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Fame in the family

Jack Brockley | May 22, 2019

Clarence Nash and Donald Duck

Fame, as Kiwanis-family members have demonstrated, can be achieved by ruling nations or by popping corn, by exploring mountaintops and by blasting into outer space. One Kiwanian is credited with inventions that changed the world, while another is best known for putting words in a duck’s mouth. 

Our Kiwanis-family rosters have — and have had — quite a few members who earned some level of fame. Some are household names, while others are more obscure.  Here are just a few of them. 

Amasa Coleman Lee 

That name may not be readily recognizable, but when it’s associated with the man’s daughter, you may begin to see the connection. U.S. author Harper Lee reportedly used her father — Amasa Lee — as inspiration for the character Atticus Finch in her Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

In the biography “Atticus Finch,” writer Joseph Crespino identifies A.C. Lee as a member of the Kiwanis Club of Monroeville, Georgia. The club, Crespino writes, stood up against the Ku Klux Klan, which demanded that the community ban an African American high school band from marching in the annual Christmas parade. Lee reportedly told the Kiwanis club president, A.B. Blass Jr., “You did right, son.” 

Sasheer Zamata 

 Zamata once dressed as Disney’s Pluto, but that was a job to help pay her way through school. Real fame came to the former Pike High School (Indianapolis, Indiana) Key Club member when she joined the Saturday Night Live cast in 2014. She’s known for impersonations of Rihanna, Beyonce, Diana Ross and Michelle Obama to name a few. 

An NAACP ambassador, she told Orlando Sentinel writer Trevor Fraser in a 2015 interview that her community involvement was influenced by her Key Club membership. “I have time and effort and energy that I can give to other people and organizations, so I should,” Zamata said.  

Min Wu 

Min Wu The star of “Uncle Niao-Lai and Aunty Thirteen,” — one of Taiwan’s most popular TV series —Min played the role of an illiterate widow who used traditional family values to raise her only child. 

The concern for family was apparent in her personal life too, influencing her decision to join the Kiwanis Club of Taichung Nu and, later, helping to open the Home, Taichung Kiwanis Club, for which she served as charter president. During the mid-2000s, she dressed in her popular “Grandma” character as ambassador for the Kiwanis Taiwan District Children’s Foundation’s campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence prevention. 

“Many performers would like an opportunity to contribute to society, and I thank Kiwanis for giving me this opportunity,” she said in a Kiwanis magazine interview. 

Sir Edmund Hillary 

On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were on top of the world as the first mountaineers confirmed to reach the highest summit of them all: Mount Everest. 

Hillary later joined the Kiwanis Club of Auckland, New Zealand, and served as the Kiwanis New Zealand-South Pacific District’s ambassador for the Worldwide Service Project to virtually eliminate iodine deficiency disorders. 

“Though new to Kiwanis, he is no stranger to service,” reported the March 1970 issue of Kiwanis magazine. “Following his conquest of Everest, Sir Edmund, in gratitude to the Sherpa guides who had helped make the climb possible, set about helping the leaders of the village of Khumjung build a school.”

In one of his popular U.S. TV advertisements, Orville Redenbacher extols the virtues of his gourmet popping corn to a ticket-writing police officer.

Orville Redenbacher 

During the 1980s, those horn-rimmed glasses and enormous bowties were well known across the United States as Redenbacher promoted his gourmet popping corn on TV. The advertisements concluded with his famous sign-off: “You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.” At one time, his company sold enough unpopped corn kernels to capture one-third of the United States market. 

A successful Kiwanis club builder and lieutenant governor, Redenbacher frequently attended Kiwanis International conventions, representing his Kiwanis Club of Valparaiso, Indiana. 

Clarence Nash  

Clarence Nash and Donald DuckWalt Disney’s Silly Symphonies released “The Wise Little Hen” in 1934, and the world was introduced to a blustery mallard wearing a sailor’s cap and jacket. The voice behind the squawking and bellowing Donald Duck was Clarence Nash. 

Only a few years before landing a job with Disney to perform “odd imitation jobs,” Nash was an itinerant entertainer. This was during the Great Depression, and he was looking for jobs at clubs, dinners, parties or anywhere that would pay enough cash for his next meal. At a Kiwanis dinner in San Francisco, he met a visitor, Jay Dutter, from a Los Angeles Kiwanis club, who complimented his performance. Presenting his card, Dutter said, “If you’re ever down south, look me up.” 

On May 12, 1930, Nash and his wife arrived in LA with only 30 cents in their pockets. He eventually found his way to Dutter’s office at the California Dairy Council, where he went to work in the advertising department as “Whistling Clarence, the Adohr Birdman.” The job gave him enough encouragement to try performing on radio, where he was discovered by Walt Disney. 

In the mid-1950s, Nash purchased a pet and seed store and joined the Kiwanis Club of Montrose-La Crescenta, California. A note on his membership card at the Kiwanis International Office listed “pet shop” as his classification, with the postscript “also the voice of Donald Duck.” 

King Edward VIII 

Upon the ascension of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David to Great Britain’s throne in January 1936, The Kiwanis Magazine asked Past Kiwanis International Vice President J.W.C. Taylor of Montreal, Quebec, for details on how the new king had been invited to join his club during a visit to Canada when he was Prince Albert. 

“When we arrived at his suite,” Taylor reported, “he was dancing to the music of a gramophone, but he abandoned his recreation immediately we were announced. He told us that he had discussed the question with Sir Godfrey Thomas, his secretary, and would be pleased to become an honorary member of our club.” 

Following his abdication on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII was declared the Duke of Windsor. 

Thomas Edison, Connie Mack and Philadelphia A’s R.Q. Richards with Florida Kiwanians. Photo courtesy of Edison & Ford Winter Estates.

Thomas Edison 

Described by The Economist magazine as “America’s greatest inventor,” Edison is credited for creating a phonograph, a motion picture camera and, of course, the light bulb — to be precise: the first long-lasting, practical bulb. 

But the “genius of Menlo Park” had other interests, such as baseball and Kiwanis. As an honorary member, he and other Fort Myers Kiwanians helped lure professional baseball teams to train in their sunny, warm Florida community. 

During a lull in spring workouts, the 80-year-old Edison stepped up to the plate against superstar Ty Cobb and knocked the Hall of Famer into the dirt. 

Masaji Hiramatsu 

In North America, it’s been called a two-seam fastball, reverse slider, screwball and circle change, but in Japan, it’s considered a pitch unlike any other. And according to baseball-reference.com, Hiramatsu is considered Nippon Pro Baseball’s all-time master of the shuuto. Known to make pretzels out of hitters, the pitch breaks down and in on right-handed batters, jamming their swings and shattering a number of their bats. 

The right-handed Hiramatsu pitched for Taiyo Whales and Yokohama Taiyo Whales from 1967 to 1984. Eight times, he was selected as an all-star, and his “razor shuuto” was one of the reasons he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Hiramatsu was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Yokohama, Japan.


Almost obscured by his flight suit, Lieutenant Commander John W. Young trains for a possible flight to the moon in 1963. John Watts Young  

Before he was a U.S. naval officer, before he was a test pilot and astronaut and before he walked on the moon, Lt. Commander Young was a charter member of the Circle K Club of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. 

He kept busy at NASA, logging more than 15,000 hours of training, being the first person to fly solo around the moon, driving the lunar roving vehicle on its surface and moonwalking twice.

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