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The birth of Kiwanis

Jack Brockley | Jan 15, 2020

One month apart, Joseph Prance signed BOB and Kiwanis membership applications.

First came enthusiasm. Tailor Joe Prance became the first Detroit, Michigan, businessman to say yes to an idea conceived by professional organizer Allen S. Browne. Within just a few short weeks, more than 30 others expressed interest in Browne’s venture. 

Then came concerns. There was casual talk of adopting a philanthropic purpose, rather than the original aim of boosting business. And few members were happy with the club’s name: Benevolent Order of Brothers: BOB. 

The story about how BOB became Kiwanis has often been told, but days immediately following the rechristening – shortly after New Year’s Day 1915 – were full of drama too. 

“The next few days were busy ones for Organizer Browne, Attorney George W. Eyster and acting Secretary Warren Ottie Robertson,” wrote O. Sam Cummings, the organization’s first employed secretary. 

Browne prevailed upon a printer to rush an order for new membership “Kiwanis” application cards. Joe Prance was officially identified as the first authentic Kiwanis member — on January 7, 1915. 

Eyster perhaps was given the most important task: preparing legal papers to request a club charter under the Public Acts Laws of the State of Michigan. By January 11, he had completed his assignment, collected the required signatures and delivered the package to Michigan’s secretary of state, Coleman C. Vaughan. 

Then, they waited. 

“Then came the big day,” wrote Cummings. “(It was) a day, incidentally, that still has red-letter connotation among the Kiwanis clubs of the United States and Canada. George Eyster received from (the State of Michigan) the formal charter for the first Kiwanis club under the day of January 21, 1915.” 

For the past 105 years, that date – January 21, 1915 – has been recognized as the birthday date of Kiwanis International. 

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