At midnight on Oct. 1, 1988, a group of Fort Benjamin Harrison officers, recruited by Gen. Bob Mooorhead, gathered at a Keystone at the Crossing hotel to establish the brand-new Kiwanis Club of Castleton.
Among them were Bill Smith and Norm Lorsung, both still active members of the club, which is part of Kiwanis International, an organization that focuses on helping children. Smith said Moorhead wanted the new Castleton club to be the first one officially organized that year, which is why they gathered at the registration location at midnight.
“General Moorhead was big into Kiwanis at the top level — he recruited a bunch of us to start this club. This one was basically recruited out of people that were at Fort Harrison,” Lorsung recalled. “Bob Moorhead swore us all in, the club started, and everybody went home.”
Smith said he was happy to help start the new club.
“I was an Army officer at Fort Harrison and coming up on retirement,” he said. “I heard they were putting a Kiwanis club together and I jumped on it.”
The best part of Kiwanis, he said, is simply “helping kids.”
That original 1988 group had 15 to 20 members, with membership fluctuating over the 35 years since it started, Lorsung said. Currently, about 20 members meet twice a month at the MCL Cafeteria in Castleton for lunch, a speaker and to talk about how they can continue helping kids.
Lorsung recalled that pre-COVID-19, club members tutored elementary students who needed help with reading skills, collected backpacks filled with food to distribute to children who might otherwise not have enough to eat and volunteered at an area preschool. Those activities shut down during the pandemic, however. Now, the club focuses on raising money for area children’s services.
For example, Club President Shawn Denney said they work with Riley Children’s Health and they deliver for Meals on Wheels. That indirectly benefits kids, Denney said.
“What we did find out during some of these breaks, or during a snow day, the number of grandparents that we do deliver to, the number of children that were answering the doors and collecting the meals,” he said. “So, yeah, maybe the meal is being dropped off for Grandma or Grandpa, but there are children in the house. And I suspect they’re paying for the children’s food first.”
Club Treasurer Barb Lynn added that they donate money to the St. Mary’s preschool, cystic fibrosis research, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and Boys and Girls Club, among others. They give away about $10,000 annually.
Lynn said they used to organize fundraising events, such as raking leaves or other clean-up activities. However, club members are aging and can’t do as much as they used to.
“We’ve done a lot of different things. It’s finding new stuff that our club can manage,” she said.
Club member Steve Townsend is the group’s main connection to Changing Footprints, an Indianapolis-based charitable organization that collects new and used shoes to distribute to those in need, locally and worldwide.
“One of the good things about it — you buy a new pair of shoes, you drop your old ones off at the shoe store,” Townsend said. “You’ll know there’s Changing Footprints around when you see a plastic garbage can with a lid and it’ll be all dolled up.”
Townsend said even worn-out shoes are accepted.
“If a shoe is so bad and can’t be worn, they go back to Nike,” he said. “They grind them up and make them into that rubbery stuff they put on children’s playgrounds.”
He told the Kiwanis members gathered for a recent meeting that Changing Footprints wants to buy shoe racks to display the shoes in schools.
“Because the kids can’t drive, the parents can’t take off work in the middle of the day to come over to our warehouse to get a pair of shoes, so they’re putting the rack in the school,” he said, suggesting that the club consider donating funds to help purchase racks.
Another program the club organizes every year is called Character Counts. Club member Bill Hubbard said the program has been in place about 20 years and recognizes exceptional students from Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools.
“We let the high schools select the students — two students from each class each month,” he said. “We ask (the students) to really think about what character means to them, and to get up in front of us and do a little speech about what character means to them, then we ask them some questions and learn a little about them.”
The program not only recognizes students, it gives them a little practice with public speaking.
Kiwanis Club of Castleton also offers two $1,200 scholarships to Lawrence North and Lawrence Central seniors each year, Smith said.
For more about the Castleton club, visit castletonkiwanis.org.
Kiwanis’ world headquarters in Indiana
While Kiwanis International started in 1915 as a business networking organization in Detroit, Michigan, by 1919 it became a service-focused organization that went global in the 1960s.
Its world headquarters are now at 3636 Woodview Trace in Indianapolis.
Kiwanis Indy Metro Lt. Gov. Tom Ford said there are 80 Kiwanis clubs around the world and nine in the Indy Metro division. He stressed Kiwanis’ work with kids and the value of various children-led Kiwanis school clubs, such as Key Clubs for high-school age youth.
Ford said the school-based clubs help children learn about public service and to be future leaders for their communities.
“It’s a pretty amazing system that’s created for Kiwanians and for kids,” he said.
For more about Kiwanis in Indiana, visit indkiw.org.