This year marks 50 years since Walton High School acquired its official Key Club charter. While records show the club has been active as far back as 1945, the school decided to celebrate the golden jubilee last month honoring guest speakers from WHS alumni.
"At the beginning of the year I didn't even realize it had been 50 years," said Key Club President and WHS senior Thomas Brannon. "Once we realized, we knew we had to do something special. Our whole club set up the event with a slideshow and yearbooks all the way back to 1945."
A highlight of the evening was when Don Butts, Key Club president in 1967, presented the current club with the original Kiwanis bell. As a senior, Butts had taken the bell to be re-bronzed. When he went to college, the bell was returned to his home, where his mother packed it away with the rest of his high school memorabilia. Brannon said the club will start ringing the bell to commence future meetings.
Butts, along with WHS key Club alumnus David Drake, class of 1958, spoke to students, giving them a taste of Key Club's past.
"Seemed like a different world back then," Brannon said.
Indeed the club, as well as the school, has seen changes over the years. In fact, it's only been in the past ten-plus years that the club went from an all-male organization to co-ed.
"A lot has changed since the 1940s," said Johnnie Kay Ealum, Key Club faculty advisor.
In the seven years that Ealum has served as advisor, she has seen membership increase from dozens to more than a hundred.
"A large majority of our students see the importance of giving back," Ealum noted.
Students interested in joining the Key Club must have a 3.0 GPA and fill out an application explaining why they want to join as well as come up with their own community service project. Applications are sent to the Kiwanis (Key Club is a division of Kiwanis International) members for selection.
Walton High School has certainly made the Key Club name proud by ranking No. 1 out of 40 schools from Panama City to Pensacola.
The student-led organization has raised $7,500 for Toys for Tots and as of September, donated more than $500 to the Eliminate Project, a Kiwanis and UNICEF collaboration that provides tetanus vaccinations to less fortunate, pregnant women.
Brannon credits the success to 103 active Key Club members.
"We really surround ourselves with good people," he said. "And we couldn't do it without our advisor, and our Kiwanis advisor, Terry Schoas."
Students may apply or join Key Club for various reasons, like Hunter Bell.
"I wanted to join Key Club because it was the go-to club, all of the cool kids were in it," he said.
Now as Lieutenant Governor, overseeing seven clubs in Washington, Holmes and Walton County, Bell doesn't see the club as social hour, but as a way to give back. And he doesn't plan to stop when he graduates.
"I want to continue giving back in college by joining CKI [Circle K International, a Kiwanis club for college students]," he said. "And then I'll come back to DeFuniak Springs and join Kiwanis."
Learn more at www.keyclub.org/