Rotary clubs celebrate 100th birthday

By Kevin Wilson

When Chicago attorney Paul Harris put together a meeting with three of his friends on the night of Jan. 23, 1905, he probably didn’t imagine what would transpire 100 years later in Portales or the rest of the world.
Now, a century later, Harris’ club has branched into more than 30,000 clubs in 166 countries, with 1.2 million members worldwide. Nearly 60 of those members were in Portales on Wednesday, as the Portales Rotary Club celebrated the anniversary on the same date as their regular weekly meeting.
The Portales club has been in existence for much of the growth of Rotary International.
“We are the largest and oldest service club in the entire world,” said Rick Akins, the governor of District 5520 which includes the Portales club. “This club is 70 years old, if my math is right, and that’s a big chunk of the history of Rotary.”
Akins was in Portales for the meeting and centennial, as well as Tuesday’s annual steak fry at the Ag Expo.
Things have changed over the years for the clubs, however. Money has always been raised by clubs through “fines” at the meetings, donations, and fund-raising projects.
However, the fines vary by the club and the time period — one Rotary member left Wednesday’s meeting to answer his cellular phone ring, then returned to the room to find sergeant-at-arms Don Thomas waiting for him and his $1 fine. Fines are usually small and generally recognize positive impacts on the community.
The clubs have different purposes throughout the world — the Portales club is involved with several items, including the Rotaract Club at Eastern New Mexico University and Meals on Wheels.
On a world-wide scale, however, the club has three main goals, Akins said:
• Polio eradication: In 1985, Rotary launched the PolioPlus program to protect children worldwide from the cruel and fatal consequences of polio, according to the Rotary International Web site ( Other organizations have joined as well and the disease is eradicated in 99 percent of the world.
On Rotary’s Web site President Glenn E. Estess said, “Eradicating polio will be Rotary’s great legacy to the children of the world.”
• Continuing to build membership.
• Strengthen the foundation of Rotary International, a process that Rotary members feel strengthens the community as well.
“If you weren’t here as Rotarians,” Akins said, “the community would suffer because of the things you do for this community.”
Portales Club President Jimmie Shearer will serve throughout much of the centennial year, as his term expires on July 1.
“It’s just a celebration,” Shearer said. “It’s an honor to be president for such an important year.”
Shearer said that the club is planning a few things to serve the community, including benches near the F-111 plane between First St. and Second St., just north of Ave. K.
Another event is the Paul Harris Gala, scheduled for March 11. Further details are still in the works, but Shearer said that many Rotarians will be honored for good deeds, including perfect attendance at weekly meetings — members can also make up a missed meeting by attending a meeting of any other Rotary International club.
“We’ve got people with 30 years of perfect attendance,” Shearer said. He then added with a smile, “I’m still working on my first one.”