Elgin Rotary has been putting ‘service above self’ for 90 years
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org May 20, 2012 5:08PM
Members eat lunch before listening to special guest speaker TV newsman Bill Kurtis talk Monday May 14, 2012 during a Elgin Rotary Club meeting at the Hickory Stick Bar & Grill in Elgin. May 14, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:08PM
ELGIN — It has been bringing Elgin business and community leaders together since Babe Ruth ruled the American League and Al Capone ruled the speakeasies of Chicago. The fist straight-A Elgin high school students it honored are now 103, if any remain alive. Its list of past presidents, not to mention ordinary members, reads like a who’s who of Elgin VIPs.
It is the Rotary Cub of Elgin. One of the healthiest of the area’s fraternal, service and veterans groups — though it struggles to recruit the young — the club will celebrate its 90th birthday on Tuesday.
Club President Randy Brittain said the parent organization, Rotary International, was started in 1905 by a lawyer named Paul P. Harris, who had the idea of bringing together people (men only then, but now women too) from many different businesses to “develop fellowship and understanding among members of the community; promote high ethical standards; apply ideals of service to personal, business and community life; and advance international understanding, good will and peace.”
The clubs got their name because the meetings “rotated” from one member’s office or store to another’s each week.
Elgin’s club started less than two decades later, with the charter issued May 22, 1922. And the club is still meeting 90 years later.
Rotary International, now based in Evanston, has grown to 34,000 clubs with 1.2 million members.
In a typical meeting last week, 55 members and guests gathered over lunch at the Hickory Stick restaurant, at the Highlands of Elgin golf course. They began by reciting the “Four-Way Test” Rotarians promise to use as they decide what they will say:
“Is it the truth?”
“Is it fair to all concerned?”
“Will it build good will and better friendships?”
“Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Member Paris Donehoo, pastor of the First Congregational Church, read a half-comical, half-inspiring quote from journalist H.L. Mencken. Then John Cooper, head of school at Elgin Academy, noted that on “this day in history” in 1804 — even slightly longer ago than the club was founded — Lewis and Clark began their expedition to explore the American Northwest, and he gave a five-minute explanation of what happened on that legendary trip. Members who had brought guests introduced them, including a woman who belongs to a Rotary club in St. Louis but was attending this meeting to make up for missing her meeting at home. Cooper announced that his guest, Seth Hanford, will take over as head of school at the academy in July.
Member Craig Lamp announced that a walk-around is being organized to raise money for Sherman Hospital’s cardiac unit, as Sherman President Rick Floyd listened in the audience.
Floyd and Cooper were not the only bosses of community organizations present. Those watching also included the president of Judson University, the director of the Gail Borden Public Library and the CEO of Fox Valley Christian Action.
Finally, Brittain introduced the guest speaker, TV news anchor Bill Kurtis. In a half-hour talk illustrated by video clips, Kurtis talked about news stories bashing the beef industry that he believes are undeserved (the “pink slime” scare, alarm about slaughtering “fallen” cattle), beef-bashing news stories he believes are deserved (pollution from megafarms, E. coli dangers from grain-fed cattle) and finally his own struggles on a 10,000-acre ranch in Kansas to raise arguably healthier, more-natural steers that eat only grass.
Brittain, who owns Brittain’s Express oil-changing service and car wash, said club members have lost track of where that first 1922 meeting was held. When he joined 25 years ago, the club was meeting at the Blue Moon Ballroom on Larkin Avenue. When that was torn down to make way for Sherman West Court, meetings moved to Villa Olivia for a few years, then to the Hickory Stick.
“We still have 70 members,” Brittain said. “but when I started, there were probably 110 or 120.”
He said they lost some members when a group spun off to form the Elgin Breakfast Rotary Club in the 1990s. (That now meets at the Elgin Public House.)
“But it’s much more challenging to attract new members now,” he said. “I think it’s that way with organizations like ours nationwide. I don’t know if younger people think we’re just a bunch of old guys or if what we do doesn’t meet their needs or what.
“I joined when I was 30. I’m 55 now and I’m right at the cusp of being in the younger half of our membership.”
“One of the big goals of Rotary International is to attract and retain younger members. They’ve done focus groups and are looking to use social media more.”
‘Service above self’
Rotary’s motto is “service above self,” Brittain notes. Local clubs set their own service and charity projects, both local and worldwide.
Besides membership dues, the Elgin club raises money from a reverse raffle and auction called the Rotary 5000, held in late March each year. Grants have also come in from organizations such as the EFS Foundation and the Harvey and Ethel Daeumer Foundation.
They use the money for a wide variety of causes, both local and worldwide. Perhaps the oldest is an annual dinner to honor the city’s top high school students that began with just Elgin High in 1926 and now includes seven schools. So many kids and parents now attend that the event had to move to Judson University’s Lindner Fitness Center.
The club also provides “need-based vocational scholarships” of about $1,000 each to 25 students who need college tuition help to change or start a career. Most recipients attend Elgin Community College.
The club has long given money and volunteers to food pantries, and lately has formed a special partnership with Feeding Greater Elgin.
Farther afield, the club long has supported a project called “End Polio Now,” which works to inoculate children in the handful of countries that still occasionally have polio cases — India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. This also has become favorite charity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $1 billion to the effort.
“Bill Gates is very passionate about polio. He spoke to our national convention last year,” Brittain said.
Adding special passion about that cause in Elgin is club member Bruce Pullen, who contracted polio in his youth.
In one recently added project, the Elgin club is working with the Rotary Cub of Barrington and the Village Church of Barrington to pay for wells and a building in a village in Kenya.
The club meets at 12:15 p.m. most Mondays at the Hickory Stick. For information about weekly program topics and membership, visit www.RotaryClubofElgin.org.