In Search of a Place to Camp
Since Kiwanis Club of Omaha Westside (now Kiwanis Club of West Omaha) was chartered in 1961, it has moved its meeting place a number of times. The following discourse tells some of the story of the traveling our Club has done in search of a meeting place. (Original summary only slight modified since it was written by Joe Rossbach.)
At the very beginning, or nearly so, our Club met at the Old English Inn. The Inn used to be at 50th and Dodge. But about the time our club came along, they had evidently lost their lease and moved to Countryside Village near 87th and Pacific. Our club met there for a short time, then we settled down at our first semi-permanent location at King's Food Host, a couple of doors north of Pine Tree Hardware near 72nd and Cass Streets. It wasn't known if Dick Low, Pine Tree's owner and one of our charter members, had anything to do with choosing the location, but it was surely convenient for him.
After a number of years in the basement of King's and only having been served King's special "unformed" hamburgers and their special Cheese Frenchees occasionally, King's was going down in the customer's favor and finally decided to close down. Our club ran a quick search for a new meeting place.
The next meeting place was Kenny's Bar & Grill and later Kenny's Quality Restaurant at 72nd & Dodge. This engagement was kind of an upstairs - downstairs situation. Because the doors were closing behind us at King's, we had to make a rather quick exit and a quick entrance at Kenny's. We had been promised a room of our own at Kenny's but because of our hasty retreat from King's, the proprietors of Kenny's didn't have enough time to clean up the second time fermented remains in beer kegs, the broken tables and chairs, the three-year old 4th of July bunting and the large cockroaches in their downstairs storage room which was soon to become the restaurant's party room and our (wrath) rathskeller meeting place. We had a couple of months' meetings in the back room of the restaurant, ordering from menus and trying to run the meeting with the near-by clatter of a busy restaurant. Finally, without much to-do, we were introduced to our newly undecorated quarters. The first couple of months in our basement cubby hole, we had to come through the back entrance, down a set of narrow greasy stairs, past overflowing garbage cans at the foot of the stairs and past a half-open door to the steamy messy kitchen, then on through a low-headroom door and squeeze past some cardboard cartons into a newly whitewashed room with two walls of whitewashed brick and two walls of whitewashed composition boards. They, the management, got us into the place gradually and, after several years, Kenny's became endeared to us.
At one time in our stay at Kenny's, the management decided to improve the whole restaurant. Jack Jackson's firm negotiated for the architectural design for the remodeling. By this time, Jack had transferred from the Downtown Kiwanis to our Club. As a result, he got a few suggestions about what could be done to improve our Club's meeting area.
When the upstairs had been remodeled, it came time for our basement quarters to be spruced up a bit. With a contractor moving to the basement, we moved upstairs again amongst the din and dither of a busy restaurant. When we moved back downstairs, we had a new private entrance which some members never really could get used to because it meant a longer walk from their cars parked west of the building. Perhaps it was that they were too endeared with the greasy steps and garbage cans or the whiff of aroma coming from the kitchen (often slightly tainted from the garbage) previewing what was for lunch?
Jack's firm obviously did a good job planning the new quarters, but the plumbing contractor goofed up on the garbage disposal upstairs. Several times meetings were interrupted by a cascade of water dripping on the banquet-style table setting in our meeting room.
After a number of Christmas parties, several more years, and after the club had bought a piano for a song that Jack Jackson had located, the bank over on the corner of Kenny's decided to buy the whole SW corner of 72nd & Dodge.
The plight of the Club then came to move to a new location or plan to have a long series of Wednesday picnics in the park to be created at Kenny's location. We again looked around for a new place and decided that our Kiwanis Club was a lot more long lasting than the average restaurant. We then move to Bishop's cafeteria at the Westroads and stayed there for a couple or three months.
We then made the move to the old Oak Creek Inn Motel at 72nd and Center Street. The former owner and chef at Kenny's had taken over the catering and food service there. One of the problems we had at first in the new location was that our attendance at meetings dropped off because nobody could figure out how to get into the parking lot. By the time they got into the parking lot and got their cars parked, the meeting was over. Well, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it was often different.
Over several years and through several changes in owners, the motel gradually went downhill. The holes in the carpet became tripping hazards and the door on the North entrance to the hotel would bring you to a sudden halt from a full stride when you came in because the door wouldn't open over the threshold. In the better part of valor, the Club decided to abandon ship before it sank.
Scouts were out again, and our next stop held onto the one thread of consistency in our odyssey for a meeting place - 72nd Street. We moved across 72nd and south a little to the La Strada 72. Here we had gourmet meals and often had a hard time recognizing what we were eating and, at times, left lunch hungry. The meals were different but generally quite good. Again, we came to our new location with a promise of a private room. After a couple of months of eating in the open restaurant we were placed in the new garden room with glass roof. Here we could watch the rain drops splash during a dull program and rock our four-legged chairs on the quarry tile floor trying to dodge the intense sun rays coming through the glass roof. The easiest way to disrupt a meeting at La Strada was to drop a knife and fork on the tile floor because the sound would bounce around the tile floor, the brick wall, the glass wall, and the ceiling for the rest of the meeting. We lasted here for a couple of years and finally decided to move again under the pressure of high prices, short on food, and a disturbing place for holding a meeting.
By this time, the Oak Creek Inn had stabilized its ownership and management and were cleaning up and remodeling the whole motel. Besides the improvements to the physical plant at the motel, Al Caniglia, of the famous restaurant family, was to take over the food service. We moved back to Oak Creek amid the rolls of new carpets and some new furnishings. The remodeling also included the swimming pool. Very often we would have our meeting in the big meeting room overlooking the pool. When we met in this big room, it was sometimes advantageous to come early so you could pick your seat looking out over the pool, although it was sometimes distracting to your attention to the meeting. After several more years of meeting here, our stay was rather suddenly brought to an end. The management, without our knowledge, had cancelled Caniglia's food service contract or refused to renew it. So, we were now a luncheon service club with no luncheon. On at least one day we had no lunch at our meeting.
Scouts were out again with individuals and groups sampling the food at several places. The club quickly decided on the Olive Garden restaurant. For the first time in many years, we were just a short stretch off 72nd Street, but only a long block from our original semi-permanent location. Since we moved in and had the management make a few remodeling changes to the meeting room, we have settled down to enjoy the bottomless salad with the Italian lunches. This is Home Base of the present for the Omaha Westside Kiwanis and the end of this chapter in the story "In Search of a Place To Camp".
The Kiwanis Club of Greater Omaha was chartered in 1938 and took on the name of Dundee Kiwanis Club. Their meeting place was the Blackstone Hotel. In 1973 the club celebrated their 35th anniversary in the ballroom. The club moved their meeting place to the Dundee area and met at the Fireside Restaurant until it closed and then they met at the Ranch Bowl until 1978 when they started meeting at Anthony’s Restaurant on 72nd Street and F Street. Due to the remodeling of Anthony’s the club met moved to the Westside Community Center on 108th & Grover. When Westside needed to remodel their location, the club moved the meeting place to The German-American Society at 3717 S. 120th Street. Due to the Covid-19 virus the club met at The Brazen Head located at 319 North 78th Street in Omaha, Nebraska 68114. For over 79 years the club has participated in the local Salvation Army Kettle Day. During the early years, the location was at 15th & Farnam in the downtown area. For many years the Kettle Day location was at Westroads Shopping Center. Since 1976 the club has had several additional shopping center locations west on 132nd and Center and then 173rd and Center.
In 2021, Kiwanis Club of Greater Omaha and Kiwanis Club Westside started discussions surrounding merging the two clubs. The merger was accomplished, and the club is now known as Kiwanis Club of West Omaha which meets at Legends located at 6920 Pacific St, Ste 100, Omaha, NE 68106 on Monday at 12 noon.