By Darlene Hawley – Last month, on February 23, an organization called “Rotary International” celebrated its founding 112 years earlier. It took place in Chicago with a man named Paul Harris who served as the first president. (In later years, Paul Harris Awards would be given to a Rotarian or community individual who demonstrated outstanding service to our community.) Today, Rotary International is found in cities and towns in every country throughout the world. Wherever you travel in the United States, you will see Rotary Club signs posted at a towns entrance with the weekly meeting day, time and location. If you are a Rotarian, you know you are welcome to attend these meetings. If you travel to countries around the world, the same is true.
Wayne is fortunate to have a Rotary Club in our community which has been active for many years. Beginning in the 1920’s a number of service clubs began to form in Wayne with programs and projects to improve the lives of its people, organizations and community. Wayne’s downtown business district and industries were growing as was its population. By the 1940’s and 50’s there was a long list of men’s service clubs such as Rotary, Jay-cees, Civitans, and Lions as well as women’s organizations who had service projects similar to the mens. (Rotary-Anns, Kiwani-Kweens, Jay-shees, Felions Soroptimists and Business and Professional Women). Many of these clubs were active for many years until a time came when membership began to drop and programs scaled back.
Today, the Wayne Rotary Club is still actively making a difference in our community. It all began in the fall of 1919 when invitations were sent out to area business men to attend a dinner meeting held at the old Roosevelt School with the purpose of organizing a civic group of business men to provide for the betterment of the community. This group of 25 members soon became called the Wayne Noon Lunch Club. They met weekly and from the inception, the plan was to become a Rotary Club. Meetings were conducted using the rules laid down by the Rotary International Organization. Eventually, application was made to Rotary International but was rejected because of the size of our community. Towns smaller than 5000 people were not eligible.
In the summer of 1920, Allen Alberts, a past President of Rotary International, came to Wayne to speak at a Chautauqua. (A meeting usually held in the summer for lectures, programs or entertainment.). He was invited to the Club lunch and heard the plight of its members concerning rejection to Rotary. Mr. Allen informed the group that he was attending the next convention in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1921 and would introduce a resolution to change the rule as to population. He did and it was approved. Wayne received it’s Charter in January of 1922. We were the very first Rotary Club in a town with less than 5000 people!
For those who grew up in Wayne, many familiar faces can be found in the picture of Rotarians accompanying this article taken sometime in the 1950’s. Just listing the first ten presidents of the club, we recognize businessmen and leaders of our community long ago. ( LaRue, Reiser, McMurtry, Uht, Mulholland Sr., Tinkham Sr., Gerbstadt, Jamieson, Poole and Hilliard) To list all of the men and women who have served this club over the years would be a lengthy task. Two notable men are Alex Moore who was president in 1942-43 and then elected to the position of District Governor for 1930-31 and David Carpenter, a past president and active member today who was elected to the position of District Governor for 2006-07.
From the beginning, the object of Rotary International was to “encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise.” The motto has always been “service above self”. In the early 1930’s the weekly luncheon meetings were held at the Congregational Church where the women prepared their meal for 40 cents a person. (It was during the depression and paying for meals and collecting dues became a problem. Dues were dropped for a few years.) When the Congregational women could no longer prepare meals, Rotary moved to the lobby of the Wayne Hotel on Michigan Ave. (The hotel rooms were located on the second floor above the store portion of the old Shafer Theater building.) Owners, Mr. and Mrs. Blocker, served meals to the 18 members of Rotary for a number of years until membership grew and the club had to move to the Episcopal Church on Newberry St. Mrs Blocker continued to serve meals there and at the Recreation Building on Wayne Rd. when Rotary moved there in 1947. In later years Rotary met in restaurants, the Community Center and the Wayne Library where they meet today.
Over the years, Rotary has worked to offer fellowship and social activities to its members. Many of today’s members will recall years of summer picnics for planning, power lawn mower races, lobster and steak roasts in the fall, Christmas Brunch and trips to other communities to join with other Rotarians. Many of these activities are still being enjoyed today.
Women joined Rotary in the mid 1980’s and have become an important part of the club as they take on leadership roles. Pat Rice is serving as a a co-president with Wild Bill at present.
Wayne Rotary has supported our community in many ways for 95 years. Funding their many projects was a challenge but always offered club members and the community an opportunity to socialize and have a good time. One early fundraiser was known as “The White Horse Show”. In 1947 members of the Club bought a talented albino horse owned by Warner Brothers Studios and featured in Life Magazine. They planned a huge extravaganza for the community using this talented horse in a circus style show which drew so many people that traffic was stopped on Michigan Ave. On the last night of the show, the horse and all the trappings and a Ford Super Deluxe Tudor were given away as prizes. Other fund raising projects over the years include: annual chicken barbecues, rummage sales, garage sales, art auctions, dueling piano programs, euchre tournaments (one which vied for the Guinness Book of Records fame for most euchre players in attendance), bus trips to casinos and many more too numerous to mention.
Our community has benefited over the years from these fund raisers. The money Rotary has given to help and support the people of our community has made a real difference in the quality of life for many. One of the clubs first projects was to build a community swimming pool near the original Wayne High School on Michigan Ave. It eventually had to be abandoned due to a water shortage. To name all of the club projects would be impossible. To name a few: sponsoring Wayne’s traditional Christmas parade for many years, funds to help restore the Rouge River, sponsoring and care of two of Wayne’s community parks, dictionaries presented to all third graders in Wayne area schools, sponsoring exchange students from around the world and providing them with homes while they attended WMHS, years of scholarship money to graduating Wayne Memorial High School and John Glenn seniors, help for special needs children, opportunities for teens in leadership camps and Interlochen, First Step support, support of homeless shelters, financial support of WMHS Vocal Dimensions, back packs and supplies for Iraqi children, the purchase of an athletic field scoreboard at WMHS, five years of financial support to the Main Street Program and sponsoring a youth court program at Wayne Memorial High School to educate students on our court systems.
Our Wayne Rotary Club has also been active in working with Rotary International in improving the lives of people around the world. Wayne Rotarians gave funds to and traveled to Honduras a number of times to work at building water filters to improve the quality of the water needed in villages as well as build classrooms and orphanages. They support many other Rotary International Programs such as the world wide eradication of polio and other health issues.
What would Wayne be like today if that small group of business men hadn’t banded together to form a club to give service to their community? In the words of Rotary International President, John F. Germ, “the world is a far, far better place now than it would have been without Rotary. The world needs Rotary more than ever. It needs our courage, our optimism, and our idealism. It needs the voice of tolerance, cooperation and hope that Rotary can offer.”
We owe a huge debt to the men and women of Wayne Rotary for their commitment to “service above self” and all they have given our community. (Material for this article comes from the Wayne Historical Museum. Thanks to David Carpenter for his help with information.)