THE KIWANIS CLUB OF DOWNTOWN SARASOTA
According to Jeff LaHurd
ON ARMISTICE DAY IN 1922, PRACTICALLY all of Sarasota turned out for the parade celebrating the fourth anniversary of the end of World War 1. Old Glory flew throughout the city, and colorful red, white and blue bunting hung from the second floor of City Hall, stretched on the columns of the Watrous Hotel and was draped from the porch railing of the Belle Haven Inn. Long before the parade began, people lined Main Street, ready to wave their flags and cheer on the marchers.
Among those marching on the star-spangled day were a group of sixty-eight men who were about to present themselves to the community as the newly formed Kiwanis Club. Many had distinguished themselves in different party of the country as doctors, lawyers, architects, bankers, developers and clergymen. They had been drawn to Sarasota for a number of different reasons, but had in common a fervent belief in the town’s future and the desire to push the community forward.
Smartly outfitted in white pants and shirts, dark ties and straw hats, they formed up directly behind the brass band in columns of three and marched proudly up lower Main Street toward the memorial flagpole at the center of Five Points.
In 1922, Sarasota gave little sign of the glamorous resort it was to become. Downtown had no fashionable hotels or upscale restaurants, Siesta Key was the only key linked by a bridge to the mainland and transportation to the area was mostly by boat and train. The roads were in deplorable conditions.
But all of that was about to change. Sarasota was only a moment away from the biggest real estate boom and building spree in its history, and the members of the Kiwanis Club—“We Build” was their motto---were to be among the driving forces and the guiding lights.
After the parade, the men gathered around the flagpole for an official photograph. The club’s early membership roster was a veritable who’s who of Sarasota’s history: John Hamilton Gillespie, A.B. Edwards, J.H. Lord, Owen Burns, Ralph Caples, Thomas Reed Martin to name a few. Their fashionable homes and developments laid the foundation for today’s modern city.
The members of the club were concerned about developing the spiritual health of the community as well as its economy, and they embarked on a variety of projects to this end.
They took a special interest in the youth of Sarasota. Frank Conrad, and active members since 1935, remembers the club’s affiliation with the Boy Scouts, then headquarter on Siesta Key, and he said that during the Depression, the Kiwanis Club set up a milk fund for school-age children, sent underprivileged children to camp and paid for the medical care of many needy youngsters.
Their major fund-raiser from the early 1920’s to 1942 was an annul concert at the Mira Mar Auditorium. The featured soloist was always F
Verman Kimbrough, a Kiwanian who was also president of the Ringling School of Art, mayor of Sarasota and superintendent of the county school system. His son Robert Kimbrough is still an active member of Kiwanis.
The Kiwanis used the funds to help the elderly as well as the young. One of the club’s biggest projects was building a haven for Sarasota’s homeless senior citizens. They started the project after several Kiwanians investigated a house that was supposed to be caring for the elderly and found eight to ten men crowded in a room, hungry and covered with sores. The club combed the city for donations and 1948 the Sarasota Welfare Home welcomed its first guests. Situated on ten acres of beautiful pines and oaks, the facility had two dormitories, a dining room and a kitchen. Today, renamed the Pines of Sarasota and modernized, it has grown to become one of the finest nursing homes in the state and recently added an adult congregate living facility and adult and child day care.
This is the club eighty ninth year of service to Sarasota. The original club now called the Downtown Kiwanis Club has sponsored eight additional Kiwanis clubs in Sarasota.