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Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History: Happy Birthday to Us!

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoAs we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Rich Leffler:

Founders Photo

From left: John McKenna, C.R. (Rex) Welton, Art Schulkamp and Bob Nickles

These days 100 years ago were momentous for the Rotary Club of Madison. As you all know, the first meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a Rotary Club here was held on March 13, when Bob Nickles invited three fellow businessmen to have lunch at the Elk’s Club. In addition to Nickles, those in attendance were John C. McKenna, Art Schulkamp and C. R. (Rex) Welton.

On March 20, ten men met and probably discussed a letter and some Rotary literature that Nickles had received from Chesley Perry, secretary of the International Association of Rotary Clubs in Chicago, that explained what Rotary was all about. The group apparently was interested, and they decided to form a “temporary organization,” anticipating that they would affiliate with the IARC. They also elected McKenna as “acting chairman” and Welton as “acting secretary.”

On April 3, nineteen members of the Rotary Club of Madison met at the old Madison Club, adopted a constitution and bylaws, and voted unanimously to affiliate with the IARC. They then elected their first officers, including as president, John C. McKenna, who appointed a membership committee to recruit appropriate people for the Club. Perry had sent Nickles some suggestions on how to recruit members. He advised that forty or fifty business leaders of different lines, many already known to Club members, should be called upon and that it should be explained to them that the Club was “something new and unique which would be a benefit to the city and to them as individuals.” He advised, “Make sure that those who join with you have caught the spirit of Rotary and exclude those who see in the Rotary club naught but possible commercial advantages for themselves.” He also invoked the concept that “He profits most who serves best.”

Typically for this Club, although the Club had voted unanimously on April 3 to affiliate with the IARC, there seems to have been some ambivalence about a relationship with the greater Rotary organization. Welton told Perry of these doubts: “Many of the members, in fact most of them, have somewhat hazy ideas of what the Rotary Clubs are really doing and of the lines along which they are working.” Perry would have liked to have sent more explanatory literature to the Madison club, but he explained that “As the whole Rotary movement is in a process of evolution–not only as to its philosophy but as to its literature, we are not able to send out just the printed matter we should like you to have.” Instead, Perry appeared personally before the Club on April 17. Finally, on May 16, the Rotary Club of Madison formally applied for affiliation.

Charter Pic

On June 10, Perry wrote to the Madison club that “We are pleased to advise you that your application for membership in the International Association has met with the approval of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors by whose vote [on June 2, 1913] the Rotary Club of Madison has been made an affiliating Rotary Club.”  Perry enclosed with the letter The Charter, making Madison, with thirty-three members, the seventy-first Rotary Club in the world.

Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History During the Unrest of the 1960s & 70s

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoAs we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  The following message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:

A strong flavor of the very hostile reactions of many mainstream politicians and much of the general public to the demonstrations by University of Wisconsin students opposed to the escalation of the Viet Nam War and the drafting of young men to serve in it can be found in the records of program speakers to the Rotary Club of Madison during that time. The Club newsletter of October 19, 1968, reported on Governor Warren Knowles’ address on “UW-Madison Disrupters” in which strong action against those who engaged in such tactics was urged but such students were also described as a tiny minority of the student body.

The October 17, 1970, newsletter about gubernatorial candidate Pat Lucey’s talk to the Club indicated how political leaders of the day viewed the University. Lucey’s talk indicated that the state faced many problems including University unrest. He advocated that the Governor should have the power to invoke curfews and to “make it illegal even to be on the street.” He also urged changing the University’s budget to reduce funds for research and increase those for teaching.

Two weeks later, the Club newsletter of October 31, 1970, told of Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jerris Leonard saying that the “demagogues and the charlatans” engaged in “violent dissent or even the lawful dissent” should be exposed but that much of the responsibility for their conduct “must rest on the doorstep of our institutions of higher learning themselves.”

Relations between “town and gown” were at their nadir during this period at a number of major universities. In time, considerable healing of this breach occurred. This could be seen here in the action of our Club directors electing incoming University President John Weaver to membership in December 1970, even before his arrival on campus and especially in the election as Club President in 1972-73 of Michael Petrovich, Professor of Russian and Slavic History at the University. Club programs noting the improvement in relations is a topic worthy of separate consideration.


December 12, 1968: Students erect a cemetery on Bascom Hill as a memorial to the casualties the class of 1968 suffered in Vietnam.

Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History During the Vietnam War

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoAs we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:

For people of a certain age, any reference to the decade of the 1960s will certainly invoke memories of the nation’s divided reactions to the Viet Nam War and the turbulence that swept over many colleges and universities   Opposition hersheyto the war and to the draft of young men that provided large numbers of the men who fought in it, was quite strong on the UW-Madison campus. When our Club, in May, 1968, had Lt. General Lewis B. Hershey (left), Director of the Selective Service System, as its program speaker, the anti-war demonstrations reached the entrance to the meeting that day.

Although there had been efforts to keep the identity of the speaker secret prior to his appearance, it was learned beforehand and the Rotarians who attended the meeting were greeted by chanting demonstrators, many throwing eggs, as they approached the door to the Lorraine Hotel that day. Police kept the line of demonstrators moving and outside the hotel proper.  “A large turnout” of members attended the meeting and apparently reacted favorably to Hershey’s talk, which, of course, defended the draft and criticized those who opposed the war, especially students.

Future demonstrations and protests escalated during the rest of the decade, reaching watershed marks with the fatal shooting of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University and the subsequent bombing of Sterling Hall on the Madison campus.  Eventually the draft ended, the war ended and UW-Madison and other campuses became calmer places.  However, none who lived through that period will ever forget it.

Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History During the Progressive Era

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoAs we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Rich Leffler:

The Rotary Club of Chicago was founded in February 1905. The Rotary Club of Madison began in 1913. Both were products of the Progressive Era, a period marked by a terrible depression and war. Huge corporations and trusts came into existence. It was a time of brutal competition among businesses and business people. Labor and capital were locked in violent, bloody conflict. It saw an ever-increasing and rapid change from rural to urban America, the growth of cities in not-so-wholesome ways, leading to terrible living- and working conditions. It was also a time when people were searching for ways to control and channel all of these developments. Progressivism, which sought to use government to control these forces of change, and the Social Gospel, which sought to modify economic life and social conditions with the gentle influence of Christianity, had an important effect on Rotary.

The Social Gospel was “Built on the premise that social justice and Christianity were synonymous,” and it “emphasized the humanity of Christ, especially his concern for the poor and the destitute.” Advocates of the Social Gospel “called for major social reforms to achieve a more equitable, a more Christian society.”1

rosenberry 3An Address given by Madison Rotarian and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Marvin B. Rosenberry (left) in 1917, “The Spirit of Rotary in Business,” demonstrates the powerful effect of combining the Social Gospel with the imperative of Service, and it explains what Paul Harris meant when he said “Rotary’s supreme purpose is to serve.”2

You will notice in the Address that Justice Rosenberry was not a supporter of service by checkbook, which is the predominant way of service for our club today. But in 1922 he became one of the founders of that quintessential checkbook service, what is today the United Way of Dane County, and he was the first chair. The size of our Foundation at $8.5 million, our annual fund raising at $130,000, and our annual giving at $500,000 suggest that service, always important to our club, has become a passion. I think Justice Rosenberry would approve.
1. Lewis L. Gould, “Introduction,” The Progressive Era (Syracuse, 1974), p. 13.
2. Paul P. Harris, My Road to Rotary: The Story of a Boy, A Vermont Community and Rotary (Chicago, 1948), p. 253. I should also point out that while Justice Rosenberry’s ideas were obviously informed by the Social Gospel, he was not a Progressive. Actually, he was a “Stalwart” Republican, strongly opposed to the La Follette Progressive Republicans. In fact, La Follette referred to Rosenberry as “a rank reactionary,” which is clearly not true. See Ann Walsh Bradley, “Marvin B. Rosenberry: Unparalleled Breadth of Service,” Wisconsin Lawyer 76 (October 2003), online edition

Centennial Event at Overture Center February 26 2013

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The following summary article about our February 26th Centennial Event is a fictitious account of a conversation between our Rotary News reporter, Mark Stover (above right), and Paul Harris (above left), the founder of Rotary.

“Good evening, Mr. Harris.”

“Good evening.”

“Welcome to the 100th anniversary celebration of the Rotary Club of Madison here in the historic Capitol Theater.”

“It’s a lovely venue. I believe I recall being here shortly after it opened. About 1927 or ’28, if memory serves. And let me tell you, at the tender age of nearly 145 years, memory gets a bit tricky at times.”

“I imagine it does indeed. Still, you look in fine form tonight, sir.”

“Thank you, thank you.”

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(Pictured above from left: Don Helfrecht & Ross Levine; Keith & Juli Baumgartner; Dick & Liz Fayram with Susan Hunt & Karl Gutknecht)

DSC_0002“We have reserved a special place for you here in the anteroom to the Theater itself. People are very excited to have their picture taken with you. This is Dave Ewanowski (pictured at left with his wife, Mayo) and

DSC_0008John Bonsett-Veal (pictured at left with his wife, Jan). They’ll be assisting you this evening.”

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you gentlemen. However, I didn’t come all this way just to sit in one place. Rotary is all about getting around to meet your fellow business men and now, of course, business women. I’ve brought along this cut-out that can stand in for me. Really, in the two-dimensional photograph it will be hard to tell if it’s me or not. I’ve gotten quite thin these last 66 years or so. Completely lost my appetite. I suppose you understand why – I mean the obvious reason, of course. So, gentlemen if you can make do with my cardboard counterpart here, I’d like to meet some of these fine Madison Rotarians.”

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(Pictured above from left:  Kirk Kittleson & Jessica Schock with Jocelyn & Ryan McFadden; Marcia Whittington, Beth Prochaska & Traci Mann; Greg Anderson, Herman Baumann & Kay Schwichtenberg & Mike McKay)

“Of course, sir. I guess we can pass on the hors d’oeuvres then. I’ve sampled some and they’re delicious. Oh, sorry. Of course.”

“So many interesting people. And the dress has changed. I notice, for instance, women wearing boas. How very modern.”

DSC_0016“Ah, that’s Dawn Crim (left). She’s chosen to reflect the promotional work that Tracy Perkins and Juli Aulik did to get so many people here tonight. Over 230 members and guests in attendance, as I understand. And Juli is one of seven women to serve as Club President.”

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see that change in the Constitution of the clubs – women as members, I mean. Really rounds out the emphasis on full community service, don’t you know.”

Picture3“I do indeed, sir. Ah, here’s Wes Sparkman (right), the current Club President. He’s about to make a few remarks and lead us all in a toast to the future of Rotary in Madison.”

[All Club members and guests assembled to sing “Happy Birthday” to the accompaniment of the old theater pipe organ ably played by Elaine Mischler.]

“I see the tradition of music and singing at Club meetings is alive and well in Madison.”

Picture5“Oh, yes sir. At every meeting. Madison’s own Mama Digdown New Orleans-Style Brass Band is also playing here tonight. One of the band members is related to our own Jeff Bartell – he generally plays piano to accompany the Club’s regular weekly musical stylings.”

“Ah, this is all so pleasant. But, I’m afraid at my advanced age, I’m not able to keep up for long with you young people.”
DSC_0003“You do appear to be fading, sir. I mean, quite literally. I can actually see through you to Renee Moe (at left with Dave Johnson), our next Club President coming up behind you. Oh, Mr. Harris. Are, are you there?”

“I’ll always be with you, if not in form, certainly in spirit. My best wishes to all Madison Rotarians – and congratulations. Keep up the tradition of service above self. That work actually does last forever. Good night – good night all.”

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(Pictured above from left: Tracy Perkins & Juli Aulik; Virginia & Perry Henderson; Vince O’Hern & Linda Baldwin)

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(Pictured above from left: Melanie Ramey; Brian Fick & Dora Zuniga; Lester Pines & Roberta Gassman)

Our thanks to the Event Planning Committee of Juli Aulik (co-chair), Terry Anderson, Jeff Bartell (co-chair), Virginia Bartelt, Everett Mitchell and Tracy Perkins and to Centennial Planning Committee Co-chairs Deb Archer and Linda Baldwin and the entire Centennial Committee.

Celebrating 100 Years: Club Hears First-Hand Experience of the WW2 Blitz of London

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial Logo   As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  This week’s message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:

Rabbi Raphael LevineThe January 20, 1942, issue of the Rotary News reported on the talk to the Club by Rabbi Raphael Levine (left), a native of Minnesota, who had, for several years, been the leader of “the largest Jewish congregation in England” describing his experiences in London before and after the onset of World War Two and the ensuing bombing of London. He gave great credit to Winston Churchill for the determination of the English in that time, describing him as “Heaven sent to England” to preserve freedom.

Although the war was fought to repel a particularly odious form of dictatorship, the victory by the Allies did not bring an end to racial and other discrimination in the United States. A rather poignant statement was reported by William Vance Russell of Waukesha in his address to the Club summarized in The Rotary News of October 2, 1948, on preserving American democracy. Pointing out that “we have not yet learned to live with one another,” he noted that the prize winning entry in a contest on what would have been the best punishment for Hitler was submitted by “a young Negro girl” who wrote that ‘Hitler should have been put in a black skin and placed in any American white school’.”