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A short history of service clubs in Sarnia

Published on

Phil Egan

The people of this city are known for their generosity, and that was a trait that coalesced at the Sarnia Luncheon Club.

Dating from 1891, it began as a convivial gathering of Sarnia businessmen, and by 1923 had begun to develop service goals, working with children, handicapped and otherwise, to improve their wellbeing.

But by 1930 the Luncheon Club was gone – its membership drained off by new service clubs that formed in Sarnia.

Kee-wanis – the original name proposed for the Kiwanis organization – is an indigenous word loosely translated as “to make oneself known.” Clubs in London and Port Huron were influential in helping Sarnia form its first Kiwanis Club, which met at the Vendome Hotel on the night of Friday, Jan. 13, 1928.

It was the city’s very first service club. W.J. Constable, who owned the first airplane in the city, was elected president. Kiwanis grew from its formation in Detroit in 1914. The Sarnia Kiwanis, still represented in town by Seaway Kiwanis and the Golden K Kiwanis, adopted early the goal of assisting underprivileged children – a direct legacy of the Sarnia Luncheon Club.

Paul Harris and three business colleagues began Rotary in 1905 in Chicago as a place where professionals and business leaders of diverse backgrounds could share ideas. Among the very earliest of service clubs, Rotary took its name from the members’ practise of rotating meetings at each other’s offices.

Like Kiwanis, Sarnia’s first Rotary Club arrived in 1928, adopting the club motto of “Service Above Self.” It chose N.L. LeSeuer as its first president. Today, Sarnia Rotary Club, The Rotary Club of Sarnia Bluewaterland, and Rotary After Hours – the city’s three clubs – continue Rotary’s goals of service and promoting ethical business standards.

The International Lions Clubs organization was only eight years old and looking for a challenge when it made a fateful decision in 1925. That was the year that it invited the blind spokesperson Helen Keller to speak to its convention in Sandusky, Ohio. Thousands in the packed convention hall were enthralled by Keller’s impassioned challenge for the Lions to become “Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness.“

The Lions accepted Keller’s challenge, and remain impassioned supporters to this day. Twenty-five members began Sarnia’s first club in 1932. Today, three area Lions clubs carry on their charitable programs supporting the blind and visually impaired.

Sarnia’s long tradition of service created additional organizations in Sarnia, but Kiwanis, Rotary and the Lions were the first. They offered citizens a way to give back to their city, and continue that proud tradition to this day.


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