BRANDON – It’s not unusual for a woman to lead a local Kiwanis group as its president – but there was a time when women weren’t even allowed to join its ranks. Clarkia Dennis remembers those days well as she heralds the place her local club plays in the life of the Greater Brandon community.
Dennis is president of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Brandon, which meets Thursday mornings at Ben’s Family Restaurant, 704 E. Brandon Blvd., across the street from Nativity Catholic Church and school.
“We’ve been participating in helping Brandon grow and being a part of Brandon’s heart since 1960,” Dennis said after a recent meeting. “The club is a very important part of Brandon’s history.”
As Brandon this year gears up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 founding of the Brandon School – the forerunner for today’s Brandon High School – clubs and businesses throughout town are taking pause to remember what it means to have been a part of the town they call home.
For her part, Dennis said she moved to Brandon after a 32-year career in education and a stop in Tennessee, where she retired from her job as a school principal in Fort Lauderdale. In Tennessee she worked on a federal women’s health program in the Appalachia area.
“My boss was a member of Kiwanis and asked me to join and that’s all it took,” she said.
In 2008 she moved to Brandon, “to be with my kids,” where she joined the local club and now serves as its president, for the 2013-14 term.
In college, though, Dennis had heard of Kiwanis but had never imagined being an active part of its operations.
“It was just not part of my thought process,” she said. “I hadn’t even considered after college what I would do. I was busy becoming a teacher, being a young person planning my career and future, and women weren’t allowed in Kiwanis so I thought I’d never have an opportunity [to join the club].”
Those days are long gone and Dennis is busy leading her club through another year, the same club she said she joined shortly after moving to Brandon “for the love of community and children.”
“It just permeates everything we do and everybody in here,” Dennis added. “It’s such a strong urge and calling. It’s a calling for all of us to improve the lives of children here in Brandon and around the world.”
Most noticeably is the Terrific Kids program Kiwanians sponsor throughout local schools, “which provides an award to more than 11,000 children every year,” Dennis said. “It’s not for academic excellence alone. It’s for citizenship. They are chosen by their teachers for how much they’ve accomplished and how much improvement they’ve shown. It boosts their self-esteem and for some children it will be the only award they receive. It’s important because it shows them that efforts are appreciated.”
Also of note is the local club’s participation in The Eliminate Project, a global endeavor of Kiwanis International, in partnership with UNICEF, to eliminate maternal/neonatal tetanus from the planet.
“It’s truly a miraculous program,” Dennis said. “If we give a shot to a pregnant woman, it protects her and the child she’s carrying, and any other children she will have for the next seven years, from dying of tetanus, or lockjaw.”
Dennis said the Kiwanis Club of Greater Brandon is more than 50 years old and that some of its members harken back to the earlier days, offering a unique glimpse into what Brandon was like before its suburban sprawl.
“When I moved here I didn’t have the connections with the community that were built over generations,” Dennis said. “This club is a generational link to Brandon and its history.”
Moreover, “This is a very positive club,” she added. “We have all sides of political points of view sitting in this room and at the same time it’s not an issue. We are a true family. If any of us needs support in any way, shape or form, we’re there for them.”