By JILL DIAMOND
In an era when the Ford Mustang was king, Martin Luther King had a dream and Woodstock was the place to be, the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club came to be.
Kiwanis was founded in Detroit between 1914 and 1915 and grew across the country, but didn’t make its way to the Grantville community for a while.
Grantville remained a tiny neighborhood along the San Diego River until the 1940s when it was finally annexed into the city of San Diego.
Growth of the city came about mostly due to the military’s presence during World War II; it forced eastward expansion into Mission Valley and beyond, leading to the birth of Allied Gardens in 1954.
By 1960, the area including Grantville and Allied Gardens was big enough to start schools, churches, a post office, a community center, a freeway, and of course, a Kiwanis Club. Members from the Kiwanis Club of Old San Diego (which ended in October 2014) decided to recruit new Kiwanis members in the area and build a new Kiwanis Club.
On Sept. 17, 1960, the Grantville Kiwanis Club (as it was called then) got its charter from Kiwanis International with 37 original members.
The dedication of the original Grantville post office (then known as “San Diego 20”) would be the club’s first community service project on Jan. 7, 1961, complete with a Kiwanis banner, uniformed military personnel, and on stage, the Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet Band to mark the occasion.
In the beginning, Grantville Kiwanis Club met as a lunch club at the Purple Cow restaurant at 6160 Mission Gorge Road, which later changed hands and was called the House of the Beefeaters in 1964. In the latter part of 1965, the Kiwanis Club had moved to what is now the Allied Gardens Recreation Center for breakfast on Thursday mornings. The new location prompted the club to officially add “Allied Gardens” to its name.
According to John Crawford, a past president of the club from 2007-08 and who will be serving as lieutenant governor for the division in another year and currently is the membership chair and newsletter editor, he was a young lad when he joined.
“My situation is a bit unique among Kiwanis members, as I actually got involved when I was 12 years old. As a seventh-grader, the local Kiwanis Club supported the Builders Club at Lewis Middle School, and Builders Club is basically just a kids version of Kiwanis,” he recalled. “I enjoyed my time in the Builders Club, continued with the Key Club in high school and the Circle K Club in college.”
After 11 years of service from the seventh grade through college graduation, he had made so many friends and connections he just had to join Kiwanis.
“The alternative — just walking away after 11 years — was unthinkable. I officially joined Kiwanis in 2002 and am now in my 17th year — or 28th if you count my time in the youth groups,” he said.
He said what makes the group special is its sense of family shared by its members.
“We have 33 members who care about each other, watch out for each other, and cheer each other up when we’re down. If somebody is sick or injured, we’re there for hospital visits and get-well cards. We’re also a very welcoming group — it’s easy to show up and feel like you belong. Anybody can do volunteer work, but our Kiwanis Club gives you a sense of unity and community that you can’t get just anywhere,” he said.
Although the local chapter has been around since the 1960s, it’s been a little bit of a challenge attracting new members.
“A lot of our members who were there in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s are now getting older and can’t contribute the same way they once did,” he said.
This isn’t just a local problem. Kiwanis clubs, Lions clubs, Rotary clubs, and other fraternal organizations are facing challenges now that the greatest generation and baby boomers are slowing down, he said.
“Young people still want to volunteer, but where corporations and businesses were supportive of community involvement 50 years ago, today it’s difficult for a Gen X’er or a millennial to take time out of their day and go to a meeting. One of my biggest fears is that I might outlive my Kiwanis Club,” he said.
But being a Kiwanis member does have its perks.
Besides a sense of family and the connection shared, Crawford said, you also get a tremendous feeling of accomplishment from giving back to your community, whether it’s a litter cleanup or a hospital fundraiser.
“My wife and I are both Kiwanis members. We actually met through our volunteer work and we both focus on Kiwanis youth groups like Key Club and Builders Club. Seeing these young students go from cautious and shy at the beginning of the school year to confident and driven by the time they graduate is really a tremendous thing to witness. Knowing that you had a small part in their growth makes you want to do it repeatedly,” he said.
Members are always looking for new ways to help from school events to outdoor cleanups and projects — in other words, the Kiwanis are a busy group.
And while the membership is somewhat on the smaller side, it is still a group that people might want to consider joining.
“Our last original member, Bob Frankhouser, passed away in 2017 at the age of 95. He spent 55 or 56 years in our club. Our most senior member, John Peterson, has been there since 1966 and he’s still going strong at age 91. Sadly, we’re not the most popular group in town — I think probably the ‘best-kept secret in town’ is a better description, but people who know us and what we do in the community always seem appreciative.”
Kiwanis on a national level has had some famous members ranging from senators and politicians, celebrities and presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.
“I think the number one thing I would like to tell people is that we’re worth waking up for. Some people are put off by our 7 a.m. start time, but I think anybody who attends two or three meetings with our club will be hooked. It’s so much fun to be part of this club; I really don’t understand why more people don’t get involved,” Crawford said.
For more information about the local chapter, visit alliedgardenskiwanis.org
[Editor’s note: Some historical information for this article was supplied by the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club archives, the San Diego Historical Society, and “San Diego County Place Names A to Z,” by Leland Fetzer; published 2005 by Sunbelt Publications.]
— Jill Diamond is a Southern California-based freelance writer with a penchant for articles about local history.