The Kiwanis Club of Orange isn’t planning a big to-do to celebrate its beginnings in 1949, but that doesn’t mean the members are hiding. You’ll see them at Art in the Park on Saturday and at their annual golf tournament – just a sample of the many services they provide. The group’s annual Citizenship Day, where kids get to spend a day with the mayor, or other officials, takes place once again on Thursday.

“Virtually everything that Kiwanis does is for the benefit of children,” said Ben Culpepper, who joined the group in 1967. The president of Ben Culpepper Insurance and former Orange city councilman is also a past lieutenant governor of Division 10, which the Orange club is part of. He presently serves as secretary-treasurer, and the group itself is part of the Texas-Oklahoma District. Shane Johns is the current president.

“We have our annual golf tournament coming up April 4,” he said. “We already have 22 teams scheduled, we serve a light lunch, give away a few things and have a good time.” Team fees are $200; businesses may sponsor individual holes and holes-in-one.

Nationally formed in 1915 in Detroit, the Kiwanis Club took its name from the Indian word NunKeewan-is, meaning “To trade.”
“It was originally named The Benevolent Order of Brothers and was started as a trade organization to operate with business people, but that didn’t last long,” Culpepper said.

Kiwanis has organizations in some 57 countries. According to notes written by Culpepper’s father, Q.B. Culpepper – Frank Evans, president of the Beaumont Kiwanis Club in 1948, asked to be appointed to a “new club committee” when his term expired. 

Barney Hoover served as the first Orange Kiwanis president, with Q.B. as vice president; Herbert Journesay, treasurer; and James Force as secretary.

“I remember going to meetings with [my father] down at the former Airport Cafe on Highway 87,” Ben Culpepper said. “They met there for several years. After the Airport Cafe, they moved to the former New Holland Hotel (near the present Southern Printers building) then they moved to [the] Little Mexico [restaurant] and met in what is now the Stark Foundation Education Center. At that time, it was an annex of Little Mexico and was built for larger groups; that was probably in the mid-50s. After that, they moved to the former Jack Tar Hotel and from there went to the Ramada Inn. I think they had a few meetings at the old Bates Plaza (near the present JB’s Barbecue) and now we’re at the Sunset Grove Country Club where we meet every Thursday.”

In 1989, and now marking its 20th anniversary, the Golden K Kiwanis Club was formed for retired and senior citizens. Q.B. Culpepper was a charter member of that group, as well. The group meets Wednesdays at the country club. In addition to Q.B. as president emeritus, Golden K charter officers included Dr. Herman Rudeseal, president; Dick Adams, president-elect; Eddie Farris, vice president; and Eugene Rawson, secretary-treasurer. Directors were Harvey Mullen, Vern Campbell, John Woodside, Jo Poole and Frank Gilbert. (Rudeseal was Orange Kiwanis president in 1951, when the group’s first Key Club was formed).

“One of our most beneficial programs is sponsoring two Key Clubs in the West Orange-Stark and LC-M high schools,” Ben Culpepper said. “We have over 50 students in each of those clubs and they do a lot of service  themselves.” The Orange club also sponsors scholarships, an elementary school program called “BUG,” (Bringing Up Grades) and the Terrific Kid Awards, where teachers nominate a student based on citizenship, academic standing and other criteria. It also sets up a Christmas light display and co-hosts the GOALS Spelling Bee along with Greater Orange Area Literary Services and Lamar State College-Orange.

The older crowd might remember Kiwanians’ pancake breakfasts. “All you can eat for 50 cents.” Pancakes were served with bacon, sausage, hot syrup and melted butter. “We did not make a lot of money, but we fattened a lot of people during our early years,” Q.B. Culpepper wrote in 1980.

Middle-agers may recall Kids’ Day, started by Kiwanians around the time the Orange club formed.

“Our children had been sorely neglected during World War II,” Q.B. wrote. “Art Olschefski was asked to head up this gigantic affair. We held a big parade with hundreds of children riding on all sorts of vehicles. Example: 75 children riding on one fire truck. The parade was headed for West End Park, where boys and girls filled to the brim with hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, cold drinks etc. – all paid for by merchants and industry. Ten coupons on a sheet for $1. Each year we had four or five hours of every kind of entertainment imaginable, concluding with a Bathing Beauty Contest.”

Cowboy star Roy Rogers was once contacted about coming to Kids’ Day, but had a previous engagement in New York that week.

“Citizenship Day evolved from the old Kids’ Day, which was a carnival-type thing with a parade, and it was a big deal where we gave away a lot of food and games to children,” Ben Culpepper said. “But we felt like something of more lasting value would be to … put students in city and county offices and let them see [how they go about their work] and what they do.”