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Roanoke’s Kiwanis Club Celebrates 90 Years

Kiwanians gathered for a 90th anniversary celebration last week.

The Kiwanis Club of Roanoke is celebrating 90 years of service to the community.  Kiwanis first started in Detroit in 1915; the Roanoke club (number 182) was chartered January 29, 1920, five years after the original one. Past President John Montgomery explains, “So, 182 clubs in five years works out to about every 10 days, a new club starting.  They had some forward-thinking organizers who went around the country, met with some business people in Roanoke.  There was an interest here and two months after the initial meeting, the club chartered.”

The Roanoke Club is among ten in its division, which stretches to Lynchburg, Martinsville and Danville.  It is the oldest of the ten, although the Lynchburg club was chartered the same week in 1920; “we have a friendly rivalry with Lynchburg,” says Montgomery.

Roanoke Kiwanis members have a three-fold purpose.  “Serving the children of the world is our motto.  But the Roanoke club is also very concerned with assisting the aging and the environment,” says Montgomery. Several leaders of Roanoke’s club are interested in the environment, “so we’re involved in planting trees, picking up trash,” adds Montgomery, also publisher of Play By Play magazine. One of the group’s main focuses over the next three years is the growing greenway system and will include providing educational signs for the Lick Run Greenway.

Serving children is the primary focus nationally for Kiwanis. Locally there are several Kiwanis programs to help children in elementary and middle schools. “We also have two sets of awards for high school aged youth,” notes Montgomery. “We give about $10,000 of academic scholarships each spring. We also present Career and Technical Awards to Roanoke City and Roanoke County high school students who are oriented in that direction.”

Montgomery says it’s not just youth that is served. “I think the feeling was in Roanoke, where the median age is older, that there are a lot of people that may be retired that could use assistance.  So we’re involved with Meals on Wheels and visiting retirement centers.”

The Kiwanis Club of Roanoke may be most visible in the community for its “Kiwanis Pancake and Auction Day,” scheduled this year for April 24, 2010 at the Roanoke Civic Center. Proceeds from the event are used for a variety of projects.

The club has built and maintained summer camps for children, helped fund the Roanoke Civic Center, sponsored the opening of the American Theater in 1928, and assisted in establishing Clean Valley Day.

Montgomery says club members meet weekly for lunch and hear from various speakers. Virginia’s two U. S. Senators and local politicians have served as speakers in the past.

Last Thursday (January 28th) members held a celebration banquet with former Ambassador to Romania and former Advance Auto CEO Nick Taubman as the keynote speaker.  He’s also a former member of the club.  They honored long-standing members, including one who joined in 1946.

Seven Kiwanians (including Montgomery) were presented Hixson awards and 10 members of the “Legion of Honor” were also recognized for levels of membership beyond 25 years.

Montgomery says the Kiwanis Club of Roanoke is the area’s largest community service organization and boasts 160 members.  The median age is 56, but members range in age from their 20’s to their 90’s.  Men make up about three quarters of the membership.

Montgomery has been a member for 13 years and jokes he’s still a “newbie.”  He joined because he liked the purpose of the club.  “Helping others is a laudable mission and I wanted to be part of that mission.  But also the camaraderie with the other members is an important feature.”

“If you’re interested in helping make the Roanoke Valley a better place to live, it could be the club for you.”

By Beverly Amsler
[email protected]

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