A letter from Gerda

Mar 22, 2013

Presenting the Kiwanis club's banner

The Retrospective section of the March 2013 Kiwanis magazine looked back at the chartering of Europe’s first Kiwanis club—Wien, Austria—in 1963, as observed by a University of Vienna student who served as an interpreter at the historic event. Here is her report of that celebration in a letter to Kiwanis friends in San Benito, Texas.

From “The Current Issue,” The Kiwanis Magazine, Summer 1963
By Richard E. Gosswiller, executive editor

Whoever said the world is getting smaller said right. Last spring, when Gerald F. Nichols, immediate past president of the San Benito, Texas, club learned that the first Kiwanis club in Europe would be chartered a Vienna, he wrote giving the good news to Miss Gerda Schmidt, the club’s AFS exchange student from Vienna in 1960–61, now a sophomore at the University of Vienna. In the letter he asked Miss Schmidt to order souvenir postcards for his club members from the Vienna club, which is selling them as a fund-raising project. Miss Schmidt, a 1961 graduate of the San Benito High School and, as her letter indicates, a loyal if expatriate Texas, replied as follows:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Nichols:

You are probably very anxious to hear about everything that happened in connection with Kiwanis. I am going to give you a detailed report now.

I received your kind letter, including the list of addresses of San Benito Kiwanis members, the two checks, and the meeting place and date of the Vienna Kiwanis Club, which was Wednesday, April 24. On the following Monday, April 29, mother and I went to the restaurant “Marhold” around eight o’clock in the evening. This is a very nice, old fashioned place in the centre of Vienna. Mother asked one of the waiters about the Kiwanis Club and we were shown up to the first floor, where about thirty men were assembled in a separate room. When we entered and introduced ourselves, we found out that they had already been informed of our coming. You really did organize this so very well! We shook hands with every one of them (this is an European custom) and sat down at a long table. The president got up and welcomed us in a short speech, and I told them about my scholarship to America and your letter and interest in the Vienna Kiwanis Club. Then I presented the orders for the postcards and the check to the president, and it all went around and every member had a good look at it. I just loved to do all that! Opposite me sat an American Kiwanian from Indiana (he was the only American this Monday night that visited them) who could not understand German at all. I just had a wonderful time talking to him. He found it so amusing to hear me talk about the cowboys, and he had been to some of the larger cities of Texas, too. So you can imagine how memories were made living again.

The program of the evening was given by the vice president of the club. He gave a report about the Kiwanis Club in Basel, Switzerland, which had been formed several weeks ago. After that Mother and I left. At the last minute, the secretary of the club came up and asked me to be his interpreter for the big charter night reception that was going to be given the following Saturday.

As I read in the program you sent me, about 150 American people were expected, and did arrive the following Thursday. They went sight-seeing in Vienna and did a lot of other things, but I did not join them until Saturday night, when this big formal reception was given at a very exclusive little place in Vienna. I have been to this place on several occasions (ballroom dances), and I think it was a beautiful place for this purpose.

Dr. Gemperle, the secretary, took me to this place in his Volkswagen at seven o’clock in the evening. And this certainly was a wonderful evening—all the men wore tail coats, and the ladies very fancy dresses. I wore white shoes, white gloves and purse, and a pink-reddish dress (cocktail dress) and a white overcoat. Altogether, I imagine there were 150 American couples and 50 Austrian couples. A very exclusive dinner was served for all those people.

I had a chance to speak to many Americans, and they helped me to find the only couple from Texas!!! They came from Houston! So we talked about “the good old valley.” And anybody who did not agree on Texas being the most wonderful state was just talked down. Oh, it was so exciting and everyone was so kind! In between all this I had my interpreter’s duties, of course, for the secretary and several others, too.

Many speeches were made and a lot of gifts were presented to our Club, which was declared “chartered” by the Kiwanis International president and the president of the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland, Ohio, our sponsor.

Mr. and Mrs. Nichols, thank you for all your kind interest. I had a wonderful time doing all this and I hope my report here will give you an idea about it all. PLEASE tell the members of your Kiwanis Club how much I enjoyed doing this for them, and especially thank you for the check which was enclosed for me.

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