A Brief History of the
CONWAY KIWANIS CLUB
By Robert W. Meriwether - January 2005 (Updated June 2011, 2021)
This brief history was originally written in 1984 for inclusion in Faulkner County: Its Land and People, published in 1986 by the Faulkner County Historical Society. It is updated from time to time for new members of our Kiwanis Club. The original piece was based primarily on the records kept by the late Hubert L. Minton; long-time Kiwanians Ted Hiegel, Harold Eidson and Dean Moore provided additional information.
The Conway Kiwanis Club was founded in 1924. A sufficient number of potential members had signed up by July 23 (the date which would be used in the charter), and two days later an organizational meeting was held at the First Methodist Church. A charter night meeting was conducted at the Revilo (later, Bachelor) Hotel on November 18. The local citizen primarily responsible for the founding of the club was Hendrix College professor and Dean Charles Jerome Greene.
C. J. Greene, President
George Shaw, Jr., Treasurer
Victor D. Hill, Vice-President
C. C. Denney, Trustee
G. Russell Brown, Secretary
C. E. Benefield Frank H. Harrin G. S. McHenry
W. H. Brummett B. M. Harton W. L. Thickston
B. Paul Clayton Cole Harton J. Hugh Pence
G. A. Covington William Harton Frank Robins, Jr.
Leslie Crafton Henry W. Ramp W. J. Short
Leo P. Crafton Benjamin T. Laney* H. B. Simmons
J. C. Davis John E. Little Thomas S. Staples
Charles E. Durham** A. J. Meadors W. B. Stark
O. Oscar Florence J. B. Morris John Storch
Oscar E. Goddard I. N. McCollum J. H. Thompson
Ivan H. Grove
* Ben Laney would later serve as Governor of Arkansas (1945-1949)
** In 1946, the 83-year-old C.E. Durham was recognized as the oldest active member of Kiwanis International; he later died in 1951 at the age of 88.
An individual named Allen S. Browne organized the first Kiwanis Club in Detroit on January 21, 1915. The name “Kiwanis” is allegedly taken from an Ottawa Indian word translated as “to let one’s self be known. “The original motto of the organization was “We Trade,” and the primary purpose seemed to be to allow business and professional men to make good contacts with others. As additional Kiwanis Clubs were chartered, the emphasis changed to service to others. This change was reflected in 1922 when the motto became “We Build.” This phrase served our organization as the official motto for the next 83 years. As children became the focus of Kiwanis service over the years, another motto change was made at the International Convention in Hawaii in 2005. The new motto “Serving the Children of the World” was deemed to better identify the focus and purpose of Kiwanis worldwide.
The first two Canadian clubs were organized in 1917, and the civic service group expanded rapidly in the U. S. At a convention in Birmingham in 1919 the affiliated clubs were reorganized as Kiwanis International, and at a subsequent convention in Denver in 1924 the organization, goals, and purposes of Kiwanis were developed that have continued without much change to the present day.
The first Kiwanis Club in Arkansas was established in Little Rock and the second was the one in Conway, which was sponsored by the Little Rock club. The Conway club co-sponsored a Kiwanis Club in Morrilton in 1925 and also co-sponsored clubs in Beebe (1938) and Harrison (1955). In 1984 the Conway club sponsored a Kiwanis Club in Heber Springs; however, this group was disbanded in the spring of 1988. In 2006, the Conway club sponsored a new Kiwanis Club in Greenbrier, followed by a new Vilonia Kiwanis Club in 2008; both clubs have since disbanded.
The Conway and Morrilton clubs have always maintained a close relationship. As early as 1926 the two clubs had a joint fish fry at Cedar Park (now Cadron Settlement Park), and in 1938 there was a joint picnic on Petit Jean Mountain. Forty-one Conway Kiwanians went to Morrilton for a meeting with its club in 1939. In 1943 there was a fish fry with the Morrilton and Searcy clubs at the Conway Kiwanis Camp on Cove Creek. In 1969 Conway Kiwanians Faril Simpson and Denver Prince jogged to Morrilton and presented a program to its club. Each year there are several “interclub” exchanges (at least four members of one club attending the meeting of the other club) between the two clubs.
The new Conway Kiwanis Club almost had a short history. In 1930-31, when all of the banks in Conway closed, the club lost all of its funds, and membership dropped to 12, as many men were unable to maintain their affiliation. Under the leadership of Dean D. McBrien and William D. Ketcheside, the group refused to quit, even though it was necessary for a while to hold the weekly meetings in the homes of members. By 1932 the club had regained its financial solvency, but it still had difficulty in keeping a minimum of 12 members until 1934, when economic conditions had improved to the point that the club was back on its feet.
The Conway Kiwanis Club has always held its regular weekly lunch meetings at noon on Wednesdays. For the first several years the meetings were at the First Methodist Church. In 1940 the club moved its meetings to the Bachelor Hotel and then, during World War II, to the Commons dining room at Arkansas State Teachers College. In 1947 the Kiwanians returned to the Bachelor and remained there until the hotel burned on New Year’s Eve, 1962. The meeting site was then moved to the Town House Restaurant, where they met until 1968. From 1968 to 1995 the meeting place was the Holiday Inn, followed by four years at Denny’s Restaurant at the Ramada Inn, and then the Howard Johnson restaurant where the club met until December 2002. Since then, meetings are held at Ryan’s Steakhouse on the old Morrilton Highway.
Traditionally, the weekly club meetings begin after the meal (around 12:25 p.m.) with an invocation, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and group singing. After the introduction of guests, there are announcements concerning various club activities and projects. The 20-25 minute programs are of an informative, entertaining or inspirational nature. During the early years, members frequently enjoyed games, stunts, and songs directed by Henry Kamp. Later, the club meetings were enlivened by the reading (with pithy comments) of the latest news by local newspaper editor Joe B. McGee and songs led by E. W. Packard.
For 65 of its 87 years the Conway Kiwanis Club had a club bulletin which reported club activities to the members. For many years the bulletin was sent through the mail, but this eventually proved to be too expensive, and was distributed at club meetings. Long-time editors of the bulletin were C. C. Calhoun, Hubert Minton, and Russell Westmeyer. Fred Petrucelli was editor for 10 years until 1999; followed by David Grimes, Lendall Bolin, Gene Bartley, and Wes Pruitt. In 2008, one of our new members, Erick Peebles, created a “web site” for our club. We now post news and announcements on the Internet via our web site, www.conwaykiwanis.org. We have a member’s only section that contains an email directory of our membership along with other more private matters, such as minutes from Board meetings and financial information about our club. We also can be found on Facebook as “Kiwanis of Conway Arkansas.”
Membership in a Kiwanis Club is by invitation only. After the hard times of the early Depression era, the number of members in the Conway club was in the 30-50 range from 1936 until after World War II, when the membership increased to the 50-70 range. In 1982, after a drive under the leadership of membership chairman Bob Hepner, the total on the rolls for the first time topped 100. As of December 2000, there were 134 members of the Conway club (although some are “on leave” or “inactive”), making it one of the largest in Kiwanis International. Two of our members, Cliff Henry and George Covington, are third-generation Conway Kiwanians since their fathers and grandfathers were members of our club. In 1999, George Covington, Jr. became the first fourth generation club member.
In 2009, under the leadership of President Ron Hill (and a gentlemen’s side bet with the Springdale, AR club), the Conway Club became the largest Kiwanis Club in the Missouri-Arkansas District, with a membership of 163. As Tommy Shackelford followed in 2010, we increased to 180 members which put the club among the top 20 North America Kiwanis Clubs in size of membership. Dr. Chuck Seifert is the current president and our membership is now 182 as of June 15, 2011.
One of the primary responsibilities of each Kiwanian is faithful attendance at club meetings, and several Conway club members have achieved outstanding records over the years. In 1964, C. C. Calhoun was recognized for 25 years and William D. Ketcheside for 35 years of perfect attendance. At the time of his death in 1983, Hubert L. Minton had 46 years of perfect attendance. In February 1989, Ted Hiegel (a Conway Kiwanian since 1933) received special recognition and a Life Membership in Kiwanis International for 50 years of perfect attendance. When he withdrew his membership in the Conway club, Hiegel had a 55-year perfect attendance record. Denver Prince is the current leader of our club in this category; Denver now has 44 years of perfect attendance. He is followed by Harry Readnour with 38, Joel Hawkins with 33, and Mike Shock with 30.
The Conway Kiwanis Club held its first Ladies’ Night on December 10, 1925, and members invited their wives, known as Kiwani Queens, to similar events each year, usually around Valentine’s Day, for the next 70 years.
The formal banquet was discontinued in 1996 and replaced with a family-style picnic. Our first female member, Ramona Sitz, joined our club in June 1994. Since then, several more women have joined the Conway Kiwanis Club and taken positions of leadership. Crystal Kemp became our first female president in October 2000. Deanna Ott took office as president October 1, 2011 and Courtney Leach became President of the club October 1, 2013.
Although Conway Kiwanians have always enjoyed social activities and good fellowship, the primary purpose of the club has been community service, especially for young people. During the first year, in 1925, the Kiwanians gave $50 to assist a “boys’ work” program sponsored by the city of Conway, volunteered to serve as “Big Brothers” to boys who did not have fathers, and met with the Conway Rotary Club and Conway Commercial Club to organize a Community Charity Fund, the forerunner of today’s United Way. It would be impossible to name the many community projects sponsored or participated in by the Conway Kiwanis Club over the past 85 years, but a partial list includes the following:
In 1941, under the leadership of Ken Estes, the club established a camp on 15 acres at a site west of Damascus on Cove Creek where there was a natural pool for swimming. The Kiwanians drilled a well, installed a light system, cleared a playground area, and erected and furnished three or four buildings during numerous “Kiwanis Work Days.” The leader in providing material, equipment, and time to the project was Peter Hiegel. Summer camp programs for boys and for girls were conducted under the supervision of qualified personnel for some eight years. A small fee was charged each participating camper, but the income was not enough to meet the increasing expenses of operating the camp. Eventually the property was allowed to revert back to its original owner. A new Service Leadership program that Kiwanis International developed in 2006 called Key Leader, will actually use these facilities for their Fall Key Leader weekend this year (2009).
For several years during the 1940s and ’50s, the club sponsored a Christmas party for all children, sixth grade and under, in Faulkner County. The parties were held at the Grand and Conway theaters, and in some years the attendance exceeded 3,000 as school buses brought children in from the rural areas of the county for the free motion picture. Club members sacked fruit, candy, and nuts for the youngsters. In more recent years, Kiwanians have given financial support and volunteer service for the distribution of Christmas baskets to the needy, as first sponsored by the Conway Ministerial Alliance and later by the Conway Junior Auxiliary. The funds needed for this project are now raised at our annual Christmas Auction. This auction, named for its founder Jim Beal, is usually held at a regular meeting about 2 weeks prior to Christmas. Members bring donated items that are then auctioned off to other members and guests. Philip Shell has served as our auctioneer since the inception of this event. We usually raise enough funds to buy food baskets and various gifts for 10-15 families. In 2008, the club partnered with the “Make A Child Smile” organization for the distribution of these baskets. With MACS providing clothes and toys, our club was able to purchase enough food (through Angel Food Ministries) for 48 baskets.
As early as 1933 the club sponsored a team in the city softball league. Kiwanians have provided financial backing and/or coaches for youth baseball, basketball, tennis, and other recreational programs. In the 1940s the Conway club sponsored troops of both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and in the 1960s sponsored a troop of Explorer Scouts. In 1969 the club gave $1,000 toward the establishment of a Teen Center on Donaghey Avenue. Several Conway Kiwanians, including Jack Bell and Bob Nabholz, were leaders in the establishment of the Conway Boys & Girls Club in 1989-90, and our club is a regular contributor to the new organization. A national partnership between Kiwanis International and The Boys & Girls Clubs of America was announced in 2008. The Conway Club plans to build a closer partnership with our local Boys & Girls club and will strive to work hand in hand to support many of the needs of that facility.
In 1991 a program was organized whereby local Kiwanians read stories to children in the Conway public elementary schools. In 1997 the local Log Cabin Democrat made a survey to identify the ten “most influential” citizens of Faulkner County. The results showed five of the ten were Kiwanians: Stan Russ (No. 1), Bob Nabholz, Larry Pillow, Bill Hegeman, and Win Thompson.
Under the leadership of Gary Roberts, in 1993 our club co-sponsored with the Faulkner County Child Care Association a one-day workshop for child-care workers. This well-received activity has become an annual event and in January 1999 nearly 200 Child Care workers attended the seventh conference. An outgrowth of our relationship with the Child Care Association was the annual “Shots for Tots” immunization program started in 1994 with the Faulkner County Health Department as co-sponsor.
In July 1995 our club made a $1,000 contribution to the Kiwanis International World Wide Service Project, Iodine Defiecency Disorders (IDD), and designated Bob Nabholz as our first Tablet of Honor recipient; since then our club has honored one of our members each year with either a Tablet of Honor or a Hixon Fellowship, with the money going to the IDD project. The honorees have been Bob Nabholz, Conrad Carroll, Larry Pillow, Denver Prince, Gary Roberts, Gene Bartley, Bob Meriwether, Jim Beal, Cliff Henry, Ferris Baker, Steel Hays, Larry Marshall and Philip Shell.
Our club will be taking on a new global initiative for children which will be officially rolled out at the International Convention in Geneva in July 2011. As an organization, Kiwanis will once again partner with UNICEF to raise $110 million to rid the world of Maternal Neonatal Tetanus, or MNT as it is called. This initiative will be know as the Eliminate Project. With a series of 3 tetanus immunizations at a cost of $.60 each, a mother and child’s lives can be saved from this dreaded disease that kills 1 baby every 9 minutes. Such a small cost ($1.80) to save a human life.
The Conway Kiwanis Club began sponsoring Key Clubs for students at Conway High School and St. Joseph High School in the mid-1940s. In 1965 a Circle K Club was established at Hendrix College and eleven years later a Circle K Club was formed at the University of Central Arkansas. In 1976 the Hendrix Circle K Club had 97 members and was the largest in Kiwanis International; that year it sponsored a dance marathon and raised over $6,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Hendrix Circle K club and the Conway High and St. Joseph Key Clubs are now inactive, although the Conway High School Key Club is scheduled to Re-Charter a new club with the upcoming 2009 school year.
Now called Service Leadership Programs (SLP’s), the U.C.A. Circle K club was re-activated in 1997. With Gary Roberts as chief sponsor, the U.C.A. Circle K has developed into a very active club. The service clubs for high school and college students encourage the development of community service and leadership, and the members have assisted the Conway Kiwanians in numerous activities over the years. In 1968 Conway Kiwanian Dean Moore was made a lifetime member of Circle K, and the highest Circle K award in the Missouri-Arkansas District was named for him in recognition of his outstanding leadership in this area.
At each Conway Kiwanis meeting, a barrel or jar is passed around for contributions to the club’s scholarship fund. The money was originally used to finance the Christmas parties for Faulkner County children, but today the funds are used for the five $1000 college scholarships (three to seniors at Conway High School, one to a senior at St. Joseph High School, and one to a senior at Conway Christian) that are given by the club each year. For many years, George Joseph and then Ernest Halter had the responsibility for passing around the jar. In 1988 Albert Raymond, who had had the job for over a decade, passed it on to Ed Halter, who at the end of 1994 gave the barrel to Denver Prince, who is still performing this task at each of our weekly meetings.
Beginning in 1950, the Kiwanis Club began sponsoring a community-wide Easter Sunrise Service. First held on Grandview Heights north of Conway, the service was later moved to Lake Beaver Fork and then to Crestlawn Memorial Park on the Vilonia highway. In 1965 over 300 persons attended the service, which began at 6:30 Easter morning. Eventually the project was turned over to another community group and was discontinued. Believing that the Easter service provided a worthwhile opportunity for Conway citizens to worship together, the Kiwanians reinstituted the program in 1983. The service was held at various local churches and co-sponsored by the Conway Ministerial Alliance through Easter 1991, when it was again discontinued.
There have been many other community service activities in which the Conway Kiwanis Club has been involved. In 1935, F. H. Herrin was the Kiwanis representative on the board of the first Faulkner County public library and served as treasurer. In 1940 the Kiwanians adjourned from their noon meeting to work with the local Women’s Civic League in planting 200 trees along the city’s new highway (Markham Street). As early as 1970, Kiwanians were assisting with the Special Olympics program for mentally retarded children, and for a few years the club assumed an annual responsibility in helping with the state Special Olympics held at Estes Field on the U.C.A. campus. The club sponsored a used motor oil collection station located at the Satterfield Oil Company on Highway 65-S from 1984 to 1987. For a number of years, Joel Hawkins was our club’s representative in the walkathon sponsored by the Conway Human Development Center’s volunteer auxiliary.
In 1982 the Kiwanis Club was the first Conway civic club to volunteer assistance with the annual community-wide Toad Suck Daze festival held on a weekend in late April or early May. Kiwanians were responsible for putting on the local talent shows at the first four Toad Suck Daze festivals, and in 1987 began the current co-sponsorship of the Toad Suck 10/K and 5/K Runs. In 1999 the Toad Suck Runs were co-sponsored by Regions Bank, Conway Regional Health & Fitness Center, McDonald’s, and others. Net profits of over $15,000 were divided between HAVEN (Help for Abuse Victims in Emergency Need) and the Faulkner County Youth Leadership Institute. The 2000 Run earned $13,000 between HAVEN and the Faulkner County Red Cross, and has been around the $15,000 mark each year. The 2009 run netted a record $20,000 that was distributed to local charities; the 2010 run brought in $22,000 and the most recent run in May of 2011 should yield a little over $25,000.
In June 2004, the club broke ground on the Kiwanis pavilion, located in Curtis Walker Park. Funds from the Toad Suck race were used to build this structure. The construction was closely supervised by long-time Kiwanian, David Thessing, with many other Kiwanians volunteering their time and expertise.
The foundation holes were dug on December 17, 2004 with the pavilion being completed March 29, 2005. The pavilion is heavily used by the youth that participate in the park’s seasonal sports, such as pee-wee football, soccer, and baseball.
In order to finance its many community projects, the Conway Kiwanis Club has used a number of fund-raising activities over the years. From 1941 to 1957 the club sponsored a musical variety show featuring local talent. The first “Musical Jamboree” was given for two nights at Conway High School in May 1941 with the profits earmarked for the support of the summer camps at Cove Creek. In 1946 the theme was changed to a “Variety and Minstrel Show” and was presented in Ida Waldran Auditorium on the campus of Arkansas State Teachers College. Altogether, 17 of these local talent shows were sponsored by the Kiwanians to raise money for youth activities.
A major Kiwanis fund-raising activity has been the annual Pancake Day. For over 50 years every Kiwanian has been expected to sell tickets and to work in the set-up, cooking, serving, or clean up for the biggest single project the club undertakes. Held for many years at the American Legion Hut, Pancake Day has also been at the Bachelor Hotel, St. Joseph School Cafeteria, First United Methodist Church, Second Baptist Church, and Bob’s Grill. Beginning with the 1984 Pancake Day, the club has annually given the Joe B. McGee Award to the member who sold the most tickets. Winners have been Bob Fisher, Robert Balentine, and Larry Pillow (thirteen times!). The club cleared over $5,000 on the 2000 Pancake Day and appropriated money to such organizations as Arkansas Boys State and Girls State, Little League Baseball, the Hugh O’Brien Youth Conference, local Christmas Baskets, and the Kiwanis’ co-sponsored Children’s Health Fair.
In 1973, as a community service and a fund-raiser, the Conway club started a paper and aluminum recycling system; during the first year, under the leadership of David Thessing, some 180,000 pounds of paper were collected and hauled to a recycling facility in North Little Rock. Eventually the project was turned over to other civic agencies. For three years in the early 1980s Conway Kiwanians sold Kiwanis popcorn as a moneymaking project. With the leadership of Don Bradley, the club sponsored the Kiwanis Basketball Classic from 1986 to 1991. The two-night event at the U.C.A. Farris Center featured college squads, including the Hendrix Warriors and U.C.A. Bears, and boys’ and girls’ high school teams. A Kiwanis Softball Tournament for amateur teams in the central Arkansas area was sponsored in April 1992 and again in April 1994.
The Conway Kiwanis Club budgeted some $10,000 for its various service projects during 1995-96. A major disbursement from the club’s project fund was $2,400 for the four college scholarships; other grants are made to projects which serve young people, such as St. Joseph Key Club, Little League Baseball, Arkansas Boys’ State and Girls’ State, Conway Boys and Girls Club, Salvation Army summer camp, Hugh O’Brien Youth Foundation, children-oriented exhibits at the Faulkner County Museum, and for prizes in the junior divisions at the Faulkner County Fair. Other groups and activities that have received financial support, include the Christmas basket project, the Problem Pregnancy Center, Clifton Day Care Center, and the Independent Living Services program for retarded young adults. Under the leadership of Larry Pillow, the Conway Kiwanians began in 1986 a program to assist the hearing impaired; in the two-year period 1992-94 over $6,000 was budgeted to aid needy children through the Arkansas Association for Hearing Impaired, the Arkansas School for the Deaf, and the Conway Public Schools.
In 1973 the Conway Kiwanis Club named Don Pool as the recipient of its first “Kiwanian of the Year” award, which was presented at the annual Ladies’ Night banquet. Since then the winners have included Milt Honea, E. G. Standefer, Sam Fausett, Faril Simpson (twice), Bob Hepner, Denver Prince, Russell Westmeyer, Albert Raymond, Conrad Carroll, Bob Meriwether, Jack Bell, Ralva Bass, Robert Balentine, Don Bradley, Larry Pillow, Gene Bartley, Joel Hawkins, Terry Fiddler, John Perez, Gary Roberts (twice), Cliff Henry, Fred Petrucelli, Pam Teague, Steele Hays, Crystal Kemp, Philip Shell, Terry Love, Heather Murphy, Larry Marshall, Ron Hill, Greg Kitchens, Brett McDaniel, Bruce Hendricks, Chasta Irvin, Jack Johnson, Erick Peebles, Kathy Turner and Richard Plotkin.
In addition to their community service, Conway Kiwanians are also active in Kiwanis International, which now has 8,700 adult clubs and 7,700 youth clubs with a membership of 597,500 adult and youth members. Kiwanis International is now locations in 80 nations throughout the world.
After many years in Chicago, the international headquarters are not located at 3636 Woodview Trace, Indianapolis, Indiana 46268 (telephone 317/875-8755). International conventions are currently held in late June or early July of each year. In recent years, the Conway club was represented at the 2009 Convention in Nashville, the 2010 Convention in Las Vegas. The 2010-2011 International Conventions will be in Geneva, Switzerland, and attended by club member Gene Bartley.
The Conway club is a now a member of Division 21A of the Missouri-Arkansas District. Local club members who have been lieutenant governors of Kiwanis divisions include C.C. Calhoun, James S. Upton, J. Russell Cross, W. Dean Moore, Joe B. McGee, Conrad Carroll, and Gene Bartley who served two different terms, 1999-2000 and 2005-06. When they joined our club, both Thomas Palmer and E.E. Thompson were past lieutenant governors of other divisions. At the 2009 Mid-Year Convention in Branson, Missouri, the Missouri–Arkansas District voted to initiate a Regional structure. The District was divided into 9 different regions with a “Trustee” overseeing each region. Our division will be in Region 9, which includes Divisions 21A, 21B and 22. In the initial election for Trustees, Gene Bartley was elected as District Trustee for Region 9. Thom South served as District Trustee from 2019-2022.
Hubert L. Minton, who served two terms as a lieutenant governor, was District Governor in 1941 of the Kiwanis International district, which included Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. In August of 2011, some 70 years later, Gene Bartley was installed as Governor of the Missouri-Arkansas District. Club member Ron Hill became Governor in 2019.
Club officers assume their duties at the beginning of the Kiwanis year, October 1st.
For 87 years the Conway Kiwanis Club has provided local business and professional persons an opportunity to get together once a week for fellowship and information on matters of local, state, national, and international concern. Of even more importance, Kiwanis has encouraged voluntary participation in a wide variety of community service and leadership activities. For example, Sid Adams, our club president in 1947, also served as the president of Young Business Men’s Association, member of Conway Chamber of Commerce, member of Conway School Board, and as a member of the board of the Conway Corporation during the 1940s and 50s. Such activities have benefited not only the Conway and Faulkner County community, but also the individual Kiwanian.