For Luella Bitz, attending the dinner dances with the Dakota Club meant having some social time with fellow Germans.
"Germans like to dance and they like to eat," she laughed.
Like many Germans in Lodi, Bitz migrated to the Lodi area with her family from the Dakotas. The club, which began in 1943, was formed by those who moved from both North Dakota and South Dakota as a way to get together and have parties.
Now, after 66 years of countless dinners, games and fun, the club has decided to call it quits.
When it was incorporated in 1943, the club consisted of 185 male members, plus their wives, totaling 370.
Bitz, a member for 25 years who served as the club's 29th and final president, said that in recent years the number has dwindled to only 74. The club's low membership and lack of funds has made it difficult to continue, she said.
"It's not something everyone wanted to hear," she said. "It was sad. We sang 'Auld Lang Syne' at the last dinner."
Many of the Germans of Lodi from the Dakotas came during the time Katherine the Great was in power in Russia, Bitz said. The Black Sea area was opened up, where many Germans migrated to.
Russia was at war and many Germans were forced to serve in the Russian Army. To avoid this, many Germans left and came to the United States. North Dakota was open for homesteads, where many applied. After surviving brutal winters in the Dakotas, as well as the Great Depression, most had no crops or money. In the late '30s they began relocating to the Lodi area to take advantage of its job opportunities.
According to local historian Ralph Lea, in 1930 approximately 30 percent of Lodi's population were Germans from Russia.
The Dakota Club was then formed as a small social gathering for the people of the Dakotas. Bernice Rohrbach, who has been a member of the club for 55 years and served as its last treasurer, said the membership grew and in 1943 was chartered as a non-profit.
Membership was at first limited to people from North and South Dakota, but was later opened up to those from other states. For many years, the club was one of the most sought after clubs in Lodi and there was a waiting list to join, Bitz said.
"It was a really great social time. They worked hard all week and that was the social gathering for the month," she said.
Until 1995, only male members were allowed to serve as the club's officers and board members. For the 1996-97 year, Rohrbach became its first female president.
"We worked just as hard as the men preparing food, and we weren't mentioned," she said.
She said it was also partly due to the fact the club was having trouble getting officers. In the past, the board consisted of seven members. In recent years, they were down to five members — all women, except for one man.
From 1943 until 1996, the club held many weekend picnics, which included various games, like Bingo and raffles.
Bitz said the club always had great prizes, and recalled the year a picnic table was given away. One member, determined to win, bought 50 tickets for $1 each. Bitz bought only one ticket and won the table.
"It was just a fluky thing," she reminisced.
While looking though some of the group's history, Bitz came across an old poster that featured some of the prizes given in the early days. She was surprised to find some of the prizes had been a washer and dryer and coffee maker.
"It's just amazing because this was in 1946, after the Depression," she said.
German food such as kuchen, cabbage rolls and bratwurst were served for the dinners. In the early years, only German accordion bands would play for the dances. When rock 'n' roll came on the scene, it was incorporated into the dances along with western bands, in hopes of attracting younger crowds.
One year, when the "Hee Haw" show was popular, the club put on a "Hee Haw" performance. Rohrbach played the part of Minnie Pearl. She said the event was a lot of fun and drew a large crowd.
Annually, a rope pull pitted the people from North Dakota against the people from South Dakota to determine which were the strongest. Bitz said a trophy was given, and North Dakota was almost always the winner.
In 1993, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary at a special event, which took five years to plan by a committee of seven couples.
Numerous fundraisers, headed by Emil Stigmayer, were held for the event. He organized several spaghetti dinners, which were the most popular. He also made many raffle and auction items, ranging from footstools to the replica of a Dakota grain elevator. Bitz said the event provided a considerable amount of money for the club's finances.
In recent years, the club has been unsuccessful in attracting younger members, and many of its older members are either dying off or unable to drive, Bitz said. With membership at an all-time low and no money left, the decision was made to close up. The club held its last dinner and dance on Dec. 12 at the American Legion Hall.
Lea said the loss of interest in the club is due to the fact that the Dakotans have already integrated into Lodi. Many may have relatives still in the Dakotas, but they are not coming here anymore.
"Their kids were born here, so they don't consider themselves Dakotans," he said.
Rohrbach is saddened that the younger people couldn't be enticed to join.
"It's a different world out there," she said. "We hung in this long and had good times together."