following are remarks delivered by Rotary member Jim Steele on the
occasion of the Fayette Rotary Club’s 70th anniversary banquet Saturday
evening, Feb. 24, 2007, in the CMU Student and Community Center.
Fayette Rotarians are this month observing a
significant milestone as this club begins its eighth decade of service
to the community. So tonight we take a brief backward glance. A charter
from Rotary International, was received here on Feb. 18, 1937 — this
after several months of groundwork had been laid by local business and
professional leaders. The club actually had its beginnings with a
Fayette Kiwanis Club, which had been active in the early 1930s and then
folded. Several of those former Kiwanis club members were instrumental
in organizing the newly-formed Rotary organization here.
Rotary itself, as you know, is more than 100 years old. Paul Harris and
a handful of others founded it in Chicago back in 1905. So Rotary today
is the oldest of the nation’s traditional service clubs — with Kiwanis,
Lions, Optimist and so forth coming along in later years. Thus, the
parent organization already was 32 years old when Rotary came to
Fayette. While our charter was granted on Feb. 18, the big day to kick
off the new club really came on March 23, 1937, when more than 200
Rotarians and their wives (it was all men in those days) and some
friends gathered for a gala evening banquet in the Methodist Parish
House basement on the Central College campus. L.E. Ziegler of the
Boonville Club, which had sponsored the club here, opened the event that
night and introduced the Rotary District Governor, Lester Wikoff, of
Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington. After his remarks, Wikoff
presented the new charter to the Fayette club’s first president, Anson
B. Barber, who was then superintendent of schools here. Barber in turn
pledged that Fayette Rotarians would serve the community and live up to
the ideals embodied in the motto, “Service Above Self.” Central College
music professor Frank Banyard led the group in singing of “America”
which, to this day, opens each Wednesday noon meeting here in the
Student and Community Center.
The 1937 banquet also included music by a Central
College string quartet and a reading of poetry. About a dozen other
clubs from across Missouri sent representatives to the gala affair.
Represented, in addition Rotarians from Boonville and Lexington, were
persons from Columbia, Kansas City, Moberly, Jefferson City, Fulton,
Slater, Sedalia, Brookfield, Rolla and Chillicothe, among others. Later,
the group adjourned to the Fayette Armory in the old Opera House, now
the site of the defunct Country Stampede bar at Main and Morrison. The
armory, which I know several here remember, was a huge room on the
building’s second floor, including a third floor balcony. Rotarians and
guests danced that night to the music of Charlie Armstead and his
orchestra. The club’s charter members were a cross-section of the
community’s business and professional leadership, including such
well-known names as druggist Marvin Turner, ladies ready-to-wear shop
owner Urless Clatworthy, men’s clothier Charles H. Lee, college Dean E.P.
Puckett, and shoe store owner Robert Ricketts.
Other charter members included Dentist W.E.
Ackerson, physician W.A. Bloom, undertaker Ralph Carr, Mac Mitchell,
Fulton Moore, Walker Pierce, Nat Tracy, Howard Bruner, and Robert M.
Fox. Surprisingly, prominent banker L.W. Jacobs Jr. was not a charter
member, but joined shortly afterward. He was president in 1940-41. Other
early-day presidents included James Weathers, Thomas S. Denny, Dan
Miller, Irvin Schnell and Cordell Tindall.
Currently, the club’s most senior member is Ray
Kimmel who served as president in 1953-54. No charter members are alive
today. The last charter member to pass away was Jim Weathers, who died
around seven years ago. Fully 69 persons have served as
club president over the years, and
only one was elected twice but that name immediately escapes me. Of that
number, 16 are still active in the club today and several others live in
the community and elsewhere, but are no longer members.
Nat Tracy and Fulton Moore were early
secretary-treasurers. Fulton Moore served five years in the post — the
beginning of several long periods of service which included Jim Sutton,
11 years; George Kline, 16 years; Jim Steele, 3 years; and then Robert
H. Bray who served for a whopping 25 years until retiring in 1998. At
that time the office was divided.
The club’s only member to become a Rotary district
governor was the late Ralph L. Woodward who served in 1973-74. He was
then the recently-retired president of Central Methodist College.
Locally, women members were added to the rolls after the parent body
gave the green light in the mid-1980s. Fayette’s first woman president
was Julee Sherman in 1993. Six others have served since. Current local
officers include Keith Keeling, president; Larry Leech, vice president;
Don Cuillimore, secretary; and Charles Moore, treasurer.
For many years of the club’s existence, members
would sing at each meeting, including such “memorable” tunes as “Roll,
Rotary, Roll” and “R-O-T-A-R-Y - That spells Rotary.” Those days are now
but a distant memory, and to that many respond, “Thank God.” One former
song leader — who shall remain nameless — was known for wearing a rather
obvious toupee, described by one club wit as a K-Mart blue-light
special. It seemed the toupee got lower and lower on his forehead as he
directed each week. Club members, with varying degrees of expertise,
were called on to accompany the singing at the piano. One of these was
John Hert, who tells me he did not relish the task and wanted it over as
soon as possible. “I wasn’t very good, but I played fast,” he states.
Now the singing is confined to the opening rendition of “America” which
tends to proceed reasonably on tune as long as Jamie Page is on hand to
get us started in the right key.
For many years, the club met each week at Mrs.
Clifford’s Tea Room, which was located in the Sam Major home, which now
houses the Main Street organization and later at Main and East Davis,
the current location of Inovatia Laboratories. Two of our present
members, Martha Holman and Jim Thogmorton, waited tables in the
venerable Mrs. Clifford’s establishment and on occasion served the
Rotary Club. Later locations included the Gas Light Inn (sometimes known
as the Grease Light); it was housed in the now-closed Pizza Hut site on
the west side of the square. Also, Cornbread’s, now the location of Cafe
Mosaic; and at times the Methodist Parish House and other churches. In
more recent years, the club — with a current membership of about 45
persons — has met every Wednesday noon on the Central Methodist campus,
first in the Holt Hall East-West Room (later renamed Missouri Room) and
most recently on the fourth floor of the Student and Community Center.
Then and now, weekly speakers have included those
who have addressed a wide multitude of topics and, on occasion musical
and dramatic presentations. Many of these have been outstanding; others
may have told us more, perhaps, than we wanted to known about a given
topic. In many cases, Rotary presentations have been the catalyst for
projects and ideas for community improvements. Central Methodist
presidents, Fayette mayors, county commissioners and others have brought
us updates on the state of the college, the city, the county, or
whatever — in addition, of course, the often less-than-memorable annual
visit by the Rotary District Governor.
Through years, club members likewise have taken
part in, or contributed to, countless service projects. A number of our
members and friends have become Paul Harris Fellows which has enhanced
the work of the international organization. In recent years, the annual
Art and Wine Auction has been one of Rotary’s major fund-raisers.
Proceeds from the Rotary budget each year support a wide array of
community projects and scholarships. Other monies from dues and
contributions support work worldwide of the International Organization,
including the significant Polo-Plus program which has nearly eradicated
the disease worldwide.
So now we take a deep breath and begin our eighth
decade of “Service Above Self.” And while we may reflect on humorous
moments such as off-key singing and less than memorable speakers, the
Rotary experience in Fayette has been by and large a great ride which
has brought good works, leadership, inspiration, service, knowledge and
good fellowship to this community. And so it is my hope — and I hope
yours as well — that the Rotary flame here will continue to burn
brightly for another eight decades to come.
James H. Steele
(February 24, 2007)