Sertoma’s History

For more than 100 years, volunteers known as Sertomans serve communities across the United States. Originally known as Co-Operative International, each member takes pride in the colorful history of the Co-Operative Club International and Sertoma International. This history is based upon information gleaned from old SERTOMAN and THE CO-OPERATOR magazines on file at Sertoma Headquarters.

On April 11, 1912, three Kansas City, Missouri, business men, Dr. George W. Smith, Dr. Charles E. Allen, and newspaper publisher William R. Rowe, enticed community leaders to get involved. Now entering the 2nd century of service, Sertoma community leaders are engaged in improving the quality of life in communities by making a difference for those who suffer from hearing loss.

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1912 – 1919

historicalpictureIn meeting the mission of the club (Progress in the improvement of the community), 24 Kansas City Co-Operative club members guided the planning and building of the first decent road between Kansas City and Independence, MO.

On April 5, 1912, 26 area business men attended the first organized meeting of the Stand Together Club, as referred in to the minutes. The first official luncheon, with the club now referred to as the Co-Operative Club was held on April 11, 1912 at the Coates Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri – the date and location now recognized as our founding. The founders of the first Co-Operative Club were George W. Smith, M.D., Charles E. Allen, M.D. and William R. Rowe. They are recognized as the Founding Fathers of The Co-Operator Club of Kansas City, Missouri, and Sertoma.

1920 – 1929

“Make Life Worthwhile” was the slogan accepted by the organization in 1926. It was as good then as it is today.

The Co-Operettes began in 1923 when the wives of the Co-Operative Club members of Manhattan, Kansas organized the first auxiliary, called the “Co-Op Lassies.” In 1928, the Co-Operettes became a national organization.

Sertoma’s first convention was held June 21, 1921 in Kansas City. In attendance, were 32 delegates representing six clubs. James P. “Daddy” Summerville, Charter President of the Kansas City, Missouri Club, became the second International President.

In December 1920, Kansas City Club President Edward G. Freed invited representatives from other clubs to meet. Representatives from the Wichita, Manhattan, Topeka, and Kansas City clubs formed the International organization. It was at this meeting that delegates elected Freed as first International President.

Radio promoted the activities of the early Kansas City Club when Radio Station WHB in Kansas City offered the club air time. The station owner, E.J. Sweeney, was a local member.

1930 – 1939

The well-known Sugar Bowl classic in New Orleans had its beginning with Sertoma. In 1934, the New Orleans Club and former International Director Warren V. Miller introduced the resolution for club to sponsor a football contest held in New Orleans over the Christmas holiday season. The first game was on January 1, 1935 at Tulane University Stadium where the Tulane Green Wave took on the Temple University Owls, coached by Glenn “Pop” Warner.

1940 – 1949

The need for a national sponsorship became apparent in 1949. The first recommendation by the Sertoma Club of Phoenix, Arizona was the YES Program (Youth Employment Service). Sertoma still holds the copyright to the name “YES”, though government involvement in “employment services” has limited the need for the YES Program.

In 1948, Harold J. Reed, of Omaha, NE became the first Sertoman recognized as Sertoman of the Year.

The first Sertoma Club chartered in Canada was in Windsor, Ontario in 1946. The organization at this time truly became international.

On September 1, 1943, brought the announcement of a most wonderful event to ever occur in Co-Operative history, the ‘Wedding’ – the joining together of the National Monarch Clubs and the Co-Operative Clubs International.

In 1942, Fred J. Kuehne served as Sertoma International President. Traveling more than 40,000 miles, he visited all but four Sertoma clubs. Fred earned the 100-member pin for recruiting more than100 members.

1950 – 1959

In 1959, the March of Dimes’ National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis recognized Sertomans for humanitarian efforts.

Cartoonist Cal Alley presented this cartoon strip of ‘The Ryatts’ to the Memphis Sertoma Club in 1958.

The first club chartered in Mexico was in Mexico City in 1956.

A hot, summer night in Tampa, $1.25 in your pocket, and Sertomans raising funds to provide service to their community could get you a Hillbilly-good time in 1955. The Tampa Sertoma Club hosted a series of concerts, earning up to $5,000 per show. The benefit show featured the well-known entertainer, Andy Griffith as headliner. On stage with the ‘Deacon’ appeared his Hillbilly buddies, Ferlin Huskey, Marty Robbins and newcomer, Elvis Presley.

Prior to 1955, the most prestigious award presented to a non-Sertoma was the American Way Award. In 1955, the first annual Service to Mankind Award was presented to Dr. Alfred Lopez, of Albuquerque, for his civic, dental and church activities, and his service to youth.

In 1950, annual convention delegates adopted a new name: SERTOMA, a contraction for the theme “SERvice TO MAnkind.” The Sertoma tagline became “Make Life Worthwhile through SERvice TO MAnkind.”

1960 – 1969

The first Serteen Club, chartered in April of 1969, was the Sparks High Serteens of Sparks, Nevada.

In 1965, Sertoma was acknowledged by March of Dimes for continued SERvice TO MAnkind and efforts to conquer polio.

The first Sertoma Club established in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was the San Juan Sertoma Club, chartered on August 14, 1965.

The first International Convention outside the United States was the 1964 Convention, held in Mexico City, Mexico.

In 1962, former President Harry S. Truman was the guest speaker at the ‘Men’s and Ladies’ Luncheon’ held during our Golden Anniversary Convention. In 1966, he became an Honorary member of the Independence (MO) Sertoma Club.

NASA became a part of Sertoma history in 1962, when former U.S. President Harry S. Truman presented the International Service to Mankind Award to astronaut Gus Grissom. Grissom flew the Liberty Bell 7 and was a member of the Apollo 1 Team.

L.C. Graves, Past President of the Dallas Sertoma Club and Dallas Police Detective, was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald when Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald on November 24, 1963.

Formed November 15, 1960, the Sertoma Foundation was to strengthen the partnership between Sertoma and its clubs. In 1963, after a long search for a national focus, Sertoma clubs were encouraged to help the more than 24 million Americans who have speech and hearing disorders. Today, hearing health (including speech problems brought on by hearing loss) continues as a national focus, as there are over 50 million Americans with speech and hearing disorders.

1970 – 1979

In 1977 our affiliate program, known today as Adopt-An-Agency, made its debut.

The Sertoma Foundation began establishing Sertoma Centers for Communication Disorders in 1973 and began encouraging affiliation with existing speech and hearing facilities. Sports legend Pete Rose appeared in a series of public service announcements, publicizing Sertoma’s drive to establish the Centers for Communicative Disorders.

In 1972, Plutarco Guzman, attorney from Monterrey, from Nuevo Leon, Mexico, became Sertoma’s first President who was not a United States citizen. He was elected at the International Convention in Dallas, Texas.

In 1971, the Sertoma Foundation adopted Speech and Hearing as it foremost mission focus.

“We must, in my opinion, have knowledge of what we once were before we are able to understand what we have become.” These words from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s article ‘The View From Tomorrow’ became a part of our Sertoma history when published in the April-May 1970 edition of the Sertoman.

Chartered during the 1970s, Collegiate Sertoma Club of the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia, Kansas was the first Sertoma Collegiate Club.

1980 – 1989

In 1987, Sertoma’s Board of Directors approved STAND (Sertomans Together Advocate No Drugs), an anti-drug education program, as a national sponsorship.

In 1986, a coalition of organizations concerned about hearing health came together and designed a campaign and chose May to be Better Hearing and Speech month. For several years this campaign dotted the United States with information about hearing and speech disorders.

In 1985, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association presented Sertoma with the Distinguished Service Award, a once in a lifetime award, recognizing our dedication and contributions to speech pathology and audiology.

Women were welcomed into the organization in 1985. They currently comprise a vital part of our current membership. The first all-female Sertoma Club was the First Progressive Sertoma Club in Tampa, Florida, chartered November 22, 1985.

In 1985, Sertoma once again made the funny pages, as Johnny Hart and Jack Caprio did a B.C. series on service clubs. Jack Caprio is a member and Past President of the Endicott (NY) Sertoma Club and Past Governor of the East New York/New England District.

In 1983, President Reagan praised actor Keenan Wynn for his relationship with Sertoma’s hearing health programs.

In 1984, he awarded the Presidential Private Sector Initiative Commendation Certificate to Sertoma for the ‘outstanding civic responsibility’ displayed by our members. Senator John Glenn also supported the project, engaging the support of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Released in 1982, Sertoma’s Quiet Pleases video series for the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss became an important part of Sertoma’s mission and success. With the help of entertainer Keenan Wynn, a member of the Westwood Village Sertoma Club, he was the voice of several Sertoma PSA’s. During this time a comic book about noise induced hearing loss was produced with our own comic character Johnny Guitar. It was used in schools to educate children about noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).

1990 – 1999

1997 saw the introduction of Sertoma Fantasy Baseball Camps. Many clubs participate in a variety of sports camps for deaf and hard of hearing youth.

Heather Whitestone, 1995 Miss America, graced the cover of the1995 Spring edition of the Sertoman. The first deaf Miss America and spokeswoman for Better Hearing &Speech Month, Miss Whitestone encouraged people to “Reach for the Stars with Better Hearing and Speech.”

In 1992 and 1993, the Communicative Disorders and Hearing Impaired Scholarships were established. Today each program awards 45 $1,000 scholarships in each category. Over the year’s more than 500 scholarships have been awarded.

The year 1992 also saw the launch of the Building a Legacy campaign to perpetuate the benefits of Sertoma programs. The campaign goal was $10 million.

In 1990, Titusville (Florida) Sertoman and Mission Specialist, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Gemar carried his personal membership pin with him as he orbited the Earth on Space Shuttle Atlantis.

2000 – 2009

Approval of merger by the membership authorized the Boards of Sertoma International and Sertoma Foundation to meet the requirements of the State of Missouri, resulting in a new Sertoma corporation operating as a national public charity effective July 1, 2008.

January 2005, SAFEEars!® became Sertoma’s awareness program for the prevention of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). In its first year, over 250,000 individuals received information on how to protect the gift of hearing.

The first issue of the Sertoman Digest was published in November 2002. This publication, designed with an organizational focus, is mailed between issues of the Sertoman Magazine. This publication includes updates on board actions and timely reminders for programs and events.

Sertoma’s first female president, Diana Caine-Helwig SOARed during her 2001-2002 term. Her theme brought new life to moving our organization toward our goal of rebuilding and reinventing Sertoma for its next century. The year 2000 saw the first ‘Day of Caring’, a citywide service project, as a highlight to the annual convention hosted in Tampa. Sertoma’s first African American president, Larry Shealey led Sertoma during his 2006-2007 term with a theme that still rings true today, “SERTOMA: The Trademark of Service!”

Legacy 2000 Wills campaign was launched with the philosophy “A will for every Sertoman, Sertoma in every will.” Today, Sertoma continues to place strong emphasis on financially supporting the programs of Sertoma through annual, planned, and endowment giving.

2010 – Present

In April of 2012, Sertoma celebrated 100 years of service at the annual Sertoma convention, hosted in Kansas City, MO. Convention attendees were part of the official launch of the new brand, purpose, mission and vision and the new Sertoma Leadership Institute, an initiative designed to nurture leadership and skills development at the community level.

Sertoma’s national fund- and awareness event CELEBRATE SOUND®, launched April 2012. Created to promote hearing health in our communities, it is designed as a turn-key fundraising event to raise funds and awareness of our hearing health mission.

A Sound Investment, a program for advocacy of induction loops, became available in April 2010 and was revised in 2012. For millions of Americans using hearing assistive devices, the ability to hear in public facilities is limited. Sounds can be made clear by installing a simple and cost effective technology – the induction loop. The induction loop is to hearing aids, what Wi-Fi is to laptops.


sertomaheadquartersSertoma is indeed fortunate to be headquartered in one of the most beautiful facilities of any civic service organization in the world.

Located in south-central Kansas City, Missouri, the headquarters is situated on four acres of beautifully landscaped and heavily wooded grounds. The headquarters itself was the residence of J.J. Lynn, a Kansas City insurance magnate.

Originally, Lynn’s estate covered 63 acres. Sertoma’s neighbors, who purchased other parcels of the original estate, included Research Medical Center (Kansas City’s largest hospital), the World Headquarters of the Nazarene Church and AT&T Long Lines national center. The Headquarters is actually Lynn’s second residence to be built on the property.

The first mansion was much larger but burned to the ground in 1956. After the fire, Lynn’s family consisted of just Lynn and his wife, so the replacement house was much smaller at “only” 15,000 square feet. The Headquarters sits in the middle of what had been Lynn’s private nine-hole golf course. Construction on the Headquarters began on October 1, 1957, and took nearly a year to complete. The construction cost was $231,000 which would be over $1 million in today’s dollars.

The home was constructed with four bedrooms and eight bathrooms. There is a bomb shelter with 16-inch thick walls, a lifetime slate roof, and concrete bricks on the exterior. The plaster on the interior walls is covered with artist’s canvas for smoothness. Mrs. Lynn employed four groundskeepers, five maids and one chauffer to operate the estate.

After fire consumed the Sertoma Headquarters at 3700 Broadway in the late ‘60s, a site for a new Headquarters was needed. The old property was sold to the junior college district, and the Lynn residence (which by then was vacant) was leased from Research Hospital beginning in June 1969.

In early 1970, the property was purchased from Research by the Sertoma Foundation. A total remodeling took place, and the building was converted into 10 private offices and work areas for the additional personnel. A private driveway and parking for 30 cars was completed in 1978. Four years later, the breezeway was enclosed to create the computer center. In 1991, the Board authorized an expenditure of $100,000 to finish the 2,000 square foot attic into six more offices and additional work space.

Today, the Headquarters is completely debt-free and owned by Sertoma. Although the Headquarters serves as the administrative center for Sertoma, this beautiful facility is truly symbolic of the spirit of volunteerism exhibited by Sertomans everywhere.