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|The Third Oldest Rotary Club in the World (1909-2009)
By Linda Hamilton
On January 15, 1909, Oakland hosted the first inter-city
meeting in Rotary history, inviting their brethren from San Francisco
over for lunch. From this would eventually come the tradition of make-up
meetings at other Rotary clubs.
In February 1909, Tri-City celebrated its formation with an elaborate gala at the Hotel Athens.
Frank Bilger served less than six months as president of Tri-City. Taking over was Dr. Ernest Robert Tait, a London born dentist, who embraced Tri-City Rotary’s main theme at that time: “You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.”
Despite this focus, Tri-City did achieve its first Community Service in 1909. The club pressed the Southern Pacific Railroad to pave Seventh Street, the town's chief commuter thoroughfare. The effort cost no money, but it did cost the club a few of its pioneer members who took offense, and there were charges of "meddling" from City Hall.
Harvey Lyon, Oakland Rotary President and Paul HarrisControversy and ill-will began to penetrate Tri-City in 1909 and 1910. There were forced business practices such as 'boost week,' when members drew numbers from a hat and would concentrate in trading as much as possible with that member who drew the lucky number. There was a threat of boycotts by outside businessmen who seemed unable to secure trade from Rotarians. There was political controversy and personality disputes.
Perhaps this strife is best illustrated by the tale of the Tri-City Mad Hatter.
Paul T. Carroll held the classification as 'hatter' in 1909. One meeting, he stormed in late, red-faced, and exploded. “Just before I came in this room I made it my business to check the hats parked in the cloakroom just to see how many Paul T. Carroll labels were tucked inside. I found only six out of 125 hats with my name. Do you call that loyalty?"
Well, Paul the Mad Hatter was promptly replaced with another Oakland hat merchant. But more importantly, the incident brought to a head the festering problems within the club.
In August 1910, when the first National Rotary convention was held in Chicago for the then 16 clubs, Tri-City failed to send representation—either by delegate or by proxy. And attendance at the weekly meeting had reached a low point.
What would become of the Tri-City Club in the decade to follow? How would Tri-City become Oakland Rotary? Would the Mad Hatter return?
Yes, in 1910 the Tri-City Rotary Club was in trouble!
President Tait plodded on focusing on the business advantage Rotarians possessed over outsiders.
"Every week,” said one Rotarian, “we would wonder whose curtain rods, life insurance or buggy robes we would be pressured into buying next!"
Also tearing the club apart was the issue of annexation.
During December of 1909 Oakland annexed nearly 40 square miles. Alameda members of Tri-City complained that they were now too far removed from Berkeley to derive any commercial benefits from that direction, and Berkeley Rotarians said the same thing about Alameda.
Tri-City's ranks began to shrink. By May 1910, Only 27 members answered the roll call.
It was a brave, singing Scotsman, a baker and candy maker by trade, who helped Oakland Rotary to sweetly rise once more.
Robbie Robertson became the club’s third president, the only one to serve two full terms. A partner at Cape Ann Bakery on 12th Street, he was described as peppy and lively, always with a twinkle in his eye and an endless repertoire of Scottish stories, songs and jigs. (He would go on to entertain the American troops in Europe with the YMCA during WWI.)
Paul Harris and Robbie Robertson, 1911Up until then, Tri-City had NOT participated in the National Association of Rotary Clubs…then Robbie Robertson went as an observer to the 1911 convention in Portland, Oregon. He brought back two slogans that came into being at that convention: "He Profits Most Who Serves Best” and “Service Above Self.”
But back home, the Tri-City club was insolvent. On August 10th Robbie called his directors into an emergency meeting. The eight men agreed to abandon the struggling Tri-City Rotary Club, pay debts, and start anew under the banner of the Rotary Club of Oakland.
"Steps are being taken," wrote Robbie to Paul Harris, "to clean out the undesirable and disrupting members and reorganize the faithful Rotarians."
Under its new name and philosophy, the club flourished. Generosity reigned. Robbie brought samples of Scotch shortbread and oatmeal cookies to meetings and H. Vose of Standard Warehouses arranged bouquets of San Leandro cherries on the tables.
Oakland Rotarians began to extend their generosity to the community, providing leg braces, artificial limbs, x-rays and surgery for the crippled, tonsil operations, rent money and cash for destitute families, support for orphans, insulin for diabetics . . . and on one occasion a bicycle for a boy so that he could help earn a living and support his mother.
The California Girls Training Home expressed gratitude to the club for a washing machine. The Relief Home sent thanks for their new linoleum flooring.
Meanwhile, the Annexation dispute continued, reaching a climax when a San Francisco association attempted to amend the State Constitution to annex parts of Oakland and other East Bay communities. San Francisco newspapers discouraged local businessmen from hiring anyone outside the city.
Rotarians, however, did not buy in.
On February 20, 1913, Oakland Rotarians staged what newspapers called a "Love Feast," a festive dinner in the Hotel Oakland attracting 500 Rotarians from both sides of the bay.
1912 teamRotarians also took fellowship to the baseball diamond in 1913, when the San Francisco club challenged Oakland to a series. They played at the championship Oakland Oaks’ brand new park in Emeryville.
Under Manager Al Saroni, Oakland Rotarians won all five games. Go Oakland!
CALL ME BY MY FIRST NAME.
Tom Bridges1914-OR-First Edition of Live Oak, the Club's Weekly Bulletin, 29Oct 1914The club’s fourth President Tom Bridges, right, came to Rotary as the director of Heald School of Business and was a charter member of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. He enjoyed lifelong hobbies of penmanship and rock collecting. A rock in Rotary, Tom maintained a 100 per cent attendance for 33 years.
Under Tom’s administration, the February 1914 issue of The Rotarian was dedicated to the Oakland Club. That same year, our club created the Live Oak, our 94-year old weekly publication.
Perhaps Tom’s most influential contribution to Rotary was at the 1914 national Rotary convention in Houston, Texas when he stood up to make a stirring appeal that henceforth Rotarians should call one another by their first names. Though the Chicago club had been using first names, it was not the custom of the time, and it was the motion by Tom Bridges that made the use of first names in Rotary systematic worldwide. - It became Rotary custom from that day forward. (also see Tenets of Rotary Tenets & Symbols)
Oakland's Family TreeAlso under Tom, Oakland Rotary embraced Paul Harris’ vision of Rotary expansion. We became mother (along with San Francisco Rotary) to the Sacramento club in 1913, Stockton and San Jose (1914), Fresno (1915), and Berkeley in 1916. Oakland Rotary would go on to sponsor clubs in over 115 cities and not only in the U.S. (graphic: The Spread of Rotary from Oakland - The "Great Oak") President V. O. LawrenceIn 1915, club President V. O. Lawrence visited Honolulu and helped organize Rotary in the Hawaiian Islands. He did the same in Milan, Italy and in Germany.
FINES AND BELLING RINGING
V.O., our sixth president, grew up on the Island of Fohr in the North Sea, arriving in San Francisco at age 16 to work on the docks. He went on to become a shipping magnate, establishing the Lawrence Warehouse Company in Oakland. Volkert also devoted himself to building the Boy Scout movement in Oakland.
He was the first Rotarian in history to inaugurate a system of fines on latecomers at the weekly luncheons, enriching the club's charity funds. From this practice evolved the birthday fine and bell ringer, International Rotary traditions. (also see Tenets of Rotary)
1914-Cover The Rotarian, Oakland Issue, City HallCode of EthicsIn April 1914, Oakland hosted the first Interstate Conference in Rotary history. The California clubs discussed the big event of 1915:
With the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in town, San Francisco won the honor to host the sixth annual Rotary International Convention. Except on July 22nd. On that day 600 Rotarians from around the world traveled by ferry steamer to Oakland.
Four Way Test billboardFrom this convention came the 1915 Code of Ethics, the foundation of Vocational Service in Rotary, later encapsulated in the Four-Way Test.
The Rotary Club of Oakland continued its good works throughout the decade. It planted 1,200 trees along Oakland's Foothill Boulevard, the Lincoln Highway in 1916.
In 1919 when Corpus Christi, Texas was hit by a hurricane, Oakland Rotarians had a check for $10,000 in the mail within half an hour after a telegram arrived asking for help.
When World War I shook Europe in 1914, the Rotary Club of Oakland sent relief to Belgium. In 1917, the club collected 7,000 pairs of shoes for the civilians of war-torn France.
Rotary club of Oakland group portrait 1917In the meantime, thirteen Oakland Rotarians left to serve in World War I.
How many of those would return to bring in the roaring 20s? And how loud was the roar of The Rotary Club of Oakland in the Jazz Age?
Miraculously, all thirteen arrived home safely and with Armistice Day on November 11, there was dancing in the streets of Oakland.
And then came the roaring 20’s, and boy, did Oakland and Oakland Rotary roar!
With the establishment of the Port of Oakland, new improved roadways and rail lines, manufacturers moved into Oakland in droves. General Motors, (then Durant Motor Company), Chevrolet, and Caterpillar Tractor all set up plants within city limits, making Oakland the “Detroit of the West.” Broadway Avenue’s “Auto Row” was three times as long as it is today. Charles Lindbergh helped to open the internationally acclaimed Oakland airport with the longest runway in the world in 1927, 13,000 homes were built from 1921 to 1924, more than all the houses built since 1907. The locally-famous Grand Lake and Fox-Oakland Theatres opened their doors. Rotarian families enjoyed outings to Idora Trolley Park on the north banks of Temescal Creek. New luxury apartment buildings and office buildings appeared. And the California ballroom in the Leamington Hotel, the club’s current meeting place, first hosted dances in 1925.
At the same time, Rotary was expanding around the globe like wildfire. And to keep the momentum going, the International Association of Rotary Clubs staged an ongoing monthly attendance contest.
Achieving one hundred percent attendance was a measure of loyalty for individual Rotarians in the 1920s. It’s a record still kept by some of Oakland’s illustrious members today. But could an entire club achieve 100 percent attendance?
Club No. 3 had to try.
Max Horwinski1920 Club president Max Horwinski challenged the Oakland membership with this goal and had a plan for achieving it.
Horwinsky Group PlanA little about President Max, proprietor of Horwinski Printing Company
Max's idea of a perfect day was to go to a baseball game, return home to a duck dinner, then wind up the evening with a game of poker. Within the club, he was known best for his laughter and wit. To the rest of the Rotary world, he was known for his Horwinski Group Plan.
He divided the club into groups of men whose business interests were generally related. There were the building industry manufacturers and the food producers; those in the auto industry and the graphic arts and publicity folk. There was even a group who all had businesses on 13th Street in Oakland, like the club’s Grand Avenue Rotary Row Revelers today.
Each group competed against the other for top attendance every Thursday at the Hotel Oakland. And they got into it. They were vying for the tables.
A 1921 Live Oak declared, “A person who holds membership in Rotary and does not attend the weekly luncheons parallels the fellow who does not fish but throws stones in the water where others are fishing.”
When Max noticed some members were repeatedly absent, he segregated them into a group called "The Outcasts."
That idea worked too. "The Outcasts" topped the attendance competition for the next 42 meetings.
And then, on November 14, 1922, the Rotary Club of Oakland did it: all 232 members attended a meeting. Tom Eaglesome was club president at the time.
“Well, fellows, you did it!” said Tom to the membership, “this marks an epoch in the history of our club.”
By the end of 1929, Oakland Rotary celebrated eleven consecutive years of top-10 attendance. The club received letters of recognition from around the world for this unbeatable record, and Rotary clubs everywhere adopted the Max Horwinski Group Plan for their own, but not just for attendance purposes. Part of the plan was that each group chose a service focus and held regular meetings to further their annual goal. These were our original service committees.
Named for the chairperson, they included:
The Harold Oliver Group supporting the Camp Fire Girls, the Lew Thunen Group, who started the Student Loan Fund, Oakland Rotary’s fist scholarship program, and The Camp Dean Group acting as advisors and counselors for students of Oakland High School, like the club’s HOPE mentors of today.
In 1921, Clem Ady’s Business Methods Group started what they called The Mar-No-Name campaign, “a crusade to halt the spread of unfounded rumors and gossip that frequently destroyed both business and personal reputations.” Member Al Saroni wrote and directed a playlet entitled "Mar No Name," that was so successful, Rotary clubs worldwide reproduced it. The business community of Oakland wore “Mar-No-Name” buttons on their lapels.
But the largest single Rotary project of the 1920s by far was Boys Work. It was deemed so important that Rotary International actually added it to the Rotary bylaws at the 1920 convention in Atlantic City. The aim was to help boys build character and thus create better citizens.
As a part of these efforts, Oakland Rotarians sponsored "camperships" for thousands of underprivileged Oakland boys. In 1921 they took 1,600 orphans to the Oakland Orpheum to see Vaudevillian Will Cressy.
They built the first cabin at Camp Dimond-O, the Oakland Boy Scout Camp in November 1923.
Joseph J. Rosborough (Oakland’s Postmaster) was chairman of the Rotary Boys Work Committee in 1921 when they raised $25,000 to help the Boy Scouts, the Y.M.C.A., a Big Brothers movement, and give a boost to public health and vocational guidance in Oakland Public Schools.
Joe also coordinated efforts for Boys’ Week, which took place the first week of May in 1922.
Each day had a theme, but the most exciting day of the week was Thursday, Rotary Day.
[Monday was Industry Day, exposing boys to how products are manufactured. Tuesday was Back to School and Good Turn Day, when Rotarians spoke in classrooms about the urgency of completing one’s education and the value of “doing a good turn daily”. Wednesday focused on health and fitness].
Boy's WeekOn that day, 8,000 Oakland boys paraded up Broadway from the City Hall Plaza to Lakeside Park where Rotarians served hot dogs to each and all.
The San Francisco Examiner reported:
“Three gardeners threatened suicide; ducks and rabbits scurried for safety, and the event passed into the history of Oakland’s younger generation as one of the biggest days of their young lives.”
Rotary International had another concern that year. In 1922, the novel Babbit by Sinclair Lewis hit the shelves. Its main character is an unthinking, unhappy, and corrupt businessman whose weekly highlight is the backslapping, singing camaraderie of like-minded men at his “luncheon” club.
That was it! Rotary International directors declared it was time to change the image of Rotary from a luncheon club to a service club once and for all.
Oakland Rotary was ahead of the curve. By 1921, the club’s Publicity and Rotary Information group was already printing almost daily articles in Oakland and San Francisco newspapers. In 1926 they erected Rotary wheels made of wood and brass at the Oakland city limits.
And there were other good works. Members formed the Thanksgiving Cheer Committee in 1922 donating boxes of food to needy families. In 1925, the club donated one pole among the 126 of Lake Merritt's new "Necklace of Lights," and Oakland Rotarian Romaine Myers designed it. In 1982 after years of intermittent black-outs, it was another Oakland Rotarian, Brad Gill of Gill Electronics Co., who redesigned it.
Oakland Rotary sent disaster relief to Santa Barbara after the 1925 earthquake and to Mississippi River flood sufferers in 1927. The service work and the business success of Oakland Rotarians in the 1920s were big and widespread.
But then in October 1929 came the crash on Wall Street. Black Thursday ushered in the Great Depression.
How would Oakland Rotarians fare in this low economic tide? Would they get depressed?
Not at first.
Bowling TeamIn 1930, the club’s bowling team won its seventh championship in the international Rotary competition. There were dinner dances, fishing expeditions, golf tournaments, and, of course, the annual Smoker, chewing tobacco provided for those who don’t smoke.
By 1932, however, the affects of the Depression were clear. The February dinner dance emphasized Low Cost. Speakers frequently discussed the current economics.
But in the background, with government support, some of the area’s greatest landmarks were being built.
And despite the members’ troubles, student scholarships increased, as did donations to the Community Chest, later known as the United Way of America.
By the end of the decade, America’s economy was booming again, but war once more was scorching Europe as well as Asia. Oakland Rotarians looked to see what they could do.
By 1940, 532 Rotary clubs in Europe and Asia had disbanded as World War II raged.
In 1941, Oakland Rotarians sent $15,000 to the Rotary clubs of Great Britain for war relief, and received a thank you letter from Madame Chiang Kai-shek for the $500 they gave to China.
In 1942, thirteen members of the club left to serve in the war.
A number of men who would later become respected Oakland Rotarians also fought in the war.
For those at home, the care of our youth was of greatest importance, with more camperships, children’s aid, and vocational guidance at Oakland high schools.
With the end of war, the club focused on relief for veterans and donated over 20,000 pounds of flour to the Friendship Train headed for Europe.
Oakland Rotary sponsored a branch of the new East Bay Children’s Hospital. There was also an increase in funding study abroad and hosting international students as part of Oakland Rotary’s Institute of Peace and International Understanding for Oakland students.
One war was over, but by 1949 a new kind of war was forming…The Cold War, leaving Oakland Rotarians feeling the chill.
350 Oakland Rotarians were on the books in 1951, with one or two new members almost every week.
For 100 years, Oakland Rotary has provided provocative guest speakers on a number of topics to a membership eager to learn.
An example in 1950 was a Mr. Richard Nixon, who spoke to the club about developing a democratic policy on Communism. His passionate speech caused President Ed Pitcher to remark, “I wish there were more in Washington like him!”
Community service was abundant in the 50s. Rotary was proud of their contributions to the new Children’s Fairyland, the inspiration for Disneyland, and the construction of the Rotary Natural Science Center. There were generous donations to the YMCA and the Young American Baseball league.
International service increased too, as air travel and airwaves brought us closer.
Oakland Rotarians sent magazines to Australia, books to the Philippines, clothes to Hungarian refugees, and donations to a leper colony in Bangkok.
But, by 1959, while the club celebrated its golden anniversary, the war in Vietnam had begun. Duck and cover drills were common practice in schools.
What could Oakland Rotarians do to promote peace during these tense times?
Oakland was right in the midst of the social revolution and civil rights of the 60s.
Meanwhile, Rotary International elected its first non-Caucasian president, Nitish Laharry of Calcutta, India.
In memory of Prime Minister Nehru, Oakland Rotarians joined neighboring clubs helped to establish a library at Indore, India, with more than 30,000 books. At home, we donated a huge Geo-Physical Globe of the Earth to the unique Oakland Museum.
With the passing of fifty-year member, Al Saroni in 1961, the club inaugurated the fabulous Al Saroni Scholarship fund (later renamed to include member Nat Lena).
Today, Oakland Rotary has given 1.5 million dollars in Saroni-Lena Scholarships to help Oakland teens get to college.
In 1966, Oakland made Rotary history once more by hosting the largest ever inter-city meeting with 1,500 Rotarians in attendance.
By 1969, it seemed like anything was possible. What was possible for Oakland Rotary?
In the 1970s, while Oakland Rotarians waited in gas lines with everyone else, they served the community in old ways and new.
The Club encouraged cultural awareness by sponsoring the Oakland International Festival in 1978. They established the Oakland Rotary Endowment to ensure even greater service into the next century. To date, members have collected over 1.2 million dollars for this charitable fund.
In 1975, The Rotary Club of Oakland found a sister in Fukuoka, Japan and have enjoyed great friendship ever since. Arigotou gozai-masu.
Celebrating America’s bicentennial in 1976, the club donated and dedicated the 125-foot flagpole in Jack London Square, at the time California’s tallest flagpole.
How would Oakland Rotary “hustle” in the 80s?
The House Building Project began in 1982, offering construction experience to community college students, while creating low-cost, high-quality housing in Oakland.
To date, we’ve built and sold 7 homes.
That same year, we hosted our First Annual Wine and Food festival at the Oakland Museum, a successful fundraiser for 27 years.
Also in 1982, the club held its first Camp Enterprise, a weekend retreat during which Oakland high school juniors learn about free enterprise and leadership under the tutelage of Rotary volunteers. (photo - 1999- Danny Mai, Saroni Lena scholarship recipient, Camp Enterprise, & current member)
To help Rotary International kick off the Polio Plus drive, the Oakland club raised over $160,000, the most money ever raised for a single project.
Karl StuckiAlso in the 1980s, member Karl Stucki encouraged Oakland Rotarians to take their service around the globe like never before. Among others, Oakland funded the San Salvador Hospital Project and supported the village of Paquila, Guatemala with healthcare and education, profoundly improving their quality of life.
Personally, 1987 was a pretty good year. That’s when the Supreme Court decided it was time for women to join Rotary, a decision Oakland Rotary was already in full support of. Exactly 30 days after the court decision, the club enthusiastically welcomed six women as new members. Since then we’ve enjoyed the leadership of four wonderful women presidents.
It was an earthshaking decade that ended with the Loma Prieta earthquake in Oakland. What would be the next shake-up in the 90’s?
Oakland Rotarians went all around the world in the 90’s, bringing water to villages in China and Costa Rica, medical aid and equipment to Venezuela and Ghana, and co-sponsoring a new Rotary Club in Russia. (2005-2007 GÇô Limo School Water Project -Water for El Salvadorians)
At home, Rotarians brought hope in 1993, with the Help Oakland Pupils Excel program, pairing Rotarian mentors with at-risk Oakland students to see them from seventh grade through high school graduation and on into college.Carla Betts
In 1996, Oakland Rotary began an aggressive plan to diversify the membership, enriching the club experience for all and creating valued friendships across cultural borders.
In 1997 Carla L. Betts became the first woman to lead #3.
In this age of the Internet, Oakland Rotary went online and provided technology centers and equipment to the youth and elderly.
But with the Y2K changeover, what would happen to all those computers?
As the Dotcom bubble burst around us, Oakland Rotary continued to launch new programs, meeting the interests of its membership.
The High Adventure Committee offered rock-climbing, kayaking and ski trips.
After 13 years of efforts, the Barrier Free Park opened in 2007, providing a playground where children of all ages, with any kind of disability, can be kids and play.
Members traveled to Guatemala to witness cleft palate surgery, to Afghanistan with sewing machines for the widows of Kabul, and to China to deliver wheelchairs.
In May 2008 , the Oakland Reads project provided 3 books to every public school third grader in Oakland, a total of 10,000 books! In 2009, that total exceeded 12,000 books, extending the donation to the children of neighboring city, Emeryville.
And for our centennial project, the Rotary Club of Oakland has committed $100,000 to fund educational curriculum for the dramatic bronze sculpture Remember Them: Champions of Humanity by artist and Oakland Rotarian, Mario Chiodo, the largest bronze sculpture west of the Mississippi.
The Rotary Club of Oakland is made up of humanitarians, leaders in our community who have served on every board in our city, who believe in the value of service to others, who adhere to the 4-way test, who have a passion to learn and grow and work toward peace and understanding worldwide one smile, one handshake, one book, one dollar, one drop of medicine at a time.
As part the club’s formal celebration of 100 years of service and friendship, the club enjoyed another milestone Gala, this time at the famed Claremont Hotel. RI President, DK Lee, attended and was able to see first hand some of Oakland’s achievements, touring Chiodo studio, the Barrier-Free Park, and our newest affordable, eco-friendly home.
The Rotary Club of Oakland is proud to usher in the next hundred years of service and friendship, welcoming guest Rotarians from around the globe to experience the warmth, friendliness, diversity, leadership, and passion for service that characterize its large membership. The club meets on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:30 at the California Ballroom on Franklin Street in downtown Oakland. For more information, please visit Oakland-Rotary.org
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