By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography
On April 1920, a group of Joplin businessmen organized to serve the community. The group formally became the third Kiwanis Club in Missouri May 17, 1920, joining groups in St. Louis and Kansas City. The group has continued as an active service club over the years in Joplin, and now they are celebrating 100 years of serving youth and community.
With a proud history of service to the community, the Kiwanis are marking the celebration with a sculpture to be presented to the Joplin Public Library. The work features two children sitting on a bench sharing a book. The sculpture is a permanent symbol for the service the club has rendered for youth in the last century.
Service is a long-held tradition of the Kiwanis Club. Kiwanian Larry Myers knows the history of the club well and said, “The first three years of Joplin Kiwanis existence gives a picture of the early participation in civic affairs these stalwart and energetic founders of the organization took. They led to many worthwhile projects for the future. They carried on a continuous program for benefit of the community.
“In September of 1920, the club voted to assist in raising a total of $65,000 for furnishing the new YMCA. Following Prohibition, in 1921, Felix Eberlein notified the club that the Main Street in Joplin was dark since the abolition of saloons. He suggested the club install lighting in the district for the coming Kiwanis district convention, which the club did install. In 1952, the club helped to begin a project to raise $75,000 to provide modern high-intensity street lights for Joplin streets.
“In 1923, the Kiwanis were working for the betterment of the community. A fund was subscribed to buy a home for a destitute woman, and the club voted to participate in a $125,000 drive to build Freeman hospitals. Because many orphans were simply being warehoused, a Children’s Home picnic was held, and the Kiwanis provided swimming, baseball, storytelling, food and lemonade for orphaned children. Funds for the Memorial Hall bond election were raised. In 1923, the first annual Christmas party was held.”
The Christmas parties for children in need are still held each year by the Kiwanis Club. Jo Ellen Davis, club vice president, said, “Last year, we held parties at three elementary schools for children from low-income homes. The parties include a visit from Santa, gifts and candy.”
Once noted for its sale of apples to fund some of the youth activities the club supported, the Joplin Kiwanis now sponsors the Joplin Art Fest held at Mercy Park. President Matt Gibson said, “We work with Joplin Regional Artist Coalition, Connect2Culture, George Spiva Center for the Arts and Visit Joplin, MO to bring the festival to the community. Our biggest fundraiser is our golf tournament, which is held at Briarbrook Country Club each year.”
The funds raised today continue to support the work of the Joplin Kiwanis Club. In 1948, the Joplin Key Club was started at Joplin High School, and the group continues to support the club. They provide one to two annual college scholarships to a Key Club member. They are currently sponsoring a room at Washington Family Hope Center, a shelter for families with children and a part of Watered Gardens. The club has supported the Boys and Girls Club since 1962, and for the past 20 years, Kiwanis has provided an annual $2,700 scholarship to Missouri Southern State University. Additionally, the club supports the Salvation Army, YMCA, CASA and the Cerebral Palsy Center.
According to a 1939 article in the Joplin Globe, “The Joplin Kiwanis Club, since its organization has performed its civic duties with unselfishness and has endorsed every worthy movement that has been placed before it, and has given the moral and financial support to those movements. . . It has aided in the raising of funds to charitable purposes and has always held itself ready to assist in any enterprise that is for the progress of our city and the best interest of the community.”
As Larry Myers noted, “What was true in 1930 is true in 2020. The Joplin Kiwanis Club is more than another helping agency in the community. They are helping change the community.”