EDMOND — On March 18, 1938, Rotary official Hal McNutt, of Stillwater, gave the Edmond Rotary Club its charter, which has resulted in 75 years of service to the community and world.
It's unlikely McNutt or any of the new officers that Friday evening, including its first president and longtime University of Central Oklahoma English professor F.C. Oakes, knew the impact the club would have. In the years since, Edmond Rotarians have worked to live up to their motto of “putting service above self.” And many charitable causes have benefited.
Today, they join in service with more than 34,000 other clubs and some 1.2 million members.
A look around the weekly Wednesday luncheon at Henderson Hills Baptist Church shows a “who's who” of Edmond civic and business leaders.
One member is Jay Smith, a bank loan officer and president of the club.
He said more than 100 members are on the roster. In 1938, their mission of service started with 16 charter members.
Among the Rotary causes is Peppers Ranch, a facility north of Edmond that helps abused children. There's also an investment in the future of the community with a college scholarship program. This spring, $2,000 college scholarships were awarded to four Edmond seniors.
“Rotary has played a role in eradicating polio worldwide,” said Edmond police chief and Rotarian Bob Ricks. That's done through the PolioPlus program of Rotary.
Since 1985, Rotarians have contributed an estimated $850 million and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, leading to the inoculation of more than 2 billion of the world's children. Today only Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan report cases of the infectious disease that can cause paralysis and death, Ricks said.
Edmond Rotarians participated in a recent project for children in Brazil who have cancer. Ricks said Rotarians helped buy a van so the children could be taken to medical facilities for lifesaving treatments. Closer to home, members answer the call when new park equipment is needed.
Members also volunteer to read to students at Ida Freeman Elementary.
“I think the members enjoy it as much as the children,” Ricks said.
‘Service is ... for all'
During the luncheons, Rotarians hear a weekly speaker who could be anyone from the governor to a leading business figure. The speaker at a recent meeting was Stan Clark, founder of Stillwater's Eskimo Joe's empire.
In 75 years, there have been changes, according to attorney and past President Andy Lester. He joined Rotary in Enid, but became a member of the Central Edmond Rotary club in the 1980s. The new club was for weekly lunches. The original club met mostly on Monday evenings. With an aging membership and declining participation, the original club's membership dwindled. By 2005, the two clubs merged, Lester explained, under the 1938 charter.
In 1987, there was a seismic shift as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled women could no longer be excluded from membership.
As Lester puts it now, “That was a good case to lose. Women have completely reinvigorated the group.” He was president from 2009-2010.
“I had two women (Natalie Bonney and Mitzi Hancuff) precede me as president and one (Gail Carr) succeed me,” he said. “Women brought a whole new level of energy.”
Carol Hartzog has been a member for 25 years.
“Service is, as it should be, for all in this world. We all have a duty to ‘pay it forward,'” said Hartzog, a communications professional.
For the next 75 years and beyond, Rotarians will face an issue challenging all clubs: bringing in younger members. Smith knows it's a challenge.
“We're recruiting all the time,” he said. “That generation is much more tech-savvy. We need a good Internet and social media presence to key into them. Word-of-mouth is important also.”
Although Rotarians want to network and serve their world, there's another reason they get together. They like each other.
Edmond Councilman Nick Massey probably sums it up.
“These are really some of the best people you'll ever want to meet and be around,” he said.