DON’T CALL THEM BABBITTS
Every week Canada’s 60,000 service clubmen break loose with corny songs, backslapping and other brands of horseplay. But between times they scheme and sweat to help others. The Kinsmen, who started in a Chinese café in Hamilton, once sent 50 million quarts of free milk to British kids
THE STORY is told of H. A. Rogers, founder of the Kinsmen service clubs, that while being shown around a model insane asylum he became separated from his hosts. Soon he found himself surrounded by inmates. A guard appeared and began to check his charges, jabbing a finger at each as he counted: “One . . . Two . . . Three . . .” When he came to Rogers, he paused, finger poised, and said: “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the founder of the Kinsmen,” Rogers told him.
“Is that so?” the guard said drily, jabbed a finger at him and continued: “Four . . . Five . . .” Although seldom expressed so succinctly this attitude toward members of Canada’s service clubs is not uncommon. Whether they belong to Rotary (the oldest), Lions (the biggest), Kinsmen fallCanadian) , Kiwanis (Canadian - American), the smaller Gyros and Optimists or any local organization, members of this vast brotherhood almost always find themselves regarded as counterparts of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt.
The truth is, however, that while the average service club may give over its weekly luncheon to high-spirited hand-shaking and horseplay of a kind that would make a cheer-leader look like a supreme court judge—for the rest of the week it makes a serious and successful business of doing good.
In dusty hamlets, brisk towns and brassy cities, Canada’s 60,000 service club members raffle radios, cars and homes, run bingos, tag days and carnivals to raise funds for children’s camps, vocational
schools, clinics and other welfare projects so farranging that few people would be inclined to minimize the amount of good they do.
The Optimists, for example, greet visitors by bending over and uttering a strange yowl, straightening up and singing: “Call around any old time, Make yourself at home ; . .” and heaving napkins and bread rolls at startled guests. But they provide a hefty $5,000-a-year roll to operate a boys’ club in Toronto, conduct hearing and vision surveys in a school for backward children and supply glasses free to any child with defective eyesight.
A Toronto Lions club provides free outings for underprivileged children at Beausoleil Camp on Georgian Bay at an annual cost of $7,200 and tells its members about it at the annual meeting while a gent known as the Tail Twister indulges in such hilarious pranks as cutting off ties.
Recently, at a Toronto Kiwanis club luncheon, members sent a girl barging between tables after a prominent and bashful insurance executive whom she charged with deserting her at Union Station. But it was one of the four Toronto Kiwanis clubs which took over Toronto’s white elephant, Casa Lorna, made it pay as a tourist lure and dance spot and turned the rich proceeds over to needy children.
Typical of Canada’s service clubs are the Kinsmen, who celebrated their 30th anniversary last summer with a national convention in Winnipeg.
The Association of Kinsmen Clubs is the only all-Canadian service organization wholly national in scope. There are 255 Kinsmen clubs from
Nanaimo, B.C., to St. John’s, Newfoundland, with nearly 10,000 members. The group was formed in the winter of 1919-20 when Hal Rogers, just out of his teens, returned from overseas to find most of his old pals gone. On the advice of his Rotarian father he got together 12 young men and formed a club which held its first meeting on Feb. 20, 1920, in a room above a Chinese café in Hamilton.
The idea spread like a chain letter as members moved to other cities and took it with them. By 1926 there were clubs in Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The first national convention was held. The group hotly debated and turned down a proposal that it become international. It set the age limit for active membership at 40 and passed the first constitution and by-laws.
Like most members of such organizations, the typical Kinsman is an uncomplicated, gregarious person. When he isn’t working himself to a frazzle on one of the organization’s endless welfare projects he displays a degree of unyielding good fellowship that would make a more inhibited type shudder. From the first firm handshake he calls his fellows by their first names and preferably by nicknames. Even in formal club procedure, “Mr. President” becomes “President Ken”; “Mr. Chairman,” “Chairman Stu”; “Mr. Secretary,” “Secretary Banty.” Kinsmen refer to their wives as their “inspiration,” and they’re not kidding. They make endless dead-pan use of “Kinsmenship,” “fellow Kin,” “Kinsmenism,” “in the hearts of Kin,” “conduct becoming of a Kinsman,” “Kindred souls.”
Meetings begin with “O Canada” or “The King,” followed by the Kin song, sung to the tune of “Madelon”—poilu song of World War I, beginning with the words: “Here we are together once again. One and all a happy bunch of men . . .” Formerly this continued: “Look around, grab someone by
the hand, grip your toes and show you’re full of sand.” Now it has been altered in the interests of Kinsmanship dignity to: “Look around grab
someone by the hand. They’re your friends, the finest in the land.” At this point each Kinsman grasps his neighbor’s right hand with his left hand and vice versa, making a chain of crossed hands which is rhythmically pumped with much hearty squeezing until the final lines: “Now— ALL SET —Let’s shout to beat the band— Kinsmen! Kinsmen! Kin—S-M-E-N!”
In smaller centres where t he Kinsmen sometimes hold their meetings in the local restaurant it’s a test of sincere Kinsmanship to go through this sort of thing in full view of non-Kin patrons. General Secretary S. H. (“Banty”) Bantick, a comfortablelooking, middle-aged man with a low-pitched chuckle and a slight
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English accent tells of visiting a small western club where he had to make a speech while a cynical salesman sat in a corner delivering a series of verbal raspberries and having the time of his life.
Most clubs have a sergeant-at-arms who fines members for such minor offenses as heckling, wangling service ahead of the head table, bringing drink to the table or calling someone “Mister.” But the accused has the privilege of defending himself, which sometimes leads to a lot of solemn horse-play. Another cause for a fine is failure to wear the Kinsman’s pin—a St. Andrew’s Cross, symbolic of personal sacrifice, on a square, symbolizing rectitude. The pin must be worn at all meetings, and usually is worn at all times.
Once an eastern Kinsman and his family motoring west and a western Kinsman and family motoring east met on a Rocky Mountain road. They almost put one another over the edge, leaped out of their cars, spent a brisk moment yelling: “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” Then they spotled one another’s Kin pin. Their pop-eyed families watched them clasp hands, thump one another’s shoulders and all but break into a chorus of “Madelon.”
At Kinsmen meetings poker or crap games sometimes get rolling, but gambling usually is discouraged; the theory is that a man worried about gambling losses is going to make a poor Kinsman. The more lusty traditions of stags, such as party dancers, are rare.
Kinsmen’s wives, seeing their husbands come home from meetings in a high state of enthusiasm, are apt to take a dim view of the whole thing, considering it just another male dodge to get out of the house. Kinsmen are therefore urged to explain the sober aims of Kinsmanship and give an account of the work they do, with particular emphasis on welfare work for children. This is usually enough to swing a wife over on the side of Kinsmanship, often far enough to join the Kinettes, an auxiliary group patterned after the Kinsmen. A family that has gone this far is apt to refer to its children as Kidettes.
The age limit for an active Kinsman is 40, after which, although he still has a vote, he no longer can hold office. The rule was made when the club was formed by young men to whom 40 seemed the brink of senility. As they grew older and found that they felt roughly the same at 40 as they did at 20, the idea didn’t seem so good. They also found that the better member for office was more likely to be 40 or over. On the other hand, a good Kinsman is measured by the amount of work he does, and the energy, ideas and
enthusiasms of youth count heavily.
In the west the age limit was enforced so rigidly that in a few clubs members over 40 formed their own group known as the K-40’s. But the East was inclined to be a little vague about when a man was 40. At one national convention in Toronto western delegates supported the age limit with signs, banners and toy tomahawks. The issue was argued at business meetings, in hotel rooms, but no conclusion was reached.
A new Kinsman must be proposed by another member and have his name published in Kin, the Kinsmen’s magazine. If anyone has reason to believe he will not be a worthy Kinsman the club executive must be notified within a given time. Otherwise, he is given his pin, a briefing on principles of Kinsmanship and handed a book of Kinsmen’s names entitled “A Key to 10,000 Friendships.” But long before his name has been published in Kin a secret-committee lias gone to work on him, checking for anti-social traits or unkinsmanlike motives.
Seldom is anyone turned down. Occasionally a man will be rejected for such things as being too handy with cards; more common rejectee is the man with an eye on business.
No Place for the Drummer
If a Kinsman is caught peddling his wares to fellow Kinsmen he is taken aside and quietly told to lay off. Once when Hal Rogers was asked to speak at a new club in an eastern city he was button-holed by the president who complained that he hadn’t been getting business from his fellow kin. Far from being displeased with their business-hunting president, other club members were sore because they hadn’t been getting club business. Rogers’ address that night was simply a matter of telling the group to get ready to fold up. He reported the incident to the national president and the club’s charter was withdrawn. Anyone who joins the Kinsmen to drum up trade is in for a letdown.
One insurance man claims that he got far more business from Kinsmen before he became a member than he did afterward.
A Kinsman joins the organization for company, to commit himself to unselfish work, for a chance to overcome timidities that stand in his way in business. Kinsmen are fond of telling with a faintly revivalist enthusiasm of how, before joining the Kinsmen, they nearly died of fear when asked to make a speech; and how, after a short time among fellow Kin, their fears vanished. The self-development is along hustling, Dale Carnegie lines, but actually it has helped many a diffident clerk or junior salesman blossom into a full-blown executive.
A Kinsman at play inhabits hotel dining rooms where he goes in great good spirits once every two weeks to sing Kin songs, play innocent jokes, listen to quartets and comic musical groups, indulge regular-guy philosophy, refresh himself and hear speeches that don’t require too much concentration.
A Kinsman at work is more typical of the group: it’s the way he spends most of his time. Most of the work is done by numerous committees meeting in members’ homes. When a Kinsman makes up his mind to do good he pitches in with a fervor that leaves more blase types bewildered.
One evening during the last war, Rogers, then chairman of the club’s National Wartime Committee, heard a radio appeal for milk for British children. He phoned the Department of National War Services in Ottawa and offered the services of Kinsmen.
Making a guess he said they would send a million quarts. The official was sceptical but told Rogers to go ahead.
The Kinsmen went to work on a national scale. They plastered the country with posters of a tragic-eyed, bandaged British baby. In Halifax club members built a house and raffled it for $10,000; one of the Toronto clubs took Borden’s primped and pedicured real-life cow, Falsie, into Toronto’s Royal York Hotel and herded her along carpeted corridors, knocked on doors and startled guests into donations by poking Elsie’s head into rooms. Western clubs helped with harvesting; one club cut and sold timber.
Result: The Kinsmen sent 4
million quarts of milk to British children within the first yegr. In four years they sent more than 50 million quarts.
Scarcely taking time for one rousing chorus of “Here we are together once again,” the Kinsmen, with mounting zeal, built and financed the first mobile dental clinic in the British Armies; provided so many magazines that they stopped counting after 23 millions; sent 36,000 10-pound food parcels to Britain; and sold a quarter of a million dollars worth of war savings stamps.
Kinsmen have a way of raising funds that would shame the more prosaic methods of professional promoters, then reporting the results with the prim restraint of a church warden. “We were fortunate enough to be allowed to conduct a tag day in Toronto,” reads one bulletin by Illahee Lodge, a Kinsmen-sponsored, Port Cobourg home for sick children. “And we were favored with an exceptionally fine day; We collected $9,500. We also made a direct mail appeal that netted just over $12,500. We also conducted a bingo in Maple Leaf Gardens that netted $5,000.”
The Kinsmen’s cancer fund provided $50,000 to finance four scholarships for X-ray and radium therapy research and tossed in another $9,000 to be used for any other cancer research. Other typical projects: The Winnipeg club
sponsors a clinic for spastic children; the St. John’s, Newfoundland, club finances treatment of deaf and dumb children; the Montreal club cheerfully prodded that city’s people into shelling out $150,000 for a boys’ club; Medicine Hat Kinsmen raised $8,440 for tuberculosis treatment.
To the Tune of “Lili Marlene”
No town.is too small to be touched by Kinsmen ardor. The club in the town of Peace River, Alta. (pop. 1,250), decided the community needed an arena. Members motored 200 miles to Dawson Greek, bought an old U. S. Army warehouse, pulled it down, brought the material back to Peace River and started a campaign of carnivals, ice shows, raffles and hockey games to raise funds. They finally built an arena they estimate couldn’t be replaced for $70,000, and on Remembrance Day, 1949, held a big mortgageburning dance.
With true Kinsman spirit someone composed a poem to commemorate the event. “Fifteen thousand dollars, that’s a lot of hay; that is what the mortgage was we bur-ried today.” (To the tune of “Lili Marlene.”)
Raising a lot of hay is routine for a Kinsman and the list of projects he raises it for is almost endleas. But so is a Kinsman’s enthusiasm. . Maybe some of it is spent on making speeches, shaking hands and singing luncheon songs—but only as much as can be packed into one lunch hour every two weeks.
The rest of the time, he asks, on behalf of all service clubmen—Please don’t call me Babbitt. ★