Kiwanis Club of Byron celebrates 30 years of service

BYRON – "To serve the children of the world."

This motto of Kiwanis International has served as the focus of the Kiwanis Club of Byron for the past 30 years. A group of civic-minded residents started meeting in 1988 with the aim of forming a service organization whose emphasis would be children and community improvement. The Kiwanis Club of Byron was chartered May 6, 1988. The Charter Night was held June 9, 1988 at Stronghold in Oregon with hopes for success expressed by Byron Mayor Dale Hillers, Kiwanis Lt. Governor Winston Murray and Illinois-Eastern Iowa District Governor Robert G. Wegner. The new charter was received by Byron Kiwanis President Joseph Warner.

The new organization met each Friday morning and consisted of 28 members. Warner served as the club’s first president, Dan Green as 1st vice president, Donald Sandell as 2nd vice president, Mary Paquet as secretary and Michael Lewis as treasurer.

"For the past 30 years the Kiwanis Club of Byron has been a vibrant and important part of the Byron community," said 30-year member Ronald Beem. "The club has attracted and continues to attract men and women who share the challenge of community and world improvement. Through its community improvement projects and support of the improvement of the lives of the people in the community over the past 30 years, the Kiwanis Club of Byron has made an important impact on the Byron community."

Kiwanis International is a worldwide service organization of men and women who share the challenge of community and world improvement. Since its founding in 1915, Kiwanis has grown to more than 8,500 clubs in 80 countries. There are about 600,000 active members in the Kiwanis family, representing nearly every culture on every continent, all seeking to improve people’s lives. Kiwanians are individuals who give their time to make their communities and the world better places in which to live and work. Kiwanis Clubs take on humanitarian and civic projects that public authorities are not prepared or able to perform.

A typical Kiwanis club plans hands-on projects focusing on the special needs of the community, such as helping the elderly, promoting literacy, or supporting youth activities. In addition to attending a club meeting, Kiwanis members volunteer their time for projects involving children or persons in need. Each year Kiwanis Clubs organize nearly 150,000 service projects, dedicate more than 18 million volunteer hours, and raise more than $107 million in projects that strengthen communities and serve children. Kiwanians help shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, mentor the disadvantaged and care for the sick. They develop youth as leaders, build playgrounds, raise funds for pediatric research and much more. They believe that helping a child helps the world. Kiwanis is once again joining forces with UNICEF to confront another threat to the world’s children.

Kiwanis International announced The Eliminate Project: Kiwanis eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus, which aims to save 129 million mothers and their future babies from the disease by the year 2020.

Byron Kiwanis Club members can be seen throughout the community giving peanuts, coaching various sports teams, flipping pancakes and pork chops, beautifying Second Street, making pancakes during Breakfast With Santa, providing popcorn at Miracle on Second Street, providing toys for Operation Santa Claus, picking up litter as part of Adopt-A-Highway, serving on church and community boards, and serving meals at the Rockford Rescue Mission among other activities. Byron Kiwanis has provided financial support for disaster relief in the United States and the world, American Cancer Society, Byron Education Foundation, ByronFest, Ogle County Hospice, Village of Progress, Operation Santa Claus, People Helping People, Rockford Rescue Mission, Spastic Paralysis Research, Twin Lakes Camp, and Spinoza Bear grants, among others. Byron Kiwanis supports a Key Club at the high school, a Builders Club at the middle school, and a K-Kids at Mary Morgan, and provides several scholarships to graduating seniors.

According to current President Michelle Albert, the Byron club has changed with the times.

"Recognizing the pressures of time on people today, we changed from meeting every Friday morning to meeting the third Tuesday evening of each month," she said. "Also, over the past 30 years our projects have changed as the needs of the community have changed. Some projects have been dropped while others have been added, but the goal is always to help people in need and the improvement of our community."

During the past 30 years Kiwanis members have provided a handicapped-accessible swing for Sunshine Park, recognized a Layperson of the Year during a their annual Prayer Breakfast, helped build and maintain Dreamworks, helped distribute food in the community SHARE program, donated with the Byron Lions Club a braille computer to a blind Byron student, sponsored a community circus in 2001 and 2005, supported a Bike-A-Thon, recognized area farmers in their Farm-City Breakfast, read to Mary Morgan students as part of the Read Around the World program, and planted shrubs and trees for the Byron Revitalization Program, among other community activities.

The Kiwanis Club of Byron has provided leadership not only on the local level, but on the District and International levels as well. The Byron Club has been recognized by Kiwanis International as a Distinguished Club five times, and in 2006 was named the Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Achievement Award recipient. Jim and Sherry Jennings and Ronald and Christine Beem were recognized by Kiwanis International with the George Hixson Award while Ronald Beem was recognized with the Kiwanis International Foundation’s Tablet of Honor. Seven Byron Kiwanians have been elected to serve as Division 13 Lt. Governors: Sherry Jennings (1995), Jim Jennings (1997), Lorraine Tudor (1999), Ronald Beem (2003,2010, 2012), Christine Beem (2005, 2011), Brian Stukenberg (2013) and Michelle Albert (2019).

     "We are passionate about making a difference. Helping kids grow and succeed is at the heart of everything we do. But how we do it is just as important. We believe our neighborhoods and our world are best served when people of all ages and different backgrounds work together to share their time and talents," Beem said. "We welcome all community residents who share our goals to join us in making the Byron community a better place to live."

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