More than 40 members of the Southern Sussex Rotary Club — and distinguished guests — celebrated their centennial at Gartside’s (Roxana) on Feb. 23.
With 100 years under its belt, Rotary is the oldest civic service club founded in this country, according to Southern Sussex President Steve Cropper (he noted older fraternal organizations, but said they’d originated in Europe).
“It’s just a benchmark in international service,” Cropper stated. He expected members might have felt “a piece of pride, a piece of Americana,” at the centennial celebration.
Rotarians Jack Cleveland, Charles Kauffman, Jeanne Powers and John “Jack” Sparks were recognized as “sustaining members,” and Sparks, a past District Governor, lent a little historical background for the occasion.
Back in 1905, founder Paul Harris, an attorney, gathered a handful of businessmen and set forth a “simple plan of mutual cooperation and informal friendship,” Sparks noted.
The group grew to include professionals ranging from bankers to plumbers, and took turns hosting their weekly meetings —“rotating,” hence the name.
According to Sparks, the organization started to develop the element of civic service as early as 1907, when they gave a horse to a local doctor.
They’ve come a long way in the past 100 years.
Club members started an endowment fund in 1917, “For Doing Good in the World,” which became a Not-for-Profit foundation in 1928.
Sparks noted contributions to the foundation totaling $55 million, last year alone.
In 1943, they adopted the “Four Way Test,” a gift from Herbert Taylor (who later became a Rotarian and president of Rotary International in 1954).
He’d written it during a business crisis in 1932, and later Rotarians came to apply the test, not only to professional and business decisions, but to service-oriented endeavors as well.
It reads, “Of the things we think, say or do: (1) Is it the Truth? (2) Is it Fair to all concerned? (3) Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships? (4) Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?”
Rotary started offering Ambassadorial Scholarships in 1947, with the purpose of furthering international understanding and friendly relations.
It has since become the world’s largest privately funded international scholarship program.
In 1985, Rotary members initiated an ambitious and far-reaching program to eradicate polio — worldwide — by this year.
According to Cropper, they are still pushing for immunizations in parts of Nigeria, but in the main, they have reached their goal.
He said the club had started to look at improved water quality for impoverished countries in the past year.
“The powers that be haven’t really focused on our next major, major project,” he said. “Maybe AIDS, or dental care — we go in a lot of different directions.”
Rotary supports everything from diplomatic roundtable discussion to disaster relief to vision screenings to “Operation Smile,” a program that offers free reconstructive surgery, especially for children and teens in developing countries (but also the U.S.).
As Cropper simply stated, “Everything good in the world — we do it.”
Rotary has nearly 32,000 clubs and 1.2 million members, in 166 countries.
Cropper said they were always looking for a few good business or civic leaders to join the ranks.
Membership is by invitation only, which gives the club some ability to insist on diversity.
“It used to be, you could only have one doctor, one lawyer and one Indian chief,” Cropper pointed out. “Over the last half-dozen years, we’ve moved more toward the philosophy that many hands can do much work together, and now we can have five doctors, five lawyers and five Indian chiefs in each club.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Rotary can contact Steve Cropper at 436-2151, or come by the weekly breakfast meeting at Gartside’s in Roxana, every Thursday at 7:30 a.m.