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The Heights Kiwanis Club is celebrating its 46th anniversary with the state governor among its members and a raft of projects to undertake this year.

Joe Burst, governor-elect for the state Kiwanis and a longtime member, said the organization is one in which members stay for decades. Kiwanis draws the kind of caring individuals who are committed to helping the community, he said.

"Some of the neatest programs we do are the Terrific Kid and BUG club where we throw a pizza party at the grade schools for the kids who bring up their grades," Burst said.

In recent years the Heights group has branched out to include the sponsorship of a Builders Club, which formed in 1999 at Castle Rock Middle School and a Circle K group at Rocky Mountain College. The Skyview Key Club continues to grow with 90 members in 2002-03, Burst said.

"It teaches young people to become better leaders and to give something back to their community," he said.

Requests come in from all over the community for help, Burst said.

The Heights Kiwanis was instrumental in getting the first leg of BikeNet constructed. Each of the three Billings Kiwanis clubs put in $3,000 to construct the concrete path starting at Mary Street on the Heights.

The club also sponsors Little League baseball teams, helps with the cleanup on Highway 312 and is a sponsor for the Special K Ranch, Festival of Trees, Boys and Girls State, Ales for Trails, Kids 'n Cowboys and Boys and Girls Club.

Another heartwarming annual event for the Heights Kiwanis is providing money for youths to buy Christmas presents for their families, Burst said.

The Kiwanis barbecue grills are seldom idle. Burst said that, throughout the year, members volunteer their time to cook hamburgers and hot dogs wherever and whenever they're asked. This month, members will serve up food at the Bench Elementary carnival on May 16, and, in June, they'll be at Lake Elmo State Park to grill hamburgers during a family fun day.

The Heights Kiwanis Club has 30 members, ranging in age from 18 to retirees in their 70s and early 80s. Longtime member, Larry Hoban, has 26 years of perfect attendance at the meetings.

"It's flourished, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it," Hoban said. "Otherwise I wouldn't have perfect attendance all these years."

He said that one of the most rewarding experiences he's had with Kiwanis is helping handicapped children ride horses through the Horseback Riding Academy.

"When you get one of these kids up on the back of a horse and see them take off, it's something you never forget," Hoban said.

Youth programs are a priority with Kiwanis. The organization's motto is "We build," and its service emphasis is "Young Children: Priority One," which focuses on the special needs of children from prenatal development to age 5.

Burst's goal as state governor for Kiwanis is to build two new Kiwanis clubs, one in Billings and another in Roundup. He also plans to work with Montana schools to help create an atmosphere of respect for one another.

The Heights Kiwanis, which is open to men and women, meets at noon every Thursday at the Lake Hills Golf Course restaurant. A guest speaker is featured at each meeting, and president Jim Reiter leads an informal business meeting.

The average Kiwanis member is 55 years old, a college graduate and a married homeowner, the Kiwanis Web site says. Kiwanis, which formed in 1915 in Detroit, Mich, has 300,000 members, including 51,000 women, in 80 countries.

The name "Kiwanis" was adapted from the expression "Nunc Kee-wanis" in the Otchipew language. It means "we have a good time, "we make noise" or "we trade or advertise."

Jaci Webb may be reached at 657-1359 or at jwebb@billingsgazette.com.

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