The O’Fallon Kiwanis Club may be celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, but a half century in business hasn’t changed the organization much. Its first project in 1961 was to help a family who had been burned out of its Cottleville home.
And assisting the community is still the central mission of the group.
“It’s generally concentrated on trying to help children of the world,” said Tom Shea, president-elect of the organization. “We’re just helping the children of our community the best way we can.”
Much of that work is done through the estimated $12,000 the group raises each year, about $4,000 to $5,000 of which is distributed in scholarships to area high school students based on academics.
“That’s the biggest amount that goes out,” Shea said. “Everything else goes out in smaller amounts.”
But the smaller amounts make a difference as well. Shea, who will assume leadership of the club in October, said that Kiwanis partners, with as many as a dozen different organizations ranging from the Boone Center to Boys and Girls Club, will all create opportunities to assist children and others in need in the community. That can include items as varied as contributing to a local playground project, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, volunteering at the Saint Louis Crisis Nursery in Wentzville or doing Meals on Wheels deliveries for seniors.
This spring, the group partnered for a day of service with Therapeutic Horsemanship, an organization that helps those diagnosed with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities through equestrian-based therapy. Not long ago, the club also cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for members of the Disabled Athlete Sports Association.
“With hard times going on, things are a little tight, so our scholarships and time we can donate to organizations is a lot of the things that we can do for people,” he said. “We don’t ask our members to donate a lot of money to help support things.”
Fundraising may be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Pancake day is one example. The event features members serving hotcakes from 6:30 a.m. until six in the evening. There’s also a golf tournament in May and peanut day, a September event that allows members to give away small bags of peanuts while seeking donations. That effort includes the participation of the Key Club, which was started by Kiwanis in high schools. A corresponding organization, the Builders Club exists for middle-school students.
Key clubs often donate time to causes in addition to doing some of their own fundraising. It all teaches the same values of good citizenship and service to others that has made Kiwanis famous.
“We enjoy doing it because it does help out in the community,” Shea said. “We have a good comradeship in our organization and we have a good time at our meetings. It’s just something you get a good feeling from.”
Mike Ballmann, one of about 40 members of the club, agrees.
“I think the thing I enjoy so much about them is that there is really no pretense,” said the 56-year-old O’Fallon firefighter. “We’ve got guys that are retired folks from the community. We’ve got guys who are bankers and insurance guys, investment people. When you are at a Kiwanis meeting, you are just a Kiwanian.”
Ballmann said that his favorite activity is pancake day.
“I’ve been promoted to the griddle, so I get to flip pancakes,” he chuckled. “Not everyone gets to do that.”
For Don Schappe, 71, it allows for the renewal of old connections. The retired hardware store owner likes being able to meet with so many of the same people he used to interact with regularly.
“Being no longer in business in O’Fallon, there were people that I did business with for years and I see them again,” said the St. Charles resident. “They come to the pancake breakfast and I get to communicate with these people that I don’t see on a day-to-day basis anymore.”
Though peanut day holds some appeal as well.
“It’s enjoyable, especially seeing the kids,” he said. “Their eyes really pop when you give them a bag of peanuts.”
“I like to help people out and this gives me an opportunity to do that,” Schappe said.