I am an Kiwanian.  I wear a “K.”  Lots of people  find the term, “Kiwanis”  foreign and don’t know what it is.

You probably have seen the Kiwanis signs, along with those of the Lions, Rotary, Civitan and other civic groups posted at the outskirts of towns all across America.    The Phoenix metro area has gotten too sophisticated in signage rules to allow those clusters of logos representing groups of people who roll up their sleeves to serve their community.

I said serve.  Service clubs.  Kiwanis is a service club of the highest purpose. Founded in Detroit in 1915, Kiwanis has more than 270,000 members in more than 8,600 clubs in more than 70 countries.  It also include college-level groups, Circle K International; Key Clubs at the high school levels; Builder Clubs for middle school;  Kiwanis Kids at the elementary level; and Aktion Clubs for people with disabilities. Togehter the Kiwanis “Family” has more than 600,000 in  some 15,000 clubs.

We are people who are willing to meet regularly for stimulating speakers, fellowship, meals and planning and carrying out projects that build and strengthen communities.  Kiwanis’ motto is “Serving the Children of the World.”   Our  mantra is this: “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time.”  In the recent past, our motto was “We Build,” but that was abrupt and a bit cold and it didn’t infer the humanitarian aspect of our work.

I bluntly state that one is poorer for never getting into a community service club.  What can be accomplished as a group is amazing. The personal growth and sense of purpose that one derives from it is extraordinary.  Since 1981, I have been in service clubs — first the Exchange Club in Waterloo, Iowa, and then 1984-86 in the Tempe Exchange (later renamed East Valley Exchange Club).  On May 15, 1986, I joined the Kiwanis Club of Tempe, the oldest of the Kiwanis groups in Tempe, founded in 1952.  At the time, it was called “The Old Man’s Club” and had no women. A year after joining, I was chosen the president-elect and was club president a year later.  Not bad joining a group of about 90 men and being their president two years later. For more than 20 years, I have produced the club’s weekly newsletter, the KCOT Bulletin. Most of the text also appears on the Club’s Web site.

I was delegate to the Kiwanis International Convention in Washington, D.C., in July 1987.  It was notable for two things — President Ronald Reagan spoke to us and we made the historic move to drop gender barriers and permit women membership.  Sure, traditionalists didn’t like that but it was the right thing to do and lawsuits would have pushed Kiwanis to do it.   As a result, our club lost some men who opposed the change. They had  regarded it as a kind of male bastion or inner sanctum for men, a place to let down their hair, tell ribald jokes and be men, never mind that there were often women guests, including as speakers.

Interestingly, at a meeting in September 1987 when our main speaker was then- Arizona Governor Evan Meacham, we  formally received, or inducted, our first five women.  Among them were Pat Hatton, who would serve 16 years on the Tempe City Council; Mary Frances Lewis, longtime member of the Tempe Union High School governing board; and Judy Todd, then editor-publisher of Tempe Magazine  and mother of comedian and TV/film star David Spade.

Kiwanis clubs raise money in the community to turn around and donate to it back to worthy groups and causes that especially benefit children and youth.  When I began 24 years ago with the Tempe club, we relied on the sale of Christmas trees at a lot where Tempe Library parking is today.  In the heyday, Kiwanis had the primary tree-sale game in town.  Citizens bought from Kiwanis because they knew every penny after costs went back to needy causes for the young.

Since its founding in 1952, the Kiwanis Club of Tempe has organized and put on the Tempe 4th of July Fireworks Show. First it was at the now-razed Goodwin Stadium. It has been at Sun Devil Stadium, Packard Stadium, Tempe Diablo Stadium and, now for a decade, at Tempe Beach Park where some 150,000 inside and outside the park gaze at the fireworks extravaganza.   We will do it again on Sunday July 4.   I will be the captain at the main gate at First Street and Mill. Come say hello.  These days, I am also a Kiwanis lieutenant governor, responsible to advise and work with nine Kiwanis clubs in Tempe, Ahwatukee, Sun Lakes, Mesa, Maricopa and Casa Grande.

If the idea of being  part of an outstanding service club (we’re called the “Club of Clubs” in Tempe), let me know.  We meet noon on Thursdays at Shalimar Country Club restaurant, 2032 E. Golf Ave., Tempe.