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Rotary's Beginnings / Its Founder & Early Leaders

Brief History of Rotary's Beginning: The world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA, was formed on 23 February 1905 by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who wished to recapture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. On this evening of 23 February 1905, Paul Harris invited three friends to a meeting: Silvester Schiele, a coal dealer; Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor; and Gustavus Loehr, a mining engineer. They gathered with Harris in Loehr's business office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago on Dearborn Avenue.

The name "Rotary" derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices. Rotary's popularity spread throughout the United States in the decade that followed; clubs were chartered from San Francisco to New York. By 1921, Rotary clubs had been formed on six continents, and the organization adopted the name Rotary International a year later. As Rotary grew, its mission expanded beyond serving the professional and social interests of club members. Rotarians began pooling their resources and contributing their talents to help serve communities in need.

The organization's dedication to this ideal is best expressed in its principal motto: Service Above Self. Rotary also later embraced a code of ethics, called The 4-Way Test, that has been translated into hundreds of languages. During and after World War II, Rotarians became increasingly involved in promoting international understanding. A Rotary conference held in London in 1942 planted the seeds for the development of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and numerous Rotarians have served as consultants to the United Nations. An endowment fund, set up by Rotarians in 1917 "for doing good in the world," became a not-for-profit corporation known as The Rotary Foundation in 1928.

Upon the death of Paul Harris in 1947, an outpouring of Rotarian donations made in his honor, totaling US$2 million, launched the Foundation's first program — graduate fellowships, now called Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, contributions to The Rotary Foundation total more than US$80 million annually and support a wide range of humanitarian grants and educational programs that enable Rotarians to bring hope and promote international understanding throughout the world.

In 1985, Rotary made a historic commitment to immunize all of the world's children against polio. Working in partnership with nongovernmental organizations and national governments thorough its PolioPlus program, Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor to the global polio eradication campaign. Rotarians have mobilized hundreds of thousands of PolioPlus volunteers and have immunized more than one billion children worldwide. By the 2005 target date for certification of a polio-free world, Rotary will have contributed half a billion dollars to the cause. As it approached the dawn of the 21st century, Rotary worked to meet the changing needs of society, expanding its service effort to address such pressing issues as environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger, and children at risk. The organization admitted women for the first time in 1989 and claims more than 90,000 women in its ranks today. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Rotary clubs were formed or re-established throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to some 30,000 Rotary clubs in more than 160 countries.

Founder of the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary Foundation was started in 1917 by Arch Klumpf, sixth President of Rotary International, who convinced a Rotary Convention of the need for an endowment for "doing good in the world" in charitable, educational, or other avenues of service. One of the visionaries of Rotary, in 1917 Arch Klumpf, conceived the idea of a charitable foundation, And thus Rotary Foundation was born. Today it it the biggest Foundation in the world and since its first award in 1930, it has disbursed more than US$ 850.000.000 on its educational and humanitarian programs. What an achievement! Arch Klumpf had a dream ... a dream to create a sustaining fund to do good throughout the World. The Rotary Foundation is the fulfillment of that vision, giving Rotarians everywhere the financial support and tailored humanitarian, health and education programmes that address hunger, disease, illiteracy and well being among the people of the world.

The enormously successful Polio-Plus programme exemplifies the work of The Rotary Foundation. Never in the history of mankind, have so many diverse cultures, nations and individuals worked together in peaceful pursuit of a common goal. And there are many hundreds of other examples of The Rotary Foundation at work, in the many Matching Grants and Discovery Grant projects we are undertaking right here in District 9910 ... Save Water – Save Lives projects in Vanuatu; Volunteers building Hospitals in Latvia and Santo; Eye Surgeons performing sight-saving operations; matching and dispensing eye glasses and humanitarian aid in the Solomons, Fiji, East Timor and strife-torn communities around the world. Ambassadorial Scholarships and Group Study Exchange teams expand the knowledge and goodwill between countries. Many of the participants of these Rotary Foundation programmes become leaders in their vocations, using the knowledge and experience gained to influence their communities for the greater good of all. June 2001 was the 50th Anniversary of the death of Arch Klumpf. More info on Foundation page.

Words of Paul Harris: "The writer is convinced that women who can spare the time from family affairs, need contacts with other women more than men need increased opportunities to meet their fellows. Business provides men with contacts and also with a form of discipline of which women, by reason of their sheltered lives, are deprived. If women are more critical then men, it is because they have had less experience with their kind. Inexperienced men are suspicious and difficult to deal with, while women whom circumstances have compelled to enter the field of business generally become less suspicious, broader in their outlook and more understanding." - Paul P. Harris, pg. 133 from "This Rotarian Age"

"It is heartening also to know that the wives, daughters and mothers of Rotarians in many cities, impressed with the value of Rotary have organized clubs of their own and are doing effective service in charitable enterprises. The women's movement has gained greatest momentum in Great Britain where their clubs, nearly one hundred in number, have already established a national unit which is doing extension work in British dominions." - Paul P. Harris, pg. 133 from "This Rotarian Age"

“It has been the way of Rotary to focus thought upon matters in which they are in agreement, rather than upon matters in which they are in disagreement. Rotary has satisfactorily demonstrated the fact that friendship can easily hurdle national and religious boundary lines." - Paul P. Harris, pg. 68 from “Adventures in Service” 14th printing.

“The purposes of early Rotary have been frequently described as selfish, and so indeed they may seem to have been.Whether a member was selfish or unselfish depended, of course, upon where he found his happiness. If he found it primarily in gaining advantage for himself, he was selfish. If he found it in helping friends, he was unselfish. Naturally both types of mind were represented in the early days of club number one, as is true everywhere.” - Paul P. Harris, pg. 15 from Adventures in Service, first edition, 1946 Rotary International

Read the excellent writing of Rotary's founder and gain in knowledge of the real basics of Rotary in this timeless story. Order "My Road to Rotary" from RI for only $9.00 US. Visit the Rotary International publications website, and then click on "books.”

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