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updated: 2/8/2011 11:51 AM

More than peanuts: Elgin Kiwanis Club true to original mission

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  • Elgin Kiwanis members help build the lodge at the Y.W.C.A.'s Camp Tu-Endie-Wei, now Brewster Creek Forest Preserve, in 1941.

      Elgin Kiwanis members help build the lodge at the Y.W.C.A.'s Camp Tu-Endie-Wei, now Brewster Creek Forest Preserve, in 1941.
    Photos courtesy Elgin Kiwanis Club

 

"Kiwanis seems to fill a void in most men's lives, to enhance a fellowship hitherto lived impossible," said the district president of the Kiwanis Club during the presentation of the charter for the Elgin Kiwanis Club in 1920.

"The movement is not commercial, but of a social and civic nature," he added.

Those words were spoken on Feb. 19, 1920 when 175 members - all men gathered for the organizational meeting of the Elgin Kiwanis Club.

The group, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, is one which has grown and evolved over the years, but still remains true to its original purpose.

The first president of the new Elgin group was J.M. Hockett, cashier at the now defunct Home National Bank located in the ground floor of the Tower Building. Dr. R.T. Hinton, superintendent of the Elgin State Hospital, now the Elgin Mental Health Center, was elected vice president, and Guy Blackburn, president of the now shuttered Elgin Silver Plate Company was named treasurer.

The Elgin club was one of the first 200 formed in the United States, according to club scrapbooks in the possession of past president Ron Razowsky who has been researching the history for the club's 90th anniversary. The first Kiwanis Club was formed in Detroit in 1915 and called the "Benevolent Order of Brothers." Within a year, the name was changed to Kiwanis, from the Native American term "nun keewanis," meaning "self expression."

One of the first projects was the establishment of an auto tourist camp on Route 20 on Elgin's east-side. Bounded by Villa, Willard, Lucille and Ramona, the accommodations included a kitchen, showers, and other amenities for travelers passing through the city in this era before city bypass highways and interstates.

During the 1920s the club sponsored the construction of the Kiwanis Lodge at Camp Big Timber. Over the years they presented a swimming pool and cabin to the YWCA Camp Tu-Endie-Wei, two cabins to the Y.M.C.A. at Camp Edwards and a station wagon for the Girl Scouts. To pay for their undertakings, the members asked for donations and sold tickets for entertainment venues held at Elgin High School and the Masonic Temple.

In the 1930s, the group held donkey basketball games, and during the 1940s conducted a clothing drive for war torn Europe. The 1950s and 1960s saw more improvements at Camp Big Timber. In the 1970s they sold flags and gourmet popcorn and in the 1980s sold holiday wreaths.

A decade ago, the group donated the Readership Van to the Gail Borden Public Library - to make materials more accessible to children - a population that is a primary focus of their club. More than twenty agencies receive Kiwanis charitable contributions on an annual basis, club members say.

Local members have also raised more than $39,000 - part of a $96 million dollar effort by the Kiwanis International - to help to reduce iodine deficiency disorder or I.D.D. This condition, which is easily remediated, affects as much as a third of the world's population.

Besides community involvement, personal growth has been important to members who have heard speakers at their regular meetings on just about every subject over the years. Beginning with composer John Philip Sousa in the 1920s, presenters have included authors, politicians, major league baseball players and even Babe Ruth's nurse. For decades, many of these speakers were arranged by longtime member Ken Miles, who recently passed away.

While activities of the group have generally been noncontroversial, there was one notable exception in the 1970s when the Fox Valley Kiwanis, a spinoff of the original club, admitted a woman member. Following pressure from the national level, this local woman attorney was forced to resign. Twelve years later, the larger organization admitted women into its fold.

A visible fundraiser of the club has been its peanut sales, but members have long been known for a barbecue fundraiser and breakfast served during the Fox Trot. Money donated to the community from various fundraisers totals well over a half-million dollars and much more in "sweat equity," club members say.

And, what was once one club has multiplied into eleven new clubs over the years including the Elgin Golden K, Fox Valley Kiwanis and St. Charles Kiwanis. They also helped launch Kiwanis clubs in Barrington, Bartlett, Dundee, Hanover Park, Marengo, Streamwood, and West Chicago.

"The Kiwanis organization provides members with opportunities to network with like-minded people, to form new friendships and to become leaders," said current president Karen Maki.

"Most important for us, though, is the opportunity to seek ways to build a stronger community and to offer our time and talents as we fulfill our mission to serve the children in our corner of the world."

• For details, visit www.elgin.kiwanisone.org or call Ron Razonsky at (847) 530-4812. Meetings are held at noon every Tuesday at the Hickory Stick Restaurant in Elgin.

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