BROOKSVILLE — In March 1923, a group of 39 Brooksville business leaders began meeting for a weekly lunch at the restaurant inside Bacon's Drug Store on Main Street. Their mission: to map out ideas for projects they hoped would have a lasting impact on the people of Brooksville.
It was a time of unprecedented growth for the city, which suddenly found its economy fueled by the decade's real estate boom. New businesses were opening, hotels were springing up, and major state roadways were under construction. The founders of the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville wanted to make sure that the prosperity extended beyond the community's privileged class.
Through the years, the club collectively raised money that funded such projects as a municipal swimming pool and a small community hospital. They helped form the city's Boy Scout troop, distributed food baskets to the poor and set up a school lunch program for underprivileged children.
That legacy of goodwill continues today. Most people recognize the club as the sponsor of the annual Brooksville Christmas Parade, the Kids Day celebration at Tom Varn Park and an all-ages Easter egg hunt that annually draws hundreds of participants.
And while those events serve as impressive calling cards for the service organization, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary Saturday with a ceremony at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, they represent only a fraction of the club's involvement in the community.
In addition to sponsoring school service clubs for elementary, middle and high school students, the club underwrites several scholarships and co-sponsors with the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce the annual Honor Student Banquet that celebrates the county's top graduating high school seniors.
"Our primary focus is to raise money that will support programs and activities that have a positive impact on children's lives," club president Pat Crowley said. "For me personally, it's a worthwhile endeavor that returns big dividends back into the community."
Elected as club president last fall, Crowley, who works as executive director for the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce, joined the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville seven years ago. Although she has served on boards at other nonprofit organizations, she admits she was surprised by the level of active involvement among club members.
"It's not a sit-around-and-talk group," she said. "There are no outside volunteers. When you work a function like Kid's Day you're out there in the hot sun cooking hot dogs, running games, whatever it takes. It's hard work, but it's fun work with people who truly enjoy giving back to the community."
Throughout its long history, the club has managed to attract a plethora of civic-minded leaders from the city's business, legal and political community. The roster of past presidents reads like a Who's Who of Brooksville, with prominent surnames such as Springstead, Merritt, Eppley, Bronson and Law.
SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast CEO and president Jim Kimbrough, who served as club president from 1970 to 1971, and whose son, Jim. Jr., served a stint during the mid-2000s, said there was never a question of not joining the Brooksville Kiwanis.
He recalled that as a Hernando High School student, he watched his father behind the club's popcorn machine at Friday night football games, knowing that "someday I'd be doing the same thing on the same machine."
"It was your initiation into Kiwanis," Kimbrough said. "It's always been a club that was run on a lot of energy and effort."
Crowley said that while the county now sports six Kiwanis chapters, Brooksville remains the largest, with about 65 active members.
And she said she's glad to see that the club still manages to attract younger faces.
"It's a good grooming ground if you're in the business community," said Crowley. "There is a strong sense of fellowship, and everyone involved does so because they believe that they're doing some real good for the community they live and work in."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.