It was 13 years after Paul Harris and two Chicago business associates held the first-ever Rotary Club meeting that something similar happened in Pottstown.
On Feb. 19 1918, 34 charter members — gathered by Robert A. Feroe, a paper box manufacturer, and Henry Sollenberger, a representative of Metropolitan Life Insurance — inaugurated the Pottstown Rotary Club (Pennsylvania, US — D 7430) under charter No 367.
That event 100 years ago was celebrated at the Brookside Country Club when the Pottstown chapter observed its its centennial on Feb 10 (Saturday).
“This is such a strong organisation, and I think that’s due to good leadership over the years,” said Michael Bright, a member for six years and the club’s current president.
Throughout the past 100 years, the Pottstown Rotary Club has reflected its times, but has never waivered from the motto of what is now known as Rotary International — “Service Above Self.”
The club has a tight focus on helping the community, as well as participating in Rotary’s global initiatives, said Bright.
The number of selfless projects on which the club has embarked is almost too numerous to name — although several local Rotary historians have given it a pretty good shot.
That first meeting of the Pottstown Rotary Club was held at the Merchants Hotel, at the southwest corner of High and York streets, where the Potts and Penn Diner now stands.
One hundred years later, the club meets once a week and, reflecting the truly international nature of the organisation today, if members miss a meeting they have the option of making up by attending the regular meeting of any other Rotary Club in the world.
“Pottstown Rotary Club members are welcome at any Rotary Club meeting anywhere in the world, just as Rotary Club members visiting Pottstown are welcome to our meetings,” according to a club history provided by Bright.
When the Rotary Club was started in Chicago by Paul P Harris and three friends — coal dealer Silvester Schiele, tailor Hiram Shorey and mining engineer Gustavus Loehr — the idea was simple.
Harris told his friends he thought a group of business people could enjoy camaraderie and enlarge their circle of business acquaintances — something that today we would call “networking.”
That friendship aspect of Rotary holds true today, said Bright.
“And I think it’s true that there are so many good friends there, that is another bit of the glue that holds it all together,” he said.
Since early Rotarians “rotated” their meetings among business locations, they became the “Rotary Club.”
The tradition of offering help to the community began in 1907, when the Chicago chapter purchased a new horse for a poor preacher whose previous horse had died, preventing him from making his rounds to churches and parishioners.
By 1910, Rotary had gone international, with clubs in Ireland, England and Canada. The first club in Cuba was established in 1916.
By 1935, there were more than 210,000 members around the world, and the only dips in enrollment had come with during the Great Depression and later, during World War II, when it was banned in several countries.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, clubs spread through Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
It wasn’t until 1989, however, that the clubs officially voted to admit female members as well.
Today, Rotary International has more than 1 million members.
Here in Pottstown, there are about 90, although Bright said the club’s goal is to reach 100 this year, to help mark the anniversary.
Also helping to mark the anniversary will be the planting of 100 trees in a tree farm for Pottstown planned for property at Pottstown High School, with the help of Thomas Hylton.
The club has a history of planting trees in Memorial Park, Pottstown Hospital, the YMCA property and Pottsgrove Manor in memory of Rotarians who had passed.
Planting 100 for the 100th anniversary seemed fitting, Rotarian Deb Penrod told a joint meeting of borough council and the school board on Jan. 22.
And while this may be the latest Rotary Club effort to improve the community, it is by no means its first.
From the very beginning — whether it was helping handicapped children, food baskets for the needy, beds for the VNA or supporting day camps — the Pottstown Rotary Club has a long history of putting “service above self.”
Over the decades, Rotary has also been involved in fundraising for causes both local and world-wide.
They include the fight against polio; fighting cancer through the Relay for Life effort; student foreign exchange programmes; scholarship grants; literacy efforts and the Interact Club in Pottstown Schools; a “Tomorrow’s Leaders Camp” at Camp Conrad Weiser in Wernersville, later renamed Camp Neidig and much more.
In addition to its own spirited Halloween celebration, the Rotary club has sponsored Halloween “safehouses” at the YMCA as well as its annual sponsorship, with the AMBUCS, of the Pottstown Halloween Parade.
And most recently, the club stepped up to ensure the Pottstown Fourth of July Parade tradition continued.
The club’s participation in the parade was always hard to miss — a giant inflatable duck making its way to High Street to promote the duck race in Manatawny Creek that follows.
The event raises money for multiple worthy causes around the Pottstown Community and since its has enabled participating agencies to raise more than $345,000 for their projects.
Rotary has also established the Pottstown Rotary Community Endowment Fund, a non-profit vehicle recognised by the federal government which allows donations to be made tax-free and distributed to a variety of causes, now responsible for more than $10,000 annually in scholarships and grants.
“We get busy when we know we’re helping the community and we all want to give back and get involved,” Bright said. “And there’s no greater feeling than that.”
Source: The Mercury News