It was 1921 when the Great War to End All Wars and the Spanish Flu epidemic were still fresh in the minds of the people of Mount Airy, but they were ready to make history on the local front. .
In June 1921, prominent citizens of this community gathered downtown in the dining hall of the Blue Ridge Hotel to form a local chapter of Kiwanis International, a service organization founded six years earlier in Detroit.
Those who came together for this case a century ago could be described as community actors and agitators, including Dr Moir S. Martin, a prominent local surgeon who was chosen as the youngster’s first president. Mount Airy Kiwanis Club.
A report from the session pointed out that with the mandatory organizational details taken care of, the club now “expects to get on with real business” – which it did in another well-attended meeting. late June 1921.
Members were asked to write their ideas on what Mount Airy needed on slips of paper, which were placed in a box near the front door. Of these suggestions – reported in the June 23, 1921 issue of The Mount Airy News – some are outdated by modern standards, but other relevant ideas are still bearing fruit today:
• A member who had only lived in Mount Airy for a short time saw a public library as a major need, saying he had resided in other places with libraries. And not having access here seemed to him “a delicate situation which is a handicap for a city which hopes to progress”.
• Several members felt the club should lobby for manufacturing companies in Mount Airy, including a knitting factory.
• It was also in this sense that “an ice factory of sufficient capacity to meet the needs of this section” was suggested, a necessity in the days when not everyone had refrigerators.
• The priority for two local doctors was the establishment of a “more systematic form” of local refuse collection.
• A number of residents saw the need for better streets and an up-to-date sewage system.
• A local businessman complained about jitneys (buses or other vehicles carrying paying passengers), parking in front of downtown stores, saying the practice should be regulated to prevent obstruction of trade for businesses. key moments. Such a situation continues today with the presence of delivery trucks.
• In addition to the quality of life, the subject of death was on the minds of these early Kiwanians, especially the method of taking better care of “our graveyard” (Oakdale).
“Some thought the city should take control of it and ensure it becomes a more attractive place to honor all who live here,” the newspaper said. The municipal government later acquired Oakdale Cemetery on North Main Street.
A public library and better utility and garbage systems would also emerge.
Still active today
The Mount Airy Kiwanis Club hosted a charter party on October 14, 1921 at the Blue Ridge Hotel, with 48 members certified as its original members.
The modern version of the group has seen its membership decline.
“We were up to sixteen at a time, but we fell because of this COVID,” said Bettsee McPhail, who served as president of the Kiwanis Club for three years. Other factors have included deaths, time changes and attrition, with McPhail adding on Wednesday that he now has around 10 members.
Yet at the age of 100 this year, the local Kiwanis spirit remains strong.
McPhail pointed out that the club has played a role in public health through projects such as promoting organ donation by distributing armbands to local students.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” she said, who has also been hampered by the coronavirus due to scheduled visits to Surry County high schools as part of the canceled “Donate Life” program.
The Mount Airy Kiwanis Club is also sponsoring blood drives, including one on July 22 at the American Red Cross offices on Westlake Drive.
Along with health-related initiatives, McPhail said the club is considering programs focused on helping children, in line with the main focus of Kiwanis International, which now has a presence in more than 80 countries and geographies.
It is described as a global organization of volunteers “dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time” through their various efforts.
“Every community has different needs, and Kiwanis enables its members to seek out creative ways to meet the needs of children, such as fighting hunger, improving literacy and providing counseling,” adds the Kiwanis International website.
The global organization addresses large-scale challenges such as the fight against disease and poverty.
“I think our main project is to work with the kids,” McPhail plans ahead for local Kiwanians to get involved with middle school kids by helping them read and serving as mentors for young people in need of attention. particular.
She mentioned that her group also sponsors the Aktion Club at Surry Community College, the only service club for adults with disabilities.
The Kiwanis Club meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Gondola Italian Restaurant on West Lebanon Street, which includes dinner and a business session. New members are welcome, according to McPhail, who can be reached at 336-719-6853 for more details.
At its last meeting, the club was visited by a state Kiwanis official, Joanne LeDonne de Clemmons, who is lieutenant governor of District 5, one of its 26 districts in the Carolinas.
LeDonne urged local members to maintain their commitment and add to Kiwanis’ rich history in Mount Airy.
“She really inspired us,” McPhail said.