Claremont Kiwanians know about community service

The Kiwanis Club of Claremont recently hit a major milestone. The club celebrated its 90th year of undertaking projects that enhance the lives of local children and families.

The activities of the service club, which aims to change the world “one community and one child at a time,” will be particularly visible in the coming weeks as Claremont prepares for its Fourth of July Celebration and its annual Monday Night Concerts in the Park series.

On Friday, July 4, a slew of Kiwanians will gather at Memorial Park from 7 to 10 a.m. to serve up their perennially popular pancake breakfast.

Longtime Kiwanian Paul Wheeler is continuing a family legacy with his membership. His great-grandfather was a member of Claremont’s Kiwanis Club. His grandfather was president of the group at one time and so was his father. Mr. Wheeler also served as president in the 1980s.

When you’ve been in an association long enough, you learn some of its secrets. The trick to the light fluffy pancakes the club turns out by the hundreds on July 4 is adding half-beer and half-water to the mix, Mr. Wheeler shared.

If he wasn’t supposed to expose that recipe, he will be duly punished at the next Kiwanis meeting. At the club’s gatherings, held at noon on Thursdays at St. Ambrose Church, members are gently ribbed and fined for any number of infractions, ranging from buying a new car to appearing in the newspaper.

The lighthearted nature of the fines, the payment of which goes straight towards the Kiwanis Club’s philanthropic programs, is evident in an account of a recent meeting written up in the Claremont Kiwanis bulletin: “Jim Covey fined Carl Gaiser because he stood by the front door and met everybody with, “Hi, I’m the Secret Greeter…Andre Ellis was fined for wearing a spiffy hat, having no name badge, and for being late. His defense—‘The train stopped me!’—was  met with, ‘Tell it to the jury.’”

After the last drop of syrup from the Independence Day pancake breakfast has been mopped up, Kiwanis Club members will reconvene at Pomona College and set up a snack bar so guests can enjoy some grub during the evening fireworks show. If you think volunteers find it painful to work on a holiday, think again.

“It’s very festive and everyone is just in such a good mood. It’s fun,” Kiwanian Penny Myrdal said.

Three days later, the Kiwanis Club will be back in full force, setting up a snack bar at the inaugural Monday Night Concert in the Park. While the classic rock group The Ravelers make the Memorial Park bandshell reverberate, some 20 volunteers will sell burgers, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, drinks and frozen yogurt donated by 21 Choices.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s very rewarding,” Kiwanis President Ed Leavell said.

The local Kiwanians fund the concert series, which has been known to draw as many as 5,000 people. The club also paid for the construction of the bandshell, which was built with the help of local high school students.

The performances, where you’re sure to spot someone you know, are a win-win, according to Mr. Wheeler.

“The bands love it because there are 3,000 or 4,000 screaming people, and it bolsters the fabric of the community,” he said. “It’s what makes Claremont Claremont.”

After the concerts conclude with the classic rock group The Answer on September 1, it will be time for another signature fundraiser. Tickets are already on sale through for the annual Kiwanis Club of Claremont Route 66 Party.

The event, which costs $40 in advance and $45 at the door, is set for September 19 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Claremont. Beginning at 6 p.m., there will be dinner, dancing, live music by the Ravelers, casino games, a silent auction and an opportunity drawing. For more information, visit

A few months later, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Kiwanians will set up a store along the Foothill corridor, somewhere between Towne Avenue and Indian Hill, where they sell See’s candies.

Proceeds from the fundraisers will fund next year’s concerts and an array of programs intended to give a boost to local kids.

This year, the Kiwanis club presented graduates from Claremont and San Antonio high schools with the Stan Larson Scholarship. This year’s CHS recipients included Karen Chen, who is heading for Tulane University, Sarah Jonny, who has been accepted at UC Riverside and Jynelle Harrison Kelly, who will attend Citrus College. San Antonio High School had two scholarship recipients: Nautika Clemons, who plans to attend the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Isabella Reyes, who is going to Citrus.

It is the gift that keeps on giving. Each recipient will get a $750 check for each of the next four years.

Members of the Kiwanis Club of Claremont also participate in the Read Me program. Not only do they read a book aloud to preschoolers at local elementary schools. They bring enough copies so that each child can take the book home. Kids in the CUSD come from a wide array of socio-economic backgrounds. For some young learners, books they get through the Read Me program constitute the bulk of their personal library.

“It’s a really nice program that we do,” Mr. Leavell said.

Jerry Feingold, who has been a member of the Kiwanis Club of Claremont for seven years, agreed.

“Over the last nine years, we have donated over 95,000 books to the reading program,” he said. “We figure we’ve read to more than 70,000 children.”

Kiwanians also help out with Habitat for Humanity, fund the monthly senior food bank at the Joslyn Senior Center and buy backpacks to hold shoes, socks and school supplies for Shoes That Fit’s yearly back-to-school campaign. The Kiwanis Club of Claremont also contributes money to the city’s Best Bet program, which provides mini-grants to CUSD teachers with ideas for innovative school programs.

Any way you look at it, that’s a whole lot of good.

Kiwanis meetings, which typically draw between 40 to 50 attendees, include lunch tastefully prepared by local caterers Gayle Jensen and Kim McCurdy. At each gathering, someone gives a 20-minute talk. At the last meeting, Chris Varma, owner of Claremont’s Wild Birds Unlimited, expounded with enthusiasm on The Top Ten Most Common Backyard Birds.

Some news is shared and dollars are extracted from members who are deemed in need of punishment, for instance someone who went on vacation and failed to bring back souvenirs for the entire club. Ms. Myrdal has come to love the camaraderie.

“It’s the friendliness of everyone,” she marveled. “I’ve never experienced any tension. Everyone gets along.”

For Mr. Wheeler, being a part of a service group like Kiwanis is second nature.

“Claremonters have a high amount of volunteerism,” he said. “Giving back and helping out is what we do.”

—Sarah Torribio


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