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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2005
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OP-ED

Rotary grows, celebrates 100 years

By Mark Daniel Maloney

It began with four friends sharing a sack lunch in a mining engineer's office. On Feb. 23, 1905, 100 years ago today, Paul Harris, a young attorney new to Chicago, invited three business acquaintances to join him for a meal. Harris, Silvester Schiele, Gustavus Loehr, and Hiram Shorey brought their homemade sandwiches to Loehr's office in the Unity Building at 127 North Dearborn St. in Chicago's downtown Loop. One hundred years later, Rotary International, the organization they founded, marks its centennial with 1.2 million members in more than 31,000 Rotary Clubs in 166 countries around the world.

Somewhat alone in this bustling city, the second largest in the United States at the time, Harris missed the spirit of camaraderie he experienced growing up in small towns at the turn of the last century. He longed for the opportunity to connect with other business and professional men in a friendly setting separate from their business obligations. To accomplish this, Harris invited these three friends, all from different professions, to discuss the formation of a club in which membership would be based upon each member's business or occupation. Therefore, on that day attorney Harris was joined by a coal dealer, a merchant tailor, and a mining engineer.

That first club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, grew quickly and within a year counted 80 members. The name "Rotary" derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices.

'Service Above Self'

It soon developed a volunteer service component, as Harris and his colleagues realized that an organization of business professionals had great potential to improve the community. Rotary's motto is "Service Above Self."

Rotary's second club was formed in San Francisco in 1908. In 1910 Rotary went international with a club in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Rotary soon spread to Britain and Ireland and across Europe. By the 1920s, Rotary clubs also were thriving in the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and Africa. Rotary is non-political and non-religious, and its membership today includes men and women of virtually every ethnic, cultural, and religious background present in the world. Today two-thirds of all Rotarians live outside of the United States.

2 local clubs

Rotary International is represented in Decatur with two Rotary Clubs. The Rotary Club of Decatur was chartered in November 1928 and boasts a membership of 195 members under the leadership of club president Bill Briscoe. The Rotary Club of Decatur Daybreak, with a membership of 51, was chartered in March 1996. Margaret Marsh serves as president. Other clubs in the area include the Rotary Clubs of Athens, Hartselle, and Lawrence County.

Rotary's first project back in 1907 was to construct "comfort stations" (public toilets) in downtown Chicago. Now one of the world's largest volunteer service organizations, Rotary hopes to stop the spread of polio worldwide by the end of its centennial year. Other Rotary projects and programs advance literacy, alleviate hunger, provide safe water, improve health, assist AIDS patients and their families, and protect the environment. Rotary also has teamed with seven universities around the world to offer a master's degree program in peace and conflict resolution. Up to 70 scholars enter the program each year.

Rotary International began a relationship with the United Nations in 1945, when 49 Rotarians were members of the 29 delegations to the U.N. Charter Conference in San Francisco. United Nations' representatives studied Rotary's use of simultaneous translation in developing its system of communication for international meetings. During the United Nation's first decade, Rotary actively participated in U.N. sessions by sending observers to major meetings and promoting the United Nations in Rotary publications. Rotary has maintained relations with the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council and the U.N.'s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization since their beginnings in 1945 and 1946, respectively.

Rotary Foundation

Rotary's funding arm, The Rotary Foundation, began as a small endowment in 1917. It has grown into one of the world's largest charitable foundations, spending $100 million annually on educational and humanitarian programs to help communities worldwide and to promote world peace and understanding

Rotary's top philanthropic goal is the eradication of polio. Through its PolioPlus program, launched in 1985, Rotary is now the major private-sector partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The initiative's other spearheading partners are the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through the years, Rotary has contributed more than $500 million and thousands of volunteers to the polio eradication effort, and the results are impressive. More than two billion children in 122 countries have been immunized, and the number of polio cases has been slashed by 99 percent. In the 1980s, polio infected about 1,000 children every day. Last year, fewer than 800 cases were reported worldwide.

Never in their wildest dreams would the four founders of Rotary have imagined that their sack lunch meeting would become a global network of more than one million business and professional leaders who volunteer their time and talents to serve their communities and the world.

Mark Daniel Maloney is a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Decatur. He served as governor of the North Alabama Rotary district in 1989-90. In 1999-2001, he served as a member of the Board of Directors of Rotary International and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. Maloney is a member of the Decatur law firm of Blackburn, Maloney and Schuppert LLC.

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