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Single, but not alone: Local club aims to offer members chance at new friendships, relationships

Debbie Idland and Kurt Kingsbury dance during a Red River Singles Club dance Jan. 16, 2016, at the West Fargo VFW Club.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Joyce Leach visits with Jay Johnson during a Red River Singles Club dance Jan. 16, 2016, at the West Fargo VFW Club.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Admission is displayed during a Red River Singles Club dance Jan. 16, 2016, at the West Fargo VFW Club.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

WEST FARGO — Whether it's celebrating the good times or coping with the bad, Deb Fankhanel knows she's not alone as long as she's involved with a local singles group.

"Everybody has a story," she said. "I have my own, too."

There are stories of love, like 73-year-old Dallas Gunkel and his wife of three years, 71-year-old Mae. The couple met about a decade ago at a Red River Singles dance, with Dallas looking to meet new people after a divorce and Mae ready to make new friends after the death of her husband.

Mae said she could tell right away that there was something special about Dallas, and not just the way he moved with her on the dance floor.

"I think meeting a person in-person rather than online is very important," she said. "You can make eye contact, and that was what set me off because he always looked me straight in the eye."

They tied the knot after six years of dating, but the strong friendships they made over the years at Red River Singles convinced them to remain active in the group.

Place for everyone

The club's new treasurer, Donna Feken, got involved about seven years ago when she moved back to the Fargo-Moorhead area.

She tried online dating to find a friend or relationship, but said she often found "misrepresentation" on the Internet. That hasn't been a problem with Red River Singles, where she said she's made friends and gained a chance to socialize, dance and meet new people face-to-face in a safe place.

"We just want a place where people can come and get to know one another," she said.

Attendees don't need to know how to dance if they want to stop by one of the group's monthly dances, Feken said. They just need to be ready to socialize.

"It can be whatever you want it to be, whatever your mission is: friendship, boyfriend, a future committed marriage," she said. "It can be available to you."

Red River Singles got its start in 1977 as a nonprofit social organization, drawing people from Fargo-Moorhead as well as many communities within 100 miles to attend dinners, trips and regular dances. Fankhanel, a past board member and new president of the club, said 500 to 600 members paid annual dues and attended events during its heyday.

Membership has declined in recent decades, dropping to 400 in the early 1990s, 200 in the early 2000s and closer to 100 now. That's made it more difficult to put on as many events, but Fankhanel said she still believes there's a strong future ahead because the club continues to play an important role in many lives.

She's quick to list the ways she found support over the years. When Fankhanel's young granddaughter died, members sent food to the family, showed up at the funeral and gave her a shoulder to cry on. They threw a surprise graduation party when she finished college, too.

It's become "almost like a big family," she said, and members try their best to welcome new attendees.

While Red River Singles is open to everyone, the club these days consists of locals in their mid-40s to 80s. Fankhanel said they'd like to see younger singles join in, but the community has more venues and events than ever before — and all of those options make it harder to attract bigger crowds.

Still, online dating and an abundance of options for entertainment elsewhere won't make the club obsolete, she said.

"There's so much negative in the world," Fankhanel said. "If we can embrace each other and help each other and support each other and be friends and celebrate the good times and be there during bad times, isn't that what good friends are about?"

If you go

What: Red River Singles monthly dance

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: West Fargo VFW, 308 Sheyenne St.

Info: To learn more about the club or upcoming events, visit www.red-river-singles.org.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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