Future of Kiwanis “limitless,” says incoming president

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John Button knows he has some big footsteps to follow in.

However, he will be taking those steps with pride when he officially begins his term as president of Kiwanis International this October.

Button, who is from Ridgetown, Ont., will serve as president during the organization’s 100th year anniversary.

He said he is proud to lead the group during a banner year and noted the election was fitting with another Canadian, Donald Johnson, having served as first president of the organization in 1915.

Button said it was Johnson who transformed the club from its early version as a business and trade-oriented group into the community service organization it is now known as.

“Kiwanis went from an organization committed to personal gain to an organization committed to altruistic service, so I’m proud that a Canadian is the one who led that,” said Button during an interview at the Eastern Canada Key Club convention in Charlottetown earlier this month. “I’m proud to be in his footsteps.”

With a focus on celebrating the group’s past accomplishments and using the momentum as a springboard into the future, Button said he already knows what the Kiwanis’ “big mission” will be for the year.

Button said the group is aiming to finish raising $110 million during his term to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, a pledge that began in 2010.

The World Health Organization states the disease, which still appears in developing areas, killed an estimated 58,000 newborns in 2010 and, as of 2013, was still occurring in 25 countries.

Button said he feels working towards eradicating the disease is one of the finest efforts Kiwanis has ever been involved in.

“And we’ve been involved in some pretty fine initiatives,” said Button, who has a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Toronto. “The worst thing about this is that the tetanus vaccine has been widely available since 1924. UNICEF calls this the silent scandal, and it is. Immunization programs are available worldwide but these 65 million women fell through the cracks and did not get the tetanus vaccine when it should have been available.”

Button noted that providing immunization shots not only protects the mother and child but also future generations from being at risk.

The satisfying feeling of helping make the world a better place for children, along with the fellowship among group members are the two main factors that have kept Button, 62, a member of the Kiwanis for 35 years.

After having served numerous roles with the group during that time, Button said he views the future of the Kiwanis as limitless.

That was the mindset he brought to P.E.I. earlier this month and one he’ll be returning with when the Kiwanis Eastern Canada and Caribbean District convention is held at the Charlottetown Convention Centre from May 15-17.

Having Button in Charlottetown didn’t go unnoticed by the youth involved in Key Club.

“We’re so lucky he came and we’re excited to have him,” said outgoing Key Club governor Annu Puri. “He’s been a Kiwanis, Key Club and Circle K member so he has a lot of experience and I’m sure he’s inspired a lot of people here.”

Jim Marshall, a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Charlottetown and host chair of the Key Club convention, said it was great to have both Button and his wife Debbie, also a distinguished Kiwanis president, there.

“It really made it,” said Marshall. “The kids are impressed that a gentleman of his stature has come to their convention. I’ve been doing this convention for ten years now and this is the first time I’ve seen an international president here.”

With the task of leading the worldwide organization both honoring and humbling, Button said he is emphasizing three things in his term; fun, fellowship and service.

“Those are the take home value of Kiwanis and as long as we provide our members with those three things, our future possibilities are limitless,” he said. “I’m going to say ‘fun, fellowship and service’ so many times, people are going to be saying it in their sleep.”

Organizations: Key Club, Kiwanis International, World Health Organization University of Toronto UNICEF Kiwanis Eastern Canada Charlottetown Convention Centre Circle K Kiwanis Club of Charlottetown

Geographic location: Kiwanis, Charlottetown, Ridgetown P.E.I. Caribbean District

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