A lot of Kinsmen stories begin the same way: “I came to Red Deer. I didn’t know a soul. I joined Kinsmen.
“And the guys I first met in Kinsmen are still my very good friends to this day.”
The Red Deer Kinsmen Club introduced Gerry Feehan to the community and the community to the young lawyer upon his move here in the early 1980s. Club membership offered social interaction and a lot of service-oriented involvement in the city.
Feehan spent about 15 years as an active member. He recalls the annual Skate-A-Rama fundraiser that hundreds of kids would attend and weekend work bees assembling school playgrounds that the club has funded.
But he is most proud of the fellowship among the 40-odd club members he served with.
“All of the community service we did with fellow Kinsmen just created a real bond between us,” said Feehan.
Kinsmen clubs are a uniquely Canadian construct. The first such club was started in 1920 in Hamilton by Hal Rogers, a returned First World War veteran looking for an avenue to replicate the camaraderie of wartime service in his civilian life.
The Red Deer Kinsmen was chartered in 1937. It began its service work in 1938 with the sponsorship of the library at the Red Deer Municipal Hospital and a Boy Scout troop, and is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013.
Local Kinsmen fundraisers and events over the years have ranged from a Motor Circus and Soap Box Derby to Skate-A-Rama and the Kinsmen Dream Home lottery, began in 1981 with members having to put up their homes as collateral for the first iteration.
Fun was always mixed with work, whether it was trying to crack up CKRD talent during their live auction or the “dirty shirt dances” following Kinsmen work parties.
Kinsmen projects are scattered around Red Deer, as they are in towns and cities across the country.
The Kinsmen Community Arenas, Kin Canyon, Kinex, Bower-Kin Community Centre, Kinsmen Library Link and the Kinsmen Family Play Space in Parkland Mall all showcase the club’s name, and many other community mainstays have benefitted from Kinsmen donations.
“Our mandate is to serve the community’s greatest need. That’s what we do,” said Len Sisco, Red Deer Kinsmen Club president.
To serve that need, Sisco said the club looks for projects that will benefit the largest number of people.
However, sometimes it deviates, as demonstrated a few years ago in its support of a young girl with cystic fibrosis.
“When you’re able to see the look of appreciation on that family’s face, because now they know their daughter is going to be looked after a lot better, it’s taken a load off them. That’s why we do what we do,” explained Sisco.
Service clubs across the country are facing membership challenges, and the Kinsmen are no exception. The Red Deer group has only 23 members — Lacombe has 31 — when in better times it could count 60 or more.
Sisco said the local Kinsmen are using social media now to try attracting members. But, he said, he is not yet worried about the club’s existence.
“The members that we have are very very strong members. They’re very very committed to the community. I’m not worried at this time, but eventually it could cause a concern if we weren’t able to increase membership,” he stated.
Former member Kevin Beattie said some might see volunteering and the time commitment as a burden, but in Kinsmen a balance is sought between fundraising and fellowship.
“They fail to see the friendships you make,” he said.
For many years, Kinsmen clubs were only open to men under 40 — a restriction championed by one-time member John Diefenbaker — with more aged men able to be involved in the K-40 social club. Today, there is no age limit.
Anyone interested in joining Kinsmen or Kinettes (the women’s club) can visit http://reddeerkinsmen.com or phone Sisco at 403-304-2066.