Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 3, 2015

Letting go

An old friend died on March 31.

It wasn’t a loved one or a beloved pet, but nevertheless it was a friend that has meant a lot to me over the past 19 years. The “friend” was the Manhattan Sertoma Club.

The name was derived from “SERvice TO Mankind,” and I was recruited to the club by my friend Jean Hill. I was somewhat hesitant at the time because daughter Mariya was only 9 and Katie was 3 1/2 and I didn’t want to add anything more to my plate. But Jean is dynamic, warm and funny, so it didn’t take her long to persuade me. She assured me that Sertoma was made up of members who would appreciate whatever time I could contribute.

And she was right. I always felt welcome and valued. For a number of years, I was the publicity chairman, which involved publishing the monthly newsletter and writing articles.

Over the years, the club gave much money to the community - to the Manhattan Emergency Shelter, the Boys and Girls Club, Toys for Tots, the Flint Hills Breadbasket, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and other programs. We also donated equipment and software for local speech and hearing programs.

But first we had to raise that money. We hosted tamale suppers; had biscuits and gravy and pancakes and sausage breakfasts; sponsored an art show; and sold books, jewelry, scarves and other items. We even sold green popcorn at St. Patrick’s Day festivities. I pitched in by designing ads to promote these various fund-raising activities.

The club was also involved in recycling hearing aids, providing free hearing screenings, explaining noise-induced hearing loss to area fourth graders, giving computers to the senior center, picking up litter through the Adopt-A-Highway program, planting bulbs around the historic Wolf House, and giving gifts to area nursing home residents.

But it wasn’t all work. During meetings, we learned a lot about our community - the Kansas State University Gardens, the university’s athletic teams, political figures, Fort Riley, the Little Apple Barbershop Chorus, the Riley County Historical Museum, the zoo, the local schools and much more.

And we laughed and had fun together! We rode the trolley through Manhattan to see the lights at Christmas time, sang carols at nursing homes, viewed the eagles at Tuttle Creek State Park, picnicked at the Keats Park, partied at friends’ homes and celebrated babies and birthdays. We also supported each other through bad times, illnesses and deaths.

The Manhattan chapter of the Sertoma Club was formed by the 2011 merger of two clubs - the Evening Sertoma Club, established in 1920, and the Sertoma Luncheon Club, chartered in 1996. So why does an organization that’s 95 years old disband? Jean said the gradual decline was probably not the result of one thing, but a combination of things. In recent years, most members were older and that meant age-related illnesses played a role. There have also been changes in how people interact in their communities. Jean said younger people still like to serve their communities and want to be engaged, but not so much that it takes time away from their work and family obligations.

“It’s a different time now,” she said. “Now, both parties in a marriage are working whereas it used to be that Daddy went to work and Mama stayed home. People in their 30s and 40s still have children at home and are busy running them around. That means they have less time for socializing.”

Today, social media also provide ways to connect with friends without ever leaving home, and also allow our social groups to be spread over a greater distance.

David Smit, our last president, used the farewell dinner on March 7 to sum up our feelings:

... I think most of us knew for a long time that this day was coming, and that it was simply a matter of how well we would handle the transition, how well we would let go, how well we would accept that it was time to stop. And I must say, I think we handled the transition very well indeed. We have gone out in style. We have donated a $5,500 assisted-listening system to the Manhattan Arts Center. We have given away one last set of $500 scholarships to students at K-State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders ... We are arranging to transfer some of our historical records to the Riley County Historical Society and to transfer our pancake feed equipment to an emerging organization dedicated to feeding the poor in Manhattan.

... In terms of the physical existence of the Manhattan Sertoma Club ... The club will be no more. But in terms of history and our own lives, perhaps the best is yet to come. We can be proud to share our history as part of Sertoma [International] and we can be glad that we were members for so long. We can deservedly bask in the memories of all that we have done over the years. Just in the past 20 years, we must have given away about $100,000 to people and organizations that needed our support. And we can also be proud that we recognized the reality of our circumstances and decided on the right course of action, to resign our charter in Sertoma International with dignity and move on with our own lives, nourished by what the club gave us the opportunity to do.

So I personally think of this moment more as a time to laugh rather than a time to weep, more as a time to dance rather than as a time to mourn ...

It is often difficult to let go, but it’s just as frequently a necessary part of life. I will celebrate what was accomplished and cherish the memories of the friends I made in our dear Manhattan Sertoma Club.

Goodbye, old friend!

Top-left: The pancake breakfasts were always well attended; top-center: pancake production line; top-right: Gloria joins Sertoma; bottom-left: working with Habitat for Humanity; bottom-center: supporting Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan on St. Patrick's Day; bottom-right: elementary school children learning about hearing.

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