Is COVID-19 Killing the Modern Spouses' Clubs?

woman going through racks of clothing
A thrift store worker sorts through clothing at the Malmstrom Thrift Store at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Proceeds from the store go towards scholarships for the military community. (Daniel Brosam/DVIDS)

Over the last few decades, there has been a tremendous shift in the military spouse community in regard to spouses' clubs.

Originally clubs for officers' wives or enlisted wives, these clubs were separate, rank-based and often snobby. Yes, they frequently did good work for their community, but they originated as an excuse to get together.

In the past 20 years, many have consolidated into a community spouses' club, including spouses of service members of all ranks and even some civilians. There are still clubs separated by service member ranks, but the animosity has disappeared. We've even seen the "wives" part dropped off of almost all the clubs' names, acknowledging the greater diversity in the military today.

But after months of canceled events last spring and anticipating the same for at least the rest of the year, what are spouses' clubs going to do? Can they transition fast enough, or will 2020 be the death of them?

The Dover Spouses' Club canceled its annual craft show this year, its sole fundraiser. Its website states that this craft show began in 1984 and lists a November 2021 date for the next show.

The club at Fort Riley, Kansas, is scaling down events but still moving forward with them. Its fall auction fundraiser will feature smaller, timed groups and auctions finishing up online. The club is considering luncheons with pre-packed meals and an attendance limit, and plans another sign-up in January, said member Alejandra Fernandez-Rubio.

The DC JAG Club made an adjustment last spring that it is pushing forward with. Bana Miller, president of the club, said that it helps that they're a small branch club so they can be nimbler and more responsive.

The club has worked hard over the last few years to modernize, even changing names from the Army Judge Advocate's Women's and Spouses' Club to the DC JAG Club.

"We hosted virtual events in the spring and will continue that throughout the fall. We scaled back scholarships and cut other fundraisers in 2019, focusing efforts on supporting deployed soldiers and their families," Miller said.

She explained that 2020 marked the first year in decades that the club did not award scholarships as its focus shifted to charitable acts bringing people together.

“[We are] hoping it means longevity and greater relevancy for the club,” she said.

Similarly, the Marine Officers' Spouses' Club of Washington, D.C. (MOSCDC) announced an optional reduction in membership fees because of this year's unpredictability. Since they aren't sure whether they can offer some of their popular events, they thought this was a good option, said member Christina, who opted not to give her last name.

Its website states, "In consideration of the impact that COVID-19 may have on our members and their families this year, MOSCDC is offering new and existing annual members the option to pay $15 (instead of $30) for full-year membership."

But finances will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Spouses' clubs don't fundraise for operating costs (memberships cover that), they fundraise for scholarships and grants. And this is where some are feeling the COVID-related slowdown the most.

Some clubs rely on thrift stores, which were closed for a few months or are still closed, to fund their scholarship programs such as the Fort Gordon, Georgia thrift store. An update on the Fort Gordon Spouses' and Civilians' Club website says its continuing education scholarship program has been placed on hold.

Overall, spouses' clubs have weathered a lot of changes over the years. There's reason to believe that, with a little creativity and flexibility, they will be able to reinvent and adapt this year and beyond.

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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