PAUL HARRIS: Rotary Club Founder's Vision Has Changed the World
March 30, 2014
By: Dave Rogers
Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar Alexander Hoffmann meets Paul Harris at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Illinois.
Who is Paul Harris and why would we want a statue of him in Rotary Park fronting the historic Pere Marquette Depot in downtown Bay City?
No doubt that question arises when Bay Cityans discuss the re-development of what is proving to be one of the most resilient downtowns in America.
The answer may be found in examining the biography of this amazing individual and pondering "what hath he wrought?"
The statue would be the second in the United States and the only monument of its kind in the nation accessible to the public, according to promoters Don Carlyon and Jerome Yantz, longtime stellar Rotarians and community leaders.
The Rotary Club of Bay City recently gave impetus to the project by pledging $5,000 toward a projected
cost of the statue. Other clubs and individuals will be invited to participate. The Bay City Rotary Foundation will advance funds against outside pledges to facilitate installation of the statue.
The thought is that Rotarians from around the world -- and there are now 1.2 million of them -- will come to Bay City to seek it out, perhaps to have pictures of themselves with the iconic bronze image.
As the plan now is put forward, a bronze Paul Harris will be seated on a park bench in the grassy area between Adams Street and the depot. Perhaps visitors will seat themselves beside the iconic figure for memorable photos.
Finished statue in Bay City
will sit on park bench
reading a Bay City Times from the era.
Paul P. Harris and a handful of friends in Chicago began meeting for lunch 108 years ago at their offices. Since the place of their meetings rotated, they called the formal organization that evolved the "Rotary Club."
It was the world's first "service club," since followed by numerous exemplary organizations, the Lions, Optimists, Exchange, etc.
The movement spread quickly, and the civic-minded leaders of Bay City, Michigan, were quick to join. The Bay City Rotary Club was founded in 1915. Thus it is approaching its centenary next year and a year-long series of events marking it will begin in July 2014.
The Rotary Club of Bay City, headed by ready-cut home pioneer Otto Sovereign, met at the Wenonah Hotel on Tuesdays. Among its early activities the club embraced the cause of children with physical deformities, providing medical services, entertainment and summer outings.
Bay City Rotary historical highlights included a meeting of grave importance in 1942 with the manager of the Wenonah Hotel about raising the price of the luncheon from 75 cents to 85 cents; other, less prosaic, but meaningful community events of the club included:
in 1945 sending a student to Wolverine Boys State sponsored by the American Legion;
hearing from famed broadcaster Lowell Thomas at ladies' night in 1947 (cost $1,000);
meeting on Harry Defoe's yacht on the Saginaw River, 1949;
sending 17 handicapped children to camp for $1,088;
hearing from ABC commentator Pauline Fredericks at the 1952 ladies' night;
entertaining Detroit Tiger Charlie Gehringer at a Little League honor night in 1956;
taking on sponsorship of ducks in the Carroll Park pond, 1957;
sponsoring a special tennis match at Central High, 1960;
declaring longtime (49 years) secretary Art Milster Day in 1973;
moving board meetings from Mercy Hospital to Bay Medical Center, 1978;
supporting Olympic training of speed skater Kim Klein in 1983;
pledging $50,000 for Polio Plus in 1987 ($60,000 was raised);
electing Ruth Jaffe a new member with the classification "professional volunteer;"
hearing a report from Keith Markstrom about shipping medical equipment to a hospital in Turkey; and
marking 50 year membership of city planner Ron McGillivray in 1994.
Philanthropic groups were so odd in the post-Victorian era in Britain, the first group with goals of helping their fellow men was called the "oddfellows." They were considered "odd" because they wanted to collectively benefit others. That was an "odd" or far out of the mainstream type of thinking then.
One history of Odd Fellowship explains: "That common laboring men should associate themselves together and form a fraternity for social unity and fellowship and for mutual help was such a marked violation of the trends of the times (England in the 1700's) that they became known as 'peculiar' or 'odd,' and hence they were derided as 'Odd Fellows.' Because of the appropriateness of the name, those engaged in forming these unions accepted it. When legally incorporated the title 'Odd Fellows' was adopted."
The Rotary Club took benevolence beyond the scope of Oddfellowship, which mainly focused on helping their own members. Under the vision of Paul Harris, the group would expand its view to include humanitarianism -- cooperative work to benefit others, not just their own membership.
That concept has escalated to a worldwide campaign to end polio, a scourge for years in developing nations and in the U.S. until only a few decades ago.
Rotary International, along with governments and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) partners, has reduced polio cases by 99 percent worldwide since the first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979.
Rotarians have helped immunize more than 2 billion children against polio in 122 countries. For as little as $0.60, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life.
How has the message of Rotary been spread and continues to radiate?
"The Founder of Rotary" 1928, was the first of three major books by Paul P. Harris. The second, "This Rotarian Age," in 1935, was a text on Rotary service and history; and the more popular "My Road to Rotary," in 1948 round out the three. The first and last were autobiographical. Only "My Road to Rotary" continues in print today and can be ordered from Rotary International's publication department, under "books."
In the year following the publication of this book, Paul and his wife Jean traveled in Europe, including a visit to her home of Edinburgh. Because his writing is of such excellence and because it can help all Rotarians to understand the philosophy behind his "idea" of our organization, Rotary First 100 has provided the book on line.
The book states: "Our 1.2 million-member organization started with the vision of one man -- Paul P. Harris."