What Does Kiwanis Mean Anyway?

Eugene Kiwanis Club | Eugene Kiwanis Club Photo

This is the second in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve.

What does the word Kiwanis mean? It is derived from an Otchipew American Indian expression “Nunc Kee-Wanis” which according to a translator can mean “We trade,” We share our talents,” “We make a noise,” or “We meet.” The founders of Kiwanis translated it as “We build” and that became their motto until 2005 when they changed it to “Serving the children of the world.”

Kiwanis International claims a membership of nearly 600,000 adult and youth members combined. They are located in 80 countries around the world. In August 1914 two men, Alan S. Browne and Joseph C. Prance, from Detroit, Michigan started a group they first called “The Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers.” The idea was to be a fraternal club for young professional businessmen so that other men could experience new ideals in human relationships. Apparently they decided they didn’t like the short form of of the name The Supreme Lodge “BOB,” so with the help of the city’s historian they came up with the Native American name they still use today. The corporate charter is dated January 21, 1915.  A complicated dispute erupted and Alan Browne and Ottie Robinson, the club’s secretary, quit, moved to Cleveland, Ohio and started another Kiwanis Club there. They started a nursery school for underprivileged children and thus began their service to children. The Detroit Club’s president Don Johnston reorganized his group and now they had two clubs. Kiwanis International was founded in 1916 with the creation of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario Canada. At its beginning it was mainly a business networking organization and in 1919 the focus was changed to service. In the 1960s, worldwide expansion was approved and within 10 years they formed Kiwanis International-Europe which includes 11 European nations. Women were officially allowed to become Kiwanis members in 1987. There are various divisions within Kiwanis to serve many age groups. Besides the well-known Kiwanis Clubs (for the adults ) there is Circle K (Community Service and Leadership training for College students), Aktion Club (for Adults with disabilities), Key Club International (for Teens), Builders Club (for Adolescent members), and Kiwanis Kids (for youngsters in schools and community sponsored groups).

The U.S. Army is one of the three Kiwanis vision partners. This is the third year for this leadership developing project. Kiwanis has partnered with UNICEF for The Eliminate Project which is an ambitious plan to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus worldwide.

Kiwanis ELIMINATE Tetanus LOGO | kiwanisstandrew.org
Kiwanis ELIMINATE Tetanus LOGO | kiwanisstandrew.org

Each Kiwanis Club is different because each community’s needs are different. Members stage nearly 150,000 service projects and raise $100 million every year for communities, families, and projects. The Eugene Kiwanis Club was charted on March 25,1920 just 5 years after the organization began. They claim the titles of the first service club in Eugene and the second Kiwanis club in the state of Oregon. Involvement in civic improvement began in the club’s infancy (1925) when charter member Olando Hollis became the chair of the Chamber of Commerce Airport Committee.That airport was built at 18th and Chambers. The club established a Fund for Pediatric Counseling at Sacred Heart Hospital.

Here is a bit of information I’ll bet most of you hadn’t heard before, I know I hadn’t. Eugene Kiwanis member Hugh Winder organized a male quartet in 1925 called “The SInging Kiwanians.” With their success they expanded into a double quartet which led to developing a large chorus that they called “The Eugene Gleemen.”

The club was instrumental in starting both the Oregon Asian Festival and the Asian Kite Festival back in 1985. Some club members with the backing of the club were instrumental in establishing Eugene Hearing and Speech. The Eugene Kiwanis Club is in Division 74 in Oregon consisting of 9 clubs in Lane and Douglas counties of Oregon. As I mentioned earlier, one of the purposes of this feature is to delve deeper into Kiwanis Clubs and let you know at least some of the projects they are involved in that you might not have heard about before. As with all of the service clubs I have ever heard about, Kiwanians don’t do the projects for recognition, but they perform their varied works to help make this world a better place for our children.

While interviewing Kenneth T. Nagao, club past president and very active member, I was amazed at the number of projects in which they have been and still are actively involved. Here is a partial list that I have compiled. I’ll start with a couple of projects that do not directly involve children so you can see just how all-encompassing their work is. They Eugene Kiwanis Club members participate in Food For Lane County’s Food Rescue Express where they repackage food to be distributed to needy area families and they assist at Christmas Bell Ringing for The Salvation Army. What follows is a summary of the the club’s many events and projects that directly relate to children. The Eugene club along with the others in their district sponsor the “Kiwanis Wing” at Dornbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Kiwanis Ukes For kids | Eugene Kiwanis Photo
Kiwanis Ukes For kids | Eugene Kiwanis Photo

Some of their members participated in the “Ukes For Kids” project providing ukuleles and instruction to youngsters in the “Courageous Kids” organization, which works with children suffering the loss of a loved one, so they would appreciate and enjoy music. A special “Books For The Barrio” project collected donated books and shipped them to the Dominican Republic for distribution to needy youngsters, and they volunteer to register participants at the annual Truffle Shuffle for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lane County.

Asian Kite Festival | Eugene Kiwanis Club Photo
Asian Kite Festival | Eugene Kiwanis Club Photo

They have become well-known for their participation in the Oregon Asian Festival and the Asian Kite Festival that is held at Yujin Gakuen Elementary School in Eugene. The Kiwanians provided 150 “Helmets For Head Start” and participated in fitting them on the children. In a YCPO project “One Day at Camp Wilani they made improvements and prepared the camp for the summer.

One Day Project at Camp Wilani | Eugene Kiwanis Photo
One Day Project at Camp Wilani | Eugene Kiwanis Photo

They were instrumental in building and maintaining a new multipurpose building (center picture) at Camp Wilani also. These are not all of the projects of the Eugene Kiwanis Club, but at least you now have a better idea just how committed they are to working to improve our community and especially to help our children.

You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].


Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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