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Brief histories of Rotary's First 100 Clubs

Rotary Club of San Diego 33

Rotary International District 5340

  

John D. Spreckels, sugar magnate and financier, staked his fortune on San Diego’s future and did more than any other single person in the first quarter of the 20th Century to change the skyline of San Diego and help to set the direction of the city’s development. He was a San Diego Rotarian from 1918 until his death in 1926.1911. The "big," names in San Diego were John D. Spreckels, George W. Marston, and Colonel Ed Fletcher (below). The San Diego Rotary Club was founded in 1911 as Rotary Club Number Thirty-three, Yet all three didn’t become San Diego Rotarians until 1918, during Alfred D. La Motte's term as president.

Ed Fletcher, Colonel, Senator, water developer and builder, was one of San Diego's all-time leading citizens, and a San Diego Rotarian from 1918 until his death in 1955.Another leading light of that day was G. Aubrey Davidson, who joined in 1920, and then there was E. W. Scripps, whose President and Editor-in-Chief of his San Diego Sun, William H. Porterfield, also joined in 1918.

 

Ernest S. Shields brought the idea for Rotary to San Diego in 1911.

Ernie Shields brought the original idea for a Rotary club to San Diego. He had attended a meeting of the Chicago Rotary Club with Gordon Proudfoot prior to 1811. Proudfoot had joined the Chicago Club, but Ernie had decided to seek his fortunes in San Diego. He soon became established as a contractor and builder. Sometime in 1911, Ernie suggested to his attorney, Gordon Gray, the desirability of organizing a Rotary Club in San Diego. Then, in late August or early September 1911, Gordon Proudfoot visited San Diego, and Ernie asked him if he would speak to a group of leading San Diegans on the subject of Rotary, its purposes, precepts, and programs.

Ten local men, most of them in their thirties, attended that first introductory meeting, including Ernie Shields, Leonard T. Bristow, Gordon Gray, Carl Heilbron, Alonzo de Jessop, John B. Lyman, Jr., Charles K. Voorhees, Benjamin E. Vreeland, Dr. Sydney V. West, and Ernest E. White. These ten San Diegans may thus be considered the "founding members" of Rotary in San Diego, for they unanimously decided, after hearing Proudfoot speak, to proceed. They asked Proudfoot, on his return to Chicago, to send all the necessary information about how a Rotary Club might be organized. The group also decided to meet again the following week in the Bivouac Grill at the U.S. Grant Hotel. which had opened its doors to the public for the first time less than a year before.

The following week, the "founding ten" plus Roscoe E. Hazard met as scheduled and duly elected their first officers and directors.

Carl H. Heilbron, first President.Carl Heilbron became president, Roscoe was elected vice-president, Charlie Voorhees was made Secretary, and all of the rest of the now-eleven members except Ernie White were made Directors. They did not elect a treasurer.

 

This young, hard-charging eleven-man group, then, may be called the "Organizing Members." The club received its charter on 5 February 1912. At the left is the certification of membership in the International Association of Rotary Clubs, dated June 2, 1913.

Meantime the San Diego Club was growing rapidly, and in later years there was considerable friendly debate among the members as to who was entitled to claim "Charter Membership," a status which became not only a matter of pride among those directly involved, but also among their descendants, a number of whom are active in the Club today.

Some of the original members asserted that the "Charter" title belonged only to the original "founding ten:' Others said it could well apply to those who were at the formal organizational meeting when officers and directors were first elected.

Still others insisted that since the Club had not yet received its official charter, anyone who joined before June 2, 1913 should be considered "Charter Members," and that was how the issue was settled. However, the issue arose again some twenty-five years later.

The importance of this question in the early days may best be understood when one recognizes what a remarkable growth the Club enjoyed right from the start. Within three months, the group almost doubled to twenty-one, and in 1912 another forty-one members were added, making a total of sixty-two. In 1913 thirty-three more were added, making a total of ninety-five, still mostly young businessmen with lots of energy and fresh ideas. Of course not all those coming in during 1913 got in under the June 2, 1913 deadline for Charter Member Status, but the Club was, as they say in the Navy, moving out smartly. More and more of the city's outstanding business and professional leaders were attracted to Rotary, and membership expanded rapidly.

Gordon Gray drew up a Constitution and By-Laws for the Club and these were officially adopted on November 2, 1911. This became the date many years later when the Club began celebrating its "official" birthdate. It is also interesting to note that when the group submitted its request in November 1911 for a charter and organized as a "provisional" Rotary Club, it designated Gordon Gray as the "provisional" president. Thus, while Carl Heilbron was the duly elected first president, and Jay Haight the second (1912-3), Gordon could also claim a "first" although he did not officially preside until 1913-14.

Articles of Incorporation were also adopted by the group on March 8, 1912, and on that date also made official application for membership in the National Association of Rotary Clubs as a follow-on to our earlier request for a Charter. Briefly, this meant that along with being officially chartered, the club would also ratify and be governed by the Association's Constitution and By-Laws, and pay dues.

Each Club during the first few years had its awn emblem design, and San Diego's was a pilot's wheel with an aerial rendition of San Diego Bay, the City, Point Loma, and Coronado as a center background. The slogan "He Profits Most Who Serves Best" was overprinted in the center, and "San Diego Rotary Club" was imprinted around the circumference of the wheel. The slogan had only in 1911 been adopted by Rotary Headquarters, followed in 1912 by adoption of the motto, "Service Above Self:' It was in this period, too, that the "National Association of Rotary Clubs" became the "International Association of Rotary Clubs:'At that time the emblem for Rotary was still evolving. At first someone in Chicago had come up with a locomotive drive wheel with counterbalance, but this was never officially adopted. Instead, a wagon wheel became the accepted emblem, later with streamers added with the words "Rotary Club.” This, too, was soon abandoned and in 1915 the gear wheel became the emblem of the Chicago Club. It was a wheel of industry, signifying the transmission of power, typifying action, and creating results. It could mesh with other wheels to symbolize cooperation. Thus did the emblem represent the ideals of Rotary.

In those beginning days, with membership increasing weekly, the principal preoccupation of the club seemed to be the question of where to hold luncheons. For the first few months it was the Bivouac Grill, but then it was decided that a private room would be more suitable, so the locale was shifted to the balcony of Sargent's Palace Cafe on the Plaza at Fourth Street.

Still later the meeting place was moved again to a private room in Rudder's Cafe, in the basement of the Union Building at Third and Broadway, and this was where the officers for 1912-3 were elected and installed.

Jay F. Haight, second President.These were Jay F. Haight, President, Gordon Gray Vice-president, Leonard G. Coop secretary, and Ben Vreeland treasurer. In March, 1912, the Club published its first Club Roll with fifty active members listed, plus one Honorary.

 

Doug Rudman

History of San Diego Rotary by Joe Howard, 1981, 344 Pages.

"Golden State" First 100 Clubs

San Francisco 2 

Oakland 3   

LA5 

San Diego 33

Stockton 92

Sacramento 97

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