Singing and Serving in Martinez for 81 years


By Harriett Burt

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is the second in a series of articles about the service clubs of Martinez that raise money and provide help and support for a multitude of community projects, events, high school scholarships and fund-raising drives.

It is known regionally as “the singing club” for its enthusiastic group rendering of three or four vintage songs such as Toot, Toot, Tootsie! at every meeting.  Martinez Kiwanis Club has been singing while it’s been working for the community for over 81 years.

Members and guest speakers know where to find local Kiwanians – every Thursday at noon at the Kiwanis Youth Center on Allen Street.  This building was built in 1955 by club members using funds raised by innumerable fund raising events.  Used as a meeting place by the club’s sponsored Cub and Boy Scouts for many years, it is currently the site of a pre-school as well as the club’s meeting location.

The community also knows where to find local Kiwanians – at every community event helping out or operating a booth.  When helpers are needed at Martinez Celebrates Cycling, the Shell/Martinez Education Foundation Run for Education, or at First Night Martinez or to cook and serve meals at Loaves and Fishes or deliver Meals on Wheels to Martinez homebound elders,   Kiwanians will be there.  When there a massive community fund raising effort for a community swimming pool or a Camp Fire Building  Martinez Kiwanis has contributed to each and many other similar projects throughout the past eight decades.  

Does somebody have a good idea to help the town such as the Teens Who Care who painted homes for the elderly for several years or the Mountain View House for homeless mothers and children, or the Boys and Girls Club,  the D.A.R.E. program, American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life? Kiwanis Club is an organizer’s first stop for help and encouragement.

Kiwanis’ service efforts have always had a strong focus on youth. It has sponsored Martinez Youth Baseball each year since the program started 50 years ago.  It supports with contributions the Special Olympics, early immunizations of children and a variety of scholarships both academic and vocational that are awarded each year at Alhambra, Briones and Vincente Martinez highs schools. 

The Club was organized in Martinez on April 26, 1926, 11 years following the establishment of Kiwanis Club in Detroit, Michigan as a service club for businessmen. The organization, which grew rapidly, became Kiwanis International in 1924 and now has over 260,000 members in 96 countries.  The name comes from a native American phrase, “we make a noise” referring to making a difference through community service.  The organization’s motto is “changing the world, one child and one community at a time.”

Martinez Kiwanis joined the Martinez Exchange Club as the community’s second designated service club and soon made its reputation for enthusiastic singing, fun and laughter at each meeting, and especially for service to the community.  Professor H. D. Bartlett, who had established the first Opera Company in Martinez 50 years previously, returned to town in retirement just after the club formed.  He became the “music leader’ a post he held until his death in 1942.  Today’s music leader is long time member, past president and past Lieutenant Governor of Kiwanis District 26, Cliff Egan.  Egan is a member of the county’s community musical theatre scene and adds the ability to carry a tune to the rest of the membership’s enthusiasm.

As with every service organization, raising money is a prime focus of the Club.  Some comes from member dues and “happy dollars” when members share personal news and thanks to others. But the bulk of the annual service budget comes from fund-raising. 

Currently, the Club raises thousands of dollars each Christmas selling See’s candy at a local shopping center but over the years, Kiwanis has sponsored countless spaghetti feeds, pizza and other food booths, rummage sales, and auctions all to raise money for the community.

Some of the community’s leading legal, professional and businessmen have belonged to Kiwanis including the late  Justice A. F. Bray in whose name an award is given each year to an outstanding Boy Scout adult volunteer.  Justice Wakefield Taylor and attorney George Gordon, local businessmen Ernie Lasell and Emory Taylor, school administrators Forrest Routt and John Spade, Drs. Oliver Hatch and Charles Dodge are just a few of the prominent members of the past. 

The Club’s first president was Shell Martinez Refinery executive E. J. Randall. Its current president is Shell Martinez Refinery Public Affairs staff member Cathy Ivers.  Kiwanis Club and all the other service clubs had gender-based restrictions on membership which have been removed in recent years.  But the original purpose, the enthusiastic singing, the good humor and laughter, and most of all, the service to others hasn’t changed.



Martinez Historical Society

1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553  (925) 228-8160