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The early history of Rotary in Middletown is a little unclear as to actual start up dates. We know that the first organizational meetings were held in January of 1925, that the actual date of acceptance by Rotary International was March 16, 1925 and that the Charter Night was April 28, 1925. The 75th anniversary of Rotary in Middletown was held at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown on May 2, 2000. What follows is an edited version of remarks given at that occasion by Biff Shaw.
Rotary In Middletown - 1925 to 2000
75 Years of Service & Friendship & Sociability
By Biff Shaw, May 2, 2000
The formation and charter of the club had taken many months, starting in late 1924 and culminating in the formation of a club whose membership and reach very much resembles the makeup the club in the year 2000.
We need to understand, however, what Rotary International was in 1925 and how the Middletown Club came to be organized.
On October 6, 1924, President Shanklin of Wesleyan University died suddenly. Just 12 days later, the Trustees of the University elected Dr. James Lukens McConaughy, then president of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, to be Wesleyan's 11th president.
This announcement was of only modest interest to the Middletown community, but it was of great interest to Rotary International because Dr. McConaughy was the District Governor for Southern Illinois and tradition had it that a District Governor would always have a Rotary home wherever life might take him. There was no club in Middletown and one was needed to fulfill this tradition. Therefore Rotary International swung into action, District Governor Al Lavery, of Bridgeport, was asked to explore establishing a club in Middletown. He, in turn, arranged for the Hartford club to act as sponsor and by late November it was agreed that there would be a club in the Middlesex County area.
It was to take some time to form an organization and to assemble charter members. Al Colvin, of the Hartford club, was assigned the task of finding leadership for the new club. As fate would have it, he found John C. Barry of Portland to be the likely leader.
John Barry and his band of 22 Charter Members first gathered at the Arrigoni Hotel. In the early years, the Club and its members became very active in community service; less so in international service because there were fewer opportunities for international activity. The Boy Scouts, The Middlesex Hospital, The Cromwell Childrens Home, The Connecticut State Hospital, the YMCA, the Community Chest and Long Lane School were some of the early recipients of gifts of our time and money. Funds were raised in a number of ways: from outright donations, to funds raised by club activities including variety and musical shows presented to the community by a large number of club members and their families. Somehow, the pace of life, even with the depression era, wartime and the early post-war period was less harried and hurried than today.
1987 brought a landmark change to Rotary International, and to this club in particular. At last, women were welcomed into Rotary membership and, in the Western World, clubs were encouraged to act on this new directive. Indeed, we inducted our first woman as a member, Patti Anne Vassia, in 1987. In July 2000, the club will induct its first woman as club president. It took a long time, but women have added wonderfully to the way that Rotary has succeeded in this and all communities.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the many changes that have taken place in worldwide Rotary and in Middletown; good things continue to take place. The High School All-star Basketball Tournament helps build our sense of community and to replenish our treasury for other good works. We have sold roses and plants, held raffles and auctions, rung the bell for the Salvation Army and done whatever it takes to lend a hand. Our charitable reach has expanded through exchange programs, Rotary International programs such as Polio Plus, and more regionally oriented programs like the Haitian Health Project founded by Rotarian Dr. Jerry Lowney of the Norwich Club. Our own Scholarship program has grown over the years, a wonderful initiative started about 35 years ago. We now also recognize high school students for their good works and community outreach. We have hosted foreign exchange students, sponsored international fellows, and welcomed business and professional study groups from across the globe. The Rotary International umbrella is broad and it has expanded our own vision of service.
Our members have been active on the State level with service to Rotary, first in what was then the 30th District and is now District 7980. Major committee assignments have been filled by Middletown Rotarians, in everything from scholarship selection to golfing events for District outings. When asked, we have served. Two District Governors have come from our club; Philip Dean in 1946-47 and Dave Mylchreest in 1965-66. This is an honor accompanied with a huge commitment of time and energy.
Today, we still support the YMCA, the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, the Red Cross in its holiday food programs, various health causes, gifts to Long Lane at Christmas, and the Children Home of Cromwell on special projects, and a lengthy list of others. At the same time, our members are active on their own or with other Rotarians, sometimes with other organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or Christmas in April, always showing by example that Rotary and Rotarians live by the motto, "Service Above Self" and "He profits most who serves the best."
While the Rotary Club in Middletown represents no more than a bubble in the looking glass on the world which is Rotary International, this club is as important as any other club, our members are as important as any other members, and our service is as important as service given anywhere else. Without this link to the world, Rotary does not exist. As long as there is a Rotary Club in Middletown, the tradition of the first 75 years will continue. That is our legacy.