By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 28, 2022 at 11:02 AM

After more than a century of activity, the Service Club of Milwaukee – a club for high school girls dedicated to community service – will wind down after its final SCM Charity Ball at the Italian Community Center on Aug. 12.

According to a post on its website and an identical letter sent to members, the club’s board of directors decided in April 2021 to end its operations after this year’s ball, which had originally been scheduled for June.

“The board of directors of the Service Club of Milwaukee ... concluded that the club in its current form is not a sustainable organization. We made the difficult decision to cease SCM operations..

“In the last 10 years the SCM experienced a sharp decline in Charity Ball participation and struggled to recruit both active members as well as new board members,” the post explained.

“Approximately five years ago, new SCM Board leadership recognized that the organization needed to evolve to meet the needs of young women in the 21st century. The board met to devise a plan for high school-aged women that would drive access to life-long opportunities for alums and benefit them long after their active club days.”

Among the efforts were creating a new website and mobile app with funds from a grant from the Jeffrey C. Kasch Foundation. But, the post noted, the arrival of the pandemic was another setback.

"While these changes netted some positive results, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly restricted our ability to continue club business as normal. Despite the great efforts of our Members and the SCM Board to keep the club going, the board has concluded that there is simply not a sustainable path forward for the organization."

The Service Club of Milwaukee was founded in 1910 by Harriet Fitch (later Harriet Dake) – a member of the Chicago Service Club – at her daughter, Mrs. Thomas S. Van Alyea’s urging.

When Fitch – who was also active in relief efforts for France during World War I – died in Oconomowoc in 1962, the Sentinel lamented, "with the death of Mrs. Walter Dake, the curtain falls on the last act of a long, colorful drama in Milwaukee's history. Her passing marks the end of Society with a capital S. She was Society's last grande dame."

The mission of the club has been, “To help high school girls develop a lifelong enthusiasm and commitment to community service by introducing them to meaningful volunteer opportunities and experiences in the Greater Milwaukee Community, and providing funding to local, non-profit organizations.”

Though the club wasn’t officially incorporated until 1945, it hosted its first charity ball in 1924. Dake attended every ball – frequently referred to in the past as the debutantes' ball – until illness kept her away in 1961.

"Within recent years, the SCM Charity Ball has annually raised $50,000
plus in funds that are awarded in block grants that directly benefit our local Milwaukee community," the letter noted.

According to the SCM website, membership for high school girls was, most recently, $600. Members were expected to do at least 30 hours of community service a year, attend meetings and raise at least $500 for the Charity Ball.

The club ceased accepting new applications for members in April 2021.

According to tax records, in 2018 the club collected $12,000 in membership dues and had a net income of about $38,000, including donations and grants. However, it paid out nearly $49,000 in donations and grants and had total expenses of more than $57,000, leaving a deficit of nearly $20,000.

Among the many partners of the Service Club were the Ozaukee Nonprofit Center, Sojourner Family Peace Center and Urban Ecology Center.

“The closing is so hard, but we are trying to leave with as much appreciation for all the history and members of our organization,” said board member Katie Lemke.

"SCM has not only taught us the importance of service to our community, but the value in coming together to serve," the letter continued. "We hope that as you continue to serve our community, you will remember your time in SCM fondly."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.