100 Years of Rotary in Fort Worth
To paraphrase from the original authors of the 75th anniversary book about the Fort Worth Rotary Club, nothing is so lonely as the teeming bustle of a big city. To counter the loneliness of Chicago in 1905, Vermont transplant Paul Harris chose to do something about his situation. And because of his efforts, today more than 1 million people around the world pay homage to the idea of Service above Self through participation in 32,000 clubs in small towns and large cities.
Harris thought that the organization not only would bring businessmen together from various professions to network for mutual business purposes but would also broaden the scope of its membership and provide wider outlets for service. Harris wrote that “deeds proceed the written word. After service had been rendered in manifold forms, the word ‘service’ with all its varied meanings and implications was written into the Rotary plan. Rotary expanded from a local group…for mutual advantage and fellowship, to an organization of intellectual vision and unquestionable nobility of purpose.”
Rotary quickly spread toTexas. In May, 1911, Dallas became club #39; San Antonio formed a chapter in 1912; and Fort Worth became club #75 in 1913. As longtime business writer, Mack Williams, once wrote, “Fort Worth was only 40 years old, an aggressive, competitive town not far removed from the frontier. The Swift and Armour packing plants on the north side were bringing thousands of newcomers to the city. Railroads, feed mills, and grain elevators were big industries…each a business where brawn and back-braking labor were highly prized assets.Fort Worthwas still a new country. A place where a man could rise fast if ambitious and tough.”
In 1913, 12 businessmen saw that our city needed some civilizing influences including, but not limited to, cooperation, civic pride and a willingness to pitch in for the common good. They liked what they heard from Chicago about its new service club called “Rotary.” The 12 Fort Worthians met for the first time at the new Westbrook Hotel on June 2, 1913.
Rotary grew rapidly in Fort Worth. Then, as now, new members were admitted by business classification so as to get a wide variety of interests represented. However, classifications were often misleading, usually intentionally. B.B. Paddock, the Confederate cavalryman who became editor of the Fort Worth Democrat newspaper and was instrumental in bringing the railroad here, was classified as the “town loafer.” Sam Burk Burnett, cattle baron and grandfather of Anne Burnett Windfohr Tandy, was classified as “ buffalo hunter.”Amon Carter of the Star-Telegram was the “ printer’s devil.”
Early meetings were all about networking and community service. When the club finally started the new tradition of inviting outside speakers, not all were impressive or so goes the story. Member Roscoe Carnrike recalled one such speaker.
“I felt sorry for him. His clothes did not fit and he did not seem able to express himself. I later found out that the man was Will Rogers.”
Rotary influence helped many projects in Fort Worth. In 1916, the club donated $1,000 at the urging of club president Harry Adams to buy and beautify a parcel of land on the corner of West Seventh Street and Summit for a Rotary Park. This park provided free bath houses, tennis courts, a pond and green space. It served as the original headquarters for the fledgling Fort Worth Park Department. In fact, residents owe a debt of gratitude to Adams, who served as the president of the first park board and was instrumental in securing much of the park land we enjoy today. The original RotaryParkland was sold for commercial development. Only now, on the 100th anniversary of the Fort Worth Rotary Club, is a new Rotary Park being built on the banks of the Trinity River just below Lancaster Avenue next to the Phyllis Tilley Memorial Bridge.
The list of contributions that the Fort Worth Rotary has made to the city and the country over the last 100 years are too numerous to include in this space. War bond drives during World War II that raised more than $12 million. The organization of the Women of the Rotary and the financing of the Panther Boys Club In 1946. Our support of crime prevention in the 1980s and today’s effort to promote literacy.
I am a proud member of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth, with more than 450 members in the 14th largest Rotary Club in the world. If you would like to be a part of this illustrious group with an outstanding history of service, we would love to have you.
Written by Rush Vann