History of District 30

Courtesy of Keith Essex DTM, PDG (District Historian)

The State of Illinois was the place where the Toastmasters concept originated.  Not only was it the home of our founder, Ralph Smedley, it was also the home of the very first Toastmasters Club.

As Educational Director of the Bloomington YMCA, Dr. Ralph Smedley recognized that the young men in his community needed to learn how to talk, to conduct meetings, to plan programs, and how to work on committees.  To meet this need, he devised the idea of a social club.  The clubs would meet weekly with programs devoted to practice in short speeches, debates, and some work in chairmanship.  Thus was born the very first Toastmasters Club in Bloomington, Illinois on March 24, 1905.

In 1906, Dr. Smedley was transferred to the Freeport YMCA.  At the time the idea of adult education was beginning to gain recognition, and it was just one year later that he organized the first Toastmasters Club for adult men in the city of Freeport.  Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Rock Island and a third club was organized there.

Unfortunately, however, his successors did not share his enthusiasm for the Toastmasters program and all three clubs died shortly after their founder has moved on.  The idea, however, did not die but was put on the back burner for a short while.  In 1922, Dr. Smedley was again transferred, this time to Santa Ana, California.  It was here, in 1924, that what is now known as “Founder’s Club” was organized — the “official” beginning of our great organization.

Some 12 years after the founding of Toastmasters, the first Toastmasters Club East of the Mississippi received its charter in March 1936.  That was the Lincoln-Douglas Club #51 of Springfield, Illinois.  At that time all of Illinois and the eastern half of the state of Missouri were known as District 8.  Nearly two years later, the first club located in what is now known as “Chicagoland District 30” received its charter as Central Club #96.

Central Club #96 enjoyed a long life for over 40 years before finally succumbing to membership problems.  The second oldest club chartered in Chicagoland District 30 was Club #169.  Chartered in June of 1940, the Wilson Ave. Club #169 was the home for many men whose names are well known as leaders among Toastmasters.  Over the years, it name and meeting location have changed a couple of times, but the same club #169 is still going strong and was known as Kemper-Countryside Club #169 until the 1980’s when the name changed to the current Long Grove/Lake Zurich Club.

For quite a few years, District 8 chose its officers alternately from the Chicago and St. Louis metropolitan areas.  Then, in 1949, Russell V. Puzey of the Wilson Ave. Club was elected Governor of District 8.  Russ was a man of great vision and plans.  IT was he who dared to initiate the expansion of the District hierarchy to include two Lieutenant Governors which was hitherto unknown in Toastmasters International.  Emmit Holmes of Chicago was one of the first Lieutenant Governors; Bill Buekema of St. Louis was the other.

Russ and Emmit worked on a plan for establishing a new District in Illinois, bounded on the south by an east-west line across the state just below Danville in Vermilion County and extending westward just north of Decatur, Springfield, and Quincy, but including Champaign and Urbana.  In 1950 their efforts were rewarded and District 30 was “born” – not the District 30 that we know today, but one which covered the entire northern half of the state of Illinois.  Emmit Holmes was elected as our first District Governor.

Both Russ Puzey and Emmit Holmes went on to serve on the International Board of Directors in later years.  Russ was elected International President at the Denver Convention in 1953.

The first District 30 Spring Conference was held just prior to our first birthday.  At that time there were just 25 clubs in the district and two more were about to receive their charters.  Both Russ and Emmit were true believers in Dr. Smedley’s “movement”, and it was no doubt their influence of the evangelistic philosophy that District 30 grew from 25 clubs in 1951 to 75 clubs in 1956.

Almost two thirds of those 75 clubs were located in the four counties of Cook, Lake, McHenry, and DuPage.  A member from Danville, Peoria, and Galesburg has long distances to travel in order to attend District 30 meetings – which almost always were held in Cook County.  But… they came!

Conscious of the hardship, District Governor, John Franczak and Lt. Governor, Bob Foley decided, in 1956, to do something to alleviate this problem.  Lt. Governor Foley began a series of visits, over a period of seven months, to the outlying clubs in District 30 – those clubs outside of the four-county metropolitan area. Twenty-seven clubs were persuaded to petition the formation of a new district.  At the 1956 International Convention in Detroit, the Board of Directors voted favorably and District 54 was formed.

District 30 retained the four county area of Cook, Lake McHenry and DuPage while the balance of what used to be District 30 (the northern half of Illinois) was transferred to the new District 54.  Bob Foley was elected as the first District Governor of District 54 (and later became District Governor of District 30 in 1960-61).  The first District Governor of Chicagoland District 30 was George Van Zevern.

Since our beginning in 1950 Chicagoland District 30 we had grown from 25 clubs to 248 club (with over 5000 members) in April 2015.  At that time World Headquarters convened a Reformation Committee headed by Joan K. Moore to consider options for giving birth to a new district.  The result of that effort was the formation of District 103 from the 111 clubs in Cook County south of North Avenue taking affect in June 2017.  The 137 other clubs in Cook County north of North Avenue, DuPage, Lake and McHenry Counties make up the new District 30 (retaining the oldest club in the district Long Grove/Lake Zurich Club #169).

District 30 has hosted the annual International Convention four times (1952, 1972, 1987, and 1999).  The 2018 International Convention is planned to be hosted in the new District 103.

Chicagoland District 30 has had many fine leaders and success stories – all too numerous to mention here.  As of 2016, five clubs that have roots that go back to prior to the formation of District 30 in 1950 still meet.  In addition, there are another 11 clubs that have met regularly since District 54 was spun off in 1956

*** Note: Portions of this document were prepared by the History and Records Subcommittee for District 30 in 1979.  Information was researched and updated in 1989 by Dick Storer and in 1997 and 2016 by Keith Essex.