It was a murky December 7th, 1914, in the city of Detroit, when an intense young man approached a local tailor about becoming a member of a fraternal organization of business and professional men, one that would have a health insurance feature. And when Joe Prance signed the membership application to join this club, Allen Browne had unknowingly begun the formation of what would eventually develop into one of the greatest service organizations in the world.
Browne, a professional organizer for the Loyal Order of the Moose, then sought out other members to join his new organization, which he named as the “Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers”, shortened by the membership to “BOBS.” Browne’s arrangement with the group was that he would enlist members and pocket $5 from each for his efforts. (Taking into consideration inflation values, $5 in 1914 equates to about $116.50 today. And the average annual salary in 1914 was $577.)
The membership soon grew tired of belonging to an organization known as “BOBS”, and sought out Detroit’s official historian, Clarence Burton, for help in finding a new name. He suggested “nunc kee-wan-is,” an Indian phrase that was translated as “we trade” and “we have a good time” and “we make noise.”
The name Kiwanis was approved by the membership of the Detroit#1 club early in January, 1915. Articles of incorporation were then filed, and the corporate charter for the state of Michigan was returned on January 21, 1915, which has become known as the official birthday of Kiwanis.
During the first six months of operation, the club grew to over 200 members. The membership realized that they were having fun – and could make a noise in their world – not by scratching each other’s back in business, but by rendering important community service without thought of personal gain. Allen Browne was not comfortable with this concept and tried to prevent it from being the emphasis of his club.
As he fought it, other members began to question his financial arrangement with the club. Allen Browne, through his organizational activities and contractual agreement with the organization, did in fact own Kiwanis. By mid-July, 1915, the financial obligation due to Browne was up to $10 per member enrolled – just over 230 in today’s dollars. During one club meeting, a heated discussion erupted over the club’s purpose and Browne’s contract. When the dust settled, the once 200-man strong club was left struggling with only 50 members.
Allen Browne hurriedly left Detroit for Cleveland. In ten weeks, he had organized a new Kiwanis club there with 135 members. Detroit#1 soon recovered, and pulled itself back together. Kiwanis was on now on its way with two major clubs. Browne then moved on to Pittsburgh, Rochester, Columbus, Ohio, Lockport, New York, Dayton, Ohio, and New York City, building new Kiwanis clubs as he went along. Eventually, Browne moved to Canada and created Kiwanis international when he organized his 26th club at Hamilton, Ontario, on November 1, 1916.
Milestones that have helped shape Kiwanis International:
- The first Kiwanis convention, held in Cleveland in May, 1916. There, the Delegates elected the first president, George F. Hixson of Rochester, N.Y., as well as the other officers, and adopted the first constitution.
- The Birmingham, Alabama convention in 1919, known as the Independence Convention, where the delegates assembled joined together to raise $17,500 in cash to buy out Allen Browne and create an independent organization, free to chart its own future in growth and service.
- The Portland Convention in 1920, where the motto “We Build” was adopted.
- The “Constitutional Convention” held in Denver, in 1924, where the constitution governing our organization today was adopted. Equally important to mention, the six Objects of Kiwanis International were adopted at this Convention, and have remained unchanged for 75 years.
- May 15, 1962, the first Kiwanis club outside of the U.S. and Canada was organized in Mexico, in Tijuana, Baja California.
- February 25, 1963, the first Kiwanis club was organized off the North American continent in Vienna, Austria.
- The Washington, D.C. Convention in 1987, when the membership was opened up to females.
- The Honolulu Convention in 2005, when the motto was changed to “Serving the Children of the World!”
- Today, nearly 212,000 men and women can claim membership in the 8,000 Kiwanis clubs in 96 countries. The entire Kiwanis-family membership exceeds 550,000.
Beginning of Districts:
As early as March, 1918, discussions began about creating a federation of Kiwanis clubs. The idea of a “district trustee” was developed: Kiwanians – one from each club – would compose a district board, and would act with the District officers. This office of district trustee became a vital one that lasted until 1932, when clubs became so numerous that such a district governing board was unwieldy.
At the Providence Convention in 1918, the delegates approved that a District structure be considered to promote better communication, inter-club relations, and harmony.
By this time, the Michigan District had already begun to function, and the Capital District, first meeting on August 29, 1918, established itself to be the first district to be completed under the provisions adopted at the Providence Convention.
To date, the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees has created 67 Districts, Districts in Formation, and non-Districted Territories throughout the world, including 30 districts on North America. Once the Districts in Formation and others attain a minimal number of clubs and members, they will become official Districts.
As set forth in the new District Bylaws, the purpose of a district shall be primarily to help Kiwanis clubs and Kiwanis International advance the Objects, objectives, policies and strategic goals of Kiwanis, and specifically to cooperate with Kiwanis International in: building new clubs and strengthening existing clubs; delivering education to clubs; and delivering service leadership programs and global campaign for children programming to and through clubs.
Each district operates under the authority of its own district bylaws as approved by the International Board of Trustees. The District Board consists of a governor, a governor-elect, an immediate past governor, a secretary, a treasurer, and a lieutenant governor for each division. Some Districts, like ours, refer to the District Secretary as the Executive Director, and have established the Regional Trustee system; other Districts have added a Vice-Governor position as another year in preparing for the office of Governor.
The Great & Historic Louisiana-Mississippi-West Tennessee District:
The Louisiana-Mississippi District was organized on January 9, 1920, in New Orleans. There were five clubs in the area at that time: New Orleans, the oldest, organized in March, 1919; Jackson, Miss., organized on April 21, 1919; Baton Rouge, La., three days later on the 24th; Alexandria, La., in June, 1919; and Lake Charles, organized in October.
It was not until November 4, 1938, that the West Tennessee territory was added, and the name of the district was changed to Louisiana-Mississippi-West Tennessee. The Kiwanis Club of Memphis, the oldest club of the district Organized on June 20, 1918, was the only club in the West Tennessee area in 1938. With stronger business and social ties to the Mississippi Delta than to the rest of the state of Tennessee, the Memphis Club petitioned Kiwanis International to become a part of the Louisiana-Mississippi district.
Currently, there are 123 Kiwanis clubs in our district, comprised of approximately 4,100 service-minded citizens. Over 14,000 Kiwanians, Circle K’er’s, Key Clubbers, and Builders Clubbers perform meaningful service to their communities through their Kiwanis-family membership in the La.-Miss.-W.Tenn. District.
Major T. J. Bartlett, of New Orleans, was chosen the first governor of The Louisiana-Mississippi District. He continued in office until October, 1920, when W. H. Frazier of Jackson, Miss. was elected. Unfortunately, Frazier was unable to complete his term. The Reverend Charles W. Crisler of Brookhaven was elected to succeed him, and served until November, 1921, when A. T. Prescott of Baton Rouge was elected.
Roster of Past District Governors:
The LA-MS-W TN District has had a number of dedicated leaders to be elected to the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees, including 2 International Presidents. John T. Roberts, representing the Audubon Kiwanis Club in Baton Rouge, served as International President in 1982-83. L. Nettles Brown of the Natchitoches, La. Club, served as President in 1999-2000. 2 other District Kiwanians climbed to the Office of Vice President: A. V. Zimmermann, Alexandria, La. served in 1952-53, and Judge Steve A. Alford of the Baton Rouge, La. Club served in 1969-70. The roster of International Board Members follows:
- W. D. Cotton, Rayville, LA | Trustee 1941-48
- A. V. Zimmermann, Alexandria, LA | Trustee 1950-1952; Vice President 1952-53
- Steve A. Alford, Jr., Baton Rouge, LA | Trustee 1966-1969; Vice President 1969-70
- John T. Roberts, Audubon, Baton Rouge, LA | Trustee 1975-1979; Vice President, 1979-80; Treasurer, 1980-81; President-Elect, 1981-82; International President, 1982-83
- Robert E. Wales, Capital City, Baton Rouge, LA | Trustee 1988-1991
- L. Nettles Brown, Natchitoches, LA | Trustee 1993-1996; Vice President, 1996-97; Treasurer, 1997-98; President-Elect, 1998-99; International President 1999-2000
- Leonard D. Simmons, Jr., New Orleans, LA | Trustee 2002-2005
- Leonard D. Simmons, Jr., New Orleans, LA | Trustee 2002-2005
- Bascom L. Allen, Sr., Starkville, MS | Trustee 2007-2010
- Dennis M. Oliver, Gulfport, MS | Trustee 2012-2015
- Greg Beard, Alexandria, LA | Trustee 2017-2020
A. T. Prescott also had the distinction of serving as the first Lieutenant Governor of the District in 1921. He was succeeded by H. L. Whitfield of Columbus, Miss., and R. L. Tullis, of Baton Rouge in 1922.
The numbering of divisions, as we do today, did not begin until 1948, when we had eight divisions. There are now 19 divisions within the La.-Miss.-W.Tenn. District.
Roster of District Lt Governors:
In February, 2005, the membership of the District voted a change in governance of the district from a District Board which included the large number of Lieutenant Governors, to one that would include 7 District Trustees, representing 2 to 4 Divisions, and each serving three-year staggered terms. At the same time, the membership approved a title change as the District Secretary-Treasurer then became the Executive Director. This plan went into effect October 1, 2005.
Roster of District Trustees:
The District Secretary-Treasurer position rotated on an annual basis at the discretion of the Governor until Albert Brewerton, of Greenwood, Miss., was appointed to the post in the mid-forties. He continued to serve until he passed away in 1961. Frank Ricketts of Whitehaven, Tenn. filled out that term. In 1962, then-Governor Steve Alford appointed Jay R. Broussard, a member of the Downtown, Baton Rouge Club, who served for almost 14 years. Then, with Jay’s untimely death in 1976, then-Governor Skip Ritter appointed Charlie Ford, then a member of the Audubon Club in Baton Rouge to the position.
Service to Communities:
Kiwanis service is not performed through any of the higher structures of the organization – not on the international level, not on the district level, and not on the divisional level. These structures exist simply to provide information and support to the local clubs.
Kiwanis service is strictly performed on the club level. This is where you as a club member, become personally involved within your community – involved with the nursing homes, with the disadvantaged, with the youth of your community. Local Kiwanis clubs are independent organizations, free to structure their involvement based on the needs of the community.