Asheville Archives: Kiwanis Club forms in Asheville, 1919

FIRST IN THE STATE: The Kiwanis Club, an international organization that formed in 1915, created its first North Carolina branch in Asheville in 1919. This photo, taken a year later, shows the group outside the Langren Hotel, which stood on the corner of Broadway and College Street, where today's AC Hotel Asheville Downtown stands. Photo courtesy of the Kiwanis Club of Asheville

In the summer of 1919, word spread that a Kiwanis Club would soon be forming in Asheville. That June, George A. Selig, president of the international organization’s Knoxville, Tenn., branch, arrived in the city to help start the process.

During Selig’s visit, The Asheville Citizen spotlighted the club’s mission. Among its many interests, the organization sought to celebrate and recognize “the worthiness of all legitimate occupations” as well as “encourage high ethical standards in business and professions.”

Interest in the club swiftly followed. On July 9, 1919, The Asheville Citizen reported, “Nearly thirty live wire, young business and professional men have already come into the local Kiwanis camp.” These new members, the article noted, were helping to spread the “the gospel of hustle and the spirit of boost,” which, the paper added, were among the organization’s founding principles.

“Although Kiwanis is in no way a religious club, yet it is thrice blessed in having a real Moses when it comes to writing commandments for the club,” the article continued.

Among the decrees, “Thou shalt not wait for something to turn up, but thou shalt pull off thy coat and go to work,” topped the list.

Often comical in nature, the group’s second commandment discouraged members from going about their business “looking like a bum, for thou shouldst know that thy personal appearance is better than a letter of recommendation.”

Meanwhile, the club’s sixth commandment stated: “Thou shalt not covet the other fellow’s job, nor his salary, nor the position that he hath gained by his own hard labor.” Further, the club charged, “Thou shalt not be afraid to blow thine own horn, for he who faileth to blow his own horn at the proper occasion findeth nobody standing ready to blow it for him.”

Additional commandments included avoiding excuses, exercising one’s full potential, maintaining one’s integrity, paying off one’s debt, avoiding hasty judgment and offering every man a square deal.

The Asheville Kiwanis Club held its inaugural meeting on July 11, 1919, inside the original Battery Park Hotel (see “Asheville Archives: ‘On the highest hill in the town,’” Oct. 3, 2017, Xpress). Its official call to order made Asheville the first city in North Carolina to form a local chapter. Resident E.E. Wheeler was elected as the group’s president; H.E. Gruver held the position of secretary. At the time, the club consisted of 30 members, with hopes to expand to 100.

Throughout 1919, The Asheville Citizen continued to closely monitor the progress of the newly formed group. On July 24, the paper featured an exchange between the chapter’s president and an unidentified resident who wanted to know, “Is the size or age considered when an applicant is taken into the Kiwanis fold?”

The club, which seemed to relish absurdity, insisted its president answer the question in “limpid lyric.” Wheeler complied, responding: “It’s not the size of a man that counts, Nor the way he shave his chin; It’s the way he treats his fellowman, If he’s square, we take him in.”

Within a month of launching, the organization reached its goal of 100 members. On Aug. 2, The Asheville Citizen featured comments from Selig. The Knoxville Kiwanis Club president spoke enthusiastically about the chapter’s accomplishment.

“Asheville is to be congratulated on its new booster organization,” he told the paper. “From my pleasant acquaintance with Asheville Kiwanis I predict that the Land of the Sky will be kept well aware of its activities in the interest of the ‘spirit of boost’ and the ‘gospel of hustle.’”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original texts.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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