Ketchikan's 'Rotary Wheel' Still Turning
Hardworking club celebrates a century
By June Allen
February 23, 2005
Ketchikan, Alaska - Ketchikan's Rotary clubs celebrated at a Centennial
gala held Saturday at the Ted Ferry Civic Center to observe the century
mark of the founding of the Rotary movement, as well as the 80th
anniversary of the first Rotary club in all of Alaska Ketchikan's
Rotary 2000. Every Ketchikan Rotarian of the past 80 years was honored,
with singular recognition extended to Judge Henry Clay Keene for his 42
years of dedicated service to the club and its goals.
With such a large membership, almost
everybody is acquainted with a Rotary club member. And almost everyone
is familiar with Rotary's cogged wheel logo, a symbol of the
hard-working club. But not everyone knows what Rotary clubs are all
about. That was summed up in Rotary President Mike Harpold's address at
the centennial party: "(What Rotary is) is the spirit of community
service," he said, "doing something good for the betterment of
Rotarians S.S. Alaska at dock
with The Key to The City, circa 1932
Photographer: Elliot L. Fisher
Photograph Courtesy Tongass Historical Society 22.214.171.124
Among a short list of past and present projects in Ketchikan, what
Rotary did and does includes the popular swimming-hole park at Bugge
Beach, the picnic tables in the town's recreation areas, the ghost walk
at the annual Halloween parties for kids, and Rotary House the two
condos the club bought, furnished and maintain so that families from out
of town have a place to stay while their loved ones are in the hospital.
And who hasn't heard of the fund-raising annual Fourth of July Rubber
Ducky Races down Ketchikan Creek! There are many, many other examples of
Rotary "Service Above Self," the club's motto.
It was just one hundred years ago that
the first Rotary club was founded in the bustling big city of Chicago by
a group of business and professional men who wanted to foster among
themselves, in 1905, "the same friendly spirit they had felt in the
small towns of their youth." They met at the invitation of Rotary's
founder, attorney Paul P. Harris, in late February 1905.
The Chicago organizers decided to name
their club "Rotary," after the fact that they met in each other's
offices a rotation practice that was discontinued early on because the
new club grew by leaps and bounds until much larger quarters were needed
for meetings. But the Rotary name remained, as did the distinctive
rotary wheel logo, which signifies the ever-turning, hard-working spirit
of Rotary. The logo started out as a wagon wheel in 1905 but soon grew
into the present and more modern cogged wheel, which represents "a well
oiled, efficient machine working for service to mankind."
The early-century Rotary founders'
original mission was simply to expand the professional and social
interests of its members. But as membership spread across Chicago and
then across the country, its mission became one of service to the
community, thus its motto "Service Above Self." So effective were the
Rotary practices and dedication to those goals that by 1921, just
sixteen years after that first Chicago club was formed, Rotary had
matured into a network of hundreds of clubs not only across America but
on six continents as well, so in1922 the name Rotary International was
In 1925, in the far-off Territory of
Alaska, Harry C. Nunan, the manager of the Ketchikan branch of New
England Fish Co.(NEFCO), launched the idea of forming a Ketchikan Rotary
club after he had visited Rotary clubs in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. It
was not that the little town on Tongass Narrows lacked for social and
fraternal organizations. There were many! But the community also had
many needs, some not being met. Ketchikan in 1925 was a bustling and
prosperous port city that billed itself as the salmon-canning capital of
the world! Booming prosperity generally comes with a darker side, and in
rowdy Ketchikan's case, that was true. There was plenty of opportunity
for community service!
An organizational meeting to form the
Ketchikan Rotary Club was held March 31, 1925, when officers and
directors were elected. Members came largely from the business
community. Ketchikan Rotary would become the first Rotary Club in all of
Alaska, the 2000th club under the Rotary wheel logo - and thus the name
Rotary 2000. The new club laid claim to being the first service club in
Rotarians at the corner of
Mission and Front Street, circa 1955
Donor: Doris Tobin Brodine
Photograph Courtesy Ketchikan Museums 126.96.36.199
Young Emery Tobin, NEFC0's bookkeeper, was elected secretary, and W.A.
Bates, vice president and manager of the Miners &Merchants Bank was
named treasurer. Directors were Rev. C.M. VanMarter; M.J. Bucey, Ford
dealer; P.J. Gilmore, haberdasher, who was that year building the
Gilmore Hotel; and L.S. (Steve) Ferris, owner of the Stedman Hotel and
the Ferris Apartments.
Members would meet on Tuesday
afternoons and, unlike most clubs, attendance was mandatory! Ketchikan's
Commercial Club, a strong business organization and the forerunner of
today's Chamber of Commerce, was at first upset, fearing those mandatory
meetings would hurt attendance at their own meetings. The fear proved
The charter ceremonies of Ketchikan's
Rotary 2000 were held in the spacious meeting room at the rear of the
Blue Fox Café. The historic Blue Fox was down just a couple of doors
from the concrete Tongass Trading building on Front Street. It was, like
many Ketchikan businesses, a deep but narrow building with a café
counter down the left side, booths on the right and a narrow hallway
midway that led to the Ingersoll Hotel lobby. In the rear was a spacious
meeting room that opened onto the alley that bisects the block between
Front and Main Streets.
The charter meeting date was May 25,
1925, with many visitors attending. An etched ivory gavel was presented
to the new club by Rotarian Frank Parrish of Seattle. Prince Rupert in
those days was almost a sister city to Ketchikan baseball rivals and
always Fourth of July visitors -- and a number of the Canadian
Rotarians had arrived for the ceremony. A special guest, Rotary District
Governor Frank C. Riggs of Portland, Oregon, arrived to present the
charter to the new Alaska club.
In addition to the officers and
directors of Rotary 2000 elected earlier, the other charter members were
Gerry H. Bach of the Admiral Line; J.C. Barber, head of Citizens Power &
Light and Ketchikan Cold Storage; John R. Beegle, the town's first
Customs officer and then owner of Beegle Packing Co.; Frank Bold,
laundry owner; Willis Bryant, with the Heckman Co.; Eldon J. Daly,
manager of Ketchikan Spruce Mills, and Van H. Fisk, later a Petersburg
Also E.C. Howard, who owned a fur
store; Alfred Howe of Tongass Trading; L.H. Kubley of Kubley's candy
store as well as the fire chief; I. G. (Gus) Pruell, jeweler; K.L.
Steberg, manager of the oil dock; William L. Schlothan, Northern
Machine; William K. Spaulding, insurance man; H.C. Strong, Citizens
Utilities and Ketchikan Cold Storage, and Norman "Doc" Walker,
The newly chartered members looked
around with new eyes and saw many projects waiting for their attention.
The club's first and continuing project interests were with the youth of
Ketchikan. From Ketchikan's earliest days the lack of a swimming hole
for these sea-side youngsters had concerned Ketchikan. They would play
and possibly one day work on the water and none of them knew how to
So shortly after the club was
chartered, it took on that challenging community project. A considerable
sum of money was raised for the purpose of putting a dam in Schoenbar
(Ketchikan) Creek at the ballpark, the records show. But this wooden dam
was undermined by the force of the water and proved to be a
Undaunted, Rotary tried again. In 1930
each member had individually raised and donated $1,800, and the club
managed to raise even more funds through the sales of shares for
purchasing a special piece of pioneer miner Martin Bugge's beach
property just south of town. It would eventually be called Rotary Beach
or Rotary Park.
The beach along Bugge's gold claim was
the ideal spot for a pool and picnic area. Just offshore from a
high-tide pool stood the supports of the abandoned George Inlet Cannery
fish trap, with cross beams from which experienced adult swimmers would
jump or dive into the water. Parents were pleased when the trap base
finally washed out in a winter storm!
The Rotary plan was to build a
concrete dam at the natural enclosure between two rock promontories
which would form a swimming pool that wouldn't flow out with the tide.
As work progressed, the entire beachfront was cleaned, picnic benches
put in place, outhouses built and parking areas cleared. Across the
highway -- a gravel road that had been built between Ketchikan and
Saxman just five years earlier -- the volunteers dammed a small stream
tumbling down the hillside in order to pipe water to the park for
washing up sandy legs and bottoms, and eventually putting in flush
Rotary's enthusiasm pulled the whole
community into their immense effort to build that pool and picnic area.
Every lodge and organization in town pitched in with dollars and time!
School children licked their pencils and chose names for the popular
beach front park. Little Bobbie Race and Marjorie Voss both won prizes
for choosing names.
But the wonderful swimming-pool park
was just one of the first and one of many, many Rotary projects. They
included recognizing others for outstanding community service. In its
early years Rotary presented Harold Foss with a gold medal for saving
the life of Stanley Oaksmith Jr. It presented Miss Yvonne Aikens with a
gold watch for saving young Denny O'Connor from drowning.
Rotary 2000 held annual meetings at
the beginning of each school year, welcoming teachers and to recognize
the importance of education to Ketchikan's youth. The club for many
years hosted an annual Christmas party, and even today smiling Rotary
members still donate Christmas baskets and toys to families in need and
can be seen smiling in the wind and cold rain near the entrances to
stores, ringing Salvation Army bells! Rotary's motto of "Service Above
Self" continues to be practiced rather than preached.
In 1987 several Rotary 2000 members
decided interest in Rotary activities in Ketchikan had grown enough to
merit the formation of a "breakfast club" - and First City Rotary was
born. Times continued to change, and in 1991 Rotary's men-only policy
was abandoned and women were welcomed to become members of Rotary.
Both of today's Ketchikan Rotary clubs
participate in a much larger world than did the founding members.
Service projects include providing college scholarships, participating
in a foreign students exchange program, contributing to health care for
children, and organizing and assisting an orphanage in the Russian far
east, Alaska's northern near neighbors.
But of all the Rotary 2000 and First
City Rotary projects, perhaps one of the most unique and appreciated is
Rotary House, two condos that the club purchased in the Mary Frances
Apartments, outfitted, furnished and maintains so that out-of-town
neighbors have a place to stay, at a nominal rate, when loved ones are
patients at Ketchikan General Hospital.
So that's a brief outline of
Ketchikan's Rotary story of continuing service to the community as this
year's 80th anniversary slips into the past. Rotary Park's swimming pool
at Bugge Beach remains a big attraction these 75 years after it was
created and someone recently snapped a picture of a surfer just beyond
the swimming pool! Times do change.
Few of us will recognize the names of
the founding members of 1925. And only a few will recognize many of the
faces in the more recent photograph of the 1955 Rotary club. But we
pass today's Rotary club members on the street every day! Do you know
who they are? They'll be wearing lapel pins, that little hardworking
cogged wheel pin. Tell them "Thank you."