Club History

On March 16, 1922, the Escanaba Morning Press carried this news item in its Thursday edition under the title: “KIWANIS CLUB TO BE ORGANIZED TONIGHT.” The article went on to say, “The formal organization meeting of the Escanaba Kiwanis club will be held at the Ludington Hotel at 6:30 tonight. A dinner will be followed by a business meeting and an address by a national Kiwanis representative. There will be fifty charter members, the number required to launch the organization. The Escanaba club will be the first of its kind in the Upper Peninsula, although others will probably be organized in the near future,” it said.

The next day, Friday, March 17, the Morning Press carried the following story under the title “ESCANABA-WELLS KIWANIS CLUB COMPLETES ORGANIATION WITH D.R G.A. COTTON PRESIDENT.” The article continued,” Fifty-six men representing virtually every business, industry, and profession in Escanaba, last night, following a dinner at the House of Ludington Hotel, organized the Kiwanis Club of Escanaba and Wells—the first organization in the Upper Peninsula to join hands with the hundreds of other Kiwanis clubs in the United States and Canada.”

“By-laws were adopted, officers elected and steps taken to start the machinery of the club in full motion for the part of it’s certain to be called to play in the city’s business and social life.”

Charter officers were:

  • President-Dr. Gilbert A. Cotton
  • Vice President-Torval E. Strom
  • Treasurer-C.W. Malloch
  • District Trustee-J.J. Riley

Charter directors were:

  • Dr. R.H. Banks
  • T.M. Judson
  • G.H. Ramsey
  • L.M. Beggs
  • Dr F.X. Barth
  • E.H. Wicking
  • L.A. Buck

“The club’s regular luncheon meetings are to be held each Monday at 12:15 at the Ludington”.

“Mr. Elmore, representing Kiwanis International, in an address which accompanied the balloting and which followed the election, gave many suggestions for future meetings and complimented the club on the progress it had made thus far. “

The Escanaba Morning Press article concluded with this final information “Kiwanis Clubs are made up of two representatives of each business and profession in a community. Each club is affiliated with a district organization and the districts are joined in the Kiwanis International, which represents hundreds of clubs and thousands of members throughout this country and the Dominion.”

Things apparently went well for the new club, but history is dimmed considerably by the loss of records. However, then as now, the club must have maintained an interest in music as it sponsored the Kiwanis Boys Band. Long time Kiwanian now deceased, Arol Beck, was a member of that band. The Kiwanis Boys Band is credited by many as providing the initiative to start a formal instrumental program in the Escanaba Area Public Schools.

Thaxter Shaw served as president of the club in 1944 (during WWII). A with other organizations, many of the members had been called into military service and the club was perhaps at its lowest membership in its history. But in the fall of 1945. membership began to increase as servicemen returned home. The club at that time met at the Sherman Hotel,

For many years following WWII, Ed Rudness served as the song leader (and a very spirited leader he was) with a driving tenor voice. If the present day clubs sings “America” just a little faster than usual, it is the spirit of Ed Rudness taking over—for nothing was ever at a spirited enough tempo for him. He was a great motivator, and perhaps he set the stage for a singing group of men who would soon form the nucleus of the background chorus in a series of minstrel shows which would be used as a fund raising project.

Along about 1947 or 1948, someone thought up the idea of a minstrel show as a fund raising project. Assisted by the Orpheus Choral Club and some other talented members of the community, this project was off and running with the series to run until 1957. Many of the scripts were written and directed by Kryn Bloom, local haberdasher.

The shows were a great deal of work, but everyone had a lot of fun, and a considerable amount of money (for those days) was raised each year for civic projects. The shows played for three nights at the W.W. Oliver Auditorium. Empty seats were hard to find.

In 1957, the minstrels were replaced with “Pancake Days” under the leadership of President, Guy Knutson. They were first held in the old Methodist Church building in the 100 block of S. 9th Street. It was later moved across the street to the Teamsters Building (now an apartment building). Somewhere along the line, they were also held in the building which housed the Gamble Store. Aunt Jemima, the genial black lady who worked for the pancake mix manufacturer of the same name, appeared each year in person, singing and welcoming patrons. Of course, this activity, on a larger scale, still continues today along with a “Home and Garden Show” at the Ruth Butler Building of the UP State Fairgrounds.

The Escanaba Kiwanis club hosted one of only two Wisconsin- Upper Michigan District Conventions ever held in the Upper Peninsula. It was held at the House of Ludington on August 26-28, 1951. Harry J. Gruber was the General Chairman and District Governor, Earl G. Knutson, was the Presider. Walter Dickson, Escanaba Club President, and Thaxter Saw were Program Committee Co-chairs.

Other familiar names at the convention were Rev. Karl J. Hammer, who gave the invocation at the Monday Noon luncheon, and George L. Best, of the Iron Mountain Club, named as a member of the International Committee on inter-club relations. Irwin R. “Whitey” Witthuhn of Milwaukee was elected Governor and Floyd Eymeer of Iron Mountain was elected district treasurer. The Escanaba Daily Press ran complete coverage of the convention.