by Charlie Bowles
First Texas Toastmasters club has been operating since 1945
“I call this meeting of the Wichita Falls Toastmasters to order.” With that, President Steven Marsh started the evening just the way another club leader did 73 years earlier.
On that April day in 1945, Dr. Louis E. Tompkins officially began the Wichita Falls Toastmasters Club 305, the first Toastmasters club in Texas. Just three years later Dr. Tompkins, a Wichita Falls dentist, chartered District 25 with twelve clubs spread across Texas. He had spent years working like an Area Director for every club in the state. When chartered, he was the first District 25 Governor and tirelessly built Toastmasters in Texas. His heart, however, stayed in Wichita Falls until his death in 1976.
The district held its first conference in 1950 when Joe Shirley was elected second District Governor. Many years later, in 1986, another Shirley, Pauline, stepped in as District 25 Governor, the 2nd woman in that position, following Bertha Markwardt in 1981. This began a line of strong women leaders who have served the District with distinction. But it had only been since 1970 that women were part of Toastmasters, since Founder, Ralph Smedley, began Toastmasters in a YMCA in California. Many of the first clubs began in male-only YMCA clubs.
But in 1985, that first woman in Toastmasters, who joined under the name Homer Blanchard in 1970, became the first female Toastmasters International President. A year later Pauline Shirley became the second female International President.
The long legacy of 305, the first club in Texas, has engaged many members in communications and leadership growth for 73-years, with some members staying active over 60-years.
In April 2017, Larry Lambert passed away after 60-years in the club. He had joined Dr. Tompkins club in 1956 and was its longest duration member. And then, in January 2018, Tom Merritt also passed away after being a member for 23-years. He even competed and won the Area 51 Evaluation contest in Fall 2017, but could not travel to the Division contest.
Because of rapid club growth Toastmasters chartered District 44 in ’53 to split Texas clubs into geographic areas and then split North Texas with the new District 50 in ’91. District 25 now has over 140 clubs and almost 2600 members, all with a debt of thanks to Dr. Tompkins and that first Texas Toastmasters club in Wichita Falls.
305 continues to celebrate its unique legacy from the banging of a gavel in 1945 to the April anniversary celebration this week with a mixture of members who have over 10-years of membership and some who joined in the past 2-years. It’s a legacy that continues to make Wichita Falls and the members of District 25 proud.
Wichita Falls Club 305 meets each Thursday at 7pm in the First Christian Church on Church Street. Find information about the club at this website.
Division E Director, 2017-2018