For the past 36 years, braving the Brookfield Jaycees’ haunted house has been a rite of passage for local teens and tweens. But the annual Halloween tradition won’t be rising from the crypt again, now that the local chapter of the Jaycees has folded.
The Jaycees were a fixture in Brookfield for nearly four decades. Founded in April 1974, the organization participated in a variety of community events and had been recognized by the Illinois Jaycees organization as late as 2008 for its achievements and consistent membership growth.
But in May, former president Trishia Kivi announced on Facebook that the local chapter was folding because the “Brookfield Jaycees no longer meet the criteria to be a chartered chapter.”
The criteria includes a minimum number of chapter members, which is 20. Brookfield’s chapter fell below that number in early 2013 and after a three-month probation period did not hit the mark, said Kivi.
“The chapter struggled since I’ve been a member,” said Kivi, who joined the Brookfield chapter in 2010 and is now a staff member for the Illinois Jaycees Region 3, as membership program manager. “It was tough to motivate the members we had, and the cost of being a Jaycees chapter in Brookfield was very expensive.”
Jaycees pay annual membership dues, and the chapters are responsible for obtaining, for example, liability insurance for running large fundraisers, such as the haunted house. The Brookfield Jaycees had a $2 million liability insurance policy that cost thousands of dollars per year, according to Kivi. In addition there were permit fees they paid to Brookfield.
“The cost of doing business was very expensive,” Kivi said.
But Brookfield wasn’t alone in finding it difficult to attract new members. Throughout the state, the number of chapters has fallen from 88 in 2009 to 63 in 2013. Just since last year, there are five fewer chapters in the state.
In addition to the difficulty of finding new members, the Brookfield Jaycees were also hamstrung by older members who simply aged out of the organization, which is for individuals between the ages of 18 and 40.
David LeClere, one of those aged-out members, was chapter president in 2000 and a haunted house stalwart. A member since 1987, LeClere for 20 years was in charge of construction of the haunted house inside five trailers the chapter owned for that purpose. By 2008, LeClere had aged out of the program.
“It was a big undertaking,” said LeClere. “The trailers would be put in place the last weekend of August and they’d stay there through right before Thanksgiving. It took a lot of volunteer manpower. If we would’ve gotten paid for all that work, some of us would be rich right now.”
The Brookfield Jaycees’ haunted house perennially won awards from the state Jaycees organization for its ability to terrify and amuse its patrons. In its heyday, said LeClere, the haunted house would draw 10-12,000 people to its site in Jaycee/Ehlert Park on Brookfield’s south end. By 2012, attendance had dwindled to 3,000 or 4,000 people.
Started in the 1940s as the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees in the 1980s began admitting women and turned its focus to fundraising for charitable causes and participating in community service efforts.
While the Brookfield chapter has folded, Kivi said the state organization hasn’t given up on Brookfield and surrounding communities like LaGrange, Riverside and Berwyn whose Jaycees chapters folded years ago. The closest chapter to Brookfield is Lombard.
“By no means are we giving up,” Kivi said. “We’re looking to start a Lyons Township chapter or something else to reach a broader audience.”