Downtown Kiwanis wrap up first 100 years

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PHOTO BY GARTH SNOW

Downtown Kiwanis Club members help package food items for Blessings in a Backpack at South Wayne Elementary School. Volunteering for the event were, from left: Craig Armstrong, Dixie Garner, Judi Henderson, Jean Vrabel, Theresa Oberley, Bill Vrabel and David Mullins. The club takes part in many service projects throughout the year.

With little pause and no fanfare, the Downtown Kiwanis Club wrapped up its first 100 years and began navigating the challenges to come. The club shared cake and dinner. One president handed off the gavel to the next on Oct. 12 at Pine Valley Country Club.

Mike Horton was one of three 40-year members receiving the Legion of Honor certificate for service.

Horton said club membership has changed dramatically over four decades. “When I joined we were meeting at the Gas House upstairs and we had to leave because they were converting it to Takaoka,” he said.

“I think at the time I joined we had 60 to 70 [attendance] every Tuesday and we had over 200 in the club. The meetings lasted an hour and a half. There was a singing time. We had a quartet composed of seven or eight people. Math was never a requirement to be part of the club.”

Today, the club has 20 members on the rolls. About 20 people attended the Oct. 19 centennial party at Pine Valley Country Club. About 12-15 people attend the meetings at noon each Tuesday at Comfort Food Cafe on the basement level of Citizens Square.

“It’s sad to know how big it was and how much it’s diminished, but it’s also a sign of the times,” Horton said. “I think it’s true of all service clubs. I think the fact that we’re still around is good because I think a lot of not just Kiwanis but other clubs have disappeared.”

Some businesses have left downtown, Horton said, and businesses with out-of-town owners often put less emphasis on involvement in clubs such as Kiwanis.

Business clubs popped up downtown. “There were no programs and no good works. It was strictly a social thing. That sucked a lot of people away from service clubs,” Horton said. “That took away the pool of people. It’s also a part of life, I guess. I think it’s true everywhere.”

Legion of Honor certificate recipient Wayne Dawson traced the club’s meeting places during his membership.

Since leaving the Don Hall’s restaurant on Superior Street many years ago, the club has found meeting space at Park Place, the Mizpah Shrine, the Window Garden and other venues, and was back at the Gas House until the recent move to Summit Square.

“One thing my father told me — and he was probably the finest man I ever knew — he told me if you’re going to be a joiner you’re going to be a doer,” Dawson said. “And every organization I’ve been in I’ve always tried to be active. And Kiwanis is one of the finest things that ever happened to me.”

Ralph Crowe also was recognized for earning the Legion of Honor certificate.

Today’s club is very much about service, awarding scholarships and involving young people in service through the Bishop Dwenger High School Key Club.

Outgoing President Bill Vrabel said the club raised about $10,770 in the past year, through a variety of projects.

It was important to find more revenue sources instead of relying so heavily on apple dumpling sales at the Johnny Appleseed Festival, he said. He urged the club to continue spreading the word in the community, calling attention to the club’s activities.

“It was fun being president. I look forward to another successful year,” he said.

Incoming President David Mullins recognized the Key Club and Kiwanis members who have served in many ways.

Mullins had researched the year of the club’s founding as he prepared for the centennial dinner. “1917 was not a good year,” Mullins said. “We were entering World War I. Women were being arrested for wanting the right to vote. There were race riots. I was shocked. I thought there had to be something good that happened that year. I can see why they created this club in 1917, given the circumstances.”

Mullins also will serve as lieutenant governor of the Johnny Appleseed Division, covering northeast Indiana.

He called for even more collaboration among clubs and a marketing strategy to call attention to the several area clubs’ contributions.

He also said he will work to expand membership. “It’s great to see all the people who have been here 40 years,” he said. “With membership at about 600,000 worldwide the lowest it’s been since the 1950s, membership is something we want to focus on.”