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Brief histories of Rotary's First 100 Clubs

Rotary Club of Fort Worth 75

Rotary International District 5790

Also see Rotary Comes to Texas - 1912

 

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

Jake F. Zurn

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."

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.

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 and 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."

From: The News-Tribune, September 21, 1979

A post card from "Rotary Park" just outside the congested business district of Fort Worth, circa 1936

Acquired for by History Fellow, Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler

Texas "100 Clubs"

The Most of the First 100

Austin 63

Beaumont 72

Galveston 73

Waco 74

Fort Worth 75

Dallas 39

San Antonio 52

Houston 53

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