Opinion

Kiwanis member recalls decades of service

By KEITH PUTNAM

Attending the last meeting of Vashon Kiwanis last week stirred up lots of memories, and I’ll pass on a few. I was a member of the Vashon club from 1958 through 1963. I rejoined in 2008, so I missed several meetings, but they let me back in anyway. Often Kiwanis met in the Alibi Café and sometimes at the golf club.

I remember a warm day when my father came off the golf course with no shirt; Al Wescott complained bitterly that he was not appropriately attired, but the club decided his fault was in not wearing a pin. He went out and came back with the pin stuck through a Band-Aid on his chest — but no shirt. There were big laughs, and Al was silenced.

Kiwanis was very active and took on bold projects. When I was in high school, the school district carved out a spot in its forest for an athletic field; it served football part of the time and softball the rest. Softball was very popular before television; there were usually five or six teams in the island league. My dad pitched. Kiwanis lit the field and built the first seating. Money was raised for the poles and lights, but there was no contractor, and all the required labor was donated.

As I recall, 90-foot poles were required, and lights had to be adjusted seasonally to suit the games. The tallest jin-pole that could be borrowed from the power company was too short to even reach the balance point on the tall poles. There was a maze of cables and held breaths when it was hoisted. Cleve Bard provided dump trucks full of gravel as anchors for the cables, and the power company line crew provided labor and expertise. I remember Sid Bacchus, not a lineman, climbing up 90 feet and off onto the cross arms to adjust the lights.

Kiwanis put together the money and hired a contractor to build a multi-use gym at Ober Park. That building is now the Vashon Park District’s office. Islanders put on stage shows, floats for the festival and lots of other stuff there. One year our float had the high school principal Bill Lane hanging from a yardarm. Something Bill had done stirred controversy in the community, and we made fun of it. Bill was a fine educator, nationally known, and a good sport.

We also had a ball toss in town with a dunk tank. I don’t remember all who got dunked, but I think Bill was one of them.

Vashon has many groups of men and women who recognize service to others has a high priority. If no one tackled the issues, they might be left to the government or ignored altogether. Many of these groups have a focus on particular issues, like the Vashon Island Pet Protectors, the Vashon Forest Stewards, the heritage association, VARSA, the food bank, Vashon Allied Arts, the lighthouse keepers and of course the churches. Kiwanis, Rotary and others tackled a wide variety of local, national and international projects. All of these groups rely on committed members. I’m very pleased that our school graduation requirements include public service hours, experience that starts our young people toward a rewarding outlook and way of life. I’d much rather live in a community where we all looked after each other than in a cradle-to-grave society where centralized agencies did or did not step up to the plate. I believe our Kiwanis members ranked high on the list of those who serve others.

I’m not good at names but particularly remember Tom Revelle, Sid Bacchus, Cleve Bard, Bill Kirschner, Tom Beall and Bernie Coane as committed Kiwanis members. Bernie and his wife lived in a big log cabin wrapped around a great kitchen. He was THE island chef for events. I remember him cooking big turkeys for seniors at Christmas; he said he used a double handful of garlic in each turkey’s dressing. Old folks need more flavor, he said. Now that I’m 82, I see what he meant.

— Keith Putnam is an architect, a former Kiwanis member and an islander since 1939.

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