After 76 years supporting local Boy Scouts and ball clubs, funding scholarships and joining the Fiesta Days parade, the Cresenta-Cañada Rotary Club will fold this month. The service organization made the decision to disband in November, citing several years of declining membership and dwindling funds.
“It’s a shame,” said Joe Kroening, who joined in 1963 and remains the longest-active member of the group. “I tell you, we were beating a dead horse the last few years. We weren’t getting members and those we have, they were getting older, so when we had a project to work on that was physical, it was hard to get people to do it. But it’s a sign of the times, I guess.”
Darren Azarian, the club’s current president, said the chapter will fold with about 22 members on its roster, but only between 12 and 14 of them can be considered active participants who are able to show up regularly for meetings, events and other functions.
“There’s a lot of competition for people’s time; 40 years ago it was basically just the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions clubs and a couple of others,” said Azarian, who is serving his fourth term as president of the club that never donated less than $13,000 in a year to local organizations.
“When I was growing up, the service clubs were the social fabric of the community,” Kroening said.
And, until the 1970s, the IRS even allowed businesses to write off their employees’ dues, Kroening said.
The past three years reflected a new era. The Crescenta-Cañada Rotary Club spent all but $12,000 of its $40,000 in reserves to stay afloat, which forced its members to decide six months ago to set a membership goal. They wanted to recruit five new members by the end of the year to help steady the ship; they found only one.
“We did not meet the goal by any means, and so a few weeks ago, we decided we’d just go with shutting it down,” Azarian said. “My attitude was, ‘If you guys sit here and tell me we absolutely cannot close this club down and we have to keep it open and we’ll just start contributing more out of our own pockets, I’m 100% behind that. And if you don’t see it that way, I’m behind that.’”
After a couple more rounds of discussion, the decision was made to call it quits.
Members will meet for the last time Dec. 13, when they will decide how they’re going to distribute the remaining funds before closing out the group’s bank account and relinquishing its charter to Rotary International.
Azarian said most of the members who are able to continue volunteering will find another outlet for their efforts; he and Kroening plan to join the Sunrise Rotary Club of Glendale. Azarian also has hope that he can persuade his new club to continue supporting La Cañada High School’s Interact Club, which has always been funded by the Crescenta-Cañada contingent.
“No single organization keeps any one community service organization going, and there are a lot of recourses for organizations like Prom Plus, the Scouts and ball teams,” Azarian said. “They’re not going to suffer significantly, but we do contribute. I really think that the community is going to miss out on a lot of the good we do, but it’s not like we’re moving out of town or anything.
“We will still be here. We’re just going to be doing it for other organizations.”