History of the PNW District of Kiwanis International (Videos)

A special “Thanks” to Patrick Ewing, PNW District Historian

An advantage of accessing the vignettes on the Kiwanis History site (http://bit.ly/KiwanisHistoryPNW) is that you can download them to your laptop or other device so that you can just play it without needing an internet connection (and without any buffering issues that can happen when your internet connection isn’t fast enough).

Our Known Historical Highlights – Kiwanis Club of Tacoma

The Pacific-Northwest District was organized in the fall of 1918 in Tacoma, Washington. Guy E. Kelly, of the Tacoma Club, was named governor, and he was re-elected at a second District Convention in Tacoma to which four clubs sent delegates.

Tacoma was the first completed club in the PNW district and received its charter on October 8, 1918. A Founding Member was Henry Foss. (It is after his mother that the famed Tugboat Annie series was written.) While serving in the Pacific, he bunked with future U.S. president  Richard Nixon who gave Foss the nickname “Falcon” for his ability to locate poker games on different ships. “Falcons” eventually became the nickname for the Henry Foss High School sports teams.

In 1949 the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma donated $2,718.50 to cover the cost of building a 40’ x 80’ wading pool for the Portland Avenue Park. The Kiwanis also donated an additional $760.65 (totals $35,929.72/2017$) to match funds raised by the Portland Avenue Improvement Club for swings, ladders, slides and horizontal bars. The Kiwanis club members also built a backstop for the baseball field.

In 1962, the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma established the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma Foundation through a generous donation from Henry Foss. The Kiwanis Club of Tacoma Board of Directors also serves as the Board of Directors of the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma Foundation. Since 1989, when the Foundation was placed in the guidance of a national brokerage firm, it has donated over $300,000 supporting the children of our community.

The Kiwanis Club of Tacoma was the last winner of the golfing tournament competition with the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8. The purpose of the tournament and the results are not remembered and may be rediscovered in the archives. The tournament was held between 1933-1969. Kiwanis has won 24 times.

 In 1985, Dr. Gordon Klatt, made the first 24-hour Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society at the University of Puget Sound, assisted by his fellow Kiwanis Club of Tacoma members. The Relay of Life has become the signature fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society, staffed and coordinated by volunteers in more than 5,200 communities and 27 countries. It has turned into a global event raising over $5 billion to help save lives throughout the world.

The Club’s first known minority president is Willie Stewart, who served in 1981-82 and 2016-17. Shirley Bushnell is the first woman president in 1995-96 after Kiwanis International ended a 72-year men-only tradition with over 2/3rds of the 5,600 international delegates affirming.

 Merle Palmer, President 1988-89, while serving in the U.S. Navy in WW II, saw colleagues of color that had made the same commitment to their country and were exposed to the same dangers as sailors with light skin.  He saw their capabilities ignored, their skills underutilized and their sacrifice less honored because of skin color. He resolved he would find some way, if he returned from the war, to right this injustice. Supported by other club members, he founded Palmer Scholars with the mission to increase the number of low income students of color from Pierce County who graduate from a post-secondary degree program. Inaugurated with Pastor Al Davies as the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund, Palmer Scholars has helped over 650 low-income students of color from Pierce County with 83% (>400) earning a post-secondary degree. 200 students are now in the program. WorkForce Central has partnered with Palmer Scholars to offer mentorships and scholarships to young adults who want to pursue post-secondary education, including certificate training, two-year college and technical school.

The Greater Tacoma Peace Prize recognizes and honors Peacemakers from the Tacoma/Pierce County region. First awarded in 2005 during the Centennial celebration of Norway’s independence, Our Kiwanian and Past Lt. Gov. Division 34 David Corner was awarded the 2008 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize. Mr. Corner is the founder and director of The Gathering Project, a humanitarian organization he created in 1997 after visiting Africa as part of the Men’s Fellowship for Ghana mission program.

 Kiwanian  and Past President. Willie C. Stewart, Sr. was selected as the 2019 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Laureate. Mr. Stewart was selected for his long-term service and ongoing commitment to the community and Tacoma schools, particularly in the Lincoln District and the Hilltop.

 For over 30 years, the City of Destiny Awards has honored more than 200 volunteers and professionals who go above and beyond to help to make Tacoma a vibrant community.

 Kiwanians who have received this award are:

 2020       Lincoln High School Key Club, Group Service

 2018       Norm Bellamy, Lifetime Service Award

 2013       Dr. Gordy Klatt & the Tacoma Relay for Life, Community Partnership

 2003       Merle Palmer, Adult Leadership

 2001       Willie Steward, Adult Leadership

 Our Founder: Guy E. Kelly

 Guy Kelly is Kiwanis Club of Tacoma “Member No. 1” and “President No. 1” and identified as “Organizer” in the Tacoma Ledger, May 25, 1918 (“for the past three Wednesdays,” i.e., May 8, 1918) and in presenting the American Flag on behalf of the Kiwanis Club of Tacoma at the chartering of the South Tacoma Kiwanis Club, Tacoma Ledger, Dec. 27, 1927. He served as “Governor No. 1” and was elected a consecutive second term for the Pacific Northwest District of Kiwanis International.

 “Few Tacoma men could claim the distinctive service which Kelly gave to so many Tacoma organizations, to his community and to the state over so many years.” Tacoma Times, 7/29/40, pg. 14.

 He kept in active touch with his comrades of the United Spanish War Veterans as a member of the John R. Thompson Camp of which he is a past commander and held the position of judge advocate for the department of Washington and Alaska. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

During the Great War (WW I), he contributed his efforts to the success of local war measure, being an effective Four-Minute Man speaker and in various other ways cooperating in support of the government.

He was generally found in the lead in advancing measures for the betterment of his city or county.

From 1910 to 1914 he served as chairman of the Pierce County central committee, and from 1914 to 1918 was president of the Young Men’s Republican Club. He was a Republican National Committeeman (1920-1924) during the administrations of Pres. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) and Pres. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929).

He was President of the Bolo Club and a charter member and first president of the Tacoma Riding Club.

Kelly was a baseball enthusiast and for many years (1920-1940) was connected with Tacoma professional clubs as an officer and attorney.  In 1920 he was one of those instrumental in the organization of the Pacific International League, last professional league to operate until the formation of the Western International League in 1937. In 1935, Kelly and Louis H. Burnett, with whom he was associated in the Pacific International league, were prominent in an effort to bring back organized baseball to the community. While Kelly was not one of those who organized the Tacoma Tigers in 1937, he, because of his long experience, was called upon for much advice.  Kelly was in the forefront of the organization of the Tacoma Hot Stove league, a baseball boosters’ group. He served on its executive board and in January, 1940 was toastmaster at the league’s first dinner.

Associated in the early conducting of automobile races in Tacoma and was chief timer at many of the annual Fourth of July races at Tacoma Speedway.

He assisted in promotion of the Tacoma-Tokyo airplane flight projects of Harold Bromley, an aviation pioneer who was the first person to attempt to fly across the Pacific Ocean under sponsorship of John Buffelen.

His Masonic affiliations were numerous.  He was a past master of Evergreen Lodge No. 51, Ancient and Free Accepted Mason; past master of the Past Masters Assn. of Pierce County; is a 32nd degree member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Tacoma Consistory; the Knights Templar and Tacoma Lodge No. 174, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Afifi Temple, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.  Other fraternal affiliations included the Knights of Pythias.

He was a member of the Union Club, the Tacoma Commercial Club and the Commercial Club, Tacoma Club, the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, and the American Bar Assn., Washington and Tacoma Bar associations.

For many years, he was a member of the Community Chest and president of the board of directors of the Salvation Army in Tacoma, a position he held at the time of this death.

Biographical Information

Born in 1876 in Rochester, Minn., he moved with his family to South Dakota. It’s where he resided at the outbreak of war with Spain in 1898.

He was a regimental commissary sergeant in Company H, 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry. When arriving at Cavite, Manila Bay, they learned fighting has ended.  However, in February 4, 1899, the Philippine American War broke out between the U.S. and its former de facto ally, the Filipino Insurgents. He served 14 months and was under active fire in 16 engagements in the Philippines.

He attended the South Dakota State (college) 1899-1900. There, he served as Deputy United States Marshall in 1900, the youngest then to so serve. He became secretary to U.S. Sen. Alfred B. Kittredge, and while serving in the national capital graduated with LL.B. from George Washington University, 1905.

He came to Tacoma in 1905 and. In partnership as Garvey & Kelly, he was appointed Supervisor of the 1910 Census for the Pierce County 2nd Legislative District. His law firm transitioned into a long term law partnership as Kelly & MacMahon in 1912 standing among the leading law firms of Tacoma and commanding a large and representative clientele.

He was one of the three owners and a director of the Puyallup & Tacoma Transit Company, which was established in March, 1913, and was the first auto stage in the United States to be established on a permanent schedule basis. He was also secretary and general counsel for the following companies: The Tacoma & Ashford Transit Company, operating to Ashford and Morton; the Tacoma & Day Island Transit Company, the Chehalis-Raymond Transit Company, and the International Motor Transit Company running from Seattle to Portland.

He was elected to the Washington State Legislature’s House of Representatives in 1915 and was unanimously selected as Speaker of the House 1917-18.  “As the session closed the Seattle P.I. said it was the best in years. The Times found the Legislature not as reactionary as in 1915, but still not very progressive. Even the Democrat Olympian Standard held it to be a better than average session. As usual the Seattle Star merely found the legislature corrupt.” (Brazier)

In 1928, Kelly testified before the U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Immigration and Naturalization for the Wives of American Citizens of Oriental Ancestry.  In brief, he advanced the cause of Chinese-born wives who were to be denied entry into the U.S. and separated from American-born husbands and children.

In 1940, at the time of his death, he held a contract with the Quileute Tribe for the pursuit of their treaty fishing rights.

“Few Tacoma men could claim the distinctive service which Kelly gave to so many Tacoma organizations, to his community and to the state over so many years.” Tacoma Times, 7/29/40, pg. 14.


Biennial Report, Election Division, Washington State Office of the Secretary of State, 1915.

Bonney, William P., “Guy E. Kelly,” History of Pierce County, Washington. Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1927, III, ppg. 176-177.

Brazier, Don, History of the Washington Legislature 1895-1963, Publr., Washington State Senate, Olympia, WA, 2000

The Bulletin of the Commercial Law League of America, Vo. 26, Issue 7, 1921

Commercial Law League Bulletin, Volume 27, Issues 10-28

“Guy Kelly Is Stricken Prominent Attorney and G.O.P. Leader Dies Suddenly,” Tacoma News Tribune, July 29, 1940, ppg. A-1, 2.

“Guy E. Kelly Succumbs to Heart Attack Prominent Tacoma Lawyer Active in Many Fields Here,” Tacoma Times, July 29, 1940, ppg. A-1, 14.

Hapgood, L.A. (Larry), “The Men Who Wear the K The Story of Kiwanis,” Kiwanis International, 1981.

“The History of Kiwanis Covering the first 31 years of the organization – from January, 1915 to June, 1946,” Kiwanis International, 520 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 1946. Kessinger Legacy Reprints.

Interior Department Appropriations Bill, 1942.

“Kiwanians Will Get Charter,” Tacoma Ledger, Dec. 27, 1928.

McSherry, Patrick, “A Brief History of the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry,” http://www.spanamwar.com/1stSouthdakota.htm

Moss, John H. and Merton S. Heiss, “’We Build,’ The Story of Kiwanis,” Published under supervision of the Committee on History of the Board of Trustees of Kiwanis International, Chicago, 1942.

“Newly Elected Officers of Live-wire Kiwanis Club,” Tacoma Ledger, Jan. 10, 1919.

<Kiwanis International><About><History><The Original 29 Districts of Kiwanis>, http://www.kiwanis.org, Nov. 12, 2018.

Tacoma Who’s Who, 1929.

U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, 1928.



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