Twenty-five years ago, Kathy Jo Schweitzer became a member of the local Kiwanis Club of Port Clinton. As the advisor of Port Clinton High School Key Club, she had no idea that her name would go down in history. But it certainly did, as she was recently honored at the Kiwanis International Convention in New Orleans, with the KI Legion of Honor Award. As a Distinguished Past-President, Schweitzer has become one of the first women (July 7, 1987 to Sept.30, 1988) in the world to join the all-men service organization and to be invited to this celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Women in Kiwanis.
It was a long road before Schweitzer, or any other woman, could become a Kiwanis member. While amendments to allow women as “official” members continued to fail year after year, that didn’t stop women from taking on numerous roles. One woman regularly attended a California Kiwanis club meeting for 58 years, but wasn’t allowed to be a member; she played the piano during the meetings. Women not only helped as musicians, but also were the center of many Kiwanis social events. Ladies’ nights became popular in the early years, when men could invite their wives/significant others to experience Kiwanis fellowship.
Starting in 1973, the subject of opening Kiwanis membership to women was brought up in spirited debates for more than a decade at every international convention. Some felt that having women would bring too much change. Others were distressed to know that their spouses must remain second-class persons, doing much of the work, but not being able to be a full-time member. Then, at the 1987 convention in Washington, D.C., 14 clubs sponsored Amendment 2, finally allowing women into membership, passing by a 2/3 majority vote. Today, women make up 26 percent of Kiwanis membership worldwide.
The Kiwanis Club of Port Clinton has a membership of 69, including 19 women. The club members have been able to give many years of service by not only working with/supporting athletic and other community organizations, but also providing youth programs such as two Key Clubs, Builders’ Club, Terrific Kids, Key Leader, Students-of-the-Month and Scholarships. The club’s mission is clear: Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to serving one child and one community at a time. This is why both men and women are now welcome, because it takes everyone to accomplish this.