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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.

In 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.


“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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 (left), 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.

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).

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 the 1995 Spring edition of the Sertoman (left). 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.” (right)

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.

The year 2000 saw the first ‘Day of Caring’, a citywide service project, as a highlight to the annual convention hosted in Tampa.

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.

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.

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.

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!”

In early 2007, Sertoma was the founding sponsor of Hearing Charities of America®.

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.

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.

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

Also 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.

As part of Sertoma's ongoing partnership with Hearing Charities of America®, the national Hearing Aid Project was launched on August 1, 2016.

National Membership was introduced in 2020 to give those in areas not served by clubs the opportunity to join and engage with Sertoma.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to impact clubs in early 2020, Sertoma established the COVID-19 Grant Program to help clubs continue their sponsorship work despite fundraising disruptions. This eventually evolved into the Sertoma Club Program in 2021, which assists clubs in their efforts to support community charitable programs and organizations.

The Presidents Advisory Council became an optional permanent standing committee that can offer experience and expertise in leadership and strategic planning endeavors.

The National Service Project was organized to unify all Sertomans with a single mission-focused community service initiative: to provide portable looping in public spaces during Better Speech & Hearing Month each May.