St. George Exchange Club celebrates 40 years serving community, youth

St. George Exchange Club president Brett Labrum speaking to club members at George's Corner, St. George, Utah, May 29, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Earlier this month, the St. George Exchange Club was honored by the City of St. George with a proclamation from Mayor Jon Pike. The proclamation recognized the club’s celebration of 40 years in St. George as well as its contributions to the community.

They’ve contributed so much over the years,” Pike said, adding that the club has been fantastic in helping St. George directly.

In the last four decades, the St. George Exchange Club, a chapter of the National Exchange Club, has sponsored and promoted many projects and programs that have benefited St. George as well as area youth.

“There are a few things we’re proud of,” said Jinks Dabney, who has been a club member for 30 years.

Among them, Dabney mentioned the St. George Marathon – which the club originally organized and ran before handing it over the to city – and the accompanying Mayor’s Walk; the IronKids Fun Run; the Southern Utah Performing Arts Festival; and Student of the Month scholarships for local high school seniors.

The IronKids Fun Run is a companion event to Ironman competitions. The St. George IronKids event has become the second largest in the country, Dabney said. The largest is held in Phoenix. “We want to beat out Phoenix,” Dabney said.

Money from fundraisers like the Mayor’s Walk and IronKids Fun Run have helped provide playground equipment for local city parks, a scoreboard at the Rec Center, the pavilion at Bluff Street Park, thousands of dollars worth of trees the Exchange Club has planted along the city trail system and other contributions.

“The city and the club have had a tremendous relationship,” said Kent Perkins, leisure services director for the City of St. George. Perkins has worked closely with the club over the years on behalf of the city.

Club members are always looking for ways to value to the city’s park and recreation venues, Perkins said. The club has sought to “enhance the quality of life for children” and has been a great partner, he said.

One of the current projects the Exchange Club has joined with the city on is the All Abilities Park. The club is donating $70,000 to the city for the project.

“It’s going to be something that immensely benefits the community,” club member Jimi Kestin said.

Locally as well as nationally, a mission of the Exchange Club is promoting child abuse prevention. “It’s the only club that had the guts to take it on,” Dabney said. To this end, the St. George Exchange Club has been involved with the Washington County Children’s Justice Center.

Another mission of the Exchange Club is promoting Americanism and patriotism. Unlike other service clubs that are international, the Exchange Club is an American-based institution, Kestin said.

“We are America’s service club,” he said, echoing the club’s slogan.

As a part of its mission to promote Americanism, the club sponsors programs like the Freedom Shrines, which are displays of historic national documents  hung on the walls of public places like St. George City Hall, St. George Municipal Airport, the Washington County Library and other locations.

“It’s another neat service they do,” Pike said. “I like the emphasis on freedom.”

One program started by the St. George Exchange Club has since been adopted by the national club.

Lee Warren, a World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor who recently passed away, also known as “The Flag Man,” was a member of the St. George Exchange Club, Dabney said. Warren was known for passing out tiny American flags for free to spectators at seasonal events. He is estimated to have handed out over 10,000 flags during his lifetime.

The National Exchange Club has since picked up on the traditional Warren began, Dabney said.

In general, the St. George Exchange Club, like the national club, seeks to help its members “develop leadership, networking and organizational skills that contribute to success in business, family and personal endeavors,” according to its overall mission statement, and “provides members with the opportunity to share their time and talents to help others, whether by reaching out to an abused child who needs love and affection or organizing a community crime prevention program or wielding rakes in a clean-up project.”

The St. George Exchange club currently has around 30 members. Each Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m., club members meet for breakfast at George’s Corner in Ancestor Square. While club matters and upcoming projects are discussed, club members are also treated to a guest speaker each week.

Club dues are $45 a month, Dabney said, and anyone who joins the club should expect to be put to work.

“This is not a club where you pay your dues and leave,” Dabney said. “The Exchange Club is a working club. They have to show up…and be ready to get to work.”

Individuals interested in learning more about the St. George Exchange Club can visit the club’s Facebook page or call Dabney directly at 435-652-8500.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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