BY KATIE MATTESON
The Caledonia Room on the lower level of Ascension All Saints Hospital is abuzz every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., as members of the Kiwanis Club of West Racine filter in with trays of breakfast delights they’ve chosen from the hospital’s cafeteria.
After about 30 minutes of cheerful conversation and banter among the members in attendance, the president rings the bell and it’s time to get down to business for the next hour.
As committee chairs give reports on the numerous club activities, it’s incredible to think that one 52-member club can do so much in the community. During most of the weekly meetings the club also hosts a guest speaker.
But most of the work of the club takes place throughout the week, as members participate in volunteer activities throughout the community. In the 2018-19 program year (which ended Sept. 30), club members logged 5,762 hours of volunteer services and contributed nearly $36,000 to local programs and organizations.
A partial list of projects where you’ll find Kiwanians includes: Salvation Army bell ringing, co-hosting the Tri-County Olympics for nursing home residents, providing rides for Special Olympics athletes, serving on the Kiwanis Lights Foundation, purchasing Salvation Army Christmas gifts for needy children, driving the Ascension All Saints Hospital courtesy van, awarding college/university scholarships, funding and providing volunteers for local school spelling, geography and math competitions and volunteering for the Empty Bowls Project, Reality Check Day, Park High School Key Club, Key Leader training, K-Kids, the hospital tour for second grade students, mentoring and tutoring.
A fun sidelight and point of pride for the West Racine Kiwanians is the Interclub – a visit by at least four members to another area Kiwanis Club each month. As of October this year, the club’s consecutive monthly Interclub streak stood at 386 or slightly more than 32 years!
The West Racine Kiwanis hold two major fundraisers each year. Raffle Night is scheduled for March 7, 2020 at Infusino’s Banquet Hall. The club also caters the annual CNH Industrial company picnic held in July.
On the top of the project list for November is preparation for the annual Kiwanis Holiday of Lights display at the Racine Zoo, a joint project with the Kiwanis Club of Racine. Volunteers maintain, set up and take down the elaborate display that stretches for several blocks along North Main Street..
It all began back in 1985 when the local Kiwanians carried forward the holiday light tradition begun by industrialist George Wheary Jr. at his North Bay home in 1962. Wheary donated the lights to the city and the display was temporarily showcased on Monument Square before the Kiwanis moved it to the zoo, where it can be viewed from late November through December.
The waterfall, the centerpiece of the 36-piece display known as the “Wheary Lights,” is still prominent and brings back memories to longtime residents of driving by the magnificent exhibit of white lights that graced the Wheary’s property for 20 years.
The annual display is funded by donations and the sale of a custom-designed ornament that features local icons. This year, Wells Brothers – a restaurant serving up award-winning pizza on Racine’s south side since 1921 – is the featured design for the 2019 Kiwanis ornament.
This year’s ornament, along with limited quantities of past years’ ornaments, are available for $10 each at Castlewood Restaurant, Catrine Barber Shop, Dover Flag & Map, Lee’s True Value Hardware, Lighthouse Gallery & Gifts, Racine Heritage Museum, Real Racine Visitor Center, Sew ‘n Save, Victory Lane Car Wash and Wells Brothers Restaurant.
According to the club’s membership brochure, “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time.”
This club’s history started on Nov. 11, 1976 with its first meeting. The 25-member club was chartered on Jan. 29, 1977 with sponsorship by the Racine Kiwanis Club and the Greater Racine Kiwanis Club. Its first officers were President Bob Zach and Vice President Glenn Kirchner.
Meetings were initially held at the Golden Lantern Restaurant on Washington Avenue and a few other local restaurants before finding a permanent home at the hospital starting on Sept. 4, 1985.
On Sept. 24 this year, the club installed new officers and directors for 2019-2020, including President Michael Monroe, President-Elect Joe Caminiti, Treasurer Barb Walker and Secretary Mary Sue Langendorf. Directors include Bill Albright, Robb Cooper, Mary Willmes, Jeff Taylor, Mike Mucha and Don Anderson.
New members are always welcome. For membership information, contact Mary Sue Langendorf at (262) 554-7894 or Mike Mucha at (262) 721-7996. The club is on Facebook @WestRacineKiwanis and its website address is westracinekiwanis.org.