11 October, 2000
At the close of the last century, Jack M. B. Selway, then a 24 year Rotarian, had little idea who Paul Harris really was. What he did know was mostly folklore from Club #2 where Jack had spent most of the 1990’s. There, in San Francisco, many of his fellow Rotarians had taught him that Rotary International really started in the Bay Area. But, Jack moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and the Rotary Club of Pueblo, the 43rd Rotary club in the world. And, in a “Hey, we don’t have one of those” moods in 1999, started that club’s first website.
With time on his hands one day, our webmaster decided to create a page on his club’s website that celebrated the first fifty Rotary clubs. It was a great idea. The least-known club in the first fifty was Pueblo. With just one page on ‘his’ website in the minds of every visitor, Jack could link the Pueblo club with Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Boston, and that’s just a short list.
The list (left) was faxed to Selway by then RI field representative Joaquín Mejía. That was the date on the fax which became the research material for the first fifty clubs website. It was actually the day before that Selway began the process. It happened to be the 55th birthday of our future RGHF senior historian Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler.
The Rotary Clubs of Chicago (ROTARY/One), New York City, Hartford, Tacoma and Wichita immediately got on board and the single page became a separate website at with history pages for each club. With the constant help of the other four founding members, Jack, the Public Relations professional, had created a public relations project for his club that had turned into something much larger.
He didn’t realize that his listing of fifty clubs would turn into a world wide project with hundred of contributors, over 500 clubs listed, every president, convention and facet of Rotary in less than three years time. He was just trying to raise awareness of the early clubs since few people actually knew who they were. Also, at the time, few Rotary clubs had websites, something that was to change quickly.
At first RGHF was called "Rotary First Fifty," but by June of 2001, the name became "Rotary First 100." In 2003, the organization was briefly call "THOR" for The History of Rotary." Also in 2003 RGHF became "Rotary Global History Fellowship."
The centennial was coming, and as clubs became interested in his work, he rapidly expanded his scope. He began to read the History and the writing of Paul Harris. In no time at all, he came to learn that this “Man in the Medallion TM” was no ordinary man, but a man for our times. In Jack’s words, “An uncommon man who took common ideals, as a painter uses common colors and shapes, and created something of tremendous value to the world.”
Jack approached clubs and districts to provide more and better history contributions to the project. Everyone who communicated with him was asked for history help and then sponsorship. If all else failed, he talked them into putting a link on their websites to the project. But, his historical knowledge base was expanding. He soon learned that certain UK clubs, formed in 1911, would be left out if the list ended at "50." As more and more correspondents mentioned the approaching "100" year celebration, the project quickly became a much larger website, www.rghfhome.org/first100/ with pages for each of the 100 clubs.
The historical knowledge base expanded further. Soon, a researcher for the growing project discovered that club #100 had company. Five other clubs were arbitrarily assigned numbers that same day. How could you limit the project to 100 clubs when there were actually 105? And volunteers asked, “What about the milestone clubs?” So, it wasn’t long before Jack added the clubs listed in the appendix to the first printing of "My Road to Rotary." The eight new club listings included numbers 200, 300, 400, 500, 1000, 2000, 4000 and 5000.
Jack was convinced that the only worthwhile history in Rotary was contained in the first 50 years, starting with Paul Harris, and ending with Herb Taylor. Expanding knowledge added a special section for the "First 100" clubs in Canada and also in the UK. Rotarians dropped in and out of the project like an inveterate jigsaw puzzle addict tries to fit pieces into a puzzle. Key people around the world became board members of the project, and really special ones became his Executive Committee. And the more that he and his board studied, the greater the need for accuracy, fact checking and documentation of sources. Then, suddenly one Tuesday morning in September of 2001, everything changed. The tragedy of 9-11 occupied the entire project for several months and the letters from that effort were meticulously posted.
As the shock of the horror subsided, members of the history fellowship’s committee slowly began to research and write again. They would never forget, but resumed the day-to-day aspects of the project. While no one can pinpoint the exact moment when Jack realized that the Centennial of Rotary meant that there would soon be 100 years of meaningful history, everyone involved in the project is convinced that the events of 9-11 played more than an insignificant part.
Now Jack and his board began to act with one voice. A piece of research was contributed that included every Rotary president and photo, home club, convention, convention attendance and convention host club, theme (if they had one) and the theme graphics (if it were available). It was seized upon by Jack and the Board, becoming a focal point in the continuation of the expansion of the History.
The club part of the project, became www.clubhistories.org. Sites were added that start to tell the histories of Women and Rotary and The Rotary Foundation. Expansion has spread from the collection of history to the quality and quantity of historians and researchers and even to the Board.
In 2003, a group of clubs in District 4150 (Mexico), led by Carlos Calzada, began the first major translation for our "Language Communities." On 3 October 2003 the Board of Rotary International approved RGHF as an official fellowship of Rotary.
Also, in February of 2003, Jack was interviewed on the internet radio program, then called "Rotary Radio" and he was joined by past RI president and history project supporter, Cliff Dochterman.
There are hundred's of RGHF members continuing this effort and much of Rotary's founder's writing can be found at www.whatpaulharriswrote.org/ where Rotary clubs can avail themselves of bulletin material. In 2008 the RGHF board authorized expanding the board to 12 regular members and up to 34 zone board members to cover all zones of Rotary International. In August of 2009 RGHF Secretary/Treasurer Emeritus Dick McKay, Rotary Club of Chicago, USA, wrote a short history of RGHF. By 2010, the board numbered 61 members and we began The RGHF.
In 2013, the board totaled 103 members, with representatives in all zones www.historyboard.org.
A new self-posting library at www.historylibrary.org was established and a brand new membership website at www.rghfhome.org. Doug Rudman (former chairman of the History Fellows and Executive Vice President of the project.) Jack M. B. Selway is the RGHF founder.