nondescript structure on Hampton and Wright in the 1970s.
Recent growth of the Oak Cliff lodge actually began in Waxahachie. Artist and folk-art dealer Bruce Lee Webb joined that lodge in the early 2000s because of his interest in the ephemera of secret societies — the robes, banners, masks and other items that are used in ceremonies.
He recruited some of his buddies, including tattoo artist/reality TV host Oliver Peck and Peck’s then-wife, Kat Von D.
Dallas City Archivist John Slate joined the Waxahachie lodge around 2004, and he decided to join the Odd Fellows in Oak Cliff in 2008.
“It was only me and a couple of old guys,” Slate says.
Artist Andy Don Emmons, who was a member of the Waxahachie lodge, joined the Oak Cliff lodge soon after he and his wife, Sandy, moved to Elmwood in 2014.
They decided to hold a recruiting happy hour, and dozens of people showed up. Fifteen new members joined that night, and the club has continued to grow from there. They now have hundreds of members.
Many of the new lodge members are artists or musicians or people who otherwise work in creative fields.
They all come together twice a month in the name of “friendship, love and truth,” their motto. The Odd Fellows originally started as a society to help orphans, widows and the impoverished, among other causes.
Local Odd Fellows have found their own ways to give.
Jonathan’s Place, an emergency shelter for foster children, is their main beneficiary. They also do a Christmas toy drive, and they still own and care for about half of Grove Hill Cemetery in Dallas.
Member Jenn Sereno discovered an old Odd Fellows program called “living legacy,” which planted trees in areas where developers had cut them down.
Sereno, a professional landscaper, decided to implement that in Oak Cliff, but she’s taken it a step further. She and her Odd Fellows brethren plant fruit and nut trees in areas where residents lack access to fresh produce. They’ve planted at least 44 trees a year since 2015. She says the project has been a cinch because Odd Fellows show up by the dozens and do all of the work. It took less than an hour recently to create six raised beds and plant eight trees in a Dallas community garden, she says.
“It’s the most painless way to be involved in charitable work,” Sandy Emmons says.
Odd Fellows members recommend attending at least two dinners before moving forward with membership. They meet at 1808 S. Hampton Road on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 7 p.m. For more information on how to attend, call Sandy Emmons, 903.644.5687.
A professionals club
The Oak Cliff Lions Club is another old-school service club that’s held steady over the years and has begun recruiting younger members.
The Lions meet for a catered meal at noon every Wednesday in a banquet room inside Dallas Methodist Medical Center, and there’s always a guest speaker. Dues currently cost about $45 a month. About 75 members typically show up.
The traditional cause for Lions Club International is vision care for children and adults who otherwise couldn’t afford it. The Oak Cliff Lions Club, founded in 1930, has an eye clinic, and its members volunteer with Meals on Wheels. But they also have the flexibility to help wherever needed. The Lions gave $500 at the beginning of the school year after Dallas Can Academy called to say they had students without uniforms.
“That’s the luxury of having a club our size,” club president John McCall says. “And it’s a great feeling to know that your club touched someone’s life.”
McCall had the idea for the Lions Club Farmers Market, which started in 2016 and now occurs twice a month at Lula B’s antique mall on Fort Worth Avenue.
That’s earned the club a little bit of money, and it gets their name out there, he says.
By far the youngest Lion in the club is 23-year-old Brooks Morrow.
Morrow, who works in real estate and finance, had joined a young professionals group in North Dallas and found it unsatisfying because its members mostly were interested in partying.
“There’s more out there than trying to meet women and find a new beer,” Morrow says. “I didn’t see that as a way to grow as an individual and be exposed to different people.”
So he tried the Lions, and immediately he felt welcomed, he says.
“There’s so much to it. There are so many career paths out there,” he says. “We get to see new nonprofits or events that we can get involved in every week.”
Morrow told McCall that the meeting schedule is difficult for younger people. Few can escape for a two-hour lunch every Wednesday (although Morrow usually attends).
“This is fundamentally a problem with your organization that your meetings are at a time when your target demographic can’t attend,” Morrow says. “If you want young members, you need an event that’s more relaxed and is at a time when any hardworking individual could attend.”
So they recently started “taco Tuesday” at La Calle Doce every first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.
If the Tuesday meeting becomes popular, it’s possible that some of the Lions could branch off into an “associate” club that pays fewer dues (since no catering is required) and meets less frequently.
For now the Lions are dedicated to their farmers market, which is on the second and fourth Saturday — Oct. 14 and 28 this month — from 8 a.m.-noon.
They’re planning their annual “spring extravaganza,” a clambake.
And they’re continually raising money for their pet cause, the Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville, a sleep-away camp for children with physical disabilities, type-1 diabetes or cancer.
Sian Reilly, a new member of the club, says Lions Club has been an easy way for her to give back to the community while building relationships.
“I don’t have any family in Dallas, and it fills that role for me a little bit,” she says. “And they’re wonderful people.”
To attend a Lion’s Club meeting, call John McCall, 214.676.7999.
Oak Cliff’s old-school social clubs
There are a few clubs in Oak Cliff that throw back to the days of housewives and are still going strong. These are two of them.
The Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts was founded in 1926 by 19 people, including the Texas impressionist painter Frank Reaugh. Most of its members, however, were women bound by society to stay out of the workforce.
Back in the day, the club’s activities included exhibitions for local artists, flower shows, music recitals and talks on history and literature.
The club has made membership strides in the past several years by putting on its seasonal “salon series,” which brings in artists, architects, culture makers and experts for talks. Other events include their Rising Stars exhibit, which touches the club’s original mission by exhibiting the work of local artists, past and present.
Join the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts at turnerhouse.org.
The ladies’ book club
Wine-and-snacks book clubs are popular today.
But previous generations didn’t even read the book, necessarily.
Book-review clubs took hold in Dallas in the early 20th century, and there are quite a few still around.
The Kessler/Stevens Book Review Club meets for lunch every second Monday, usually in a member’s home, from October to May.
Book-review clubs hire people to come and talk to them about a book.
“These women who come and speak, they’re pretty funny,” says current president Nancy Zarella. “Some of them are actresses, professors. Some go into character. I just had no idea. They’re very talented. They really bring the book alive.”
Zarella says she joined five years ago because her kids were grown and she was looking for a way to reconnect with the community.
And she says she enjoys the fellowship with women who are her own age as well as those from an older generation — some members are in their 80s.
The women-only club’s bylaws state: “The object will be to promote neighborly friendliness and the review of good books.”
A lunch committee puts together the home-cooked meal, and dues cost $35 a year.
Because they meet in private homes, the Kessler/Stevens Book Review Club caps membership at 55. Currently there are 49 members.
To try and snag one of those six available seats, call Nancy Zarrella, 214.803.0193.