By Roger Deem
With a long and rich history serving central Illinois, the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville begins the march to its 100th anniversary in 2021 with the release of its updated club history book. Originally published for the 50th anniversary of Kiwanis International, the Jacksonville Kiwanis History Book was first released in 1965 under the direction of the club history committee, chaired by past Kiwanis president, Lt. Governor and Illinois-Eastern Iowa District Governor A. Wadsworth Applebee. The volume consisted of year-by-year reports of the club’s activities, fundraisers and service projects, written by each year’s president, other club officers or historian.
The last full update of the book was accomplished by club president Dick Cody in 1975. A copy was placed in the time capsule being buried on the new Central Park Plaza in honor of the city’s sesquicentennial celebration. The 2019 version includes photographs and historical notes covering the club’s first nine-plus decades and chronicles many of the Kiwanis highlights over the years.
Following an organizational meeting on July 7, 1921, the club was officially chartered with a celebration banquet at The Peacock Inn on the downtown square on September 15. The club was actually an offshoot of the local Rotary Club, which had grown to an almost unmanageable size. Since they were not allowed at that time to start a second Rotary in the same town, they turned to the fledgling Kiwanis organization as an alternative. Rotarian Felix Farrell agreed to lead the effort to establish a Kiwanis Club and he served as its president the rest of that year and through 1922, as well.
One of the club’s earliest service projects was the construction of a Kiwanis Hut, which later became known as the MacMurray College cabin, on the shore of Lake Mauvaisterre. It was used for many years by boys and girls club organizations before being purchased by the college.
Just a few of the other service projects Kiwanis has performed over the years include:
• establishment of Vocation Student Awards at Jacksonville High School;
• construction of Kiwanis Baseball Field at the YMCA;
• creation of Kiwanis Park on Jacksonville’s east side;
• building the tennis court/ice rink facility in Veterans Park;
• providing Kiwanis Grove at Nichols Park (and replanting most of the trees after vandals cut down the first crop);
• creating Academic Excellence Awards to honor annually the top 10 percent of the graduating seniors from the five local high schools;
• organizing a Kid’s Day program for over 1,000 young people, providing them a day of free activities and refreshments, including swimming and bowling;
• providing much of the spark and labor that led to the creation of the Jacksonville Community Park and the installation of the Big Toy at its north end;
• building a little toy and establishing a fitness course along the park’s east side;
• and constructing the Kiwanis Playground on its western border.
Kiwanis has also been a great financial supporter of non-profit groups and agencies in Jacksonville. Today the club donates over $30,000 annually to support local programs. To fund those contributions, Kiwanians have conducted a variety of fundraising projects over the past 98 years including:
• necktie sales campaign
• bratwurst sales through the Johnsonville grill;
• Kiwanis Peanut Day;
• TriviaMania trivia nights;
• Kiwanis Travelogue programs;
• and the 0.5k Run/Walk & Roll.
But Kiwanis is best known for its Pancake & Sausage Day, which serves around 5,000 people every year. The event had its humble beginning at the local Cosgriff’s Cafe in 1950 where it served 1,585 people the first day. After two years, the event moved to the Southernaire Restaurant and then relocated in 1954 to MacMurray’s McClelland Dining Hall, where it has been held ever since.
Originally an all-male club, as were most service clubs in the early 20th century, the book also details the history of how women were finally admitted to the organization in 1987 and the many ways they have positively impacted the club and community through the years. To date, three ladies have served as club president: Lori Large Oldenettel, Lisa Galloway and Marcy Patterson.
Many of the early records came from the estate of the second Kiwanis president, Cole Y. Rowe. Hobart R. Hinderliter was appointed club historian in 1987 and served in the position until his death in 2015. Oldenettel stepped into the historian position and was responsible for organizing the files, acquiring missing reports and scanning the entire book into a digital file.
In the fall of 2019, Roger Deem was installed as historian and was able to complete the updating process in time for the club’s 98th anniversary. Oldenettel, Cody and current Kiwanis President Gary Scott were also instrumental in the completion of this publication.
The 2019 edition of the Kiwanis History Book was published on July 7 and is available at no cost to the public in an electronic format (PDF). It is available for download at the Kiwanis Facebook page (which can be reached at jaxkiwanis.com) or at Deem’s website, admiralent.net/kiwanishistory.pdf
Printed copies will be available in the near future. Check the Jacksonville Kiwanis Facebook page for updates. The printed copies reproduce all photographs in black and white. The PDF electronic version has many images in full color. A printed copy of this book will also be placed in the Jacksonville History section at the Jacksonville Public Library.