Back in the 1970s and '80s, a bumper sticker became popular on cars across Colorado.

It resembled the state license plate with its silhouette of the mountains. But instead of numbers, it bore the word "NATIVE" in big block letters.

The bumper stickers declared the driver not just a resident, but someone lucky enough to be born in Colorado.

They were a defiant jab at all the newcomers to Colorado streaming in by the tens of thousands each year from California or Texas or Kansas (in my case) or wherever.

Folks in Colorado had a feeling they were being invaded, and they wanted to distinguish themselves from the interlopers.

That same feeling was behind the Colorado Native Club, founded in 1976 by proud Colorado Springs resident Tony Venetucci, older brother of the late famed pumpkin farmer Nick Venetucci. (Nick's widow, Bambi, died Jan. 15.)

Membership was open to anyone with $3 for annual dues and a Colorado birth certificate. At the club's inaugural meeting on Jan. 1, 1976, 104 members were present.

Club officers included such well-known residents as Lu Lu Pollard, and folks with the last names Howells, Apostolas, D'Arcy, Corley and more.

By the end of the year, the club had nearly 300 members, and it grew to more than 1,400 in 1980, according to a story Tony Venetucci wrote for "El Paso County Heritage," published in 1985.

At their monthly meetings, club members said a prayer, pledged allegiance to the U.S. and the state and enjoyed potluck dinners, Venetucci wrote. Often there were speakers or other entertainment, and the group would sing "Our Beautiful Colorado Native" song.

Venetucci even included the lyrics: "I am a Colorado native from a state a full mile high. Where the prairies meet the mountains. And Pikes Peak meets the sky. Where the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, fill our lakes so azure blue. I am a Colorado native. Colorado, I love you."

Club members also raised money for causes in the community, making donations to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, the Girl Scouts, Palmer High School, Otis Park Community Center, the Red Cross and the library, Venetucci wrote.

Today, the club is limping along and I wonder how much longer it can survive.

From its enthusiastic beginnings, it has dwindled to a group of about two dozen people, said president Dan Tapio. They get together the fourth Thursday of each month and pretty much do what they've done for decades: share a meal, listen to a guest speaker and recall the old days.

"Sometimes we play bingo or watch a DVD," Dan told me. "And we try to get speakers who can talk about Colorado history."

Dan and his wife, Ruth, first attended a meeting in 2000 and have been holding the club together ever since.

"I always thought there ought to be a way to meet native Coloradans," Dan said. "This is a way for natives of Colorado to get together, enjoy each other's company and maybe learn a little of our history."

The group still tries to raise money for civic causes, like the City Auditorium. But it's getting harder and harder to attract new members, especially as Colorado natives find themselves far outnumbered, according to U.S. Census data.

"We're trying to revive interest in the club," he said.

I wondered about the popularity of such groups, in general, and called Kee Warner, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He said the Colorado Native Club likely is victim of society's changing habits when it comes to civic engagement.

"For example, people don't join bowling clubs much anymore, even though more people are bowling than ever before," Warner said. "There's just a general shift away from traditional civic clubs."

The trend, he said, is evident in membership of historic civic groups such as the Elks, Odd Fellows, Shriners, Freemasons and many others.

Instead, people seem to be drawn to civic groups centered on their specific interests, whether it's politics, entertainment or some other activity.

"There is plenty of civic activity going on out there, but today it is being driven by a purpose or a cause more than simply where you were born," he said, noting the growth of groups such as running clubs and animal welfare groups.

Another factor is that people are much more mobile than ever before. Today, many of those newcomers from California or Texas often are people who lived in Colorado before and are simply returning, he said. So the sense of invasion has faded. We're all invaders.

All that said, Warner chuckles and admits that he isn't above bragging that his family is fourth-generation Coloradans.

"In Buffalo Creek, the owner of the general store's grandfather knew my grandfather," he said. "That's kind of neat. And, once in awhile, I still pull out my trump card about how long my family has lived here."

Maybe he's a candidate for the Colorado Native Club after all! It's certainly cheap enough. Dues are only $10 a year.

Anyone interested in learning more can call Dan and Ruth Tapio at 632-8117, or attend the Feb. 26 meeting at the Inn at Garden Plaza, 2520 International Circle Central.

But my fellow Jayhawkers need not apply.

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