History of the Texas-Oklahoma District of CKI

This site is a dedicated resource used to document the history of the Texas-Oklahoma District of Circle K International



Working with service-oriented college men came relatively early in the history of Kiwanis club activities. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the International Board in April of 1922, a letter was received from the chairman of a committee appointed by the Michigan District governor. It asked the Board to investigate the forming of junior Kiwanis clubs in colleges and universities. The Executive Committee took no definitive action and so the matter appeared as Item 14 on the agenda of the June meeting of the full Board. The secretary of the Michigan District asked permission to appear before the Board to fully review the possibility of expanding Kiwanis youth service work to the college campus. But after hearing out the proposal and discussing it thoroughly, the Board dismissed the idea as impractical.

Seventeen years later, in 1939, the March issue of The Kiwanis Magazine carried an article titled "Pullman Sees Them Through." The article detailed an activity of the Pullman, Washington, Kiwanis club that enabled twenty-six young men to attend college. The club had purchased a house in which the young men lived for $20 each per month, which covered their room and board. Jay N. Emerson, a member of the Pullman, Washington Kiwanis club, had first presented the plan in 1936, and the residence was called the Circle K House.

Circle K's origin was therefore a fraternity. During the tenth anniversary year of the Circle K House, its founder became President of Kiwanis International. President Emerson's first objective for the 1946-47 year was to "consider every boy and girl an opportunity for Kiwanis service." He was determined to expand youth work by Kiwanis clubs, and his enthusiasm for his home club's Circle K project ran high. The first officially chartered club was at Carthage College, Illinois (now located in Wisconsin) in 1947. The Texas-Oklahoma District has direct connections to that first Circle K Club, with Alton Wachtendorf of Cuero, Texas joining the club as a sophomore and then becoming the club president for the 1949-50 year. At the 35th annual Kiwanis International Convention in Miami, FL in 1950, Wachtendorf was a featured speaker on the growth of Circle K clubs in 8 states.

At the February 1947 meeting of the International Board, the Circle K Club of Pullman, Washington, requested permission to rename itself using Greek letters, a traditional designation of fraternities. It was a challenge for the Board. The feelings of the Board were clear. The Board voted that:

"because every Kiwanis club should have the right to install a Circle K House and because certain colleges do not permit Greek letter fraternities; because certain colleges have limited the number of fraternities on the campus, which limit is now reached; and because from a selfish standpoint we want to keep the 'K' our affiliated organization, we decline the request of the club to change its name."

On March 9, 1955, Secretary O. E. Peterson wrote President Alford of Circle K the following: At a recent meeting of the International Board on February 18 and 19, the following recommendation of the Board Committee on Kiwanis Youth Organizations was unanimously accepted:

"Voted, that the present organization of Circle K clubs receive International recognition and a charter from Kiwanis International at the Cleveland Convention (Kiwanis - June 1955) provided the International dues be $4 per member per year, and that a Constitution and Bylaws which have the approval of Kiwanis International be adopted."

Circle K Clubs soon began to put their Kiwanis sponsors to shame with their intensive efforts to serve their fellowmen, with both traditional service work on campus and new work with the disabled persons of the community. Women were affiliated with Circle K clubs in unsanctioned auxiliary organizations, such as the Circle K-Ettes at Lee College in the early 1960s , but it was not until 1971 that delegates at the International Convention voted to allow women into the organization. The move was initially met with resistance by Kiwanis, which must approve all changes to the Circle K governing documents. After nearly two years of debate, the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees approved the change on February 6, 1973 and Circle K became the first co-ed organization in the Kiwanis Family. In 1984, Susan E. McClernon was elected the first female International President of Circle K International. By the late 1970s, almost half of the International Board of Officers were women. Many women also were serving as district governors and in other top leadership capacities. In 1975, Gregory Faulkner from the New York District was elected to the position of International President. Faulkner was the first African-American International President.

By 1981, more than 700 clubs and more than 12,000 members proved that the response of Circle K members to the 1958 Circle K Chairman Armand Rodehorst statement; "We sincerely appreciate this opportunity to work with the finest college men in America - Circle K International" was positive.

In the late 1980s, Circle K began to look at membership qualifications. In light of the organization's goals, its leaders believed that there should be a movement away from being just another club in which anybody could become affiliated. The first requirement was that every member must be at least a half-time student. Also, the member must be a well motivated student, meaning that he or she must be working toward graduation in some field. All of the current trends have had the desired effect of stabilizing the number of Circle K clubs and members. They also are giving an incentive to the growth of a college organization, which once again gives increasing evidence of meeting the personal needs of the college student. Confidence in its strong position and appeal to incoming students resulted in the establishment and implementation of the "Key To College" program. Circle K members have invited members of high school Key Clubs to visit college campuses and to see firsthand what Circle K has to offer to further their full development as members of the student body. At the International Convention in 1987, the delegates approved the use of the initials CKI as an official name of the organization.

Over the years, many amendments have been proposed in order to change the name structure and pledge, among other items, in order to improve the functionality and name recognition of the organization. Concern arose in 2006 due to proposed restructuring changes presented as "The Case for Change" by the 2005-2006 Structure Task Force. At 2006 International Convention in Boston, discussion of the proposed regionalization plans and other structure changes, such as changing to a sub-region structure with elected representatives to the international board in lieu of the trustee system employed by Kiwanis International and Key Club International resulted in delegates engaging in the longest house of delegates session in the history of the organization. The following year in Portland, several more amendments failed after nearly 16 hours in the House of the Delegates. These included a new club dues structure, the elimination of the offices of International President and Vice-President, and measures allowing clubs outside of a district structure. Finally in Denver in 2008, the House of Delegates made the decision to change the financial structure of the organization from a per-member international dues revenue model to a per-club fee model (which had not been employed since the early 1980s), which went into effect for the 2010-2011 CKI fiscal year.

Throughout the 1990s, Circle K worked in partnership with the Kiwanis-family in the first worldwide service project to support UNICEFs $125 million initiative to successfully eliminate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) across the globe. In 2007, Circle K independently partnered with the UNICEF USA to help raise $500,000 towards efforts to help children around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water. Named "Saving Lives – The Six Cents Initiative," it got its name from the cost in U.S. funds, to purchase one pack of rehydration salts to purify a day’s worth of drinking water. From 2010-2018 Circle K was again engaged with the entire Kiwanis-family and UNICEF in the second worldwide service project to raise $160 million for The Eliminate Project to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.. Most recently, in 2017, Circle K International partnered again with UNICEF to adopt a five-year signature project WASH - Water Sanitation Hygiene. Circle K International aims to provide education, awareness, and funding to supply clean drinking water and sanitation education to schools and children in Haiti to target Haiti’s emergency needs to reach 200,000 people in cholera-affected areas with a complete WASH response package.

Texas-Oklahoma District History

In 1951, two Circle K clubs in Texas were among the first 25 chartered in the organization - Howard Payne College (Howard Payne University) and Lamar School of Technology (Lamar University). In 1952 the club at Odessa College was formed and was quickly followed by a trio chartering of Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University, and McMurry University in early 1953. Just a few years later, more clubs were added and the beginnings of a district began to form. According to the HISTORY OF THE TEXAS- OKLAHOMA DISTRICT OF KIWANIS INTERNATIONAL, Second Edition, in 1953 "the ground work for the Texas-Oklahoma District Circle K International was laid this year and was finalized the following year."

The weekend of December 10-11, 1955, the Kiwanis Club of Abilene played host to the third Circle K Training Conference in the United States at the Windsor Hotel. It was at this conference (within the district, regarded as the first convention) that approximately 75 members representing 10 of the 17 clubs in Texas and Oklahoma adopted a constitution and bylaws and held elections of the first district board of officers. At the conclusion of the conference, a date was set in February of 1956 to ratify the constitution and bylaws in Waco, Texas. Just a few months later on the weekend of April 13-15, 1956, the second governor of the district was elected at the district convention in Ada, Oklahoma, the theme of which was "Building for Tomorrow." Build they did. To date, Circle K clubs have existed at 112 colleges and universities across the Texas-Oklahoma District.

According to Don Vaughn, Circle K Governor from 1957-58, "During the late 1950s Harmon Dobson, a member of Kiwanis in Corpus Christi Texas used his private airplane to fly us to visit Kiwanis Clubs across Texas and Oklahoma in an effort to build Circle K clubs. Mr. Dobson utilized financial resources and donated his time away from his business which would become what we now know as Whataburger."

By the time Circle K members met for their first annual International Convention as the newest member of the Kiwanis-family in 1956, the Texas-Oklahoma District was already in it's second year. When Circle K International began accepting charters of districts, the T-O District was the first to be officially recognized on February 22, 1957. From August 26-29, 1958, the district hosted its first International Convention in Huntsville, TX and the first International President from the district, Jack E. Whitescarver, was elected from Sam Houston State Teachers College club.

The apocryphal origin of the district's interchangeable use of "chapters" and "clubs" comes from a supposed rule out of Baylor University. The story goes that when the Baylor chapter was formed in 1956, a campus rule mandated that all student organizations with any affiliation outside of the local campus must be regarded as chapters, and not as clubs. The tradition stuck, and delegates from the T-O District successfully lobbied the International House of Delegates to include the following in the International Bylaws:


Section 1. Clubs.

The membership of Circle K International shall consist of Circle K clubs or chapters which have been accepted by the CKI Board of Trustees and certified in the manner prescribed in these Bylaws. Wherever the terms “club” or “clubs” are used, “chapter” or “chapters ” may be substituted.

At the 2021 CKIx (International Convention), the the use of "chapter" and "chapters" was removed from the international bylaws. In the mid-1980s, the Texas-Oklahoma District pioneered use of the initials (CKI) as a contemporary name for the organization. The current CKI wordmark is a revised version of a logo that was first developed in the district. Additionally, the district has continually developed unique recognition programs, membership recruiting techniques, membership requirements, promotional materials, and many other programs that have been emulated throughout Circle K International.

*Sources: Kiwanis History Bulletins, Wikipedia, Abilene Reporter-News, Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light, Corsicana Daily Sun, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The Odessa American, The Waco News-Tribune

Contributions by Jim Cook, John Cano, Hunter Faubion, and countless others who have helped preserve the district's history.