106 Years Of Phoenix Rotary 100!

It is an honor for all of us to be members of Phoenix Rotary Club No. 100. The history of Phoenix Rotary 100 is, in many ways, the history of Phoenix. Members have included mayors and governors, senators and members of Congress, state legislators, judges and community leaders of all types, a veritable Who’s Who for Arizona and Phoenix. Phoenix Rotary 100 has been an instrumental leader and partner in dozens of major community projects over its first 102 years. As Phoenix and Arizona have grown, so has Rotary in Arizona. From that initial Club 100 and its 32 members, today, Rotary in the Grand Canyon State boasts over 120 clubs and more than 3,000 members. There is much to be proud of as Phoenix Rotary 100 celebrates its more-than 100 years and we continue our commitment to Service Above Self.

With something in the neighborhood of 15,000 residents, the Phoenix of 1914 didn’t look much like the Phoenix of 2014. There were fewer than 500 automobiles in the city, and the city limits stretched only from Yavapai to McDowell, from 16th Street to 23rd Avenue. But Phoenix was already the largest city between El Paso and Los Angeles, and it was the Capitol of the newest state in the Union. City fathers were convinced it was on its way to becoming the leading city in the less-than two-year-old State of Arizona.

That faith in the future of Phoenix and Arizona was to play a significant part in bringing Rotary to Phoenix in 1914, but the Rotary story in Arizona actually starts a year earlier, in 1913. Book store manager Wallace C. Button found himself returning to Phoenix by train from a convention. He was seated next to L.P. Sullivan of San Antonio, Texas. Sullivan was a member of the San Antonio Rotary club (club number 52), and he shared with Button the story of this new civic organization based on a commitment of service to the community. Rotary itself was less than a decade old. Sullivan’s enthusiasm for the organization was contagious, and Button brought the idea back to Phoenix.

Button gathered other civic-minded business leaders in Phoenix, and the seed he planted soon began to take root. By January 1914, a group of 30 local businessmen committed to founding Rotary by each contributing $10 to provide the initial funding. They had to overcome the suspicions of the newly-formed Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which was concerned that the two groups would compete for members and have redundant missions. They also had to overcome the concerns of Rotary’s national organization, which had mandated that no city with fewer than 25,000 residents could have a club.

The Phoenix Rotary organizers had something else in mind as well. They set their sights on being the 100th club to be chartered. There had been only 16 Rotary clubs in 1910, five years after the organization’s founding in Chicago, but the number had been growing rapidly. They enlisted the Rotary Club of Los Angeles as a sponsor, and the Phoenix team was able to convince the national committee to go along and make their charter number 100; and on March 1, 1914, Phoenix Rotary 100 was officially born, listed on the charts between #99 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and #101 in Long Beach, California.

Running unopposed, Amos A. Betts, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, was elected to serve as the Club’s first president. He was joined by Vice President John O’Malley and Secretary/Treasurer Paul Kantz as officers. Other prominent inaugural members included Arthur Luhrs and Vic Hanny. The club met every Friday for lunch – first at the Adams Hotel, then the Arizona Club, followed by Donofrio’s and then, as the club grew, they reserved the entire upper floor of the American Kitchen restaurant. The first monies expended by the new club? The sum of $8.15 was paid to R.A. Watkins Printing to buy stationary, envelopes and a receipt book.

Much of what happens at Phoenix Rotary 100 today was set in motion in that first year including weekly meetings, a newsletter (initially called the Rotary Smile, which became the Rotarizonian in 1918) and, most importantly, a commitment to community service. And as that commitment and dedication to service became apparent, the Club’s membership grew rapidly.

By September 1914, membership had grown to 70. The new organization had become so prominent that the Phoenix Gazette dedicated a special 10-page supplement in its daily newspaper to extol the virtues of the Club and profile its founding members.