Lebanon Rotary 2020: 100 Years of “Service Above Self”

By Lebanon, Ohio Rotarian John J. Zimkus

100 years ago on the front page of the November 25, 1920 issue of The Western Star newspaper in Lebanon, Ohio, proclaimed that Thursday, November 18, 1920, was “red letter day in Lebanon. It was the day on which the Rotary Club received the official recognition of the International Association, the charter being delivered by President Bob Chapman of the Cincinnati Rotary Club acting for District Governor Sam Squire of the Tenth District.”

Rotary has been called “The daddy of all modern service clubs.”

The very first Rotary Club was formed 15 1/2 years earlier when attorney Paul P. Harris called together a meeting of three business acquaintances, a coal dealer, a mining operator and a merchant tailor, in downtown Chicago, at an office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street on February 23, 1905.

At the time of the founding of the Lebanon club in 1920, there were 775 Rotary Clubs worldwide. (Today there are 35,000+ Rotary Clubs with over 1.2 million members.) The United States had the greatest number, but there were also Rotary Clubs in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Cuba, South America, the Republic of Panama, China, India and France.

Early in 1920, several members of the organization Men of Lebanon were lunching together and the suggestion was made that they should do that weekly. A few weeks later the idea was a put forth that a new organization should be formed “as a help in furthering the interests of Lebanon and this community.”

That summer a committee was a formed to visit other towns and see what groups they had in their communities that met the goals the men wanted for Lebanon. It was recalled that the “ideal group organization for [Lebanon] was the Rotary Club.”

An application was made to the International Rotary Association at Chicago for membership. It was promptly turned down. The organization had as one of its rules that no town with less than 5,000 inhabitants could form a Rotary Club. As Carroll C. Eulass recalled, “We were so enthused with the idea that we did not give up and sent a representative to headquarters, he making a personal plea, holding up to them the fact of the organization already in existence and the enthusiasm of the business men in this place.”

Rotary International then sent a representative to visit Lebanon who interviewed members collectively and individually. He “was so impressed with the feeling of good fellowship that existed in our organization,” according to Eulass, “that he reported favorably and recommended a charter be granted to us.” Unfortunately, that application was also rejected.

After Rotary headquarters sent a second representative to town who also recommend that a Rotary Club be formed here, was the Lebanon group finally granted a charter.

A press release in November 1920 announced across the country, “Lebanon has the distinction and honor of being the smallest city in the world in which Rotary is established.” (The Western Star, November 25, 1920, page 1, and THE ROTARIAN, January 1921.)

The first meeting of the Lebanon Rotary Club was held at 6:30 in the evening of Thursday, November 20, 1920, at the Masonic Hall at 30 S. Broadway in Lebanon. One hundred people were present at that first meeting with Rotarian guests from Cincinnati, Piqua and Troy, Ohio. The new Lebanon Rotary Club had 25 charter members.

Harold Pauly of the Troy Rotary, which was chartered in April 1918, declared he was the “daddy” of the “new baby.” He grew up in nearby Mason, Ohio and had relatives in the area. Ed Scott, also from the Troy club, stated “he was the brother-in-law because he got his wife from Lebanon – and she is ‘some wife.’”

The ladies of the First Presbyterian Church on East Street in Lebanon prepared a fried chicken dinner with all the “trimmins” for the occasion. The Western Star reported that “happy exclamations” were “heard from all over the hall.”

During dinner “beautiful music was furnished by Lebanon’s talented Trio” composers by Mrs. Dan Collette on violin, Miss Laura B. Cunningham on cello and Mrs. John Marshall Mulford on piano.

After the dinner “President Carroll” C. Eulass of the newly formed Lebanon Rotary Club introduced “President Bob” Chapman of the Cincinnati Rotary Club. It was reported that Bob “grew eloquent upon the purpose for which Rotary Clubs are organized. He told of the spend work done by Rotarians during the war [World War I had ended on November 11, 1918] and how, now with peace, Ohio Rotarians are devoting their energies on behalf of the crippled children of the state, and the maintenance of the hospital at Elyria, Ohio.”

“The hospital at Elyria, Ohio” to which Eulass refers was founded by Rotarian Edgar “Daddy” Allen. He was a wealthy businessman based in Elyria, Ohio whose son’s death in a street car accident in May 1907 prompted him to take an interest in local medical facilities. In 1908, he raised money to build Elyria Memorial Hospital, what is today University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center, which initially was maintained solely by Rotary Clubs. This, in turn, brought the needs of children with orthopedic problems to his attention. Medicine–especially orthopedic surgery — made tremendous strides in the years just after WWI, and organizations like ones Allen was involved in, especially Rotary Clubs, were important fundraisers and advocates for new hospitals around the country. In 1919, Allen was the founder of the Society for Crippled Children, the organization known today as Easter Seals.

At the closing of the meeting “President Carroll” asked all to face “Old Glory” and sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

An editorial in the November 19,1925 issue of The Western Star newspaper in Lebanon commented on the founding of the club five years earlier stated,

“Rotary has a good motto. ‘He profits most who serves best.’ We believe each member attempts to abide by this rule. It is only the Gol-den Rule in business and Rotarians try to forward the principle, not alone in their own business but among those with whom they come in contact.”

“We hope it lives on for one hundred times five years and then some, if fortune shall see it function as it has these past years.”