New La Jolla Kiwanis Club president on a mission

La Jolla Kiwanis Club’s new president, Mary Talbot Fee, is a civic-minded individual with an agenda to push: promoting the organization.

“If you want to feel a part of the La Jolla community, in a group that has no alternative agenda other than to be of service to the community, then Kiwanis Club of La Jolla is your group,” said Talbot Fee, a Kiwanian since December 2003.

Her presidency comes at a milestone moment in the service club’s history. “This year marks the 20th anniversary of women joining Kiwanis,” Talbot Fee said. “I am the fourth woman to preside as president. Kiwanis is a very comfortable place for women to explore leadership opportunities - and to get involved.”

Talbot Fee added Kiwanis going co-ed 20 years ago was a big transition. “There were some men who were angry at the time and quit the club,” she said. “But now I think the consensus is that women are an asset and add a lot to the group.”

Formerly a schoolteacher who is now owner/director of Edge Tutoring housed at Muirlands Middle School, Talbot Fee points out La Jolla Kiwanis’ current roster of some 90 members is firmly committed to furthering the global organization’s mission to “change the world, one child and one community at a time.”

The Kiwanis name, coined from an American Indian expression, means “we trade” or “we share our talents.” It is a global organization of volunteers raising funds for charitable causes, many youth-oriented.

La Jolla Kiwanis raises upwards of $100,000 annually, which it donates to worthy causes. The club’s biggest annual fund-raiser, the La Jolla Half Marathon race between Del Mar Fairgrounds and the Cove in April, generated $77,000 in revenues in 2007. Each July, La Jolla Kiwanis sponsors its pancake breakfast, which has evolved into a communitywide get-together, at La Jolla Rec Center. The club hosts a Junior Olympics event for area elementary schools every May. In September, the group runs a concession booth at the Rough Water Swim.

Talbot Fee’s father, Jack, an insurance salesmen now in his 80s who is still actively working, has been a Kiwanian for more than 50 years, starting out in his native Massachusetts. He too, is a tireless supporter of the organization. He, perhaps more than anyone else, has been responsible for building and maintaining the club’s membership over the years. Jack met his wife, Angela, a La Jolla High grad, when she attended college back East.

“He’s a small-town guy who goes around La Jolla as if it were a small town and recognizes people,” said Talbot Fee about her father’s flair for recruiting. “If he had been a city person, he may not have the same outlook. Everybody knew his name in Massachusetts, and everyone knows his name here.”

Jack Talbot’s sales pitch may be as effective as it is because of his fatherly approach. “He sort of suggests to them this would be a great way to expand their opportunities,” said his daughter.

Talbot Fee has every intention of leaving her mark on La Jolla Kiwanis in her own way. “My goals this year are to increase membership, increase visibility,” she said, “make it even more of a tight-knit group, more fun, more social.”

Being president of Kiwanis is fun for Fee. “I like being busy and getting to know everybody,” she said, adding she especially enjoys ribbing good-natured, longtime club members at the “bad boys” table.

What’s the most challenging thing about leading a Kiwanis club? “Setting the pace, setting the schedule,” said Fee, “making sure things are done with the right timing.”

When members look back on her administration, Talbot Fee would like them to remember it as a time when membership grew, people enjoyed each other’s company, and a lot of positive things got done.

As a tutor, Talbot Fee primarily helps students with their homework and mastering basic math, language and writing skills. She enjoys communicating with young people, feeling she understands their needs. To do that, it’s important to establish a personal rapport. “It’s impossible to accomplish any growth unless there’s a feeling of mutual respect,” she said. “If I can teach them and retain that mutual respect, without putting a lot of pressure on them or coming down on them, then I’ve done an excellent job. I take things on a case-by-case basis, make sure their skills are up to where they should be.”

Mary is married to Fred Fee, a native La Jollan who owns two coin laundries and is also a remodeling contractor. They have a 16-year-old son, Taylor Roy, who goes to La Jolla High.

An accomplished jazz vocalist, Talbot Fee is working on her first professional CD due out next year. Her musical talent comes naturally. Her mother was a musical comedy and opera singer, who sang at Carnegie Recital Hall and also toured with college shows. “She put together songs about Colonial American,” said Talbot Fee. “I’ve always had an interest in music, having grown up with it in my life. I began studying jazz in Los Angeles.”

Locally, Talbot Fee has sung at La Jolla Farmers Market as well as at area coffee shops and for private parties.

What Talbot Fee likes most about music is its boundless horizons. “You’re never done exploring music,” she said. “It’s extremely rich, contentwise and in terms of mental stimulation. Jazz is intellectually stimulating. It makes you think. It’s never boring, and it can be very soothing to listen to at the same time. Music is an expression of the soul.”

La Jolla Kiwanis meets every Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. at La Jolla Presbyterian Church at 7715 Draper Ave. Weekly meetings include musical programs and guest speakers including politicians, scientists, military leaders and authors. The public is encouraged to attend.