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Bradenton Kiwanis celebrates legacy, contemplates future

BRADENTON -- A reverential look back at its past. A hopeful plan for its future.

That was the theme of the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton's 90th anniversary dinner celebration Wednesday night at Renaissance on 9th.

More than 150 members, spouses and friends were on hand to acknowledge the club's legacy of accomplishments and anticipate its challenges.

"It's our little piece of history," President Brenda Rogers said. "We hope that in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, and this party is happening for that generation, that they look back at what we've made and it's worthy of the history that has been established."

Among the night's events were six members being saluted as recipients of the George F. Hixson Award after the first Kiwanis International president: Robert Beall II, Sharon Barhorst, David Grantham, Thomas A. Moseley, William Padelford and Steven Tinsworth.

Theirs is a tradition that goes back to a generation of Kiwanians such as R.M. Beall Sr., Paul Davis, Ed Kercher, Archie Powell, Ed Price, Kay Rowlett and Dr. W.D. Sugg to name a very few.

"These guys were larger than life -- community lead

ers who were most interested in really helping out with the capital needs of organizations that are out there trying to do good for the community," said John Vita, a longtime Kiwanian, officer and Manatee High School Key Club advisor.

"A lot of people look at Kiwanis and see the amount of financial stability and advancement we've made in terms of money we've raised through the year," he said. "What we want to be known as not just as the organization that writes the check, but also one that goes along and supports the organization through our personal effort and physical efforts. It's not just about the money."

Of all the projects Kiwanis has been involved in, the Bradenton Tropical Palms Trailer Park represents a significant breakthrough.

Built in 1935, Kiwanis sold it in 1997 for $8.8 million, a sum that has enabled the club's mission.

"Due to the foresight of our early members to create the trailer park as a revenue-producing asset, with the foundation we have the capacity to put significant dollars toward a new program or idea to help get it off the ground," said David Bassett, another longtime Kiwanian, past president and officer.

That includes a $1.1 million donation being negotiated with Manatee Players at the new Manatee Performing Arts Center due to open in March 2013. Kiwanis wants to relocate there.

"The club is at a turning point," Bassett said. "The 14th Street location has outlived its usefulness and Players will bring some focus to the waterfront and reinvigorate the club to continue what we like to be -- the venture capital of the local nonprofit world and incubator for new ideas and new programs."

Bob Bartz, longtime Manatee Chamber of Commerce president and Kiwanian, agreed.

"Kiwanis and other service organizations ... have to change to appeal to a younger audience and attract younger members," he said. "This move is addressing one of those concerns and it makes sense. Kiwanis calls itself the 'downtown club' so this partnership with Players is a win-win."

Janene Witham, a Kiwanian and the Manatee Players' executive director, agreed. "This is about one of the largest leadership groups in the community really standing behind what the Bradenton plan is all about and they're moving to the heart of the revitalization," she said. "Not just committing their dollars, but committing their participation."

Dr. Gladys Branic, the club's first female member, is looking forward to it.

"I'm honored and humbled to be a trailblazer, to be part of a service organization made up of such dedicated people," said the former Manatee County Health Department director. "There's a compassion and commitment of leaders who came together and use their talents and resources for the benefit of others."

Like Habitat for Humanity. Kiwanis helped build one of their first Habitat homes in Palmetto 20 years ago.

"Their dedication to the long-term needs of children is a match with Habitat," said executive director Diana Shoemaker. "It's a neat partnership."

It's more than that to Carl Weeks, executive director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County.

"We would not be here, period, if it weren't for Bradenton Kiwanis," he said. "They founded us and have been there for us since Day 1."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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