One of the longest-standing civic organizations in the Methow Valley is celebrating its 75th birthday this week. Formed in 1949, the Kiwanis Club of Winthrop was brought into the worldwide network of community service by their sponsor club, Twisp Kiwanis, which had formed years earlier.
Twisp was first, but Winthrop endured, and when the Twisp branch dissolved, Winthrop eventually welcomed three of the early Twisp members into their group: Suellen White, Gary Erickson and Bob Ulrich, who is by all accounts the most senior Kiwanian in the bunch.
I spoke with Roy Reiber, who joined Kiwanis in 1995 and, along with member Don Carlson (who has two months’ seniority over Roy) and a whole host of other community figures, has been a key player ever since.
“Before I got involved with Kiwanis, I taught the children of the first club president, Warren Badger, and vice president, Hank Dammann,” Roy says. “They were both important Winthrop folks, but they were also both a little goofy and a little noisy. There were some interesting times back then.”
Originally a men’s club, Kiwanis International finally relented and allowed women to join in 1987. “Twisp let women in immediately, but Winthrop held off for quite some time,” Roy says. “It was Key Club that eventually caused women to be accepted.”
Key Club, the junior branch of Kiwanis, is a network of student-led high school service organizations. If you’ve been to the Methow Valley School District’s graduation and wondered why some students are wearing wide gold stoles, those are Key Club members, who perform a requisite amount of community service during their high school years. Roy says that fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Surface (then Tiffany Taylor) was one of his first Key Club members.
Since then it’s been all about the kids. “We decidedly focus on students,” Roy says. “We spend a lot of time and money on the kids — like the $22,000 in scholarships we gave this year — and the schools see a lot of our labor.”
Liberty Bell High School’s Key Club and the interest in having both boys and girls develop civic and service ethics paved the way for the Winthrop club to finally admit women. They’ve come a long way, baby. Not only do women now make up a robust part of club attendance and participation, but the club is currently led by a woman, Kathy Busse.
Kiwanis Club of Winthrop is different than many other Kiwanis groups in that they build things — not just with their money, but with both skilled and grunt labor. Not all Kiwanis clubs operate this way, but it has always been the ethic of Methow Valley Kiwanians to use their hands. Many of the members over the years were in the construction trades and “we have kept that up,” Roy says, mentioning building projects like the two picnic shelters at Mack Lloyd Park, the bleachers and bathrooms at the ballpark, Heckendorn Park, and the ramps at the Twisp Valley Grange and Room One. “We put a lot of sweat into those,” Roy says.
Things slowed a bit during COVID, but unlike so many other Kiwanis Clubs around the world, the Winthrop club didn’t disappear as a result of the pandemic. “We hung in there and did what we could,” Roy says. “We didn’t build much but we didn’t lose track of fundraising. It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Kiwanis’s primary fundraiser, the Bite of the Methow, hasn’t yet returned post-COVID and it may not. The last Bite was scheduled for March 14, 2020, which was pretty much precisely the day the world ground to a halt. After much agonizing deliberations, Kiwanis canceled the Bite. Since then, so many local businesses that were previously involved with Kiwanis have changed hands that “it’s a different world out there,” Roy says. Kiwanis now achieves their fundraising goals through business advertising at the ballpark, the pancake breakfast, and Duck Days.
Currently, our local Kiwanians are working on the Family Activity Park near the ballfield. “That project is a lot of sweat too,” Roy says, echoing a theme of all the Kiwanis construction projects. “We really like the idea that we can just get in there and make things happen.”