BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It started when about seven guys meeting at the Lincoln Hotel started a charter effort to help “serve the children of the world”.
Only one person from that original group, retired FMHS teacher Joe Bowen, is still a chartered member, still grabs a lunch on Monday afternoon, and rolls up his sleeves to help not just local children and students, but others state and nationwide.
Bowen was the group’s fifth president in 1973 and said the club has taken a typical service club growth path into its 50th year, but it was anything but normal.
The Kiwanis, currently presided over by Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith, recently moved to the Palms Supper Club, after meeting for years at The Parthenon.
A 50th Anniversary celebration is set for Monday, April 9 at the Elks Club beginning with heavy appetizers and a cash bar with live music.
“Obviously any previous members are welcome to come,” Smith said. “We’ve invited all past board members and all local clubs – Hamilton, Mt. Pleasant, Burlington, Carthage.”
Smith said he joined the group over a decade ago and it works well for him because of the commitment to children.
“I’m glad I picked Kiwanis,” Smith said. “I didn’t know that much about it at first, but it’s all giving back to the kids and that’s a perfect fit for me.”
Smith said there was a real solid core of veteran folks when he started, but now he’s seeing more young business professionals.
“Those are a great resource for us so if we need something we can reach out to them. And they have all of the energy, of course.”
Smith said Bowen will be the speaker at the event.
Bowen said the group started with seven guys that met with sponsors from Mt. Pleasant and Burlington at the old Lincoln Hotel, where Chuong Garden is located, for two to three months and talked about getting members and writing by-laws. He said the original charter required 25 members.
“When it started, of course, it was all men, then after the international by-laws changed, they allowed women membership. It was probably a couple years before we got women in the club but Tina Krieger and Sandy Wisehart were the two first. The group’s first female president was Debbie Miller in 2007,” Bowen said.
He said the biggest change over the past five decades has been the impact of other time commitments on the group.
“I think the biggest trend is when we first started the club everyone was involved in the projects. You just made that commitment and you did it. Everyone is so busy today, it’s difficult to get people to join, as well as to work on projects.”
The emphasis of Kiwanians locally and around the world has always been focused on children.
“Our emphasis has always been on kids,” he said “The first fundraiser we did was a Mexican dinner before Mexican dinner fundraisers were popular. Then we had the Carson & Barnes circus and we took the money from those and put it in an endowment and that’s how we funded the scholarships.”
He said originally the scholarships were loans, but he said it was difficult to track down the students after graduating college to get the money repaid. so they went to straight scholarships. Kiwanis currently gives out three $1,000 scholarships per year, one each to a Fort Madison High School and Holy Trinity Catholic student and a member of the FMHS Key Club, which is the student arm of Kiwanis.
Bowen said Key Club chartered in 1969, but there was a hiccup in the event.
“We had the charter event planned, but the manager and his wife of the hotel absconded with all the hotel’s money two days before our charter event. The cook at the hotel felt bad for us so he opened it up and we were able to have the dinner.
“To me, and I’m a bit biased, the best thing Kiwanis ever did was start that program right away,” Bowen said. “Of course, it was all guys and they met every week and they’d have 25 to 30 students meet once a week after school. If you didn’t show up you didn’t stay in.”
The two largest current fundraisers are a carnation sale in the spring, which is actually taking place Friday, April 6 at Hy-Vee with pre-ordered vases being delivered that morning.
The carnations started when former president Ralph Ritter was president of the Florist Association. Those funds are shared between the Children’s Miracle Network and the Spastic Paralysis Foundation, which is the local district’s fundraising campaign.
Peanut sales are done late in the summer. Bowen said the peanut sales began with Kiwanians working street intersections.
“We were out in the middle of the street, not on the sidewalk or in front of the store. We stood out in the middle of the intersection, it was crazy. Sometimes cars would almost run over you, I can remember several times people jumping up on hoods of cars just to sell peanuts. We had a lot of fun,” he said.
One of the projects that got the local club national notoriety was the WhiteWay Project.
“We painted all the walls on the backs of the buildings white for crime prevention. That was a lot of fun, he said. “We got Key Club involved and got some national recognition. We also did the landscaping of the new YMCA and we did a lot of handicap ramps in town for residents. A lot of those are still there today. But like anything, the people that used to do it got too old and the younger people didn’t have time and that was a project that went by the wayside.”
He said one of the best membership drives involved a live chicken.
“We had a live chicken in a cage and the chicken was given to a member who had to keep it – and keep it alive – until they got a new member and then they got to choose which member got it next. We did that for about a year….and then our annual dinner that year was chicken. But it was frozen and we couldn’t eat it. We all had a good laugh over that.”
Right now the group has about 40 members.
Kiwanis International currently stands with more than 600,000 members in more than 80 countries from Kiwanis to Key Club to Circle K and beyond. Each community has different needs, and Kiwanis empowers members to pursue creative ways to serve the needs of children through local service projects and fundraising. Kiwanis hosts nearly 150,000 service projects each year around the globe. The international group was founded in 1915 by a group of Detroit businessmen.
The name “Kiwanis” was coined from an expression in an American Indian language of the Detroit area, “Nunc Kee-wanis,” which means, “we trade.” In 1920, the motto of Kiwanis became “We Build.” It remained the motto until 2005, when members voted to change it to “Serving the children of the world.” In the early years, members focused on business networking but in 1919, the organization changed its focus to service—specifically service to children.
1968 Charter President Al Gilman
January, 1969—September, 1969 Jack Norton
October, 1969—September, 1970 Bev Dickinson
October, 1970—September, 1971 Jake Rashid
October, 1971—September, 1972 Max Clay
October, 1972—September, 1973 Joe Bowen
October, 1973—September, 1974 Walter Barr
October, 1974—September, 1975 Bob Oatley
October, 1975—September, 1976 Boyd Hasik
October, 1976—September, 1977 Al Katuin
October, 1977—September, 1978 Jerry Krogmeier
October, 1978—September, 1979 Pat Griswold
October, 1979—September, 1980 Bob Williams
October, 1980—September, 1981 Don Farrington
October, 1981—September, 1982 Jim Lynk
October, 1982—September, 1983 G. L. Hayes
October, 1983—September, 1984 Paul Bartholomew
October, 1984—September, 1985 Leonard Anderson
October, 1985—September, 1986 Larry Henkens
October, 1986—September, 1987 Terry Stence
October, 1987—September, 1988 John Schier
October, 1988—September, 1989 Wayne Bartruff
October, 1989—September, 1990 Frank Allen
October, 1990—September, 1991 Dean Winkel
October, 1991—September, 1992 Richard Parson
October, 1992—September, 1993 Ron Mace
October, 1993—September, 1994 Fred Winke
October, 1994—September, 1995 Dennis Heth
October, 1995—September, 1996 Timm Lamb
October, 1996—September, 1997 John Schnicker
October, 1997—September, 1998 Tony Evans
October, 1998—September, 1999 Gary Steflik
October, 1999—September, 2000 Dan Davis
October, 2000—September, 2001 Phil Ingebritson
October, 2001—September, 2002 Ralph Ritter
October, 2002—September, 2003 Fred Winke
October, 2003—September, 2004 Don Farrington
October, 2004—September, 2005 Steve Ireland
October, 2005—September, 2006 Jim Helling
October, 2006—September, 2007 Debbie Miller
October, 2007—September, 2008 Rebecca Bowker
October, 2008—September, 2009 John Ault
October, 2009—September, 2010 Carla Meierotto
October, 2010—September, 2011 Steve Eschman
October, 2011—September, 2012 Tony Fullenkamp
October, 2012—September, 2013 Larry Kelch
October, 2013—September, 2014 Kim Jud
October, 2014—September, 2015 Debbie Green
October, 2015—September, 2016 Ryan Wilson
October, 2016—September, 2017 Denise Fraise
October, 2017—September, 2018 Greg Smith