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Friday, November 9, 2018

Saying thank you and goodbye to the Windham Kiwanis: 1930 – 2018

By Walter Lunt

The Kiwanis Club of Windham, a highly regarded youth service organization has officially ended 88 years of local charitable and philanthropic work.

Left behind is a legacy of youth development and community improvement that included projects ranging from student scholarships and Key Club to the ambitious Windham High School home building program.

“I’m so, so sorry to think that it’s gone.” said long-time Kiwanian and former vice-president Glenn Libby. “It was a great and worthy organization that did a lot of good things; (I have) wonderful memories of what we did for young people in town.”
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In the sixties when Libby was heavily involved in Kiwanis, the club numbered over 30 members.
“(Despite recruitment efforts) we were down to 3 members.” said Jerry Black, “and we just couldn’t keep going.” Black, who joined Kiwanis in 1962, was the longest serving member, having assumed numerous roles over the years including president, treasurer, committee chairs and district Lieutenant Governor.

Past president Phillip Moody echoes Black’s assessment that dwindling membership would cripple the capability of Kiwanis’ effort to carry out its mission of support to local youth. He cited the club’s sponsorship of Presidential Classroom, Boys and Girls State and local scouting organizations as points of pride for Windham Kiwanis Club.

From its inception in Windham in 1930 and into the 1950s, Windham Kiwanis Club attracted business leaders, teachers and residents who worked tirelessly raising money to fund various youth and community projects. Among the most memorable were the Kiwanis Auction, an annual amateur golf classic and creative booths at Windham Old Home Day. Those projects helped to support scholarships for high school seniors and contributed to the establishment of a Windham High School Key Club.

In 1960, Windham Kiwanis embarked on its most unique and ambitious undertaking to date. It established the Windham Kiwanis Building Trades Corp. Under the supervision of Windham High School faculty member Fred Kelley and as part of the formal school curriculum, students enrolled in building trades courses applied classroom theory by actually building houses. The Windham Kiwanis Club financed the project by furnishing a house lot and by obtaining credit from local merchants, including L.C. Andrew (lumber), Don Rich Oil Co., Maurice Rogers (excavation), Northeast Foundations, Sherwin Williams (paint) and others. On sale of the house, creditors were paid, and the profits used to buy additional tools and machinery for the high school and to increase the size and number of scholarships. The project attracted the attention of Kiwanis International and became a model for other Kiwanis Clubs in Maine.

Kiwanian Jerry Black with the official Kiwanis bell and gavel that will no longer open and close meetings
In all, the corporation built 10 homes between 1961 and 1971 in what became the Brookhaven development in North Windham.

Windham resident Walter Lamb participated in the first two years of the program. “It was a great experience and a hell of an idea,” he recalled. “Old Fred was a no-nonsense guy and he’d tell you, ‘this is a screwdriver for driving screws, not a chisel.’ We used hand saws and hammers. No power tools. We built the forms for the concrete, framed up the house, closed it in, put in the floors, hung the doors and installed the windows. I remember Fred and a couple of masons built a chimney and we had a wood stove for winter work. But it was still cold.”

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Asked about transportation to the work site every day, Lamb went on, “We had an old yellow Chevy van. We’d all pile in and go – it was the days before seat belts.” Regarding mischief and practical jokes, Lamb said the student crews were never destructive but still managed to have some fun. “I remember we’d stop at Herb Thomes store at Foster’s Corner (the rotary) and pick up soda and snacks. One time we were shingling the roof and I laid down with my back to the roof to have my snack. My buddies were hammering away next to me. When I went to get up, I discovered they’d nailed the shoulders of my coveralls to the roof.”

“A lot of kids took that program and learned a lot. One of my classmates became a builder and I built my own house.”

Glenn Libby said he joined Kiwanis (“It was an honor to be recommended”) because of the home-building project.

“That hands-on program meant a lot to me. It made sense. If those kids were going to do anything productive, they’d do it with their hands.”

Lamb agreed. “We weren’t academics. If it weren’t for that program, (many of the kids) wouldn’t have stayed in school.”

And, interestingly, the motto of Kiwanis International is “We build.”
The demise of the home building project came, according to Libby, when Fred Kelley was unable to carry it on, and when the formal vocational education programs expanded, particularly the program in Westbrook.

zachary.j.conley@mwarep.orgIn more recent times, Windham Kiwanis has continued vigorous fund-raising projects, including the sale of Christmas trees in North Windham. It has sponsored youth horse shows, spurred support for the Windham Food Pantry and conducted bicycle helmet fitting and child safety seat inspections.

Disbanding meant the resources of the club had to be dispersed. Jerry Black said some materials will be given to neighboring Kiwanis organizations. And after bills are paid, all money will go to the Kiwanis Scholarship Fund, which will continue to award scholarships to deserving seniors. He said the high school Key Club will also continue under the supervision of Standish Kiwanis.    

Libby concluded that the motivation behind Windham Kiwanis Club was this: “What you’re doing for young people you’re doing for your community.”  

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