COLUMN: Rotary clubs have made the world of difference

Bruce Thompson.
Bruce Thompson.

On 23 February 1905, Chicago lawyer Paul P. Harris created the first Rotary club, initially to promote professional acquaintance.

He soon added ‘Service’ and in 1907 the Chicago Rotarians built the city’s first ‘public comfort station’.

Rotary spread rapidly thereafter, Manchester Rotary being chartered in 1911. In 1922, Rotary Club of Buxton’s inauguration year, the International Association of Rotary Clubs became today’s Rotary International (RI).

What of Rotary achievements? Too many to mention, but some are highly significant. In 1917, Rotarian Arch Klumph obtained agreement for an endowment fund for Rotary for the purpose of doing good in the world. Now called The Rotary Foundation, it spends less than 2% of income on administration and has given more than $3billion to humanitarian programmes. In the early 40s, through RI having 6,800 clubs in 81 countries, 49 Rotarians helped draft the UN’s charter in 1945 and the constitution of UNESCO in 1946. Today, RI has an invited presence on these and many other international bodies.

In 1985, after previously immunising all the children in the Philippines against polio, RI announced its intention to immunise every child in the world. In 1988, its PolioPlus programme became the Global Polio Eradication Initiative through RI partnering with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Today, with world governments and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also on board, worldwide eradication of polio is in sight. People forget that only 60 years ago, polio killed 255 children and adults in England alone.

Have Rotary clubs changed since 1905? Membership was extended to women in 1985, but uptake was slow and still is; it wasn’t until 2013 that the Rotary Club of Buxton elected its first woman president. Rotary clubs changed in other ways, many moving from the traditional meetings meal: Maidenhead Rotary Club meets in a coffee shop two Sunday mornings/month, members bringing along their young children; some Rotarians belong to e-clubs, interacting via internet meetings; there are Satellite clubs that ally with a Rotary club but do their own thing; Bentley Motors in Crewe formed the UK’s first Corporate Rotary Club; and Manchester Trailblazers has a 22 year old president, so dispelling the popular misconception that Rotary is only for male retirees. There are also different categories of membership (full, associate, corporate) and many clubs have ‘Friends’ who just want to help.

Will Rotary be around for the next 113 years? If there are still men and women wishing to help others by ‘Service Above Self’, there’s no reason to think otherwise provided Rotary International continues to adapt its club and membership structures to suit them. Information about the Rotary Club of Buxton can be found at, or by emailing or telephoning 01298 24663.