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Kiwanis Club of Mitchell to celebrate 100 years

Organization influential in early development of community

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Among its many projects dedicated to local youth, the Kiwanis Club of Mitchell sponsors youth baseball and softball programs. The local club will officially turn 100 years old March 31. (Submitted Photo)
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From lakes to parks, the Kiwanis Club of Mitchell has had a steady hand in civic improvements in the community for decades.

And later this month, it will mark 100 years of service to Mitchell when it observes the establishment of its charter on March 31, 1921.

“We’ve kind of celebrated 85 years and celebrated 95 years, but 100 years is a big deal,” said Jan Quenzer, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Mitchell.

The Mitchell outpost of the Kiwanis Club is almost as old as the international organization of which it is a part . Kiwanis International was founded in 1915 by a group of businessmen in Detroit, Michigan, according to the organization website. The organization was originally called the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers, but changed its name to Kiwanis a year later.

The name Kiwanis was coined from a Native American expression, "Nunc Kee-wanis," which means, "We trade." In 1920, the motto of Kiwanis became “We Build.” It remained the motto until 2005, when members voted to change it to “Serving the children of the world.” In the early years, members focused on business networking but in 1919, the organization changed its focus to service — specifically service to children.

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Kiwanis became an international organization with the founding of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1916. Kiwanis clubs formed in communities across the United States and Canada until the 1960s, when worldwide expansion was approved. Today, Kiwanis clubs are helping children thrive, prosper and grow in nearly 80 nations and geographic locations.

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The Kiwanis Club of Mitchell is known for several annual events in the community, including the spaghetti feed. The club will celebrate its 100th anniversary on March 31. (Submitted Photo)

The Kiwanis Club of Mitchell was organized in 1921 by a group of local citizens interested in contributing to the betterment of Mitchell. It was organized to promote and support programs for youth and various programs in the community. The first president was Silas E. Morris.

Some true landmarks in Mitchell were the brainchild of the Kiwanis Club. In 1926, the Kiwanis Club submitted a proposal to the city to create an artificial lake on Firesteel Creek. The lake was to provide a stable water source for Mitchell as well as provide recreation, sports, residential and other benefits for the city. The project was approved by the Mitchell City Council and South Dakota Public Works.

Although Lake Mitchell is no longer the water source for the city, it remains a visible reminder of the work Kiwanis has done over the last century.

“That’s how we got Lake Mitchell,” Quenzar said.

The city issued bonds for the construction of the Lake Mitchell Dam, and subsequently requested an area of land adjacent to the lake to be designated as a park for use by scout groups, family groups and the general public. Over fifty acres were approved for the purpose. The area would be named Woodlot Park, where the Kiwanis Club has worked with the city park and recreation department to make improvements up through modern day.

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Today, Woodlot Park is still located near Lake Mitchell and provides opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoor setting, Frisbee golf, playground equipment, sidewalk, comfort station shelter and other family facilities.


"I think the most important thing is the connection you develop with other people in the community and the good things being done."

— Jan Quenzar


But there are many areas the 20 to 30 group members focus on over the course of a typical year. And most of it goes toward helping youth and children.

“Our motivation is children. We help with the bike shop in town and sponsor a bike rodeo, teaching kids how to ride and giving bikes away. We have a spaghetti feed ,” Quenzar said.

The group also sponsors youth awards for the county 4-H clubs and the youth Winter Beef Calf Show. It sponsors three high school scholarships and awards high school academic certificates. It has donated to the Therapeutic Garden at the Abbott House, and donated to the local Love Feast. It has donated Kiwanis teddy bears to the local hospital emergency services department.

It has also donated t-shirts to local youth baseball and softball programs, sponsored the Sluggers baseball team, donated diapers to the YMCA Teddy Bear Treasures program benefiting infants in the community and sponsors the Mitchell High School After Prom Party, among many other projects.

Quenzar said celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Mitchell club is a good way to celebrate the work it has done over the years, as well as drum up interest from potential new members. Like many civic organizations, participation in Kiwanis Club has waned over the years. Once only the domain of men, women were allowed into the group at the international level in 1987, but the local club membership, which once numbered in the hundreds, is now less than a quarter of what it was.

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The Kiwanis Club of Mitchell is known for several annual events in the community, including the spaghetti feed. The club will celebrate its 100th anniversary on March 31. (Submitted Photo)

“I’m finding that the newer generation of younger people aren’t quite as interested as much in the history as some of us long-timers. I’ve been in since the 1990s, and a lot of our older gentlemen have passed away,” Quenzar said.

There are plans for celebration of the 100th anniversary, though what form that celebration will take has yet to be determined thanks to the arrival of COVID-19. The popular annual spaghetti feed may take a different form this year, while other annual events, such as its youth summer baseball tournament in early summer and its half-mile marathon run around Lake Mitchell, will likely be held without much change due to the fact that they are mostly held outdoors, where social distancing and other safety precautions are easier to take.

“Over the summer and fall, we plan to have the baseball tournament in the last weekend of June, then the (half-mile) run in October, and the spaghetti feed is hopefully this spring. They’re partially fundraisers and partially events for kids,” Quenzar said. “And then we’ll celebrate 100 years in the fall.”

That celebration in the fall will include a groundbreaking for new playground equipment and improved handicap accessibility at Woodlot Park , one one of the original civic projects undertaken by the club. With a little luck, the equipment will be up by next spring, Quenzar said.

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The Kiwanis Club of Mitchell has organized many civic improvement projects over its century of existence, such as Arbor Day tree planting at Woodlot Park. Pictured are club past presidents Heath Driscoll, Rube Adams and Terry Johnson. (Submitted Photo)

Any money brought in from the fundraisers will continue to go toward the club’s many programs, events, scholarships and civic projects for as long as there are members to fulfill the goals of the club, she said.

And that will hopefully lead them well into another century of public service, something Quenzar encourages those who may be interested in joining Kiwanis Club to consider being a part of.

“I think the most important thing is the connection you develop with other people in the community and the good things being done,” Quenzar said. “I just believe in the mission of the club, and that mission is ever-changing. Service clubs really do a lot in a town.”

For more information on the projects of the Kiwanis Club of Mitchell or becoming a member, visit the group Facebook page or call 605-770-8644.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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