Who will fill the void? Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay decides to disband

From left, Ken Wilson, Jim Palecek, Hank Starkey, Cal Field, Garry Eckard, John Woods and Myron Frank were the final members of the Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay. (Staff photo)

From left, Ken Wilson, Jim Palecek, Hank Starkey, Cal Field, Garry Eckard, John Woods and Myron Frank were the final members of the Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay. (Staff photo)

Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay decides to disband

By Pete Smith  

If anyone had ever stumbled into the Subway restaurant on Carmel Drive early in the morning just looking for a breakfast melt and a cup of coffee, they could be excused for missing the group of men often gathered at the front of the restaurant sharing jokes.

But the members of the Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay who regularly gathered there have left a legacy of service that can’t be ignored – even as their club shuts down due to a lack of new members.

Club President Hank Starkey said they tried a slew of different approaches to get new members, but nothing worked.

“If we knew why, we would have fixed it,” he said.

The club’s social gatherings often centered around breakfast, and a lot of working people couldn’t attend. Starkey also said that many recent retirees didn’t want to work to the extent that retirees had in the past.
But none of that has dimmed the pride club members place in their service accomplishments.

“We’re all proud of everything we’ve done,” Starkey said.

Most commonly recognized for the scholarships the Kiwanis Club awarded to local students or their great pancake breakfasts held twice a year, the volunteers have contributed to a ton of Carmel causes for which they often receive little credit.

“The Carmel Clay Kiwanis Club was small but mighty, loaded with people passionate about improving the lives of children and the community of Carmel. Over the decades, the club has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Riley Hospital for Children, bought or shopped for coats for kids, delivered meals to families who needed them, and many, many more endeavors,” said past club president and current Carmel City Councilor Sue Finkam. “I’m proud to have been part of this club and consider myself very lucky to have served alongside of people who have hearts of gold. It was a great experience. This club and its legacy will be missed.”

During its past 51 years of operation, the club has also given away about $500,000 to charitable causes, helped to establish the nonprofit Chaucie’s Place, sponsored local Boy Scout Troop 936, sponsored baseball teams at the Carmel Dad’s Club, organized the largest Key Club in the world at Carmel High School, brought coffee and cooked brats at the start of the Carmel Farmers Market, purchased, rebuilt and updated Friendly the Fire Truck, conducted a Leadership Skills Academy, gathered USO packages, collected and provided magazines to nursing homes and hospitals, conducted an annual cleanup at Inlow Park and even rung bells for Salvation Army.

“We’ve done a lot of things,” said member Ken Wilson. “A lot of things added up throughout the year.”

The current members enjoy each other’s company and said they still plan to meet for breakfast informally. And they said that that there will still be a fall pancake breakfast on the first or second weekend of October – but this time the Lions Club or Home Place neighborhood association will run it.

The club’s charter officially expires in September, but its funds have already been disbursed to various charities. Its Kohler Thompson scholarship fund should last indefinitely though, and will be administered in the future by the Carmel Education Foundation.

“Membership clubs in general are on a decline across the United States. Golf clubs, service clubs, business clubs are all struggling to increase business rosters and attain attendance goals,” Finkam said, noting that social media, the increase in after-school activities and the increase in hours adults are working all have all been disruptive.

But an old off-shoot of the club will still carry on.

The Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay sponsored the Golden K Kiwanis Club 27 years ago, and it will now sponsor the Key Club at CHS.