Battle of the service clubs:
Rotary and Kiwanis focus on making an impact

Now you can throw in boxing gloves.

Claremont has long been cherished for its small-town feel within a big-town environment, and what better way to describe the character of the community than through one of its most distinct characteristics: its service. Though Claremont has a vast array of service organizations, 2 dominate as the city’s longest-standing: Claremont Kiwanis and The Rotary Club of Claremont.  

In the spirit of friendly neighborhood competition, we asked club members from both standout organizations to state why their club reigns supreme, and they didn’t hesitate at the chance.

“We beat them at golf at the Chamber golf tournament,” yelled out one Rotarian to a chorus of laughs.

The Kiwanis take the ribbing in stride.

“Our history speaks for itself,” rebuts 37-year Kiwanian Bob Omahundro.

Mr. Omahundro may indeed have a point. Kiwanis does take the cake as the longest standing service group in Claremont, if only by a fraction of a hair. The 1920s was a highlight decade for service in town, giving birth to Kiwanis in 1924 and the Claremont Rotary a mere 5 years later, according to Judy Wright’s Claremont:?A Pictorial History.


All efforts focus on helping others

But history aside, it’s what has been done in those years that counts, and both groups have toiled behind griddles and carted around bicycles to up the stakes of service. Rotarians insist that, in this regard, they rule the roost.

“The Kiwanis might do the work—the Pancake Breakfast, Concerts in the Park—but we own this city,” Rotarian President Jim Lehman jested.

“We are the real Taste of Claremont,” added Suzanne Christian, alluding to the group’s major annual fundraiser.

Kiwanian Jerry Feingold disagrees. “Just look at our shirts,” he says, pointing to a fine Hawaiian get-up, the club’s token uniform for its annual Route 66 fundraiser.

“We have gambling and The Ravelers [a favorite local rock’n’roll band],” fellow Kiwanian Ed Leavell also made note.

What is another point of disagreement for the groups? The meals. Each group of servicemen and women say their members are treated to feasts befitting kings and queens at their weekly club meetings, but only one surmounts to the top. Why are Rotarians better?

“The silverware,” joked Paul Steffen amid a meal served at the Claremont DoubleTree Hotel. Rotarians did offer a delectable cold-cut buffet…not to mention a delicious dessert bar. Another slice of pecan pie, please.

But then Kiwanis have a meal that warms the heart. Held at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, the meeting features home-cooked meals prepared by staff at St. Ambrose, a staple for the club for years. The fajitas were just right, ladies.

Both groups fess up to having common links when it comes to their musicality, like the same Welcome Song for their meetings. But only one group gets it right, says Rotarian Butch Henderson, noting that the Claremont Kiwanis does not incorporate the song into their weekly meeting.

“They don’t sing it because they can’t sing it,” he ribbed. 

It must be noted that the Rotarians are extraordinarily musical, their tenor section particularly booming. In all fairness, though, they had this reporter at the clinking of their forks against their glasses in the Welcome Song.

But the Kiwanis stand by their opening anthem.

“‘R-O-T-A-R-Y, that spells Rotary,’” recited Kiwanis Club President KM Williamson. “Yeah…I think we have a better song.”

There is one sure area in which both groups are equally footed: they both have a knack for a little humor. Each group appoints a “finemaster” every week to poke fun at members, charging fines for each joke dished out. “Nobody is safe,” admitted Kiwanian Judith Jones. A member’s name being in the paper, forgetting to attend an event or “being married to a Kiwanian” are all offenses worthy of a fine.

“$1 for every Rotarian who isn’t here at our meeting,” Ms. Williamson contributed.

And they aren’t afraid to poke fun at their own members with links to the other group. Husband and wife duo Roberto and Judy Flores, owners of Claremont’s Casa De Salsa Mexican restaurant, are just one of several couples dubbed “Rowanians,” those endlessly teased, in the name of good humor, for being involved with both organizations. The Flores’ have embraced their nickname.

“We work together all day. It’s the only day I get to eat lunch alone!” Ms. Flores said. She joined the Rotary Club following her husband’s membership in Kiwanis.

Her husband comments that their dual involvement allows him to get the best of both worlds.

“But she’s the one who has to wake up early and do the pancakes,” Mr. Flores laughed.

Her spouse can say all he wants, Ms. Flores asserts, because she has the last laugh. Their daughter is a member of the CHS service group Interact, a junior affiliate of the Rotary Club.

“Mom won,” Ms. Flores said with a smile. 

Though late Claremont realtor Art Steffen is responsible for the famous Kiwanis pancake recipe, his son traded his Kiwanian roots for a spot in the Rotary.

“It’s tough enough in this town being the son of Art Steffen!” he said, noting that the switch-up allowed him to meet a different group of people…some of whom don’t perpetually view him as a kid.

CUSD school board member Sam Mowbray is guilty of a similar club swap.

“You will note Kiwanians advance to Rotary, but a Rotarian never leaves for Kiwanis,” joked Mr. Mowbray, who left Kiwanis for Rotary nearly 3 years ago.

Despite the taunts and teases, both groups recognize joint philanthropic efforts, whether it’s Rotary’s continuing pledge to eradicate polio or Kiwanis’ dedication to children across the globe.

“It’s all in fun. Both groups really enjoy working together to make a difference,” Ms. Flores said.

But that doesn’t mean an end to the playful banter.

“You will enjoy the Rotarian meal the best,” Ms. Flores assured. “We have linens and lots of fruit…”

Her husband just sat back and smiled: “See, money talks.”

—Beth Hartnett


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