Kiwanis Club celebrates 60 years of service

Alpena Kiwanis Club boasts a long and active presence in the community stretching back 60 years to its formation in 1954. In honor of its 60th anniversary, the club plans to celebrate this coming Monday with a special event from 6-9 p.m. at the Sanctuary Inn.

Club members will be remembering the many projects and accomplishments under taken since the club first was established and sponsored by the Rogers City Kiwanis Club in February of 1954.

“It’s a big thing to celebrate our 60th anniversary,” said Kiwanis board member Ken Connon, who currently holds the distinction of having been a member of the club the longest. “There have been many, many influential people in our club, and we’ve always worked toward bettering our community.”

Among the current influential people are two who will serve as guest speakers at Monday’s gathering. Stan Nelson, a member of the Alpena Kiwanis, currently serves as a Michigan district governor of the organization for the 2014-15 year. It is the local club’s first member to ever hold this office.

Nelson is affectionately known among the membership as Super K thanks to the unique costume he wears that consists of a red cape and a shirt emblazoned with a big “K.”

“He wears this at all functions that he attends throughout the state of Michigan,” said Connon. “He promotes our national project, which is Project Eliminate, an international campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.”

The second scheduled guest speaker for the anniversary celebration is Sue Petrisin, who currently is the 2014 Kiwanis International vice president. Petrisin is originally from Alpena and started her involvement with Kiwanis as a teen at Alpena High School where she was a member of the Kiwanis-sponsored Key Club. She then joined the college-level Circle K Club, also sponsored by Kiwanis. Her path ultimately took her to Lansing, and there she joined a Kiwanis Club and began working her way up through the ranks.

“It’s an honor to have Sue as the international vice president,” said Connon. “It’s awesome she’s a local girl who got started out here and worked her way up through the channels.”

Another highlight of Monday’s celebration is an appearance by the Besser Chorus, which also sang at the formal meeting when the club first was chartered 60 years ago.

Over the years, the local club has been highly visible in the community. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, it sponsored a popular minstrel show in what was then the old Alpena High School’s Little Theatre.

One of the club’s biggest projects has long been operating a food stand at the Alpena County Fair. Connon remembers when in the 1970s, the food was basic hamburgers, hotdogs and chips offered out a large tent. The Ludlow family, which at the time owned the Big Boy Restaurants in Alpena, eventually provided the club with a full-size trailer.

“Now with the trailer we are almost a full restaurant,” said Connon. “That’s probably our biggest fundraiser for the year.”

The Kiwanis also are known for their Kiddie Park, located along the waterfront beside the Fine Arts Band Shell. Though the city of Alpena owns the property, the Kiwanis have a long history of maintaining the park and providing the playground equipment. That project began in 1962. Members also take charge of a second park area on Park Street.

Since 1974, the club has been conducting a peanut sale each spring as a way to raise funds for its projects. The club also is a charter member of the Brown Trout Festival, and members each year volunteer to work in the Big Tent and help out in other ways as needed.

The Kiwanis food truck also makes it way to Wings Over Alpena. Members regularly volunteer at the St. Bernard Friendship Room, conduct blood drives, ring bells for the Salvation Army and hold a winter gourmet nut sale.

“Another big project is Kids Against Hunger,” said Connon. “We’re a member of District 21. All the clubs in the district meet in Houghton Lake and package food such as bags of rice and other nutrition-rich foods, then those packages are distributed district-wide.”

Last year, volunteers made up 375,000 meals. Of that amount, 15 percent of the meals were brought back to Alpena and given to the Alpena Senior Citizens Center, the Friendship Room and other local food pantries.

From money raised through fundraisers, the club is able to give back to the community and has supported the Boys and Girls Club of Alpena, Alpena Baby Pantry, Boys Scouts and the Friendship Room. They also annually give out two scholarships to Alpena Community College, participate in the Salvation Army coat giveaway project, work with Shelter, Inc. and support Kids Against Hunger.

“Our projects keeps us going,” Connon said. “We try to keep something going year round.”

Every local president selects a project for the club to work on during his or her tenure, and this year’s president, Russ Rhynard, has selected foster care children who come through the system. Toward that end, members have been conducting various fundraisers to help the cause, including a Pizza Hut tip night slated for March 10 from 4 to 8 p.m.

Additionally, the club is proud to sponsor the Key Club at AHS, which Connon said is currently among the most active in the state.

The Alpena club currently is comprised of 38 like-minded men and women of all walks of like who have accepted the International Kiwanis challenge of “changing the world one child and one community at a time.”