Kinsmen celebrate 50 years of giving
Organization built on community building
Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 06:00 am
For 50 years the St. Albert Kinsmen have been serving St. Albert’s greatest need. Since May 4,1964 the organization has contributed to the community in remarkably generous ways: by helping to build the Kinex Arena, the Larose Drive Clubhouse, the Kinsmen Korral and the Kinsmen RV Park.
Over the years the Kinsmen have given back some $4.5 million in countless ways but no one who has paid attention to their history, not even the Kinsmen themselves, would say that the going was easy.
“The St. Albert Kinsmen had some darned hard years. There were years when the Rainmaker Rodeo lived up to its name and it didn’t just rain, there was snow. There was sleet. There were deficit years but the thing that kept it all going was that the Kinsmen weren’t ever in it for the money. It was always about giving back to the community. That was their goal,” said club president Dave Bergsma.
The club was started by Jim Simpson and Mike Page, who had both been Kinsmen in other communities.
“It was a time when the community was growing and I’m happy that the Kinsmen were part of that growth. The service work we did helped St. Albert develop,” said charter member Bill Hite.
Hite recalled that, from the beginning, the Kinsmen ran into difficulties.
“Our first rodeo in the spring of 1965 was rained out, of course. Then we held a second rodeo in August and it was rained out too. I think we lost around $6,000,” Hite said.
Those first two rodeo attempts were held close to present-day Liberton Drive.
“The people sat on the church hillside and we had the chutes at the bottom of the hill. It was held there for many years,” he said.
Another 1965 fundraising scheme, the In-Car Bingo, was conceived to help bail out the loss of the rodeo. It was a bust, with only 37 participants and again the Kinsmen lost money.
Their total debt was almost $18,000 – about the equivalent of a new house in that day and age.
“Eighteen of us signed a promissory note with a local banker,” said Hite.
To cover the costs, the Kinsmen of the day went on an ambitious round of fundraising that involved selling fertilizer, peanuts and mailboxes as well as working at bingos.
“Gradually we got out of the hole and we had a few very successful rodeos,” Hite said.
In those early days the Kinsmen never lost track of their motto: serving the community’s greatest need.
“We were very involved in minor hockey and we helped kick off the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association. That’s part of why we got involved in building the Kinex Arena,” Hite said.
Because there was no theatre in town at the time, the Kinsmen began hosting Saturday afternoon matinees in the gymnasium of École Father Jan.
“The parents would drop their kids off at the school and we watched them all afternoon. I believe our largest turnout was 1,200 children to watch Mary Poppins. We also built a teen centre at the time,” he said.
Hite is especially proud of the rodeo parade, which was started to commemorate St. Albert’s birthday. In many ways it continues to be a joining together of community groups, businesses and citizens.
“The parade was kept going by the K-40 Club,” he said, adding that the K-40 club is a club for men, usually over age 40, who wish to continue as Kinsmen.
The club’s biggest fundraiser was always the Rainmaker Rodeo. It was often the club’s biggest headache as well. The unexpected always seemed to happen.
Some years, rodeo participants were badly injured, requiring paramedics and ambulances. Sometimes the kids attending the rodeo got out of hand, and more policing was required. And all too often, it simply rained, but it seems wild horses couldn’t have kept the Kinsmen away from their favourite event.
“It’s the camaraderie. You join Kinsmen, you meet a lot of people and you start having fun. You work together for the community good. But even when things don’t turn out, like when there was a deficit, you work together to find a new way or a better way. You learn together,” said Bergsma.
Mayor Nolan Crouse called the Kinsmen threesome of Kinsmen, K-40 members and Kinettes, a machine and he wishes it was the kind of machinery that could be harnessed.
“Think about their legacy. Think about the parade and the legacy of the rodeo and the Lacombe Park Clubhouse or the Kinettes’ hampers at Christmas. The amount of work the Kin have accomplished is like a machine working for the community and that kind of machine is hard to come by,” Crouse said.
Crouse also said that the Kinsmen legacy is twofold.
“There’s the infrastructure that they built, like the Kinex Arena. But there’s a second legacy that you cannot put a price on and that’s the community building. There’s the human spirit that goes into rodeo weekend and there’s the leadership the Kinsmen have shown. It was the Kinsmen leadership that rallied the community to get things done,” Crouse said.