The first Kiwanis club was organized in Detroit, Michigan. The group received a charter from the state of Michigan on January 21, 1915, and 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.
Kiwanis became international with the organization of the Kiwanis club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1916. 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 was defined as “an organization for men” in the constitution and adopted in 1924. In 1987, after several years of debate and growing support, women’s membership received overwhelming approval.
In December of 1934 there was a meeting at the Hotel Charlevoix to explore the interest in starting a Kiwanis Club in Charlevoix. The first meeting was held at Mont’s Café on Thursday December 6th.
The first regular meeting was held on December 11th and the Club was officially chartered on March 9th, 1935 at the Masonic Temple in Charlevoix. There were 26 charter members. There were nearly 200 people attending that meeting which included dinner and music provided by an orchestra from Traverse City.
The Club sponsored Boys and Girls Clubs in the early years and in March of 1939 the Club sponsored the formation of Boy Scout Troop #11. The Club has continued supporting the troop which is the second oldest in Northern Michigan.
The Kiwanis Club was the only Charlevoix service club until the Lions Club was formed in the early seventies. The Club held many different fundraising campaigns over the years and hosted the States Kiwanis Convention in September of 1939.
On June 15th 1957 the Club sponsored the first annual Kiwanis International Golf Tournament at the Belvedere Golf Club. The event was held in Charlevoix for twelve years.
In the spring of 1958 Edward K. Shanahan convinced the Club that taping Charlevoix’s Sugar Maple Trees would make an excellent fundraiser. The sap was first processed at a temporary kitchen in downtown Charlevoix. The City held a Maple Syrup Festival the next year.
The Club later built its own building and evaporators on land donated by Kit Carson. The gathering of sap, production and selling of syrup continued until the mid-nineties. At that point the trees and matured to the point they were no longer very productive. However, syrup sales have continued as a fundraiser through the purchase of raw bulk syrup which continues to be filtered, pasteurized and bottled by Club members.
The Club was instrumental in getting the Charlevoix Pool started. The Club set money aside for this project in 1961 although the project was not completed until the mid seventies.
In the seventies the Club began selling grilled kielbasa at the Venetian Festival. At first, they were sold from a simple stand or tents. Later a special trailer was constructed for the purpose.
In 1984 the Charlevoix Kiwanis Club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a dinner at the Grey Gables restaurant. At that time, it was estimated the Club had contributed over $150,000 in a variety of projects and causes. It’s estimated the Club has raised an additional $300,000 since that time.
Not without some controversy, women were first admitted to the Club in the 1986/1987 year. (Gayle Gennett was the first lady president and our female members have made a great contribution to the Club.
Perhaps the biggest contribution the Club has made is the sponsorship of other Kiwanis clubs. The Aktion Club has become a special activity for the Bergmann Center and was formed in 2000. The Club has been active in the formation of Aktion Clubs throughout the State of Michigan. The Club also sponsored a Kiwanis K-Kids Club for elementary students and Builders Club for middle-school students as well as a Kiwanis Club in Boyne City.
Each year Charlevoix Kiwanians give about 7,000 hours of their time for community service projects and raise over $20,000 to sponsor these projects.