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Spokane group marks centennial with fellow Rotarians

Thu., June 9, 2011

Ronald Reagan was born in 1911.

So were Lucille Ball, L. Ron Hubbard and Vincent Price. And here in Spokane in 1911, Rotary Club 21 became the 21st Rotary group in the world.

This week hundreds of Rotarians from Eastern Washington, North Idaho and British Columbia are in town for the Rotary District Conference and to help Club 21 celebrate its centennial.

“The Rotary International president is coming to Spokane for the first time ever!” said member Stephen Schneider.

Chicago businessman Paul Harris formed Rotary in 1905. “It was basically started to put ethics back into business when Chicago was a rowdy cow town, and evolved into a service organization,” said Schneider. In fact, Rotary became one of the first service clubs in the world.

Early members of Club 21 included well-known names like, Louis Davenport, F.O. Berg, Joel Ferris and S.R. Dishman.

Much has changed in the 100 years since the club’s inception. In 1922, Club 21 began publishing The HUB, a weekly newsletter. A peek at The HUB’s archives reveals a startling glimpse of the way things used to be.

For instance, a program on early “social media” on Feb. 2, 1926, gave instructions on operating the new dial telephone and the bylaws stated that the club was open to “white men” only.

Rotary clubs slowly embraced integration in the late 1960s and early ’70s but didn’t remove gender requirements until 1987.

Currently, there are more than 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas with a membership comprised of 1.2 million business and professional leaders. With 304 members, Club 21 is the largest Rotary group in Spokane.

Now, Club 21’s newsletter is distributed by email, and at a recent meeting at the Spokane Club, almost half of the attendees were women.

One thing remains unchanged – the group’s commitment to fulfill the Rotary International motto: “Service Above Self.”

A group of “old timers” gathered at a table near the back of the room and discussed their lengthy Rotary involvement. John Weeks joined Club 21 in 1978.

“I enjoy the camaraderie,” Weeks said. “And it’s a way to give back to the community.”

Dick Rubens joined in 1965. “My dad was a member. When he died in 1965, I was approached by a Rotary member and asked to fill my dad’s classification.”

Rubens is referring to the requirements to become a member of Rotary. For example, members must hold (or be retired from) a professional, proprietary, executive, managerial, or community position. Job classifications include everything from accounting to video production services.

The members expressed pleasure about what Club 21 has offered the community. “We built the Rotary Shelter at Manito,” said Rubens.

And when a smaller local club ran out of funds to create Spokane’s Children’s Fire Safety House, Club 21 pitched in. This mobile, two-story, hands-on fire escape lab is equipped with synthetic smoke and offers a simulated residential setting for students to practice home fire escape plans. The Children’s House is designed for third- and fourth-grade students and is brought to area schools each year.

Perhaps the club’s most visible contribution is the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park. Club 21 partnered with the Spokane Parks Department to create the water feature that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults all summer long.

Rotary has long been invested in young people. Incoming club president Ira Amstadter is proud of the group’s commitment to local kids. “Our goal is to even the playing field for disadvantaged youth,” he said.

The club has also hosted Christmas parties and awarded scholarships. “We look for the stuff that falls through the cracks,” said Amstadter, describing one example. “We paid for the care of a dog adopted by a special education class out in Mead.”

Club 21 president Richard Kuhling said over the last year the group has contributed $140,000 to local projects and individuals.

But Rotary’s reach extends across the world. In 1985 the organization launched an effort to eradicate polio. Since 1988, polio cases have dropped by 99 percent. Kuhling said, “We’re focused on polio and staying with it, until we wipe it out.”

The organization is committed to international literacy projects as well. For the past five years at Club 21, each guest speaker has $100 donated in their name to sponsor a child’s schooling in Honduras.

As Rotary Club 21 hosts guests from across the region and celebrates 100 years of community involvement and service, Kuhling said “There’s no national, racial, gender or religious barriers. I’ve met members throughout the world, from 50 to 60 countries and we have that instant connection. Every Rotarian has something in common – we want to do good works.”

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