The History of the Rotary Club of Fort Collins 1918-1998

Rotary International had just celebrated its 13th anniversary.  World War I was reaching a climax. The population of Fort  Collins had just passed the 8500 mark, not including the 700 students at "the College." Travel between Greeley and Fort Collins, although frequent, was not routine. Nevertheless, 13 Rotarians from Greeley (one of whom was the father of our own Luther Hickman) made the trek on May 13, 1918, -- their purpose to form a Rotary Club in Fort Collins.

The organizational meeting held at the Northern Hotel coordinated the adoption of a constitution and bylaws and resulted in Rotary Club #416, chartered on August 1, 1918, with 28 members. The Club was almost chartered illegally -- Rotary International had agreed with Lions Clubs not to organize in cities with populations less than 15,000. A flurry of letters and telegrams ensued -- with consent from the Lions coming in time for the Charter Meeting.

The first -- Morris Emerson, president; T. R. Hadley, Vice President; and Ray Baxter, secretary-treasurer -- presided over a Club with dues of $1 per month. New members also paid an initiation fee of $20.

THE ‘20s.  Many of the first activities of the Club related to the war effort. One significant local action was the appointment of a committee to investigate vice and to present a proposal to the City Council for the control of venereal disease. A decision to adopt a French war orphan required an immediate increase in dues.


The 1920s

Other early activities included contributions toward purchase of a lot for an armory building, support of the Y.M.C.A., interest-free loans for students, subsidizing a milk program for school children, and aid to indigent children at Christmas. The first of many extended projects for the Club was the erection of cabins and facilities for boys at a camp near Red Feather Lakes, closed later because of the Depression. The abiding interest in the athletic programs at Colorado A. and M. College which began when Harry Hughes was coach continues today.

The first of several new Rotary clubs to be sponsored by the Fort Collins Rotary Club was established in Estes Park in 1922.

1929 was a notable year. Charles McMillan, past president of the Club, was chosen District Governor. The 77 members of the Club posted a 91.1% attendance record. A Christmas party for 1516 underprivileged children cost $92.42 a lot of money during that bad financial year.

THE ‘30s.  Despite hard times financially, the Club remained solvent, continuing to support its several projects. Dues were often for members to pay and were reduced to $36 a year! The "Old Reliable Rotary Quartet" (Matt Auld, Hal Henry, Doc Gates, and Thane Schureman) entertained regularly and were stars of the Stag Party held for the Club's 15th birthday.

1937 posted a near-record 93.2% attendance for the 83 members and was the year that Mortimer Stone, a member since 1923, became the second District Governor from Fort Collins. In 1938, Hitler banished all Rotary Clubs in Germany, exacerbating the already monumental international concern for his behavior. Club activities focusing on War efforts increased. Selective Service personnel were entertained at lunch; civil defense activities multiplied; and War Bond drives were continuous.

THE ‘40s.  World War raged on and Club members continued support. Military travel bags were presented to several local personnel leaving for the War. The military took over the Armstrong Hotel and Ace Coffee Shop, leaving the Club without a meeting and eating place. The basement of the Methodist Church was made available and no break in the meeting schedule occurred. Despite the tragedy of December 7, 1941, and before the atomic aftermath of 1942, the Christmas party for children was held; it was hosted by Uncle Sam, with no mention of Santa Claus at all.

War clouds began to lift in 1943. Lt. Col. Lewis B. Walt was voted an honorary member; five German POWs from the Greeley POW Camp gave an interesting program, the first of many which focused on post-War planning and the future of Europe. In the mid-40s, the Club sponsored an Air Scout unit of the Explorer Scouts; the sponsorship was turned over to the Arnold Air Society at Colorado State in 1951.  

One especially interesting program was given by Bill Carlyle, successful businessman from Laramie, Wyoming. Also known as "Bill, the Lone Robber," Carlyle had spent 20 years in the Wyoming penitentiary for robbing trains!

1947 saw the third District Governor from our Club -- Walter Cooper. The Club also voted a $2 per year assessment for five years to benefit the Rotary International Foundation. William E. Morgan was elected president of Colorado A. and M. College in 1949; he presented the first of the annual "State of the College" addresses. That was also the year that Bob Davis' football team beat C.U. and the Club savored the movies shown at one of the regular meetings.

THE ‘50s.  Focus of Club activities turned once again primarily toward community activities.  Discrimination was a great matter of concern and the Club renewed efforts to provide recreation for Spanish-American youth. A whirlpool bath was purchased for the hospital; tickets to the Community Concert Series were given to high school students; copies of the Coloradoan were bought for the hospital; and the Rotary Junior Horse Show was begun, carried on for four years, then turned over to a local horsemanship organization.

Rotary International marked its 50th anniversary in 1955. A highlight of our Club year was the visit of the president of Rotary International, A. Z. Baker.

1957 was the year for the first dinner for foreign students. Honoring all foreign students from Colorado State University and the local high school, this dinner became a tradition honoring the Rotary ideal of international understanding. 1957 was also the birth year of the high school exchange program which our Club has participated in regularly. In fact, ours was the first Club in the district to host such a student.

In 1958, Dr. Thomas Bennett became the Club's youngest president ever. He and immediate past president, John Toliver became acquainted with Jose Casuso of the Cuba Rotary Club and regularly corresponded about the revolution and conditions in Cuba. Casuso’s fate is unknown due to the disappearance of Rotary from Cuba during Castro's regime.

THE ‘60s.  The Rotary Club of Fort Collins began in the days of WWI, survived the Depression, carried on through WWII, experienced the beginning of the atomic age, dealt with the Korean incident, and began the '60s with war clouds once again overhead. "The Affluent Society," however, was reflected heavily in the service and projects continued or begun by our Club. Exchange students were regular guests; Little League baseball and Stonehenge, a camp for crippled children, received contributions. Money toward the headquarters for the Salvation Army was raised; and the first of many dollars were donated for the Rotary Ranch House at Camp Delatour, a Boy Scout facility. Scholarships for graduates of local high schools were begun. The Skyline Rotary Park was built on the banks of Horsetooth Reservoir.

The program honoring the Master Agriculturist of the Year began in 1964. Each year since, the Club has honored the agricultural contributions of a member of our surrounding community.

Rotary International met in Denver in 1966, bringing many foreign visitors to our Club, including two from our "matched club" in Morsil, Sweden. The invitation to these visitors was likely proffered during a conversation via TelStar by President Mike Braden of our Club. Mortimer Stone, past president and past District Governor of District 545, a Supreme Court judge, returned to speak in observance of Law Day. This year also saw Club president Frank Schleicher transferred to Illinois, leading to perhaps the longest presidency in Club history, seventeen months, for Duane "Nook" Warnock, whose poker-faced wit led to his being labeled the "Will Rogers of Fort Collins."

THE ‘70s.  The decade began on a note of sadness: Charles A. Lory, the only surviving charter member, died on December 30, 1969. Weekly Rotogears show the '70s to be a decade of growth:  membership began to grow, quarterly dues and other charges doubled (following the inflationary economy, no doubt); and the emphasis on youth and career development increased (likely a reflection of the mushrooming growth of Colorado State University and Club cooperation as members represented their professions). Rotary International was also growing rapidly -- with International Presidents annually urging that Rotarians educate non-Rotarians about the ideals and objects of Rotary.

The number of programs presented by professional women almost tripled during this decade -- a reflection of societal changes, certainly a hint of the major decision to be made by RI a decade later to invite women to membership.

The professional involvement of members of the Club in regional and national professional organizations is seen in the increasing number of offices held, honors received, and speeches given (as indicated by the Recognition notations). Continued service to the community is revealed through multiple memberships on "Designing Tomorrow Today" committees, annual support of programs aimed at drug abuse, and contributions made to local agencies needing and requesting help. The children of Rotary even became involved: one Christmas very early in the decade, the children gave up the Club Christmas party and donated the money to a shoe fund, the shoes being distributed through Volunteer Clearing House.

Our Club celebrated its 60th anniversary and was honored by a visit from RI President Clem Renouf on that occasion.

Sam Portner became the fourth District Governor from our Club, and two additional clubs were chartered as a result of our efforts -- Steamboat Springs (1974) and Fort Collins Foothills (1977).

There is written evidence (see Rotogears!) that Steve Busch began his "Today we are going to try something different" approach to song leading during these years and that Irv Wilson was quite a poet (treating the Club almost every week to a sample of his work). As the decade passed, reported bowling scores went down and golf scores went up (probably not attributable to inflation).

Perhaps the most noticeable thing during this decade was the greater diversity in programs. Weekly presentations had always been educational and diverse. The scope of topics for the however, seemed much more global, more sensitive to current happenings, and more focused on human involvement, need, and service. 

THE ‘80s.  This decade found the Club greatly expanding its service involvements, both local and international, and extending its membership base. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for and given to local organizations.

Fund raising, on a big scale, began with the first Cadillac Raffle and Dinner in 1982, with proceeds of $10,000. Repeated annually through 1986 when $18,000 was raised, this event was a high point of each year. From 1988 on, the Club changed the focus of the annual fund raiser and selected a single community agency to receive a major gift along with the "Service Above Self Award". Awards ranged from $15,000 to $27,000.

Community service took many forms during these years. Consider the following samples of the many programs undertaken: Befriend a Boy (perhaps a forerunner of the current Partners?); Farm Tool Museum at Lee Martinez Park Farm; humanitarian service during the Mexico earthquake, the Limon tornado, the Big Thompson flood, Hurricane Andrew, etc.; Safety Village at the local mall; alcohol awareness programs; picnics for handicapped children; support for Up With People, the Women's Chorus, the Police Program for Youth, transplants for Piper Northern and Lance Carver, the Campus Crusade for Christ, Meals on Wheels, the Migrant Center, the Fort Collins Symphony, Senior Chuckwagon, Junior Achievement, the Martin Luther Home, the Children's Centennial Chorus, etc. The Club began conducting a Merit Badge University annually for the Boy Scouts. The Community Service and Safety Committee screened worthy projects and allocated thousands of dollars. Students began an annual selection process for participation in the RYLA program, and volunteers began commitments to such activities as the Colorado Run and bell ringing for Salvation Army.

International service also took multiple forms.  Significant financial help for the Rotary International Polio Plus campaign progressed; funds for combating dengue hemorrhagic fever were designated; countless dollars went to fight asthma, epilepsy, hemophilia, and substance abuse, or to buy solar bread ovens for Third World countries, or to help supply water for Latin American villages. Members donated eyeglasses to ship to Bolivia.

Two Group Study Exchanges have been directed by members of our Club -- England (by Bill Moellenhoff) and Thailand (by Charles Peterson). Members of several Group Study Exchange groups from other countries have been hosted in Fort Collins by our Club. Various members of the Club are regular international visitors/volunteer, e.g. John Matsushima, Dutch Gubler, P. K. Vedanthan; others, such as Vernon "Red" Wahlen, have been involved in "single-visit" activities of one sort or another.

We sponsored two new Rotary Clubs -- Windsor (1986) and Fort Collins Breakfast (1989); established an Interact Club in a local high school, and a Rotaract chapter.

Rotary opened membership to women in 1988. (In 1998, 14% of members are women, several serving as officers or directors.)

The Master Agriculturist Award program has continued without break since its inception; a "Service Above Self Award" was continued, after 1988, to recognize contributions of individual community leaders; high school and university students are invited regularly during the academic year; five scholarships are given to local high school graduates.

The Club provided two additional District Governors in the 80s:  Robert Sears (1980-81) and Charles Peterson (1987-88). The United Way Campaign Chairs for five of seven years have been members of the Club. We have had several past and current Mayors and City Council members.

THE ‘90s.  These years might well come to be known as the ones during which the Rotary Club of Fort Collins came of age in all of the Four Avenues of Service. Testimony to this statement is receipt of the Rotary International Presidential Citation every year since the decade began.

Membership has tended to stabilize at 200±10, thus establishing a manpower base for multiple activities. Paul Harris Fellows have increased by 25+ annually. Diversity in member classifications has introduced expertise to develop projects in several differing areas: from prenatal care to wine and cheese or ice cream with elderly residents of nursing homes; from bicycle ambulance cabs in India to water projects in Colombia; from education about prevention of dengue hemorrhagic fever around the world to the opening of asthma clinics in East Africa -- all developed with leadership from members of our Club. It is abundantly clear that we contribute financially, professionally, and with humane respect to help solve problems in our own and other countries.

Rotarians are known for keeping their eyes on local needs. During the year of our Club's 75th Anniversary (1993), the Club developed a plan which would allow it to infuse a total of $75,000 into our community as a way of celebrating our Club's long life. We have contributed support for infant immunization, for CPR classes for high school students, for improvements at Martinez Park Farm, for educational programs on substance abuse, for CARE-A-VAN and SAINT specialized transportation services, for the Food Distribution Center -- and more.

Scores of our members have regularly participated in the highly successful Four-Way Test Program exploring ethical questions with students in local junior high schools. The Club planted a tree for every student in the local school district during a single year. It adopted a two-mile stretch of highway and a section of the Poudre River, with cleanups three or four times a year. A major grant to Wingshadow enhanced education for at-risk youth; another grant to Children's Clinic ensured adequate medication supplies for a full year.

In cooperation with the two other Rotary clubs in town, five projects have been carried out; (d) and (e) are ongoing programs:  a) established The Electricity Room at The Discovery Center;  b) put up Rotary signs at all major entrances into Fort Collins, with a common automatic Rotary Information phone;  c) hosted Russian agriculture students and construction professionals from Saratov, Russia;  d) honored teachers from each public school in the Poudre School District in the Teacher of the Month/Year program;  and e) conceived of and executed a Rotary READ program to promote reading among elementary-aged children, complemented by a Rotary READ room and puppet stage at Harmony Library.

Occasions for joy were many, the most poignant being the triumphant return of Tom Sutherland after his release as a hostage in Lebanon. Having our seventh District Governor, Max Getts (1993-94), and having Charlie Peterson named 1993 Rotarian of the Yearbrought pride as well as joy.

Two members led Group Study Exchange teams: Lannie Boyd to Argentina and Pat Pellicane to Mexico. A Friendship Exchange group from Australia spent a whirlwind visit in "The Fort" as part of its visit to District 5440.

Club programming in the 90's was outstanding. We celebrated the Year of the Child, the Year of the Woman, and the Year of the Family with special programs. We heard "Walking Willie" and learned about dance from Peter “Pucky/Poochie” Pucci. Specific topics ranged from Viet Nam to Beirut, from affordable housing to health careto law enforcement, from open space to opera, from Alzheimer's disease to music and pet therapy, from candidate debates to holiday traditions. We heard about education issues at all levels; marveled at the energy and achievements of our high school guests; and applauded the programs and accomplishments of teachers in the Poudre School District. We also took pride in recognizing plaudits accorded our own members. We socialized hard at picnics, brunches, galas, dances, barbecues, and theater parties. We played hard at bowling, golf, tennis, ballooning, running, skiing, and flying. We sang "God Bless America" regularly with Tom Bennett (at last count, the total is nearing 300 times since he joined!). We bought peaches, oranges, grapefruit, cookies, tickets, and pizza cards from each other by the hundreds. We have laughed with, at, and about each other. We have prayed and praised and rejoiced together and have several times cried together.

For 80 incredible, indeed remarkable, years, the Rotary Club of Fort Collins has embraced the "Objects of Rotary" and espoused "The Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say, or Do". We have served our Club, our community, our nation, and our world with dedication, high ethical standards, and respect. We have advanced international understanding, good will, and peace.

If we, at our 80th year, can say that "our life has been full,” we can no less say "it is just beginning." We will greet the millennium with eager intensity and with the question, "What dream can we make a reality now?"

'There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.  -- Albert Schweitzer

Compiled: September 1993 Revised: July 1998