La Jolla Kiwanis: Nine Decades Strong

La Jolla Service Organization Celebrates History of Giving and Good Will

Alhough most people know the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla as the heart and soul behind the La Jolla Half Marathon and the annual Pancake Breakfast at the Rec Center, they may not know the club’s rich history of community service spans nine decades.

The club celebrated its 90th anniversary — as well as the centennial of its parent organization, Kiwanis International — during a luncheon Friday, Jan. 23 at First Presbyterian Church of La Jolla.

Giving a brief history of its parent organization, former president Don Hodges (2001 and 2002) noted Kiwanis was founded Jan. 21, 1915 in Detroit, Michigan by a group of businessmen as a networking organization. It attracted 200 members in its first six months. “Soon, the members were distributing Christmas baskets to the poor and performing other charitable acts,” Hodges said. “By 1919, after a great deal of debate, it was decided the primary mission of Kiwanis (should be) community service.”

Its efforts since have included helping greatly eliminate iodine deficiency disorder throughout the developing world — a leading cause of developmental disabilities of the brain in areas where iodized salt was not previously available.

Today, there are more than 600,000 Kiwanis clubs around the globe that have raised more than $100 million for its charitable endeavors and dedicated more than 18.5 million service hours to children through the causes it supports, Hodges said.

Kiwanis’ current international project, launched in 2010, is reducing or eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus in developing countries. Tetanus, a bacterial disease affecting the nervous system, took the lives of more than 40,000 newborn children in 2013, Hodges said.

Kiwanis Club of La Jolla, which provides opportunities for social service and fellowship, has more than 80 members who raise money each year through the La Jolla Half Marathon. This year’s competition, starting at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and ending in Scripps Park, will be Sunday, April 26. Information at

Proceeds are given to local charities and also help fund scholarships and civic events. This year, the club anticipates it will distribute $245,000 in the community from the Half Marathon and other fundraising activities. The La Jolla Kiwanis chapter is in the top one percent of revenue generating Kiwanis clubs in the world.

During Friday’s luncheon, the club presented a check for $2,000 to the Alpha Project, a San Diego-based organization that provides outreach to homeless individuals.

“The biggest part of our job is taking all that money we make on the Half Marathon and giving it away, which is how we touch so many lives,” said former club president Wendy Matalon (1996). “Our club has served this community for 90 years — I can say, like no other organization.”

Matalon supported that claim by offering an in-depth history of the club’s charitable activities.

Although Matalon said little documentation exists on the club’s activities between its inception in 1925 to 1940, “from 1940 until now — wow!” she chimed, noting the club’s consistent history aiding Boy Scouts of America and Meals on Wheels to its well-documented role in establishing the Gillispie School, founded as a preschool and orphanage in 1933 by the club’s first president, pediatrician Samuel Gillispie, and his wife, Ana, a registered nurse.

Gillispie School’s existing campus — expanded through the years — was dedicated in 1953 with financial assistance from Kiwanis, Las Patronas and the now-defunct La Jolla Welfare League. Kiwanis still provides scholarships to Gillispie for those who cannot afford to attend, Matalon noted, going on to share some other highlights from the club’s history:

1944: (La Jolla population, 8,500; Kiwanis membership, 85). Club supports the war effort, selling bonds and stamps.

1947: Club sponsors The Actors Company, an eight-week summer theater program headed by actors Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer. “It was so successful that they held a special matinee to thank Kiwanis and donated the proceeds to the Gillispie Welfare Foundation,” Matalon said.

1948: Kiwanis establishes scholarship fund for high school students.

1950: Kiwanis establishes La Jolla High’s Key Club, a high school-level version of Kiwanis.

1953: Kiwanis plans and presents first La Jolla Rough Water Swim (in concert with La Jolla Town Council).

1964: Kiwanis holds first pancake breakfast; membership reaches peak of 161.

1973: Meals on Wheels is established; La Jolla Kiwanis commits to delivering meals every Wednesday.

1974: Club purchases and plants 50 Torrey pine trees to commemorate its 50th anniversary, at a cost of $238 apiece.

1976: Club charters Circle K Club at UC San Diego, a collegiate-level Kiwanis outlet.

1983: Kiwanis forms the La Jolla Half Marathon in concert with La Jolla Town Council (race nets $10,500 in 1984).

1987: Kiwanis International opens membership to women.

1990: Launches “Junior Olympics” event at three La Jolla public elementary schools, plus “Kiwanian of the Year” program.

1992: Adopts an orphanage in Tijuana that the club goes on to assist for many years.

1994: Elects its first female president, Michelle Burgart.

1996: Establishes a scholarship program.

2001: Half Marathon nets $90,000.

2006: Kiwanis International stops requiring club record-keeping. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to re-initiate that process, because we just lose way too much information,” Matalon said. u

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