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.
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.