By John Appleyard. Originally published in the Pensacola News Journal on Sunday, June 28, 2015
In 1915, the Pensacola Journal had three stories which merited repeat copy: the war in Europe, the opening of Pensacola (Sacred Heart) Hospital, and the founding of the city’s first civic club, Rotary.
A century later, anniversaries have been celebrated, and Rotary’s deserves some reflection. Why? Because it was the first civic club in this community, and marked the beginning of many good works which endure to this day.
Late in the 19th century, Pensacola was like many communities, with lodges and societies popular with men and women. The Masonic Order, the Elks Club, the Order of Pythias — all met regularly and most had rituals and even costuming that made the activities popular.
But then, in 1905 in Chicago, an attorney named Paul Harris drew several associations together to form a grouping that was different. Its goal was to stress sound business ethics, business practices and comradeship. Because they met weekly and chose to rotate meeting locations, the group came to call itself Rotary.
Quickly, the concept spread. By 1915, Pensacola business leaders and professional men had become interested, and assisted by Rotarians from Mobile and Birmingham, Ala., arrangements were made to charter a Pensacola club. This became the 162nd such club in the United States.
Meeting at the new San Carlos Hotel, the club began with 54 members, all leaders in community affairs. The first president was William Fisher, an attorney who, at the that moment, also had established a real estate business and an insurance firm. He had recently put in place a subdivision at the foot of E Street called Fisherville, and he had joined Hunter Brown in forming Fisher-Brown Insurance. The membership immediately embraced the national Rotary credo: Service Above Self.
When the United States entered World War I, the Rotarians accepted the local role of sales lead for War Bonds, and themselves subscribed almost half a million dollars worth. In 1919, when the new Pensacola High School was completed, the Rotarians purchased the equipment for the gymnasium, for the budget had not included such gear (this was the first time the high school had enjoyed a gym).
Year by year, Rotarians embraced projects of worth. Its members would become city councilmen and mayors, would head the chamber of commerce year after year, and would lead the Community Chest/United Fund, guiding growth in size and services. As the area’s population was enlarged, the club assisted in forming new Rotary clubs; today, there are 12 regionally.
The coming of the Rotary centennial has brought celebration and memories. As the club’s 100th anniversary gift to the community, members have designed and funded a children’s playground adjacent to the Community Maritime Park.
Today, the club has more than 200 members, many of them women. The objectives set forth in 1915 remain the same; however, the overview is different. Today, there are more than one million Rotarians in clubs worldwide.
As local members convene weekly at New World Landing, they continue to recite a pledge that has been part of the international format for years:
“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?”