Grosse Ile Kiwanis

with Keith Fusinski

February 4th, 2021

Host: Ben Fogt

with Keith Fusinski

Grosse Ile Kiwanis

2021, Ben Fogt

What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?


[0:00] [Ben Fogt] This is episode 16 of What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? the podcast that explores the people, places, history, and events that make Grosse Ile unique. I'm your host, Ben Fogt.

[0:11] One of the things about Grosse Ile is that a lot of things get done by some very motivated volunteers, we have a great number of groups that do some remarkable service in the community. A goal I may never accomplish is to find each of those groups and talk with them on the podcast. This week, we’re talking about Grosse Ile’s Kiwanis Club.

[0:30] Whether you know it or not, you see their work all over the island. Let's learn more.

Keith Fusinski is with me today to talk about the service work that Grosse Ile Kiwanis performs in the township. Thank you for your work and thank you for joining me, Keith.

[0:44] [Keith Fusinski] Thank you for having me.

[B] So I've known Kiwanis members from childhood, but I really had no idea that it started in Detroit. Tell me about Kiwanis in general, how it spread globally, and what it stands for.

[K] Well, it started back in 1914. These two gentlemen, Alan Brown who was a personal organizer and Joseph Prince who was a tailor, wanted to make a group for young professionals to be able to network in Detroit. The group was called the Supreme Lodge of Benevolent Order Brothers. Luckily that name changed to the Kiwanis in 1915, the same year that our second club started in Cleveland. The name Kiwanis itself comes from a American Indian expression "Nunc Kee-wanis", which means "we trade". In fact, when it started that's what was about, trading ideas and networking. In 1920 the motto changed to "We Build". In 1922 our first non-American Club started in Canada. So "We Build" was our motto until 2005 when the members changed it to "Serving the Children of the World",

In the beginning it started with the networking building for young professionals. 1919 the organization changed focus to service, specifically the children. Today Kiwanis International has more than 550,000 members including kid clubs in elementary school all the way up to the adult Kiwanis clubs. We host nearly a hundred fifty thousand service products a year.

[2:10] Our club here on the island started in 1962. We've been active in many service projects. When it started we used to hold a regatta every year. But that has since went away. We currently do stuff like we maintain the playscape behind the post office that people use all the time. We do the five programs you've seen around the island which we would likely talk about later and we do the All Island Clean-up every Spring. At least when we're not under a pandemic.

[B] Speaking of the pandemic, that change of focus in 1919 probably had something to do with the pandemic back then, right? So what kind of programs happen at the national and international levels?

[K] They actually have a lot of programs they are working on. They're working on tetanus transfer from mother to children. They're working on iodine deficiency. We do book drives. We actually build playscapes. There's a grant program in Kiwanis International that clubs can actually apply for a grant to have Kiwanis build a playscape in your community.

[3:14] That's the sort of stuff that we tend to focus on, the community. And Kiwanis International does the bigger things but when they need help they call us for help. Like when covid started, they started a fund to collect PPE and buy PPE for first responders and frontline workers. So they came to all the clubs and said "We're doing this drive. Can you help?" So all the clubs funded money

back up to International to help with that project.

[B] So I know that our involvement with Kiwanis on the island started with K Kids. My older son, Duncan who was on the first episode of the podcast, he was in K Kids a few years ago at Meridian and I know there's Builder's Club and I think there's a high school program too.

[K] The Key Club.

[B] Yeah and then we're part of the flag subscription and I know about the Island Clean-Up. So what kind of programs happen? Are there new programs that come about?

[K] So we have a couple reoccurring programs that we'll talk about. I'll tell you there's a list. so stand by. The one that's coming up next is called Read Around the World that coincides with literacy month and what we do is pre-Covid we would have police officers, lawyers, firemen, Township officials, what have you, people with important jobs, come into Meridian Elementary School and read stories to the students.

[4:38] Because of Covid we can't bring people into the school this year. So to adapt that program what we did is we asked all the teachers of Meridian Elementary "What's the one book that you want to add to your classroom collection?" So they gave us a list and we bought all the books. We're labeling those now, getting them ready to give them to them and then when March comes, beginning of literacy month, we're going to deliver all those books to the teachers.

[5:00] The other thing, like you mentioned, is All Island Cleanup. We normally run this from the parking lot of NorthRidge Church every April. Last year because of Covid, we couldn't do it. We're in pre planning stages now. The modified Island Cleanup where small groups or families can sign up and we would designate an area for them to clean up. They would leave the trash bags in place on the side of the road. And then the Kiwanis members would drive around and pick up the trash and we'll have a priority waste truck staged somewhere, which is normally at Northridge Church, but we'll find somewhere to put it this year. And we'll just take the trash there and dispose of it for everybody. The last few years we've been putting on a scavenger hunt. We partner with Grosse Ile Historical Society to put on a family-friendly scavenger hunt. It's basically we did it along Macomb for the younger kids and we also had questions around the island. And so we'd ask a question on a sheet of paper and people have to go to certain spots and find the answers to those questions. The first year we did it we had almost a hundred people over on it somewhere on a hundred people. Last year we had over 200 people participate. The businesses have worked with us to donate prize baskets for the kids and actually we had prize baskets that range from all age groups. We're working really well with the businesses on the island. We worked with the DDA to put the scavenger hunt with Paint the Town Red which coincides with homecoming weekend.

[6:22] So that's what we've been doing for the last two years and it's growing every year. People love it. So this is going to be an annual event that we do every year.

[B] Yeah and I remember this year I was at the Historical Society, I was buying some books, and a bunch of kids, I think five or six all on their bikes and matching t-shirts, were riding up and doing the thing and then it looked like they went further south down East River Road. How far does that go?

[K] Like I said, we did the whole island. So some of the historical markers that you see around the island are actually part of the scavenger hunt. One of the questions "What is the highest elevation on Grosse Ile?" and that would be the sled hill over at the airport.

So we did have a sign up with the answer and directed them where to go next. And the t-shirts, actually that's one of the things for the businesses. When the businesses donate to be part of this project their name goes on the back of the T-shirt.

[B] Oh that's excellent.

[K] So all the businesses get publicity from it because people see what they did and how they helped.

[7:18] Same thing with the baskets they donated. Every basket that a certain business donated had a label. I know this came from Island Goods or what have you and it helps people get familiar with those businesses.

[B] It's hard to draw people in off Macomb Street sometimes.

[K] Yeah it was. It was. It was hard this year the way we did it. Because of covid, we couldn't really send people in. But last year people said "Well there's businesses we've never walked into. We didn't know they were here." So it gets people walking up and down Macomb which makes the businesses happy because they get more foot traffic and people get to see what's there. We have a lot to offer on Macomb and people don't really realize it. So another project we have is the dictionary project and if you went to elementary school here you may know this. Every year we provide dictionaries to the third graders of Meridian Elementary School.

[8:07] PreCovid we actually have a member who's a amateur magician and he would come in and do a magic show for the kids, play dictionary based games with the kids, and they'll have the dictionaries and be looking up words, origins of words, what have you. This year we couldn't do the magic show so what we did is the school told us how many kids they have and we just bought all the dictionaries and we delivered them to the school. And the school... The kids still got the dictionaries even though they didn't have the fun part of the program.

[B] That's great. That's near and dear to me. I started working at the Webster House at Greenfield Village last year. That was a lot of fun. I know that the flag subscription program... We're at the beginning of January, the renewal has started and people can sign up

I think before... I'm not sure when the deadline is for signing up.

[K] There is no deadline That's the next one I was going to talk about. It's our biggest program right now that the residents actually see is the flag program. This is a subscription service. So for a $50 for annual subscription you get a flag put up in your yard or designated location of the island.

[9:12] For 6 patriotic holidays, it's Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Patriots Day, and, weather depending, Veterans Day. We have sockets in the ground. If we can't find them because it's covered in snow, we can't do Veterans Day, but this year we were able to. Our members volunteer their time to put the flags out a few days before the holiday. We come out a few days after the holiday to take them away. We care for the flags so if they get torn or tattered, we replace the flags. We work with the VFW for any flags that actually get tattered. They will be retired through the VFW. You can order subscriptions for yourself or for someone else. If you order a subscription as a gift, we will send them a little card saying "Congratulations! So and so bought you a gift and we will put a flag in front of your house on these days." My issue is I live on a street with three houses on it and I always fly a flag so I don't fly a flag in front of my house. So my flag I have at the Commons over at the corner of Macomb and Meridian and I also sponsor the Marine Corps flag that's out there.

[10:16] [B] So that's why all those flags pop up at the holidays. It's not the Township doing it. It is the Kiwanis.

[K] The Kiwanis, yes. If you want to order a flag, you can do it by going to web page and there's a link right there in front.

[B] And we'll have links to all these things in the episode description.

[K] So besides that stuff, I mean, we do trick-or-treat on Halloween. Every December we adopt a family in need from the island to give them a Christmas. We used to host game nights at Island Woods senior center before Covid hit. We hope that once this is over we can get back there to give the seniors something to do. We work with the Key Club in the high school. They come in with the seniors and play games with the seniors.

[10:55] And like I said we do work parties for the playscape throughout the spring and summer.

[11:01] And you can see if you follow our Facebook page, Grosse Ile Kiwanis or Kiwanis Club of Grosse Ile, you will see... I totally lost my train of thought as soon as I was saying that... Oh. All of our events are posted on that page like a couple weeks in advance so that people know what we're doing,

[B] And I bet if somebody really wanted to get to know what the events were they could join.

[K] Oh yes. That's a whole other fun story.

[B] So how do we do that?

[K] We like volunteers and we like members. To volunteer, like I said, we really look for help with the playscape work parties.

And I will tell you now, if you want to do playscape work parties wear bad clothes because it normally involves staining and painting.

We have people show up and we go "You're not dressed for this. Go home and change." And as they say "Many hands make light work," so the more people we have helping us the more we can do for the children of the community. We have meetings every Thursday. Normally they are at township hall. We used to have them at the middle school. Now we're not having them. We're meeting virtually. A lot of people tend to shy away from joining the service clubs because of the mandatory meetings. Ou meetings are not mandatory. They're fun. They're not mandatory. So you can be a Kiwanis member and never show up to a meeting. You just tend to have a better idea of what's going on if you do show up at the meetings, but you can pretty much stay up to speed with the emails we send back and forth of what's going on.

[12:29] We had... The meeting we had this week only... everyone's out doing stuff so no one could meet. So I ended up sending an email out saying "Okay I got the books. These are the three things that's going on right now. But yeah, so I said we meet at Township Hall.

But the way to do it is to our Facebook page or Kiwanis Club of Grosse Ile or is where you can get on a volunteer list through there.

[B] Now some people are restricted. They either can't get out because they're susceptible to the virus and they need to stay in or

maybe they just can't get around so much anymore. Are there ways to help support the Kiwanis with money?

[13:13] [K] Yes, we love money. It helps us do our job. So what we used to do, we used to sell peanuts. We used to sit at Kroger and sell peanuts. We used to be at the middle of Four Corners by the bridge selling peanuts. The problem is it's sort of contradictory now because of all the kids are developing peanut allergies. Selling peanuts to help kids that are hurt by peanuts are not a good thing. So our big fundraiser right now is the flag program. But we have a charitable trust and if you go to our website, there's a button that is a tax-deductible link. We are 501c3. So you can actually make tax deductible donations directly into the trust and all the money from the trust goes directly to helping kids.

[B] Perfect.

[14:00] Well I think we've covered everything and you all do so much already, but something I ask guests to do every episode is to make a wish for Grosse Ile. So if you can have a wish granted for the community, what would it be?

[14:11] [K] You know there's a lot of things I could think of to help the kids in Grosse Ile as a whole. I think, honestly right now, the one thing that everybody would agree with, that we really need more than anything, is a safe, usable County Bridge that we don't have to keep paying money for to get over.

[B] You know even if you can ride your bike over for free, it doesn't take you to where you need to go. Well, I want to thank you for spending this time with me, Keith. Let me represent the rest of the community and tell you that I and we appreciate you and the rest of Grosse Ile Kiwanis and the effect that you have on our children and the pride you show in our community. Thank you so much.

[K] Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for allowing me to talk about the Kiwanis. We have fun. Come out and volunteer. Come out and see what our meetings are like. Come out and volunteer a few times and see what we're like if you want to be a member.

Yes, come out and have fun.

[B] Or just spy in on a Thursday meeting if you can.

[K] You know, they were more fun in person than they are by Zoom but I got to tell you that because the Kiwanis meetings are all about the kids, it has to be fun. It's just children. You have to. We tend to laugh more than we talk at all of the meetings.

[15:29] Thank you so much

[B] Thanks again to Keith Fusinski and the Grosse Ile Kiwanis. Make sure to get involved with their efforts as much as you can. I hear they have a great time.

[15:39] Now we're approaching Valentine's Day of 2021 and I had some quick things to say about the next episode. Episode 17 is going to be quite a time. I'll warn you now that it's going to be very long, at least double the normal length. So you may want to settle in, especially if you like those real crime podcasts like Serial. We're going to look at some of the criminal enterprises of the 1920s that had an effect on Grosse Ile.

[16:04] Because that interview went really long I'll be creating a second, bonus episode to release on Valentine's Day. But I still need your help. Look in the episode notes for ways to tell me what you love about Grosse Ile so I can share it with everyone. The very best is if you call it in on the phone and the phone number's in that list. But I can read them if it comes to that and as I said it will be it's very own bonus episode on February 14th. So that's it. Get ready for next week's episode about organized crime in metro Detroit. There. I said it, but I waited until the very end.

[16:40] What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? is recorded and produced by me, Ben Fogt. You can keep in touch with me through the What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? Facebook page or email me at

[39:26] What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? is recorded and produced by me, Ben Fogt. You can keep in touch with me through the What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? Facebook page or email me at You can share episodes from Facebook or hear them from the website And of course it never hurts to subscribe so you can get the latest episodes through your favorite podcast delivery tool, like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and so many others.

Our intro and credit music is Mocktails in the Rain by Antii Luodo which is used through a Creative Commons license. Find more of his music on as Antii's Instrumentals.

Thanks for listening to What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?