Thursday, January 11, 2018

Post 3636 - The End Of An Era

Well, the email came out a few minutes ago, so I am free to discuss it here.

Barring some kind of miracle along the lines of Moses parting the Red Sea, my Toastmasters club is folding in the next couple of months.

My club was originally two clubs. Both founded by the phone company in 1968. The club I joined in 1991 was called Telstar; the competing club was called Telco. One was composed of phone company managers; the other, staff. I am not sure which was which.

I did not come along until the club was 23 years of age. Back then, both clubs still met at the Maritime Center on Barrington Street, in the phone company's employee lounge, which was a huge and expansive room on the fifth floor. My club met on Thursday nights; the other, on Tuesdays. There was a gentle rivalry between the two clubs. We shared equipment such as the lectern, timing device, the trophies we handed out each week.

Over the years, the downtown location, once an asset, became a liability. By 1998, both clubs were suffering, so we joined forces to become the Downtown Speakers Club, retaining the same club number as Telstar, and continuing the number of the meetings. I think those were both mistakes.

By 2004, there was a strike at the phone company and we were considered a security risk, so we could not meet at that space any more.  We managed to find a space in the South End. After the strike was over, we could not return to Maritime Center, so we spent the next two years in Scotia Square, until the phone company decided that they did not want us meeting there any more, so they booted us out. A club member arranged for us to meet at the (nor former) World Trade Centre, which is the last place we met.

I had a lot of fun over the years at Toastmasters. I met... my god, I met a lot of people. So many folks came to us, wanting to learn how to improve their public speaking.  People who would surprise you, checked us out. Stephen McNeil, our current Premier, came to some meetings while he was a lowly backbench MLA!

Some people to a few meetings and stayed. Some came to a few meetings, and left. Some came to one meeting, and we never saw them again. A couple of women left at the recess one night, and we never saw them again, either. Yes. That's right. They attended half a meeting.

I got along very well with about 98% of the people who were members over the years. When we didn't get along, it was often the result of misunderstandings that frankly are embarrassing for me to reflect upon, as they cast me in an unflattering light. Once or twice, though, there were personality conflicts. One woman would stand up every meeting and insist on giving an overly detailed Grammarian's report, including any guests who were there in her harsh criticism. This should not have been done. Guests are to be treated with reverence and respect. I would roll my eyes, hold my head, do anything other than tell her to sit down and shut up, something I dearly wanted to do. I was happy when she left the club, and dismayed when she briefly returned. One of the most annoying people I have ever met in my entire life. She will remain nameless, but she may read this and gnash her teeth and stamp her overly-elaborate shoes on the floor at my temerity.

Overall, it was a lot of fun, but a lot of work, too. People had little idea how much time volunteering for TM, particularly at the executive level, could take. Folks would ask us why we didn't do this, or didn't do that. Oftentimes we had not thought of it. Other times, we didn't have the time or inclination to do it.

A malaise began to set in... I guess about ten years ago. The club membership began to dwindle. Fewer members coming each week meant each of us took on more roles on the agenda, which made going to the meetings more and more of a chore. Eventually, we moved to bi-weekly meetings, which seldom lasted more than 90 minutes, and often, barely 60.

People at the executive level, beyond the club, began to complain about us. We were no longer participating at area-level contests. We were not attending the semi annual training sessions that always took place on a Saturday. We were not completing the very goals laid out for us by Toastmasters International.

By October of 2017, the club, gasping and wheezing, entered its 50th year. We returned seven members to the club, one below the number that Toastmasters International would accept, so we were on very thin ice. If we sent in our dues in April of 2018 with that number of members, or fewer, we would be shut down.

Then, on December 5th, our treasurer informed us that the meeting area she had been able to secure for us since 2007 would no longer be available. We would be homeless come January of 2018. We made some half-hearted enquiries here and there, but could not find a meeting place that was free, or nearly so. The very few of us left just realized, and admitted to ourselves, that we could no longer continue this club, as the club was unsustainable.

This is a little sad. I'm a little sad. But only a little. I got out of TM what I wanted to, a long time ago. It doesn't owe me anything. I don't owe it anything. And I'm tired of the horse hockey that a few people subject us to. I joined TM all those years ago to improve my public speaking and confidence. The other, extraneous stuff, has always meant little to me.

There are plenty of other clubs out there. Maybe in a year or so, I will join one and attend the meetings just for fun. Or maybe I won't. Depends.

The Downtown Speakers 3217 Toastmasters Club ceases to exist on March 31, 2018. But there will be no more meetings, so that date is meaningless.

I have not cried one little bit while typing this post, so I know we made the right decision. At least, I sincerely hope we did.

See you tomorrow.


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