Kiwanis International is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time. 

Group portrait of the Indianapolis Kiwanis Club, posed behind the home of J. I. Holcomb, at a picnic in 1923. Credit: Bretzman Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Founded in 1915 in Detroit, Kiwanis established its first headquarters in Chicago. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis was founded the following year with 54 community leaders.  It was the first Kiwanis Club established in Indiana and the 18th  in the nation. 

Membership in the club quickly grew to 150 members, with meetings at the Severin Hotel. Along with Rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs throughout Indiana funded the second expansion of Riley Hospital For Children in 1930 with a donation of $150,000. The K-Wing, initially used as a pediatric orthopedic center, also was dedicated in 1930. The Kiwanis Foundation of Indianapolis, incorporated in 1949, participates with other local clubs to provide scholarships and programs for Indianapolis youth and for Riley Hospital for Children. 

Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis membership surpassed 400 in 1974, making it the world’s largest Kiwanis club.  Membership later grew to 500, a mark club members worked to stay above as a tribute to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.

On February 2, 1981, Indianapolis was selected as the site for the new Kiwanis International headquarters. Among the community leaders who advocated for the move to Indianapolis were retired U.S. Army Major General Robert G. Moorhead, who was passionate about the city, the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, as well as the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis. 

Indianapolis firm BOHLEN, MEYER, GIBSON AND ASSOCIATES designed Kiwanis’ new headquarters, while The City of Indianapolis, {lilly endowment, inc.}::EL, and the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis Foundation partially underwrote the costs. Indianapolis-based contractor Jungclaus- Campbell Company completed construction of the $3 million, three-story, 60,000-square-foot building in August 1982.

Since opening in Indianapolis, Kiwanis International headquarters has served the Kiwanis family of 500,000 volunteers worldwide, including adults in Kiwanis, adults with disabilities in Aktion clubs, university students in Circle K, high school students in Key Clubs, and middle school and elementary school students in Builders Club and K-Kids, respectively. They have built hospital wings and playgrounds, opened parks and schools, provided leadership experiences to youth, supported families in need, and more. Each year, Kiwanis volunteers sponsor nearly 150,000 service projects, raise more than $100 million and devote more than 19 million hours to service.

Beyond their local communities, members serve globally. During the 1990s, Kiwanis partnered with UNICEF in a successful fundraising program to virtually eliminate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), the leading cause of preventable mental disability. The campaign raised and leveraged more than $100 million, leading to a significant decrease in IDD worldwide. In response, UNICEF declared that salt iodization is considered one of the most successful public health achievements of the latter 20th  century.

In 2010, UNICEF and Kiwanis launched their current campaign to virtually eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). Between the campaign’s launch in 2010 and December 2019, the World Health Organization certified 27 countries as MNT-free.

Kiwanis clubs of the Greater Indianapolis metropolitan area form one of the largest networks of clubs within the Kiwanis organization. Kiwanis members from around the world visit Indianapolis every year while attending board meetings, leadership training, and conventions. 

In 2015, Indianapolis hosted Kiwanis International’s 100th-anniversary celebration, which drew more than 7,000 attendees. Indianapolis has also hosted the annual Kiwanis International convention in 1937, 1992, 2003, 2015, and 2020.

Revised April 2021

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