The Origins of the Kiwanis Club of Puyallup
By Hans Zeiger
In 1942, W.R. Sandy prepared a book called “Birth and Infancy of the Kiwanis Club of Puyallup,” which is the main source of the information I am going to present. I want to start by reading Sandy’s account of the Club’s origins:
“During the fall of 1921, the Kiwanis Spirit lit upon Puyallup. Although we were supposed to be in an ‘after war depression,’ however, things were rather ‘rosy, the town receptive. So the spirit abided.
“The Commercial Club was about the only club in the city at that time: and there was some fear on the part of a few that a Kiwanis Club might work against the best of the Commercial Club. But those fears were soon allayed; and the Kiwanis Club has proved a help to the Commercial Club rather than a hindrance. The Tacoma Club was our Mother Club, or sponsor. Several personal visits were made and preliminary meetings held. The first preliminary meeting was held in ‘Paul’s Pantry’ at the Pacific Northwest Cannery.”
Paul’s Pantry referred to the cannery’s dining hall, and Paul, of course, was William Paulhamus, the father of the Puyallup Fair and the father of the berry industry in the Puyallup Valley, and his Pacific Northwest Cannery had been responsible, among other things, for canning all of the blackberry jam for the U.S. Army during World War I.
So it was there in Paul’s Pantry that “Several explanatory and ‘booster’ talks were made by Tacoma Kiwanians.” The most powerful of these speeches was given by Rev. Clarence Weyer, who was the pastor of the Tacoma First Presbyterian Church. It was evidently the speech that moved the group of prospective Kiwanians to take the next steps (Sandy, 33). They elected a man named W.C. Robb as the Secretary for the prospective club.
Robb was an ice cream entrepreneur who was taking advantage of advancing technology in home refrigeration. He would incorporate his ice cream business the following year as the Puyallup Ice Cream Company (The Soda Fountain, March 1922, 88). He also opened a cold storage and creamery plant in Buckley (Creamery and Milk Plant Monthly, March 1922, 56).
Robb called the next meeting at the Commercial Club on September 23, 1921 at noon to hear from Walter Meier from the Seattle Kiwanis Club. According to Sandy, “Fifty names were required in order to form a new club. Fifty-six names were secured, however, only fifty four became charter members. Initiation fee at that time was $20.
“Before charter presentation, officers must be elected. Consequently on Tuesday evening, September 27, an election was held.”
It was held at the Commercial Club, and Morton G. Leicester was elected president, T.J. Allen as vice president, P.M. Snider as treasurer, and William Gambill as secretary.
Let me say a few words about the founding officers of the Club, really the visionaries of the Kiwanis institution in Puyallup. I already mentioned W.C. Robb, the charter secretary. Morton G. Leicester was the founding president. He was not only the predecessor of Klaus Snyder and everyone else who’s filled the president’s office, but he was also the predecessor of Jerry Korum as Puyallup’s Ford dealer. W.R. Sandy described Mort Leicester as “active, energetic, and affable.”
Vice President T.J. Allen was a berry farmer. Treasurer P.M. Snider (not to be confused with a later Snyder) had come from Oroville in 1913 to work at Citizen State Bank (Commercial West, November 8, 1913, 36) and rose through the offices there.
William G. Gambill was the Club’s first secretary. As the Superintendent of the Puyallup School District, Gambill was named by the Washington Education Journal in 1921 as one of the “three leading educators of the state” (National School Digest, April 1922, 491). “His middle name is ‘Ginger,’” the article said. “Outstanding characteristics are cordiality, enthusiasm, fairness, democracy. He seems like ‘dad’ to the boys and girls. Everybody likes him.” Gambill was principal of Puyallup High School until he replaced Edmund B. Walker as superintendent in 1920 (Patterson’s American Educational Directory, 1919).
Gambill was known to everyone in the Club just as Bill. Bill Gambill prepared the weekly meeting Bulletins and meeting minutes for the first year of the Club, which I got to read in preparation for this talk. Gambill would represent the Club at the international Kiwanis convention in Toronto in the summer of 1922 (Sandy, 11). Shortly after that, however, Gambill left Puyallup to take a job in Colorado (Sandy, 9).
The founding board of directors included Bill Gambill, W.C. Robb, J.W. Gardiner from Gardiner Motor Company, Jack Lacy from Sundown Lumber Company, real estate agent John Mills, confectioner Harold Thomas, and the publisher of the Puyallup Valley Tribune Robert Montgomery.
Two of these men were leading promoters and true believers in Puyallup. John Mills led the Puyallup Chamber of Commerce at one time, and later in the 1920s he wrote a 32-page promotional booklet to encourage people to move to Puyallup. The title was Puyallup Valley, between Seattle and Tacoma, a Modest Statement of Facts Concerning a Wonderful Country.
Robert Montgomery was the other promoter and the most famous of the founding board members. He published the town’s newspaper, wrote its editorials, and more than any other person informed the community’s opinions about itself and the world beyond. He was a conservative Democrat who served for awhile in the state legislature. He and his wife Agnes, who was as busy and influential as he was, lived in the John Meeker house at 5th and Pioneer.
A few other charter members of the club are worth mentioning:
Streetor Beall, Sr. – Beall’s drug store
William H. Elvins – Elvin’s clothing
Mike Martin – Martin’s confectionary
The charter presentation banquet was held at the Civic Auditorium, which was the onion-dome building downtown, on October 13, 1921. Two hundred fifty people were there, and the cost of $1 per plate paid for chicken patties, fruit salad, French peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, celery, rolls, ice cream, cake, and coffee. Bill Gambill welcomed everyone, a young paint salesman and president of the Commercial Club with a long future in Kiwanis named Burr Gregory sang a solo with Agnes Montgomery on the piano, the crowd joined in Kiwanis songs, and District Governor C.H. Riddell presented the Club Charter to President Mort Leicester. George Osborne, mayor of Puyallup, was the featured speaker. Osborne was a charter member of the Club as well as the longtime secretary of the Western Washington Fair Association (Issaquah Press, May 31, 1928, 2). Several other members of the club were asked to make speeches, and I suppose the audience had a longer attention span in those days than we do.
The first few meetings were held at Paul’s Pantry, but eventually the Club settled on the Chamber of Commerce conference room as its meeting space, meeting there every Friday at noon until 1940. Mrs. Eva Buehner was the Club’s luncheon cook from 1921 until 1933, assisted by Nellie Floberg (Sandy, 7).
The first ever lunch speaker at a Club meeting on October 21, 1921 was an ex-communist Russian immigrant named Schwartz who talked about the dangers of the Soviet Union.
At the meeting on November 18, a businessman from Tacoma named Edwin Rogers spoke about his younger days living in Puyallup, his memories of the first Puyallup Fair, and his thoughts on employer-employee relations. Rogers was the son of the late Governor John Rogers (Sandy, 6).
At that same meeting, November 18, the first non-charter member was admitted to the Club, Dr. Charles Aylen. Aylen grew up in North Dakota and studied medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, earning his doctorate just as Canada entered the World War in 1914. He joined the Canadian Army as a physician in the medical corps. While serving in a British military hospital, he fell in love with a young nurse named Beatrice. They ended up in Puyallup in 1919, where Dr. Aylen began his practice.
Several other men joined the Club within the first few months, including Shirley Berry and Warner Karshner – like Aylen, leading doctors in town. Aylen and Berry were partners, and Karshner was one of the best known physicians in the state and serving as State Senator at the time. All three of them were hard at work on plans for the Puyallup Valley General Hospital which was set to open the following summer.
Dr. Karshner tended to be the center of attention in any organization he joined, and this club was no exception. When he was in charge of the program on March 22, 1922, he staged a medical procedure and surgery. First he brought up all the Club members who were doctors, then had a couple of other members bring in a patient on a stretcher wrapped in sheets, who was said to have a serious condition. Dr. Aylen had an X-ray machine on hand and produced an X-ray showing that there were all kinds of things – scissors, knives, clamps, and other medical waste – inside of the patient. “With the various doctors as helpers, and Dr. Cullen as Nurse in his white rig, socks rolled down, and wig on, Dr. Karshner proceeded to operate. With a large saw and a long-bladed butcher knife, and amid groans, rasping saw-noises he threw out articles in every direction.” Well, of course, it was all an act—the X-ray was pre-fabricated, the surgery was faked, and the patient was none other than the Club secretary and school district superintendent Bill Gambill.
All of this may have inspired someone to write the words to the “Kiwanis Song,” which shows up in the June 30, 1922 bulletin, set to the tune of Yankee Doodle:
There was a man who had the Flu
And was feeling rummy
He had a pain right down his back,
And a big one in his tummy.
He hurried to a wise MD
Doc Karshner was his name,
Doc said, “I’ll just saw off your leg,
And win a little fame.”
Then they called Doc Aylen
He rushed up in his fliver,
Gave him a quart of Castor Oil
And said, “It’s just your liver.”
But still the man did not improve,
They phoned for Doctor Sandy,
‘A spinal readjustment now,
Will make him fine and dandy:’
When they found out this did not help
Montgomery came right away,
He pulled his arm, he cracked his neck
And poked his ‘vertebray’
Doc Cullen then was summoned quick,
The man was sinking low,
Doc said, ‘These little pills I give,
Will make him well I know.’
At last they were in deep despair,
They sent for Doctor Barry,
He felt his pulse and sadly said,
‘He has not long to tarry.’
And so he went from bad to worse,
He suffered awful pain,
The only Doc to fit his case
Was the Reverend Doctor Lane.
The initial committees of the club included the Education Committee, chaired by Bob Montgomery; Intercity Relations, chaired by Mayor Osborne; and the Agriculture Committee, chaired by John Mills. There was also an informal committee known as the “Razz Bunch.” According to Sandy, “If any Committee failed to function or if any one ‘slowed-up’, neglected or failed in any thing, this ‘Razz Bunch’ got after them. Paul Wrigley was General of the Bunch, Harold Thomas a Lieutenant, assisted by Dr. Ben West, Al Becker and some others. I do not believe the Committee had any legal standing, but it sure did function for a year or two.”
I’ll note a couple of the highlights in that first year of the club:
First was the fundraising and construction of the wading pool in Pioneer Park. Sandy writes, “The excavation was started the first week in June 1922 and the Pool was completed by the middle of June….Charley Phillips and Jack Lacy was the Committee in charge of the construction. The entire cost of the pool was $446.75. Through the excellent planning of the above named committee and their ability to secure co-operation on part of the members of the club and many other citizens of the Community, the pool cost the Club only $97.50.
“Donations were received from people not members of the Kiwanis Club. For instance, the American Wood Pipe Company of Tacoma donated $22.22 worth of pipe; several team owners worked with their teams, namely, Joe Richards, Bill Alberts, George Mason, M. Holdridge, V. Cornell, G.L. Cline, and R. Thomas. On the lumber and hardware, Patterson Mill made a fine donation; Dr. Corliss donated the sand and gravel; Steve Gray donated $45.00 in labor; Bill Friese donated $50 worth of cement; Mr. Sawsett donated $11.85; the Inter-County Improvement Company gave the use of their concrete mixer; twenty-five members of the Club made cash donations in addition to the work that many of them contributed.
“The pool [is] about 150 feet in circumference and 18 inches deep; this pool still stands in the park and gave good service for many years.” That was written 20 years after the pool went in. Now, 90 years later, it’s even more impressive that the results of the Kiwanis Club’s first big project remain, though in remodeled form.
Another highlight was the grand opening of the Puyallup Valley General Hospital at Fourth and Meridian on August 19, 1922. Almost of all of the doctors who worked at that hospital were members of the Club, and the community rallied around their newest institution. Here’s how Bill Gambill advertised the event in the weekly bulletin, which would substitute for the weekly Kiwanis meeting. The opening promised “more thrills than you have ever had in your life before in the same length of time. We certainly cannot afford to miss this greatest meeting of the year. The dinner will be served somewhere in Puyallup’s fine new hospital at 12:15 promptly. The program is being arranged by Dr. Karshner. Anybody who knows ‘Warner,’ can’t afford to miss this program. I understand that the menu is being arranged by the doctors of the hospital staff. No doubt it will be some menu.”
And indeed, it was.
The menu included: Tonsil Cocktail (oysters), White Knee Joints, Pickled Ears, Appendix Salad, Fillet of Sole with Salivary Dressing, Scrambled Feathered Brains, Stewed Kidney Pie, Soft Corns, Cauliflower Wart.
And for dessert: Sanguinary Pudding, Caked Liver, and Polychrome Feezeum
According to Sandy, “The food was served in bed-pans, urinals, pots, pus-cups, etc. Tea was served from a bed-chamber vessel…Of course the vessels were new and had never been used; however, the whole layout nauseated and sickened some so that they did not enjoy the meal.”
The club agreed to adopt the first baby born in the new hospital by presenting him or her with a Silver trophy and a $10 savings account. A race ensued between Dr. Karshner and another doctor to be the first to deliver a baby in the new hospital. Dr. Karshner won, and the parents decided to make his middle name “Kiwanis.” Rufus Kiwanis Biggs was born on August 17, 1922 at 9:00pm. Dr. Karshner sweetened the prize by giving the parents a 50 percent discount on the cost of delivery.
Looking back at those old meeting minutes from nine decades ago, you start to see the culture of this club forming. I’ll close with this poem/friendly reminder by Dr. Fred Cullen at the last meeting of the year 90 years ago this week:
Doc. Berry needs the patients, Joe Radek needs the dough,
And Burk needs the customers to make his business grow.
Ed Moyles needs a motor car that will climb the hills.
Your secretary needs the patients and funds to pay his bills.
John Mills needs landbuyers and Karshner needs more that need the knife.
And we all need Lane to show us our faults in life.
P.M. Snider needs the savings and Montgomery needs the news,
But the need that is most urgent, the treasurer needs the dues.