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From "Under the Northern Lights"

Canadian history at www.canadaclubs.org

Edited or written by Rotary Global History historian PDG Jim Angus

District 5010 Zone 24

District 5010 includes seventy clubs in the Yukon Territory of Canada, Alaska, U.S.A., and all of Russia east of the Ural Mountains.  Geographically, the District encompasses eleven time zones, and stretches more than 8,500 kilometers (5,000 miles).  The Rotarians in District 5010 speak three languages: English, French, and Russian.

The first Alaska clubs were merely appendages of a District in the Seattle, Washington/Vancouver, British Columbia area. The Rotary Club of Ketchikan (The First City), chartered in 1925 (as the 2,000th Rotary Club, was the first Alaska club to be a member of District 1.  For one year (1937-1938), the Alaska Clubs formed part of District 102.  Between 1938 and) 1987, District numbers changed from 102 to 101 to 151 to 504 to 503, but the geography stayed about the same.

            In 1985-1986, Governor William Wood (Rotary Club of Fairbanks, Alaska) recommended redistricting.  At that time, District 503 was composed of about sixty clubs, twenty-nine of which were in Alaska and the Yukon.  The argument in favour of redistricting was made on the grounds that the combined number of clubs and the geographic size of the District made administration unmanageable. The clubs agreed.  Rotary International approved and, in 1987, District 501, now 5010, was born.

            Ernie Skeel was one of the early leaders in the district; much of the early constitution and by-laws of Rotary International was written by him and he was responsible for the early wording of the Ideals of Rotary.

            Early governors from Alaska were: Ralph Bartholomew, Ketchikan, 1956-57; A Holmes Johnson, Kodiak, 1962-63; Hurff Saunders, Juneau, 1966-67; Lloyd Hines, Anchorage, 1970-71.

            On 1 July 1993, that part of Russia east of the Ural Mountains was added to District 5010.

The Russian Connection

The extension of Rotary into Russia seemed totally inconceivable in 1989, when the Calgary delegation went to Evanston to bid for the 1996 International Convention. But that is what happened! Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was still in charge in the Kremlin when in June of that year Rotary returned to Budapest, Hungary, the first club behind the Iron Curtain to be re-established. Rotary also returned to Warsaw and other cities in Poland shortly thereafter. All of this was vivid proof of the changes wrought by Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika.

            RI President Hugh Archer, aided by Rotarians from Finland, met briefly in Moscow on 24 March 1990 with eleven of twenty-five charter members of a provisional club; the chartering took place on 5 June. The English‑speaking dep­uty foreign minister promised Rotary there would be no political interference from the government. He was, however, most concerned to have the first Rotary Club in Russia locate in Moscow. Archer assured him: "There's only one place, right here in Moscow. It will be a visible and real signal of Rotary's acceptance in your country."

The Soviet Union had agreed to allow Rotary Clubs to form, meet, and carry out projects, without any government interference. This opened the door for Rotary in the Baltic countries, still not free of Soviet influence, and elsewhere in Russia.

Also in 1990, Hugh Archer oversaw the inauguration of Rotary beyond the Ural Mountains, in the famous city of Irkutsk on Lake Baikal. The sponsoring club in the United States was the Rotary Club of Eugene, Oregon. According to Vladimir Donskoj, this contact was triggered when someone from Gorbachev’s administration visited Eugene, Oregon, and was taken to a Rotary meeting. Club leaders took advantage of this visit to appeal directly to Gorbachev to permit the idea of starting a Rotary Club in Russia. Some Oregonians followed this up with a visit to Moscow, as well as to Irkutsk. The people in the latter city were more enthusiastic and ready for Rotary than in Moscow. Donskoj observed that they believed Moscow's permission was not needed, given the  state of Soviet politics in 1989-1990.

Organizing Rotary Clubs in these two cities, many time zones apart, propelled the movement into the Far East. This however was not so simple for, as Donskoj wrote, Rotary ideas of living up to mottos of service and helping others rather than themselves was foreign to most Russians. “The idea of charity and community service fell out of favour during seventy years of the Communist Era. Now the service ethic had to be taught and relearned.

The closest target city for a Rotary Club east of Irkutsk was Magadan, an industrial, transport, and administrative centre in the Russian Far East, once a major transition place during the Stalin era for those sentenced to Gulag camps in Kolyma.

District Configuration

How did Alaska, the Yukon, and Russia east of the Urals get combined into a single district? The explanation is confusing. For one thing, Alaska Rotary Clubs have been subjected to many district realignments. When the first Alaska club was formed in Ketchikan in 1925, District 1 included Alaska, northwestern Washington, and British Columbia. Between 1937 and 1956, Alaska experienced four number changes, ending in District 503, created in 1973. This brought Alaska and the Yukon Territory together from a realignment of clubs hitherto encompassed by District 502 and 504. For some years, 503 consisted of thirty-six clubs and 2,651 members located in King County (part of Snohomish County, Washington), Alaska, and the Yukon.  Between 1956 and 1970, clubs in Alaska supplied four district governors to District 503.

District 501 (now 5010) was created on 1 July, 1987, when Alaska and the Yukon, with a combined total of twenty-seven clubs, left District 503 (now 5030), leaving Washington in District 503. District 5010 became the largest geographical district in the Rotary world in 1993 when Rotary International added Russia east of the Urals to the district.

Far East Russia and Rotary

According to PDG James E. Sutherland (1992-93), the possibility of organizing a Rotary Club in Magadan came up in 1991, about the same time that Moscow was considered. According to J..M. “Meg” Girard, it was the Rotary Club of Eagle Creek, Alaska which started the Magadan Rotary Project in 1989. Among the initiators were Max Fonger, Gary Gantz, and Joan Easly from the Eagle Creek Club. The first friendship exchange between Eagle Creek and Magadan took place in January 1990, and Meg Girard visited Magadan in April of that year. He wrote: “we were ordered to cease and desist [he does not say by whom] which we didn’t, and continued to work with Magadan as the Russian American Rotary Friendship Association.”

How to reconcile the claims made by Sunderland regarding Anchorage Rotarians dating from 1991 and the events involving Eagle Creek remains a problem. Sunderland does not mention Girard, and Girard does not mention Anchorage. But Rotary logistics between Magadan and Anchorage would suggest that the two competing groups must have known about each other and eventually worked together.                                                                                    

Expanding the claims of Sunderland, a school teacher from Alaska had volunteered to teach for a year in a school in Magadan. Sutherland wrote: “Anchorage Rotarians were encouraged by this and wanted to develop a friendship exchange with Magadan, Russia, looking toward an eventual Rotary Club there.” Sutherland was able to arrange through Aeroflot for some exchange flights to Magadan in a forty- passenger Tupolov aircraft. He arranged U.S. visas through the consulate in San Francisco. The Magadan side obtained visas for their people through Moscow. The project called for exchanging forty people for one week, both ways. Though the flight between Anchorage and Magadan was long and tiresome, it took only a number of these exchanges to arouse considerable interest about Rotary on the part of Russians in Magadan. Serious discussions were undertaken and, when Cliff Dochterman came to Anchorage in 1991, plans were laid to start a Rotary Club in Magadan as an extension of District 5010. By then the Rotary International Board of Directors had adopted a resolution to admit Moscow and Irkutsk as Rotary Clubs. As it turned out, Magadan could not receive approval in 1991, but the Magadan friendship flights (and presumably the Friendship Association initiated by Eagle Creek.) were continued into 1992-93.

District Governor Gary Stevens, Sutherland’s successor, was sent to a Rotary International presidential meeting in Vienna to confirm Alaskan Rotarians’ support of  Magadan's application for a Rotary Club. The RI board divided Russia into two extension areas – one to the west of the Ural Mountains, and the other to the east. The west was assigned to Finland, and the east to District 5010. But not long after creating the first Far East Rotary Club in Magadan in 1993-94, and adding Irkutsk to this huge domain, the RI board seems to have changed its mind and voted to take back Russia from District 5010. Rotarians in Magadan and Irkutsk objected and sent delegates to the District Conference in Kodiak to express their objection. District 5010 supported the Russian Rotarians; consequently, the thirty or so clubs eventually formed in Russia east of the Urals remain in District 5010 (at least until the next attempt to remove them). It must have seemed obvious to Russians east of the Urals that they would gain more by being associated with a district extending into North America than from an association with a district in Eastern Europe.

While all this was happening, Russia was going through very difficult times under Boris Yeltsin. In 1991-92, the World Community Service committee of the Rotary Club of Seattle co-ordinated a gigantic relief effort by District 5030 to ship about three hundred and fifty tons of food, seeds, medical supplies, and books to the Russian Far East. Many Seattle businessmen had trading partners in Russia; consequently many Americans were willing to donate to the project.  More than ten thousand families contributed family packs for shipment. RI President Dochterman went to Seattle to meet the captain of the cargo ship that would carry the material to Sakhalin Island and Vladivostok.

 Rotary Clubs formed in Irkutsk near Lake Baikal in 1990, in Magadan, in 1993, in Yakutia, in 1994, and in Novosibirsk, in 1995 were formed in time to participate in the 1996 International Convention in Calgary. 

The District Configuration Matures

More Rotary Clubs were created in 1994-95, mainly in Far East Russia, but it was in RI president Herbert Brown’s year, 1995-96, that Rotarians in Zone 24 became fully aware of developments in eastern Russia. Rotarians at the Calgary International Convention in 1996 were pleasantly surprised to discover that the Sharomov Ensemble from Novosibirisk was a special guest at the convention. Introduced as the RI Peace Ensemble and led by Vladimir G. Miller, a Rotary delegate from Novosibirisk, Siberia, the group sang the convention theme song from the platform.  They were hosted in Calgary by Don Campbell of the Rotary Club of Calgary. The group, formed in 1995, had come  to the attention of District 5010, which invited it to the District Conference in Fairbanks, Alaska, and, eventually, it received an invitation to attend the International Convention in Calgary. Their presence heightened interest in Rotary in Russia. According to Donskoj, 1996 was a breakthrough year in Russian-American relations.

The year 1996 also saw the first six youth exchange students outbound from Russia and one inbound to Russia from California. Six more Clubs were chartered, mostly in the Far East. Rotary Clubs in Russia donated ten dollars per member to The Rotary Foundation – a first time donation. Herbert Brown proposed forming the first all- Russian Rotary Group Study Exchange team, and encouraged Rotary extension in Russia.

During 1996-97, another six Clubs were chartered, mostly in western Siberia.      Among them was Novosibirsk‑Akademgorodok, the famous science city established by Khruschev in 1957 Tomsk, a very old regional city; and Barnaul, an Eighteenth Century city, where the writer had the privilege of serving as a Rotary volunteer in the year 2000. The first all-Russian GSE team came to Canada. The first Rotary in Russia workshop was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When Carolyn Jones served as district governor in 1997-98, yet another six  clubs were chartered, extending from Omsk, eight hundred kilometres west of Novosibirsk, to Sakhalin in the far east. Meanwhile two more all-Russian GSE teams came to Canada and the U.S.A. Meanwhile, Carolyn launched a Children of Russia program that raised six hundred thousand dollars to finance thirty humanitarian projects benefiting children in eastern Russia. Other programs were introduced, and some cultural exchanges were organized. Carolyn was featured in an article in The Rotarian  for her contribution to the book Chicken Soup for the Soul.

There were, however, some difficult days ahead. Economic difficulties in Russia had an impact on Rotary. Membership fell and international and district dues were unpaid. Some desired a new district in the extreme east of the country. Despite the difficulties, District Governor Alana Bergh from the Yukon (1999-2000) created more clubs, including one in Gorno‑Altaisk in the foothills of the Altai Mountains. President’s training went on apace, and workshops were held in different cities such as Seattle. At this time, Russian Rotarians contributed one thousand dollars cash to the Polio Eradication initiative, and PDG Steve Yoshida introduced a Rotary Health Fair.

In November 1999, some Russians proposed taking Clubs from Russia east of the Urals and joining them to eastern Europe, but wishing to remain in District 5010, the clubs protested and the scheme was dropped. By then, Interact and Rotaract clubs had been organized; the first Rotaract Forum was held in Barnual, Western Siberia.

By 2001 under the leadership of PRIP Frank Devlyn and District Governor Phil Livingston the District had thirty-six Rotary Clubs and thirty-eight Rotaract and Interact clubs. More money was donated by North American clubs for humanitarian aid and medical aid to eliminate Hepatitis A and B in Vladivostok. Vaccine for the Kamchatka region was donated by clubs in Oregon.

When Richard King was President of Rotary International (2001-02), the Rotary Club of Barnaul hosted the first successful District Conference in Siberia. Attendance could not have been very high, given the distance, for example, between Barnaul and Vladivostok. Nevertheless it was a stimulating experience for Rotarians to visit sister clubs where they could speak Russian.  The distances between clubs are immense and travel is costly for many, and English being the language used by Rotary, communication is  difficult. Even so, Rotary in Russia is forging ahead, as illustrated by the nomination for district governor of the first Russian Rotarian, Vladimir Donskoy. The second District Conference in Russia was held in Vladivostok. The U.S. Consul for the area welcomed the delegates.

The Russian clubs east of the Urals are beginning to raise funds for international service. They are now getting some publicity. For example, a Rotary Foundation seminar on cable TV, and Internet programs with full video translation into Russian have been made available.  Rotary in Russia workshops continue to be held, with the eighth recently hosted in Sacramento, California.

By 2002-03, when Bhichai Rattakul was president of Rotary International, youth exchanges had grown to sixty outbound and forty inbound.  Svetlana Skyragina from Nerungia, Yakutia was hosted by the Rotary Club of Calgary South - a wonderful experience for her and for the Club.


Today there are seventy clubs and 2,641 members in District 5010 - two in the Yukon, Canada, thirty-three in Alaska, and thirty-five in Russia east of the Urals. The most significant changes in the District have taken place in Russia, where the clubs are hardly a decade-and-a-half old. To help the Russian Rotarians overcome the many problems they experienced, Rotary Clubs in North America have given generously in humanitarian and other aid and sincere friendship. Their support has helped to establish a growing Rotary presence in Russia. As Donskoy wrote: “Rotary is like a growing organism at adolescence. At thirteen, it has had its ups and downs.” Everyone hopes to see Rotary flourish in Russia, and bring the best of Rotary to a great country with huge potential for good.

            The Zone 24 Book Committee is indebted to PDG Carolyn Jones of the Anchorage Rotary Club, whose excellent history of District 5010 from 1990 to the present forms the basis of the preceding discussion of the formation of the clubs in Russia east of the Urals. The committee is also indebted to Vladimir Donskoy whose paper added a Russian perspective to the story.

                                          Prepared by Peter Penner

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