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The History of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth

In Old Fort Worth
The Day They Organized Rotary
by Mack Williams

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 the big industries – each a business where brawn and back-breaking labor were highly-prized assets. Fort Worth was still new country, a place where a man could rise fast if ambitious and tough.

J.E. Mitchell

J.E. Mitchell

That year of 1913 a few businessmen looked ahead and saw that a city needed civilizing influences to become great. Co-operation, for one. Civic pride, for another. Willingness to pitch in for the common good. Eight years earlier, a men’s service club called Rotary had started in Chicago, based on those very principles, J. E. Mitchell of the Mitchell-Greer Jewelry Co., 912 Main, talked it over with Bismark Heyer of Leyhe Piano Co., 402 Houston. They liked what Paul Harris, the Chicago lawyer who founded the first Rotary Club in 1905, said. “The true Rotary spirit,” Harris declared, “is not the selfish one of trying to see how much you can get out of your fellow members but the more altruistic one of trying to see how much benefit and good you can do for your fellow members.”

Jake F. Zurn

Jake F. Zurn

Mitchell and Heyer acted. On Feb. 25, 1913, they and ten other businessmen met at the brand-new Westbrook Hotel with Lewin Plunkett, president of the two-year-old rotary Club of Dallas. In the group were Dr. H. M. Walker of Ray and Walker; Harry J. Adams, president of Sandegard Grocery Co.; Sam L. Johnson, manager of Texas’ Bitulithic Co., J. F. Henderson, manager of Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.; Dr. Frank Boyd of Boyd and Head; G. E. Cranz of Terminal Grain Co.; Coke W. Harkrider, an investment broker; C. C. Martin of the Covey and Martin drug stores; A. L. Steubinger of Fakes & Co. and J. B. Craddock of Carter Grocery Co.

Mitchell was named temporary chairman, Heyer temporary secretary. On June 2, 1913, a formal charter arrived, making the Fort Worth club the 75th in the nation. On Friday, Oct. 19, it will observe Rotary International’s anniversary with a dance and breakfast at Ridglea Country Club.

Rotary grew rapidly here. The first official meeting held June 28, 1913 at the Seibold Hotel on E. Seventh St. attracted 23 members who elected Jake F. Zurn president; R. H. Foster vice president, A. B. Vera treasurer and Coke W. Harkrider, treasurer.

Other charter members that year were A. L. Steubinger, E. B. Spiller, L. M. Willey, Barney Smith, Roy McDonald, C. D. Reimers, Tom Taylor, H. C. Burke, Jr., W. C. Dugger, W. 0. Talbot, J. C. Clopton, R. H. Foster, C. Emil Mueller, Pete Jenkins, Fred Manget, W. B. Paddock, B. F. Logan, R. C. Veihl, J. R. Overstreet, Temple Harris, A. L. McClelland, D. 0. May, Charles A. Wheeler, Fred Devitt, Sidney Harrison, L. A. Nichols, George Moore, Joe Dawson, L. P. Robertson, R. C. Combs, C. L. Wilson, C. B. Brown, D. E. Chipps, J. J. Ballard, J. F. Shelton, W. E. Thatcher, W. E. Austin, C. Rosenfeld, Andrew Hemphill, Roy Loveless, John C. Fanning, Thad Collyer, R. E. Kerr, Paul Stieren, A. H. Bauer, T. N. Whitehurts, W. R. Boyd, John L. Foley, W. C. Fleet, S. F. Osburn, J. J. Pollard, B. B. Paddock, E. P. Dillman, W. S. Cooke, Ernest Lasker, R. E. Graham, A. S. Mills, Earl Parks, E. J. Archinard, W. G. Turner, H. E. Finney, A. C. Bell, H. W. Williams, Jr., Charles Mussett, Carl Venth, W. E. Harvey and G. H. Clifford.

Then as now Rotary members were admitted by business classification but a good deal of joshing prevailed. B. B. Paddock, the Confederate cavalryman who became editor of the Fort Worth Democrat, the Standard and the Gazette and did more than anyone else to bring the railroads here, was classified as “town loafer.” S. B. Burnett, friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, cattle baron, builder of the Burk Burnett skyscraper, and grandfather of Mrs. Anne Burnett Tandy, was classified as “buffalo hunter,” George T. Reynolds, another early-day cattle king, entered the Rotary Club as “shark fisherman” and Amon Carter of the Star Telegram as “printer’s devil.”

Early-day meetings, held at the Metropolitan, Court, Worth, Westbrook and Seibold Hotels, usually featured a talk by a member about his own business. Nevertheless, the club plunged immediately into community service. Club members organized “Fat” and “Lean” baseball teams, raised $1,200 at an exhibition game and donated itto Cumberland Rest, the Presbyterian home for elderly women.

When the club finally did start bringing in outside speakers, not all were impressive. Roscoe Carnrike recalled one in particular. “I felt sorry for him,” said Carnrike. “His clothes did not fit and he did not seem to be able to express himself. He talked about canalization of the Trinity River. I later found out the man was Will Rogers.”

Rotarians like to stir things up. It was common for a member to top off his lunch with a wager: “I’ll give $100 for poor kids if the rest of you will match it.” If not poor kids, some other worthy cause. By 1915, Rotary’s educational program had taken shape. Texas Women’s College, now Texas Wesleyan, offered a scholarship to a worthy student selected by Rotary. The club chose Miss Vivan Rider, paying all her college expenses and presenting her with a $50 graduation gift. Miss Ryder later taught school and married Alvin Allen, an oil man. In 1921 the Educational Foundation of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth was created. Originally set up with a $27,000 revolving fund, it has made loans to more than 1,000 boys and girls who needed help to get a college education. Most of the loans were repaid.

Rotary influence helped scores of other useful projects. Harry Adams, president before the outbreak of World War I, crusaded for a park system. In January, 1916, the club donated $1,000 to buy and beautify a plot of ground at W. Seventh and Summit. Known as Rotary Park, it housed a free bath house and headquarters of the struggling young Fort Worth Park Department. After World War II the department’s office moved to the Botanic Garden and City council sold Rotary Park to a commercial developer, setting off a heated controversy. Adams headed the Fort Worth Park Board for many years and is responsible to a great degree for Fort Worth’s present park system.

The Rotary Club’s influence also has been felt in Fort Worth government. Many Fort Worth mayors and city councilman were members of the club, which generally reflects a conservative viewpoint. As the city grew, so did Rotary. The original club became known as the “downtown” club and today there are Rotary clubs in North Fort Worth, West Fort Worth, East Fort Worth and South Fort Worth. All will mark Rotary International’s 75th anniversary and all exist under an unchanged Rotary creed. “The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service; high ethical standards in business annd professions; the application of the ideal of service by every Rotarian to his personal business and community life, and the advancement of international understanding, good will and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional men united in the idea of service.”

Rotary’s first secretary was Adams B. Vera, a member who headed the insurance firm of Vera, Reynolds & Co. in the Reynolds Building, 108 W. Eighth. Vera also was president of the Fort Worth Relief Association, a forerunner of the Community Chest and United Way. Vera served until 1923 when Lewis D. Fox of Tarrant Savings Association succeeded him and a full-time assistant secretary was hired to handle the club’s growing administrative and office work.

Today the executive secretary is Geneva S. Wright, who headed an accounting firm before taking the job with the club in 1964. Geneva Faye Williams is the fulltime office secretary. Paul Stevens is president. The other officers are Jud Cramer, president-elect; Earl Cox and Roy Stevenson, vice president; Bill Serrault, secretary, John Walker, treasurer and Art Dickerson, sergeant at arms. Roy Hiser is chairman of the 75th anniversary committee. The club’s oldest member is John B. Collier, who joined in 1921.

A Brief History of Rotary International

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. 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 Ñ 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 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries.

source: Rotary International Website (http://www.rotary.org)