The Kiwanis movement in Jamaica will complete fifty years on March 24, 2014 and the man who deserves the credit for taking on the mantle of leadership of the first Kiwanis Club in Jamaica, as Charter President of the Kiwanis Club of Kingston was Frank Melhado. Frank used to attend luncheon meetings and committee meetings even when he was in his nineties and when DP Stewart Spencer was President (1996 – 1997) he and Distinguished Lt. Governor of Excellence, Trevor Christian sat with Charter President Frank while he reminisced about the early days. Following are excerpts from that interview.
In the early years, Kiwanis International restricted to two, the number of members a club could recruit from any one professional discipline; however Pete Patterson, a former Secretary of Kiwanis International, suggested to Frank that if he had a good man, he should grab him and this guided his recruitment policy.
Frank also noted that one pre-condition for him to accept the leadership mantle was that no ethnic group in Jamaica should be excluded from becoming members. Other organizations were then recruiting on a more selective basis.
Frank served as President from March 1964 to December 1966, spanning three successive Administrative years. At that time the Kiwanis year was the same as the calendar year. This is a feat that has never been repeated in the Club’s history and during that time he presided over the Chartering of the Kiwanis Clubs of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Mandeville and Downtown Kingston. The latter was formed with a nucleus of former members of the Kiwanis Club of Kingston.
It is also interesting to note that during Frank’s tenure, the Kiwanis Club of Kingston along with the Kiwanis Club of Nassau, co-sponsored the Kiwanis Clubs of Curacao, Aruba, and Puerto Rico. The latter however only lasted for one year as the Puerto Ricans shut down the Club and formed a new one so as to align themselves with the U.S.A.
This leads to an interesting fact that may not be common knowledge as many persons have wondered how come Jamaica is aligned with Canada when the U.S.A. is so much closer. The facts are that after the Kiwanis Club of Kingston was organized, sponsorship was sought through the Florida District, but they declined and it was Canada who welcomed us with open arms via what was then the Ontario, Quebec and Maritime District. It was a Canadian business executive who was working in Nassau who facilitated the connection, resulting in our being sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Nassau which interestingly was only a few months old at the time.
Frank recalled a story relating to one of his early Board Meetings. The meeting was scheduled for 5:00 pm and the first member arrived at 5:10 pm while others showed up at various times up to 5:45 pm. Frank calmly served his refreshments but made no attempt to call the meeting to order. When the others began to ask why the meeting had not been called, Frank quietly pointed out that his meeting was at 5:00 pm, not 5:45 pm, so there would be no meeting. He also threatened to resign but was convinced not to. The meeting was then rescheduled for the next day and everyone was there by ten to five.
The first Secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Kingston was Alan Talbot. Frank’s other Secretary who served in his second and third years, was Victor Williams who later became President of the Club and also a Distinguished Lt. Governor for a Division in Canada to which he had migrated.
On the business side, Frank served as General Manager of the Kingston Industrial Garage and recalled this anecdote. When K.I.G. acquired a Ford dealership in 1907, long before Frank actually joined the company, the requirement then was that a dealer had to order a minimum of 25 cars. This was done and in just seven weeks, another 25 cars were ordered. At this point Henry Ford himself called and after offering his congratulations, added “Please let me know if I should enlarge my factory to take care of your orders.”
Frank Melhado was actually born in Panama because his father, who was Jamaican, was working there and Frank did not actually come to Jamaica until 1933 where he lived the rest of his life. Meeting and marrying Rosa was the most likely, but not the only reason for this. He fondly recalled the support given to him by Rosa and anyone who ever saw them together could easily see the love that radiated between them. They celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary on February 19, 2003. Unfortunately, Frank passed away that same year on October 12, at the age of 95 years, just two months away from another birthday.
One of the moments that Frank recalled with pride was when he visited Kiwanis International, then headquartered in Chicago, on the day following the Charter Night and presented them with a Jamaican flag. He recalled that within half an hour, a flag pole was ready to receive the Jamaican flag which became the first foreign flag, other than that of Canada, to be flown on the Kiwanis International building.
On that visit, Frank was seated at the head table of every single Club that he visited and was fondly referred to as Mr. Kiwanis.
Another difference that existed in those early years was that persons were invited to become Lt. Governor and not elected as it is today. He was invited but was unable to take up the offer due to business demands.
The main fund raising activity in those early years was an annual dance and that tradition still continues today in the form of the Kiwanis Club of Kingston’s Grand Christmas Charity Ball. In the early days the venue was the St. Andrew Club. Some interesting Kiwanis trivia is that the price of admission for the first dance, including supper was fifteen shillings, the second was a guinea (twenty one shillings) and that included drinks. Administrative fund raisers on a small scale were also held.
Two of the most significant projects undertaken in those early years were the development of a Vocational Guidance Centre at Rennock Lodge and the Tivoli Gardens Maternity Centre. Frank recalled that their Public Relations in those days was so good that it cost them practically nothing to build and equip the Guidance Centre. Those who contributed funds always knew what the funds were going to be used for and that they were going to be used wisely and as a result people came to them even before they were approached for funds.
Frank also pointed out that although we accept that a President cannot be fined by the Sergeant-At-Arms that is not strictly correct as there was a loophole that allowed the President to be fined and he admitted that he was fined twice during his Presidency. Although he promised to reveal this secret at a later date, the opportunity just did not arise.
Frank observed that in the early days, they used to fly several flags of different countries at luncheon meetings, however these flags were all burnt in a fire at the then Sheraton Hotel which became the Wyndham Kingston and then the Hilton Kingston and back again to the name Wyndham Kingston; which is where the meetings were being held. He expressed the view that we should still be flying the Canadian flag, even as a matter of courtesy, because of our affiliation with Canada and the fact that they were the first ones to accept us. Ironically due to another fire at the same hotel in April 2013, the Kiwanis Club of Kingston lost all of its Club banners, Award Patches and other Club Meeting paraphernalia and has had to seek an alternative meeting venue.
It is clear that the Kiwanis movement in Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude to Charter President Frank and those other members who made a decision to develop by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship and as a result, they have left a legacy for all of us to follow.
In 2006, the Kiwanis Foundation of Jamaica established the Frank Melhado Award to recognize the contributions made by Kiwanians in Jamaica to the development of the movement and the community.
Frank we thank you.