The first Kiwanis club was organized in Detroit, Michigan. The group received a charter from the state of Michigan on January 21, 1915. This is regarded as the birth date of Kiwanis.
The first clubs were organized to promote the exchange of business among the members. However, even before the Detroit club received its state charter, the members were distributing Christmas baskets to the poor. A lively debate ensued between those who supported community service as the Kiwanis mission and those who supported the exchange of business. By 1919, the service advocates won the debate.
Where did this funny name – Kiwanis -- come from? Kiwanis came from a language used by Indians in the Detroit area, Nunc Kee-wanis. This expression means “we trade,” or “we have a good time.” In our club we do both.
Kiwanis became international in 1916 with the organization of the Kiwanis club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Kiwanis limited its membership to the United States and Canada until 1962, when worldwide expansion was approved. Since then, Kiwanis has spread to all inhabited continents of the globe.
Kiwanis International sponsors several service clubs to help young people understand the importance of being involved in their civic community. Circle K International is active on university and college campuses while Key Club International is in high schools. Builders Clubs are in junior high and middle schools and K-Kids in elementary schools. Aktion Club is available to assist people with disabilities in community service activities. Young European adults can join Kiwanis Junior.
More than 8,300 adult clubs and another 7,900 youth clubs are currently serving children in more than 80 nations and geographic areas.
Kiwanis was originally defined as “an organization for men.” In 1987, after several years of debate and growing support, women’s membership received overwhelming approval.
The first International President elected from outside the two founding nations was from Australia, in 1994-95. Since then international presidents have come from Austria, Iceland, and the Philippines.
The current International president is Jane Erickson. President Jane is from the Bellevue – Offutt Club in Nebraska. She succeeded Sue Petrisin from the East Lansing, MI, club.
Sue is an alumnus of both Key Club and Circle K. President Sue was the first woman in Kiwanis International’s history to serve as president. President Jane is the second. The leadership of Kiwanis is in good hands.
As of October 10, 2015, the total membership for Kiwanis International is 669,783 adult and youth members.
Our club is the sibling of the first Kiwanis Club organized in Detroit. This global organization is dedicated to serving children both internationally and locally.
The Eliminate Project is the international effort to save or protect millions of mothers and their future babies from maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). In partnership with UNICEF, Kiwanis is eliminating MNT, a disease that kills one baby every 11 minutes. UNICEF and its partners have already eliminated MNT in 38 countries. Kiwanis International has pledged to raise $110 million (USD) to help fund the elimination of the disease in the countries that remain at risk.
Kiwanis International’s continuing service emphasis worldwide is called “Young Children Priority One (YCPO).” Our club has a YCPO committee which focuses on the special needs of children in our community from prenatal development to age five in support of the international mission.
Now that you know where International is coming from, let’s take a look at where we have been and how our focus is young children in our community.
In 1922, a mere seven years after the founding of the first club, the Kiwanis Club of St. Petersburg, Florida, was chartered.
Our first president was the Rev. Dr. Kerrison Juniper. Originally from Norwich, England, the Rev. Dr. Juniper and his family arrived at Ellis Island on December 20, 1918, aboard the Megantic from Liverpool. The Juniper’s settled in Pinellas County. He saw an opportunity to make a civic statement in a young town and organized our Kiwanis Club.
Initially the club provided financial support to various local charities. Public schools and other public facilities were provided with equipment. The club purchased lots adjacent to Glen Oak Elementary, equipped those lots with playground equipment and donated the property to the Pinellas County School System. This was our first attempt to directly help young children.
Kids like to fish so the club stocked several lakes within the city with fingerling large mouth black bass and looked forward to the day these fish would add to the enjoyment of the children in our community.
In 1935, with the blessings of the city, the club organized a Christmas Tree lane on Second Avenue North on the approach to the Pier. The club planted the trees and annually solicited sponsorships from members and other local businesses. A contractor decorated the trees. From early December until after New Years Day, the trees were lit showing the spirit of the Holiday Season. This project lasted until 1973. The lighting was suspended, however, during World War II.
During the war our charitable emphasis was on providing recreational activities for the military personnel who were stationed in St. Petersburg.
In 1937 our club purchased 27 acres of land on Lake Chautauqua in upper Pinellas County. A Kiwanis Youth Camp was planned for construction, however it was decided that the Boy Scouts could make better use of the land. In 1944 the land was deeded to the West Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts and became part of Camp Soule. For the next 30 years many of the structures at Camp Soule were built by a contractor member of our club using many volunteer hours from members to augment his employees.
In 1987, the Scouts acquired a new wilderness facility known as Camp Sand Hill in Hernando County a few miles east of Weeki Wachee. In 1987 a plot of land was left to the Gulf Ridge Council and the West Central Florida Council. In 1989, one of the campsites was dedicated to the memory of all the Kiwanis members who had supported scouting with their time and talents.
In the late 1950’s a new project was started with the local Salvation Army Corps. Advance publicity asked the public to call a special telephone number if they had reusable discards. On a designated Saturday our members manned Salvation Army trucks to pick up and deliver many tons of repairable items to the Rehabilitation Center. Our club was joined by several other clubs in our Division for this project.
With the influence of Kiwanis rapidly expanding both nationally and internationally, our club became the sponsoring club for the Kiwanis Club of Boca Ciega, the Kiwanis Club of Sunshine City, the Kiwanis Club of Northside St. Petersburg, and the Kiwanis Club of Tyrone. Our club also sponsors Key Clubs at Northeast, Shorecrest, and St. Petersburg High Schools. While learning management skills, these clubs sponsor hundreds of service projects in the local community annually.
In 1989, member Al Muter and his wife, Ruth, created two trusts. One of the trusts was used to partially fund college scholarships for high school seniors in need of financial assistance.
Our Al Muter Scholarship Committee select the recipients from applicants within Pinellas County. Annually one student will receive a monetary grant to provide financial assistance during each of the four years of their undergraduate studies. Depending on available funds, other students also receive one year grants.
The trust has been set up so that the principal will not be invaded. This way the trust fund will last in perpetuity with only the income being used to support the students. Each year as one college senior finishes receiving the fourth guaranteed payment, a new college freshman is about to begin their Kiwanis-assisted education.
The income from the second trust comes back to the club annually and is used to support our efforts to assist disadvantaged children.
In 1993 our club opened Kiwanis Closet in conjunction with the YWCA to benefit and assist teenage student-mothers. As part of their school curriculum, these young mothers were brought by school bus to the YWCA facility to learn child-care and parenting skills. They had the opportunity to earn “Kiwanis Dollars” which they used to purchase clothing, diapers, bottles, car seats, strollers, and other baby items which the club purchased from local merchants.
Club members volunteered to man the biweekly opening of the closet. Partly as a result of the project, the club was recognized as the Outstanding Civic Club of 1993 at the annual Civic Salute luncheon sponsored by the Festival of States.
Since 1995 our Young Children Priority One committee has annually provided gifts to needy children at Christmas. The Foster Parents Association provides the names of children to the club. Our members then purchase a gift for each child.
Help-A-Child receives a large donation from the club and they purchase gifts which we wrap. The Help-A-Child effort is coordinated by Bobbie Gilgosch, widow of member Al Gilgosch.
In 1996-97 our club participated in a Kiwanis division-wide project to erect playground equipment for handicapped children at Tyrone elementary school.
From 1999-2003 the club joined with the Junior League of St. Petersburg to conduct the “Back-to-School Health Care Fair.” This annual event occurred just prior to the opening of the public schools. This was an opportunity for parents to obtain the obligatory physical exam and inoculations for their children. Local physicians and nurses volunteered their time at this event. The parents also had the opportunity to meet with various agencies that could assist them and their children. The children were given a new backpack which was filled with new school supplies and other useful items.
Our club assumed the responsibility of gathering volunteers from the Kiwanis Clubs in our division and from other community organizations. Our volunteers handled registration, parking, and security for more than 2,500 school children, their parents, and siblings.
On several occasions our club has cooked and served dinner at the Ronald McDonald House for the benefit of parents and siblings of patients in All Children’s hospital.
“A Gift For Teaching” is a non-profit program which provides supplies which are not normally available through the school system. These supplies consist primarily of paper, pencils, rulers, etc., and are provided to teachers from schools with large percentages of children from low income families. The teachers then distribute these supplies to students who need them. .
The Fischer-Carr Scholarship Fund honors two deceased past presidents, Jim Fischer and Skip Carr. Members of our club, and friends and associates in other organizations in which they served, donate funds to our club in their memory. Our club hosts an annual auction and a golf tournament to raise Fisher-Carr funds.
In 2005, the club decided to partner with the Pinellas Education Foundation to provide -- with today’s dollars -- four year college tuition for a deserving high school graduate.
The prospective recipients are a student in grades 4-9 who have been qualified by the Pinellas Education Foundation as having the appropriate financial need. In order to receive the scholarship the students must maintain a C or better average, remain drug free and remain a good citizen who doesn’t get in trouble with the police.
The annual winner is selected by the Pinellas Education Foundation.
To date the club has been able to provide scholarships for more than 270 students. Many of these students would have no hope of furthering their education after high school. Mentoring is also a part of this program.
The success of any civic club is dependent of the quality of the programs the club provides to the members. Our club has a reputation of attracting speakers who want to appear before our membership. It is not unusual for our Program committee to book six weeks in advance.
Our speakers generally include civic leaders, politicians, community developers, event organizers, child welfare providers, state officials, and owners, coaches, and players from our local professional sports teams.
Because of our proximity to MacDill AFB, one of the most important military installations in the country hosting both the United States Central Command and the United States Special Operations Command, we have also attracted military representatives from four-star to enlisted ranks who keep us abreast of international and local developments that affect our community.
This is a busy club dedicated to helping children and preparing them for their future. We help in a variety of ways but always with the definition of Kiwanis, “we have a good time.”