Kiwanis learns about the Club’s past

For many years, his readers looked forward to Barry Cleveland’s “Looking Backwards” column in The Carmi Times.

On Thursday, July 12, Cleveland looked both backwards and to the future as he addressed the Carmi Kiwanis Club at its weekly noon meeting.

Cleveland, a Kiwanian himself and the former publisher/editor of The Times, spoke about the past, present and future of the Carmi Kiwanis Club.

Much of the club’s past that Cleveland recounted was gleaned from a publication by another noted Carmi newspaperman, J. Robert Smith, who had penned a history of the club in 1973 to mark its 50th anniversary. Like Cleveland, Smith was a Kiwanian and a past president.

Cleveland also commented on the current status of the club and pondered on what the future might hold for the organization. To that end, he had asked current members to offer what their vision of the club’s future might be, and he shared many of those comments with the club.

While on the subject of how to make Kiwanis meetings more interesting, Cleveland brought up the good-natured banter that had existed in the past between former members Frank Brown and Gary Finch.

“For those that don’t know, Frank was a preacher and Gary was definitely not a preacher,” said Cleveland. “Gary was an attorney with a sharp wit and a sharp voice. You’d think those guys would be the last in the world to get along and do something like this, but they did get along and had a great time trading banter back and forth at Kiwanis meetings. And I think that was one of the things that was attractive to the Kiwanians because you never knew what Gary and Frank would come up with.”

For example, Brown once brought a small pig as a “white elephant” gift for the club’s Christmas party and the pig wound up on a table in front of Finch.

“And the pig had an accident; at least we think it was an accident,” said Cleveland. “And as a consequence, Gary, being a lawyer, filed a lawsuit, he said.”

Of course, the suit was fictitious, but it made for some humorous dialogue at the club’s next meeting.

But there was even more to the story, as Dan Drone, the longest-tenured current Kiwanian, noted.

“Buck Russell was a member at that time,” recounted Drone, “and he took the pig home to his farm. He was going to raise the pig, then butcher it for bacon or sausage. Well shortly after, Buck Russell’s barn burned to the ground and the pig burned, too, so the evidence [for the lawsuit] got destroyed.”

“Case dismissed,” deadpanned Cleveland.

The annual Corn Days festival is, without a doubt, the Kiwanians’ most well-known project. According to Smith’s publication, the first Corn Day was held in 1929 and the first Corn King was crowned a year later. In those days, grown men were selected as Corn King and the winner was chosen by who had the best yield of bushels of corn per acre that season (today, the Corn King and Queen are the top male and female 4-H members in the county).

In 1949, the Corn Day parade was said to have had 20,000 people in attendance as “bearded men astride horses celebrated the 100th anniversary of the California Gold Rush.”

In the 1930s, in addition to Corn Day, the club also had Rooster Day (starting in 1932) and Watermelon Day (starting in 1936). As late as 1938, both festivals were still booming before eventually dying out.

While Corn Day may be what the average Carmian associates most with the Kiwanis, Cleveland also noted the club hosts Pancake Day (its major fundraiser) each year and Peanut Day (which, Cleveland pointed out, has seen a recent resurgence thanks in large part to Kiwanian Kati Sturgal), goes to Brownsville School each Christmas to present gifts and sing carols, presents the annual Educator of the Year award, hosts the annual State of the District program with the local school superintendent, recognizes the Students of the Quarter and makes contributions to many local causes.

In addition, the Kiwanis club, in the past, has built and maintained the Girl Scout house, made financial contributions to enable local musicians to attend out-of-town functions, including a Kiwanis International Convention in Miami several years ago, hosted and sponsored circuses, go-kart races, speeches, musical programs and travelogues, helped make major upgrades to Bradshaw-Jaycee Park, helped erect a nativity display at what is now Veteran’s Memorial Park and put up American flags on national holidays on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

Lance Barbre, who has been a member ever since returning to Carmi from college in 1997, noted that he has seen a milestone for the club in his days: the introduction of women into the club. None of the members present could remember the exact year that happened, but Cleveland recalled it was a contentious issue for some and even cost the club a member or two in protest.

“But I have to say, from my perspective, that was one of the best things that ever happened to this club,” said Cleveland, “and it’s a shame it didn’t happen earlier because women have brought and continue to bring a lot to the table in this organization.”

The forerunner to what is now called the Kiwanis Club started in Detroit in 1915 and was called the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers. After changing its name to Kiwanis, the club adopted the motto “We build” until it was changed to “Serving the children of the World” in 2005.

Mt. Carmel started a Kiwanis chapter in 1922 and Carmi started its chapter a year later with attorney Joe A. Pearce serving as its first president. The first regular noon luncheon was held on June 7, 1923 in the basement of the former Carnegie Library. There were 50 charter members and Carmi’s population was around 2,000 at that time.

The current Carmi Kiwanis club meets every Thursday at noon in the basement of the Farm Bureau building.

Story and photo provided by Toby Brown