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Portland 15
Rotary International District 5100
Founded in 1910 as the
World's 15th Rotary Club
Portland is home to the second convention of Rotary and the eighty-first convention.

Estes Snedecor presides over the 1921 Convention in Edinburgh, the First beyond North America

President's home page

A Benjamin A. Gifford photograph shot in 1916, it is the fountain of the Portland, Oregon, Rotary Club #15, on the Columbia River Highway. It was reproduced as a popular postcard. The actual color of the photograph is a sepia tone. The original photograph is on a 5"x7" glass negative and is part of the Benjamin A. Gifford archives at Oregon State University (click photo to enlarge)

Doug Rudman
See our delegation at Rotary's 2nd convention in our own city of Portland, Oregon, USA in 1911.
A rare, early Rotary Global History photo.
Click to enlarge
In 1905, Paul Harris of Chicago gathered a group of representative business and professional men in friendship and fellowship to form the first Rotary Club. That same year, the Lewis and Clark Centennial World’s Fair and Exposition, a world-class event, was held in Portland, Oregon in celebration of the 100 year-old trek west of those two pioneers. Among the visitors was Phillip Grossmayer, a young insurance executive and a resident of Leadville, Colorado, who liked what he saw in Portland. Phil went back to Colorado to sell his insurance agency, and in 1906 moved to the Rose City to start a new insurance business. He didn’t know a soul in Portland.

Wheel (click to enlarge)Phil learned about Rotary from some of his business associates, and the idea of inter-friendship, fellowship, and reciprocity appealed to him. He remembered his “stranger’s start” when he arrived in Portland only a few years previously. The idea of Rotary was gaining ground. Fourteen clubs had been formed by 1910, including those in Los Angeles, Tacoma, and Seattle. The Seattle Club agreed to sponsor Portland, which was offered the opportunity to organize the fifteenth club if they moved quickly.

On May 10, 1910, six men, including Phil Grossmayer, met at Phil’s office in the Board of Trade Building and agreed to approach others they believed would serve as congenial members. Fifteen days later, on May 25, 1910, the Rotary Club of Portland was organized with 20 charter members. Dwight Edwards was elected as President, Louise A. Colton as Vice President, H.V. Carrington as Secretary, and J.T. O’Neill became Sergeant at Arms.

Wheel (click to enlarge)The fledgling club didn’t waste any time getting started. However, they quickly learned that at their special evening meeting on June 8, 1910, Rotary Clubs from Tacoma and Seattle, Washington would come to Portland with a delegation, some bringing their wives, arriving 184 strong by a reserved Oregon-Washington railroad train. After regaining their composure, about eight Portland Rotarians dug up enough money for a brass band to meet them at the depot. This contingency then marched through the streets, and “the Portland Club was organized with a vengeance.” The local newspaper, The Oregonian, reported in its June 9, 1910 edition: “Rotary Club Organized…members of three such organizations at banquet.” The story identified the attendees as “super boosters.”

Excitement soared as this young club quickly learned it would host the next national convention of the National Association of Rotary Clubs of America. A shortage of funds to finance the event did not deter Phil Grossmayer, who borrowed $2,000 from fellow charter member J.L. Wright to cover costs. The 1911 National Convention of 149 Rotarians and guests turned out to be more than just a routine gathering of delegates from all over the United States. This was to be the first manifestation of the idea that Rotary could and should be more than a person-to-person or company-to-company business building assemblage. Perhaps it was the beauty and expanse of the Oregon country as viewed from the Columbia River cruise ship that was a highlight convention event. It was at this convention that the stated objectives of Rotary changed from: “To advance the business interest of the individual members” to “He profits most who serves best.” The resolution making this major shift in Rotary emphasis was given birth in Portland, and following a spirited debate, passed by acclamation. The Rotary Club of Portland was proud to be part of this momentous occasion.

In 1920, the event of the year for the Rotary Club of Portland was the election of one of its members, Estes (Pete) Snedecor, to the presidency of Rotary International. Only 32, Pete presided at the first International Convention to be held outside the North American Continent, in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland. During Pete’s presidency, emphasis was placed on worldwide peace and understanding as part of Rotary’s mission. Even though Pete had only one leg (a boyhood accident resulted in the loss), it was never a handicap, and he climbed mountains (Mt. Hood twice), and played golf and tennis regularly.

The Rotary Club of Portland hosted Rotary International’s convention again in 1990 for its 81st convention, with 21,300 Rotarians and guests in attendance. At that time, it was the largest convention ever held in Portland and the second largest Rotary convention in the United States. Rotary International realized nearly $1 million in profit, and the local economy benefited by more than $25 million.

Historically, the Rotary Club of Portland has a “mystery” tradition not yet identified. A “banker’s whistle” is a greeting reserved for bankers and other high finance people, delivered as a two-tone whistle salute not unlike the “wolf call” whistle. In this exclusive Portland Rotary instance it’s given when the person is introduced at the weekly luncheon. Research a number of years ago among old timers produced nothing as to how and where this tradition began. “Gee, I don’t know,” responded one long-time member. “Didn’t we always do it?”

During its first 95 years, the Rotary Club of Portland evolved into a major contributor to the community’s well being and a strong supporter of Rotary International’s world-wide efforts. The club continues to assist the community through a multitude of programs, which includes providing electrically powered wheelchairs to needy, handicapped individuals through its Wheels of Power program, now in its 27th year. To date, more than $5.3 million dollars has been received and paid out in capital grants to qualifying community organizations.

Its program to help “at risk” middle school students through youth mentoring and scholarship is in its 13th operational year. Each year, the Rotary Club of Portland provides the opportunity for 100 high school juniors and seniors to explore the challenges and opportunities of our free enterprise system through a three-day retreat and seminar, which allows each student to interact with successful business people and participate in a team project. Acting as a leader with other District 5100 clubs, the Rotary Club of Portland raised $11 million to create a world-class Children’s Museum facility, designed for handicapped children and adults.

The Museum adjoins the Portland Rose Garden Children’s Park in Washington Park and was funded by $2 million raised by Portland Rotary. Rotarians of this club partner with other Rotary clubs to help bring clean water to Central American villages, provide funds for scholarship assistance, construct a wheelchair manufacturing site in Guatemala, and start microbanks in local Central American villages. The Rotary Club of Portland’s Centennial Project is the rebuilding of its “Rotary Village” at YMCA Camp Collins, originally built in 1956. This $1.5 million project includes six unique “hobbit” cabins, each complete with plants on the roof, round doors only five feet tall, a small bathroom, and a porch.

90thPhoto from the club's 90th birthday
(courtesy of Basil Lewis and posted 29 March 2011)


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