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Take a bow, Morning Kiwanis

After 50 years of volunteer work in Webster City, a highly regarded service club disbands

WEBSTER CITY­ — Tuesday morning at 7 sharp, the Webster City Morning Kiwanis Club gathered for its regular meeting. It began with familiar Kiwanis rituals: the singing of “God Bless America,” recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer, coffee.

Then, as President Ramona Zahn gaveled the meeting to order it quickly became clear this was no ordinary meeting.

Not business as usual.

This was the club’s last regular meeting.

After 50 years of fundraising and community service projects, most of which somehow made the lives of children better, the club can’t attract new members in sufficient numbers to continue. Present members are aging, and some don’t have the energy required for the often-demanding volunteer work.

It’s a familiar litany playing out across the country, and not just in service clubs. Organizations that rely on volunteers — churches, schools, government — have all been affected. Causes cited include longer work weeks, irregular work schedules, multiple jobs required to make ends meet or, for some, perhaps simply an aversion to “joining” a club of any kind.

Kiwanis International, the club’s head office in Indianapolis, has tried several innovations to reverse this trend, including internet-based clubs, young professional clubs and “3-2-1” clubs designed to “meet less and do more.” These clubs perform three hours of service, enjoy two hours of fellowship, and limit meetings to one hour each month.

There’s also been a push for family memberships and participation. Scott Pemberton, of Evanston, Illinois, who was executive editor of Kiwanis Magazine in the early 1980s, told the Daily Freeman Journal the organization noticed “enthusiasm for service and community fellowship began dwindling decades ago,” but, sounding a more positive note, said, “I believe the spirit of Kiwanis will always find a place to support communities, no matter what form it takes.”

On this day, the only item on the meeting agenda was how to disburse the $20,000 remaining in the club’s accounts. A resolution was passed to fund six $1,000 scholarships, six $1,000 donations to area schools, and a series of $500 donations to charities, including food pantries and daycares.

These will be awarded at a party scheduled for Wednesday, October 25, at the Briggs Woods Conference Center. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served from 5 to 6 p.m. on a come-and-go basis, with the program beginning at 6. The club extends an invitation to all present and past Kiwanis members and spouses to attend this gala, wrap-up event.

Kiwanis has had an out-sized presence in Webster City over many years. The original, Main Street Kiwanis Club, composed largely of downtown businessmen (women were admitted as members sometime in the 1980s) dates from the early 1920s, a time of rapid, nationwide expansion for Kiwanis.

The Morning club was established in February 1973 primarily as a convenience to teachers, and others who were unable to attend mid-day meetings. A third group of Kiwanians, the Diamond K club, met at 10 a.m.

Webster City newspapers of the 1920s are filled with accounts of events, both fraternal and social, of the Masonic Temple and Order of The Eastern Star. Hundreds came to dinners, teas, dances, meetings, and club rituals at the Masonic Temple, known as The Bridge in later years. It was the de facto social center of the town. Over time, other clubs attracted a following, including Elks, Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Moose and Lions. All are gone today, the Lions continuing until 2019.

With closure of Morning Kiwanis, Webster City Rotary Club and Knights of Columbus continue as the city’s last volunteer service organizations.

Well, not quite. Glenn and Mary Tjaden, long-time Noon Kiwanis members and visitors to the meeting, invited Morning club members to regular meetings of Noon Kiwanis the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, at Lomita’s at noon. According to Glenn Tjaden, the meetings provide “nice fellowship time.” The group remains a Kiwanis club, and still makes annual payments to the Kiwanis foundation, despite having only five to six regular members. It plans to keep meeting indefinitely.

Life in Webster City won’t be the same without Morning Kiwanis. Some of the projects sponsored by the club over the decades added greatly to qualify of life in Webster City, and will be sorely missed, including the summer concession stand at baseball and softball games, a steady fund-raiser. At various times the club sponsored the homecoming chili supper, sweet corn sales, haunted house, “sand box days,” Lenten season seafood sales, leaf-raking and bagging for elderly and infirm residents, bingo games at the county home, winter coat donations to UDMO and Trinity Lutheran food pantry, donations to Angel Tree, operation of a Meals on Wheels route, and the annual farmers recognition breakfast.

Longtime Morning Kiwanis member John Zahn considers the Kids Against Hunger program the club’s biggest success.

“We packed 475,000 meals over 16 years that were distributed in the U.S., Canada and worldwide.”

The effort takes its name from the fact local school children helped in the work.

As the meeting wound down, members reflected on what Kiwanis has meant to them.

Gretchen McGlynn said she felt it offered a chance to meet and work with people she otherwise might not have known.

Ramona Zahn said, “It was an outlet to do good work not possible on your own.”

John Zahn’s final words were: “Thank you, Webster City. Whatever the club was doing, we knew the town and its people were behind us. They never let us down.”

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