History of The Lake Chapala Society
On January 15, 1955 a group of foreign residents met to form a society, which all foreign residents of Chapala would be invited to join. The intention of the society was to benefit both the foreign residents and the community of Chapala as a whole.
At the first get-together people were invited to join and the name “The Chapala Society” was approved. A dues structure was agreed upon and 21 adventurous souls signed up. Two committees were formed the same evening: “Mosquito Control” and “Information Service”.
It was a rocky first year, culminating in a move to disband the society. However, the Board of Governors recommended the society continue based on what had been accomplished during the year, namely: the Children’s Reading Room (biblioteca) with sufficient funds raised to ensure its operation for almost another year; establishment of a lending library for society members; the information office, and first steps toward establishing a section of the Chapala cemetery for foreign residents, including perpetual care. The board believed that these four achievements were worthy of more time, and that the society seemed to be the best venue for achieving maximum effectiveness of these and future projects. The following year, English and art classes were started at the Children’s Reading Room.
In the mid 60’s, a movie was shown once a week to the children and the headquarters (still located in Chapala) began renting hospital equipment to members. Also during this period, the headquarters was enlarged with the aid of society funds.
The next decade saw the lending library moving to a new location, a monthly bulletin mailed to the members, and membership lists printed by a local bank. The society paid the tuition fees for two students to attend classes in advanced education for a period of two years. In 1979, the board started discussions about acquiring AC (non-profit) status. A “Talking Books” library was established by two US citizens, which was housed in the library.
As the society began to grow, its current headquarters became inadequate for its needs. In 1983 an agreement was reached with Neill James to rent the front portion of her property in the heart of Ajijic, where it remains to this day. The name of the society was changed to the Lake Chapala Society (LCS).
1985 to 1990
The LCS began printing its own membership list, discussed renting VHS and Beta tapes to members, disbanded the Cemetery Committee, and started the Children’s Art Classes on Saturday mornings. In January 1990, Neill James donated legal title of her estate to the LCS, with the condition that she remain in her home (located on the grounds), until her death. There was also a provision that the society care for her during her old age. This obligation was earnestly fulfilled by the LCS until Ms. James’ death at almost 100 years of age in 1994.
By the end of 1991, the following had been accomplished: the gardens were restored and the society’s charter legalized (a task which took twelve years to accomplish). The LCS was now a legitimate A.C. (non-profit).
1992 to 1993
In 1992, the LCS established a business office to handle administrative affairs, mail service to the U.S. was instituted, a periodical library was set up and a formal student aid program started. Also, the format of monthly meetings was changed to an informal gathering with speakers and refreshments, courtesy of the La Nueva Posada, a restaurant and hotel in Ajijic. The LCS published its own ‘directory’ which included the phone numbers of members and local advertisers. A free blood pressure service was offered, and the first Canada Day/Independence Day celebration was hosted on the grounds. During 1993 flu shots were offered for the first time, and the U.S. Consulate began monthly visits.
In 1997 Ed Wilkes, a long-time Ajijic resident with a keen interest in education, died leaving his house on Galeana Street to the society. Two years later the house was retrofitted and named the Wílkes Education Center (WEC). The Children’s Reading Room and English language program were relocated from the LCS grounds to the WEC and became the Biblioteca Publica (Public Library). There the Spanish Language Library was expanded and a computer lab added.
Following the death of Neill James in 1994, the society took possession of the lower gardens and her house (per the stipulation of her estate), which brought about an expansion of activities to accommodate the significant increase in membership over the years.
2008 and on
In 2008 an executive director was hired, and in December 2010, a new constitution framed and adopted at an Extra Ordinary Meeting . In 2011 the governing board grew to 13 members in compliance with the new constitution.
Today, the society has 44 students receiving financial aid. The library has expanded, and the video rental library has its own space. The Patio cafe has become a favorite place for catching up with old friends and acquaintances, and the beautiful grounds are used for quiet time as well as many and varied activities.
Forty-five presidents and thousands of volunteers have brought the LCS to where it is today. Looking back to 1955, when the board decided to continue the society, little did they know that several of their original programs to serve the local community would still be alive and well after 60 years.
The LCS has played an important role in the evolution of the lakeside community by adapting to change. As the LCS prepares for the baby boomer generation, the current Board of Directors has implemented a new Strategic Plan to improve its member and community perception, optimize programs to assure continued relevance, and re-engineer the campus to meet current and future needs.