A Brief History of Downtown Rotary
from "A Century of Rotary in Springfield, Illinois 1913 to 2013"
The Rotary Club of Springfield, Illinois was the idea of Louis M. Myers, a local merchant who traveled to Chicago to discuss formation of a club. Rotary International (RI) asked Charles E. Howe of Houston, Texas to assist in the club organization. Rotary International issued Charter No. 83 on August 8, 1913 when the club hosted Chesley R. Perry, Rotary International Secretary, at the organization meeting.
Initiation fee was fixed at $5 for with monthly dues at 50 cents. The club grew from 23 original members to 60 members within a few months. Bi-weekly meetings were usually held at members’ homes. The club immediate response to community service needs, passing the hat for underprivileged boys, the Home for the Friendless and for student scholarships. Club delegates attended the Rotary International convention the very first year.
The first visit of a RI President came in 1917 when we hosted E. Leslie Pidgeon from Manitoba, Canada, and the first RI President from outside of the United States. By 1920, the club began publishing a weekly newsletter. In 1921 we had 100 members and sent a delegate to Edinburgh, Scotland for the RI convention. The 1923 our club hosted over 700 Rotary International visitors to Springfield. These guests came from the RI Convention in St. Louis and included past RI President Russell Griener and other dignitaries from around the world.
In 1928, Will Taylor became our club’s first District Governor, and in 1930, we hosted a jubilee meeting of nine Rotary clubs to celebrate Will Taylor’s election as a Director of Rotary International. He was the first RI Director from our Rotary district.
During the 1930’s, two members served as District Governor. In 1935, we hosted RI President Edward R. Johnson with a full day’s activities involving nine other Illinois Rotary clubs. In 1936, our club had the singular honor of hosting Paul Harris and Sylvester Schiele, two of the four founders of Rotary International. In 1937, our club sponsored two new clubs in central Illinois, the Auburn Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Rushville. In January 1938, we held an intercity Rotary breakfast to honor Maurice Duperrey, President of RI International, who was visiting with Madame Duperrey.
In January 1944, the club held an auction of individual club member services with proceeds going for US War Bonds. One active member, Illinois Governor Dwight Green, offered to mow the lawn of the highest bidder. Allis Chalmers paid $460,000 to have our Governor cut the sizeable grass lawn in front of their factory. The club collected over $1 million for War Bonds at this single event. Club records document a total of $3,700,000 in US War Bond sales during WW II. RI President Tom A. Warren visited in September 1945.
In June 1955, the author of the Four-Way Test, RI President Herbert J. Taylor, was introduced to our club by honorary Rotarian, Governor William J. Stratton. Our club became the second in the nation to sponsor an Interact club. In 1958, the “Wheel Club,” a forerunner of Interact, was sponsored at Springfield High School.
In 1963, a young US Senator wearing a bow tie spoke. Yes, Paul Simon delivered his program while we celebrated our Golden Anniversary Year. We still had two active charter members. In those days, club activities included the Springfield High Interact club and hosting foreign visitors to Springfield. An occasional fundraiser would be held when a local charity made a specific request. In 1964, we began a two-year project that successfully opened the Rotary Club of Springfield South. Springfield was the first city in our district to support two Rotary Clubs.
Our 1964-65 president, John Montgomery, set a goal of redirecting the mission of our Rotary club to service above self. The accomplishments of John’s presidency on our club reflected the 1960’s “War on Poverty” and continue to affect our club’s community support to this day:
Sponsored the Rotary Club of Springfield South
Named the 1964-65 Rotary District 646 Club of the Year
Held the club’s first community fundraiser, an auction
Club organized donations to local charities
Established the Springfield Rotary Foundation
The Springfield Rotary Foundation was incorporated on January 18, 1966, with every club member belonging to the Foundation. The mission statement read, “Contributions to the Foundation will be used to assist other charitable organizations in their work.” This set the stage for future community fundraising programs. From this date forward, the Foundation would make decisions on providing support to deserving community organizations.
The club continued to evolve in its record of community support. In 1972, Rotary sponsored the Harlem Globetrotters and raised $2,000 for charity. The club was happy to invite the Globetrotters to return in 1973. Unfortunately, attendance did not materialize and we lost $2,000 on the event. Reflecting the times, the club continued to consider fundraising programs. Even with these setbacks, our club donated $3,000 to the Boys Club of Springfield.
In 1975, one member proposed the sale of fresh navel oranges and grapefruit from Florida. We made contact with a Florida citrus growers’ cooperative. The birth of our annual citrus sales began in earnest in August 1976, with profits projected at $2,000. Sales exceeded goals by significant margins. That was about $1.5 million ago. Citrus sales have become our club’s legacy of support for community charities.
In 1983, our club hosted one of our early exchange students whose uncle happened to be the president of Rotary International. That gave our club the fortunate opportunity to welcome and host RI President Carlos Conseco of Mexico.
Our 1998 president, Bob Stuart, continued his committed involvement in Rotary, serving in roles as Governor for the District and as one of the 17 Directors of the Rotary International. Bob is our club’s second Rotary International Director and only the third RI Director from District 6460.
In April 1987, our club sponsored the organization of Springfield’s third club, the Rotary Club of Springfield - Sunrise. That new club was ready for the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on women in membership by welcoming the first female Rotarian as a member in July of that year. in 1992, our club proudly elected Carolyn Oxtoby as the first woman club president in Rotary District 6460
In the 1980's, we began hosting Rotary foreign exchange students and providing leadership to the Rotary Central States Youth Exchange program. In 1989, the club adopted Ridgely Elementary School. Club members tutor students, and the club provides funding for Ridgely programming needs. Ridgely has a high level of transient, low-income, single-parent family and at-risk students. This school has been blessed with a nurturing environment and caring staff. This important relationship continues to this day.
In 1990, the National Society of Fund Raising Executives selected our club as the “Outstanding Philanthropic Organization” in central Illinois.
In 1992, we joined with the other Springfield clubs to donate $15,000 to the Springfield Park District. Rotary Park was dedicated in August 1994 on the rapidly growing west side of Springfield. This park includes plantings, trees and memorials to departed Rotary members. In 1993, our club entered into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build a home in Springfield. Our Springfield Rotary Foundation contributed $15,000 for the project, and volunteers were recruited from the membership to assist in the construction.
In 1994, we began selling roses for delivery on Valentine’s Day. These sales generated about $3,000 profit for three years. Unfortunately, competition in supply markets meant the demise of our supplier and this fundraiser. Our citrus fundraiser continued to generate well in excess of #30,000 in charitable donations per year.
In 1998, Rotary International announced the Jean Harris Award for significant contributions to the development and progress of women. Our Club’s nominee, Victoria S. Schmidt, was awarded the very first District 6460 Jean Harris Award for her long history of service to low-income women and for developing services for poor women in Springfield. In addition, member Robert M. Bellatti was given the District’s second Leader Bell Award for outstanding leadership achievements in all of the four avenues of service. The three Springfield Rotary clubs were honored to host RI President Frank Devlyn in July 2000.
In 2005, our member, District Governor Rod Buffington, created a literacy program for District 6460. He promoted a bus trip for a Cardinals/Cubs game in St. Louis. This successful fundraising program has expanded to raise over $250,000 to support literacy programs for around Illinois and into Iowa, covering seven Rotary districts.
In 2007, Rod Buffington began a Rotary Circle Program which has grown to 33 members and given Paul Harris Fellow recognition to 26 members. The generosity of circle members allowed us to have 100 percent of our members with a Paul Harris Fellowship as of April 1, 2013.
In 2010, a committee appointed to research and suggest a new fundraising activity proposed the John Montgomery Memorial Catfish Tournament. The tournament was named to honor our past president who achieved 50 years of perfect attendance. The tournament has become a continuing source of pride and profit for the club.
On August 20 2012, Springfield’s five Rotary clubs held an anniversary year kickoff dinner at the Inn at 835. The highlight of the evening was an inspiring speech from past Rotary International President Ray Klinginsmith from Kirksville, Missouri. It was the perfect beginning for this year’s celebration of a century of Rotary in Springfield.
The anniversary project was introduced at the kickoff dinner. Springfield’s five Rotary clubs have partnered with the Springfield Park District Foundation to install a sundial garden in Southwind Park. The garden features three structures visually anchored by a soaring solar sunflower which casts a shadow marking the date. A human sundial allows an individual standing on a gnomon pad to note the time on the shadow. The Rotary wheel in the center of a circular garden has solstice equinox benches placed on the perimeter, aligned to the seasons. It is an installation designed to give the visitor a sense of place and time in the solar geometry.
On June 10 we held our 100th Anniversary Celebration.  2013-14 Rotary International President-Elect Ron D. Burton was the featured speaker and guest of honor. We also published "A Century of Rotary in Springfield 1913 - 2013" detailing the history of five active Rotary clubs in Springfield, Illinois.
From:   "A Century of Rotary in Springfield 1913 - 2013"
View a copy of the book from the  Download Files on the home page.