By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
As the years go by, the gift of civic participation has become something that seems lost on newer generations.
Service groups such as the Optimist Club, Kinsmen and Kinnettes, Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, and many others are experiencing increasing struggles to attract new members.
And that struggle, unfortunately, caused the recent disbanding of the IODE Oshawa Golden Jubilee Chapter.
Earlier this fall, the remaining members of the proud group came together for a bittersweet celebration. The gathering marked both the organization’s 70th anniversary, but also its demise.
After years of striving to attract new members, IODE Oshawa officials felt the time had to come.
Outgoing president Betty McGowan told The Oshawa Express they had tried “very hard” to get new members. While there was some success, they couldn’t seem to connect with new retirees.
“They are more interested in socially active groups,” she commented.
With the increasing influence of technology, the group established a website and Facebook page in hopes of attracting new members. But these efforts didn’t deliver the desired results, communications officer Diane Gray notes.
With most members being in their 70s and 80s, membership declined from 26 to 18 in just the past year.
This is not to say the chapter hasn’t been active in the community, in fact, just the opposite.
Over the past 10 years, IODE Oshawa has donated more than $500,000 to several organizations in the city.
These include Gate 3:16, St. Vincent’s Kitchen, Camp Samac, Hearth Place, Rose of Durham, Backdoor Mission, The Refuge, Oshawa YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Durham Region.
These names represent only a fraction of the causes the IODE has supported over the past seven decades. It would be a tremendous challenge to quantify in words the impact the women of IODE have had on the city in that time.
So how did it all begin?
The year was 1949, and the world was four years removed from its most infamous war. The first of the Baby Boomers were either toddlers or babies, and the Cold War was just a slightly chilly concept.
A group of women in Oshawa decided to come together under the idea of helping those less fortunate in the community. Their official motto was “Others First.”
Elaine Willson, a past member of the Marshall Saunders Chapter in Toronto, was responsible for the formation of the Oshawa chapter.
She served as the first regent from 1949 to 1951.
Other charter executive members included Jean Ross (1st vice), Bette MacDonald (2nd vice), Lois Bind (secretary), Nesta Rundle Kent (treasurer), Margaret Turpin (executive), and Joan Willson (executive).
Joining them were Betty Brooks, Betty Burns, Lena Daniels, Florence Hana, Amelia Hart, Eileen M. Hopkins, Aileen McGlaughlin and Elizabeth M. Storie.
One of the most notable actions by the chapter was a $1,000 donation in 1951 to help furnish the maternity ward at the Oshawa General Hospital. Other donations to the hospital included more than $60,000 for equipment such as a portable vital signs monitor, a computer system to aid patients with voice disorders, and several chemotherapy chairs.
IODE members also knew their way around the kitchen as they were well known for serving lunch at the Simcoe Hall Seniors Club in Oshawa for 28 years.
Charitable ventures varied over the years from donating toys and food at Christmas to sending cigarettes to soldiers in the Korean War.
In 1977, the IODE opened the Bargain Boutique in downtown Oshawa, offering clothing and goods for reasonable prices, beating the concept of stores such as Value Village by decades.
Money raised from the thrift shop helped to purchase a van for the Canadian Cancer Society to transport patients to Toronto.
IODE Oshawa has been a significant supporter of local education, providing money for an endowment fund at Ontario Tech/Durham College, bursaries for secondary school students, awards for special needs students, and also assisting with the purchase of literacy materials, and science and tech equipment.
In 1992, the chapter figuratively hit the jackpot by sponsoring a bingo game every week at the legendary Red Barn.
The weekly game has supported countless causes, with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Community Living, local breakfast programs, Kiwanis Music Festival, Parkwood Foundation, and Durham Hospice just a few of those to benefit.
But with the relaxation of laws regarding online gambling and casinos in Ontario, McGowan notes their bingo proceeds “plummeted” over the years.
“It [was] really our only source of revenue,” she notes.
Back to the difficulties of finding new members, McGowan notes with the rise of websites such as GoFundMe people can fundraise on their own easily.
She also notes many corporations have stepped up to raise large amounts of money for research into diseases such as cancer and MS.
With more people struggling to make ends meet, she says there are so many more “social issues” to address than when the IODE first started, and even 20 years ago.
“[In the past] there was one shelter for abused women, not five. There may not have even been a food bank, now there are four or five,” she explains.
Gray also notes the organization’s public profile has decreased greatly over the years.
“We used to get a lot of press,” she notes.
Gray believes that, sadly, most people in the community may not have even been aware the IODE was still active.
At the chapter’s final meeting held in September, members gathered one final time to remember the many hours they spent together, and the many causes they have helped.
While it was a bittersweet moment, it was ultimately one of friendship and pride in the work they’ve done over the years.
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter and Durham Regional Chair John Henry both provided greetings, and thanks for all the work they had done in the community.
IODE Ontario provincial president Linda Gryner also attended.
Gryner noted it was a “shame” that the local chapter had to close, but she is hopeful a new group could return to Oshawa.
“This chapter goes back 70 years… these ladies are amazing,” she commented.
Approximately 50 IODE chapters remain in Ontario. More information, including links to become a member, is available, at iodeontario.ca
In addressing the members, McGowan says it is unclear what the future holds for all of them.
However, she was confident they will continue to “do all in their power to make this a powerful community and a proud one.”