Kiwanis...Aurora History
History of the Kiwanis Club of Aurora
The name, “Kiwanis” was coined from an expression of the American Indians in the Detroit area, which was found in Bishop Baraga’s dictionary of the Otchipew language.  The expression, “Nun Kee-wan-nis” meant broadly, “we trade (or share) our talents”.
From its modest beginning of 12 members who began meeting in July of 1916, the group began to build itself, so that there were 52 members when Kiwanis International chartered the Kiwanis Club of Aurora on November 16, 1916.  Recollections of Charter Member William B. Greene, shared in 1976, related some of the early projects and activities of the first service club in Aurora.  The first project, according to Greene, was to help the Juvenile Protective Association raise funds to replace its building which had burned.  This was carried out successfully and through the years, the club enjoyed the annual Christmas Party with the children.
Service, with a focus on projects for youth, has been a primary Kiwanis goal from the beginning.  Scholarships were begun in the 1940’s and continue to this day.  Annual contributions have been made to our Illinois/Eastern Iowa (I-I) District’s Kiwanis Neuroscience Research Foundation since its inception in 1952. Boys’ Little League, then Pony League and Girls’ Softball teams have been sponsored by the Club since they were organized in Aurora.
Early fundraisers were musical shows held at East Aurora High School.  In 1951, the first Pancake Day was held on the second floor of the YWCA on Downer Place.  Aunt Jemima came to Aurora and participated in a parade to publicize the fundraiser, which continues to be one of the Club’s main sources of funds to help others.  No money from Club fundraisers is used for Club operations; only for serving others.  Some years later, the Club began participating in the Kiwanis International “Peanut Day” campaign.  In the early 1990’s, the Club initiated a Placemat fundraiser, whereby each year, a Kiwanis “placemat”, with advertisements paid for by local businesses, is debuted at the Pancake Breakfast and, then, utilized throughout the year.  This idea was borrowed from the Naperville Kiwanis Club, which the Kiwanis Club of Aurora helped form and was sponsored by our club in 1955.
In addition to the Naperville Kiwanis Club, Aurora Kiwanians were instrumental in founding many other clubs in northern Illinois: Elgin, 1920; Joliet, 1920; DeKalb, 1921; Ottawa, 1921; Aurora Golden K, 1979; Oswego, 2015; Yorkville, 2017; Greater Fox Valley,2021; Sugar Grove Township, 2021; and Bolingbrook, 2022.
Our club is proud of its long history of community involvement.  The Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce owes its existence largely to the Kiwanis Club, as our club held the first Chamber of Commerce membership drive. The Club led the formation of the local Boy Scouts of America Council and the Community Chest (now known as the United Way) as well.  Kiwanis was the first service club to actively support Goodwill Industries in Aurora.
Along with the many service projects held, Kiwanians have continued to volunteer for many community-oriented projects as well. Every 4th of July Parade in Aurora includes a Kiwanis Flag Unit, bearing banners from our nation’s history. Each April, the club participates in a “Community Day” Project, a day of volunteerism that involves not only Kiwanians, but the City of Aurora, the Fox Valley Park District, area schools and youth groups and other community volunteers. Over the years, this effort has involved such projects as cleaning up the banks along Indian Creek and the Fox River and partnering with the Joseph Corporation, now the Neighbor Project, to ready homes for new families to enjoy. In October of each year, the club participates in Kiwanis International’s “One Day”, a worldwide day of volunteerism that is set to involve not only Kiwanians, but the surrounding communities as well.  Through our club’s “Coats for Kids” Project, our “One Day” event focuses on working with all public schools (K-12) within the city of Aurora to ensure that each child has a new, warm winter coat.
Throughout the years, Kiwanis Presidents have initiated “Presidential Projects” from which many schools, non profits, and individuals have benefitted.  Some of these projects have included the renovation of the Dominican Literacy Center; providing materials and labor for the installation of benches at the Phillips Park sledding hill; revamping of the playgrounds at Mutual Ground, Hesed House, Brady  and Bardwell Elementary Schools, painting and minor construction at the new home of the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, and the joining of forces with the City of Aurora, Communities in Schools, and the Aurora-area business community in the “Coats for Kids” Program, which provides warm winter coats to needy children in Aurora area schools.
Today, members of every age attend regular meetings, experience fellowship, raise funds for various causes and participate in service projects that help their communities.  Kiwanis offers three clubs for adults:  Kiwanis, Aktion Club (the only community service club for adults living with disabilities), and Circle K (a college or university service organization).
Key Club, the oldest and largest service organization for high school students, teaches leadership through service to others.  Builders Club, for middle school students, provides opportunities to develop leadership, improve self-esteem, increase civic engagement and learn skills through service.  Kiwanis Kids (K-Kids), for elementary students, provides students with opportunities to work together on service projects, develop leadership potential and create strong moral character.
The first Key Club was chartered at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in 1992, followed shortly by West Aurora High School.  As of 2017, we support Key Clubs at IMSA, Aurora Central Catholic, East Aurora and West Aurora High Schools, the AKtion Club at the Fox Valley Recreation Association, the Builders Club at St. Rita of Cascia School, and a Circle K Club at Aurora University.
In 2014, in conjunction with our 100th Anniversary, the Kiwanis Club of Aurora voted to donate $100,000 to the Richard and Gina Santori Aurora Public Library, opened in May 2015. The "Kiwanis Club of Aurora's Children's Center" encompasses the entire children's area, located on the first floor of the library. This donation is thought to be the largest donation from a service club in Aurora’s history. Since then the club made additional donations in 2022 for a new Bookmobile that came in service in the fall of 2023.
The Aurora Kiwanis Club celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2016. On July 4, 2017, the club presented a Time Capsule to the Aurora Historical Society (AHS). AHS will manage and maintain the Time Capsule with instructions that it be opened by the 2116 Aurora Kiwanis Club in celebration of its 200th Anniversary.