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Club History - N.L. Rotary 1917-1992
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APRIL 17, 1917

New London Rotary Club




A Brief History of the New London Rotary Club below 

It began in Chicago on Feb 23rd 1905 Meetings Rotate:  Call Them Rotarians. Paul Harris and four new acquaintances got together in each others offices weekly to promote the idea of fellowship. There were 12 Rotarians at the end of the first year. Paul Harris added the component of community service to the meetings and projects. The idea was sound, just 3 years later and 200 members strong, a second club was founded in San Francisco.


On April 6, 1917 the U.S. declared war on Germany.  Rotary clubs (311 of them & over 32,000 members) engaged in all out efforts to support war relief funds. Then on April 11, 1917 just 5 days after the declaration of War this happened: NEW LONDON ROTARY CLUB FOUNDED


A group on New London citizens gathered at the Crocker House at noon. The main topic was the war. Men's shirts cost 65¢, bread was 5¢ a pound, oranges 15¢ a dozen, and steak was 20¢ a pound. Leon Sprague (manager of the Connecticut Power Company), the organizer, called the meeting to order. A motion was made to formally organize the Rotary Club of New London.

The Rotary Club was the first organization to support the campaign for the Memorial Hospital ---- (now L+M) in New London. An organization that would see the benefits of Rotary and Rotarians for many years to come. Even in the early years attendance was an issue. Members absent without excuse for 10 or more meetings would be suspended. They could, however, request reinstatement within 10 days. That's one thing that's a little tougher than it use to be. 


In 1917 the proposal by Arch Klumph to form a Rotary Endowment was realized as the Kansas City, MO club sent $26.50 in surplus convention funds. The first contribution recorded. Today, Rotarians around the world will be asked to contribute $100 per year to the Rotary Foundation.


1920 saw surge of new club activity in Rotary after the war. There were now 530 clubs and over 50,000 members. New London was doing their part. Members of our Club meet with a group of Norwich men to organize the Norwich Rotary Club. Fund raising was always a part of Rotary in New London and so were fines. Any members failing to wear their badge at a meeting would be fined 25¢. Some things never change, they just get more expensive. Also in 1920’s the New London Rotary Club adopted a Rotary Cheer: a sure rival to any Yale/Harvard songs. It went like this: "Oh, Your Pep, Your Pep, You've Got It!, You've Got It!. You've Got It! Dog-gone it. Don't lose it. Your Pep. Rotary, Rotary, Rotary, New London!"


In 1923 Deacon Harris, an active member of the club and one who's efforts on behalf on youth should not be forgotten, opened a Boy's Club at the old Police Station on Potter street. Rotary of New London can claim proud sponsorship of this program.


In 1925 New Haven, CT Rotarian, Past District Governor,  Donald A. Adams was named as Rotary International President. Today, our rotary district honors his memory with the naming of : The  Donald Adams Award for the outstanding Rotarian in the District. The New London Rotary Club received a special honor as Past President Jim Hammond was appointed as Assistant Secretary of Rotary International, the only member of New London Rotary to serve at the International level.

With more than one area club it was possible to create some inter-club rivalry. Norwich & New London Rotary clubs battled on the golf course. The better team won, of course. At the next regular club meeting members of the New London club were fined 15¢ each for the loss. By the end of the 1920s membership had grown to over 3,000 clubs with 144,000 members ---- There was another side of 1929 too! Black Tuesday on Wall Street caused chaos as the stock market crashed. It was also in that year that the New London club decided that they couldn’t keep the club yell spirit up. A 'Double Quartet' was formed to sing at regular meetings.


1930 marked the 25th Anniversary of Rotary. All 79 members were in attendance for the first 100% meeting ever recorded. With community spirit in mind nearly 200 Rotarians from around the area joined together for the first inter-city service club meeting. For entertainment each club staged a stunt. Somewhere along the way a joint Service Club program was developed for the celebration of the Yale /Harvard Regatta. That tradition still carries on today. In the 30's Music Professor Weld of Connecticut College wrote the words to a greeting that was to last in this club for thirty years. Everyone had to stand and hold hands as the greet greeting was done. It started…”Howdy all good Fellows.” The 1938 District conference was again held at the Griswold Hotel in Groton. It took place just 3 days before the Hurricane of 38. Just two days after the Hurricane the New London Club meet for its usual weekly meeting-there's dedication for you. The topic of discussion was the hurricane and the food was cold!


The U.S. took a neutral position as War erupted in Europe. Rotary International adopted a "respect for human rights” resolution: ("Where freedom, justice, truth, sanctity, of the pledged word and respect for human rights do no exist, Rotary cannot live nor its ideals prevail -- By this time all 42 Rotary clubs in Germany were forced to disband by the German Government. During the early forties the Club saw two of its Presidents called to active duty. They were Carl Wies and Palmer Niles. On April 10, 1942 the New London club celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner dance at the Mohegan Hotel Roof Garden. Tribute was paid to J. William Clarke, the only secretary the club ever had and his perfect attendance for 25 years. 


As America mobilized for the war effort, Rotarians in New London did their part. Rotary took over the operation of a Teen Canteen on State Street  In addition to financial support, members had to be present nearly every night to supervise activities.

In January of 1947 Paul Harris, founder of Rotary died. The Rotary Foundation caught fire, as many paid homage to the founder. Over one million dollars was received that year, nearly twice the amount in that single year than had been collected over the past 30 years. Arch Klumph's dream had been realized. It should also be noted that in 1947/48 James Hammond was named District Governor, to date, the only District Governor to serve from New London. (July 1st 2004 marked the second time in 88 years New London Rotary had a District Governor. Pamela Akins served as the Centennial Governor as Rotary celebrarted 100 years of service. Our third District Governor is set to be sworn effective July 1st 2016. Geraldine Tom will be in office during the New London Rotary Club's 100th Anniversary year.)

1955 Rotary International celebrated its 50th year. No fewer than 27 countries issued postage stamps to honor Rotary.  While  the International organization numbered over 8000 clubs and 390,000 members, New London helped organize a new club: Mystic. The Youth Services Committee staged a Youth in Government program under then chairman, Freemont Alderson. An opportunity for students to test life in the public service sector. One additional program which bears mention during this time was New London's support of Dr. Carl Wies's spare parts program for handicapped people. It made national news and brought great recognition to the New London Rotary Club. 1955 Rotary's 50th anniversary was celebrated with Frank Laycock as President. Frank's last official duty was the installation of the Groton Rotary Club sponsored by New London.


The early 60’s was the time we sponsored the formation of the Niantic Rotary Club. In 1964 the second Connecticut Rotarian was named President of Rotary International: Charles W. Pettengill of Greenwich, CT. Our district honors his service by naming each year a club which has distinguished itself by building an outstanding record of service in any one or a combination of Rotary’s Four Avenues of Service for the proceeding three years. The Pettengill Award is the most prized Award in the district. The first area club to have received it was the Groton-Ledyard Club in 1981. The New London Rotary club has since won this award in 1992, 1998, and 2000. The 60’s saw a new Scholarship program under the direction of Don Mitchell and Freemont Alderson. The purpose was to recognize outstanding scholastic achievement in the New London High School. The first recipients were in fact the son of Past President Ben Levinson and daughter of Past President Dave Ginsberg, who were the top students in their class. We still recognize two juniors and two seniors each year as Rotary Scholars. We also present The Benjamin Levinson Community Service Award to a student that honors the Rotary commitment  of community service.


1967 was the Golden Anniversary of the New London Club. It was celebrated at the Griswold Hotel in Groton. Special guest was 83 year old Leon Sprague, founder of the club. 1976 will be remembered as the year ‘Miss Nude Amercia’ spoke to the club. The minutes reflect that she was not in uniform and failed to record who was responsible for the program.


In 1977 the RI convention took place in San Francisco. Ed Cramer, incoming President, attended this Convention and this may have been the first time a incoming president had attended an  International convention. In July of that year the club celebrated it’s 60th birthday at Lighthouse Inn with Ed Cramer as incoming President. Later that same year the club had a special guest: at 93 years old, Leon Sprague visited the club for the last time.


The New London Rotary Club banded together to mount a Sports Show ‘78 at Ocean Beach. This event drew over 6,000 people, including sports hero Ted Williams and then Governor Ella Grasso among others. This event raised over $6,000 for local charities and also added new energy to the club. This event won support for New London as we achieved the District Club Service award.
The New London Club passed the 100 members mark in 1982 under President Rev. Bob Bartlett. Maybe his attendance at the International Convention in Dallas had some thing to do with it.  In 1984, President Fred Deltgen was pleased to be able to report, that club member Paul Scully-Powers had been chosen to become an astronaut. This was also the year that the Grand Daddy Club, New London, sponsored another off-spring, the new Montville Rotary Club.


New London Rotary flew high in 1985. The New London Club Banner was carried aboard Spacecraft Challenger by Rotary's one and only astronaut. The major fund raising project was the sale of New London Ledge Lighthouse prints from an original Gerald Caron painting.  That was also the year that we gave Ben Kaplan a special award, as a 52 year member of the club. Ben at age 96 still walked from his home about 3 miles to attend our weekly meetings. The first Carl Wies Award for outstanding service to the New London Rotary Club was presented to a most deserving, Steve Percy. Long time club secretary and close friend of Carl's, Bob Weller was the second. In 1987 we began an annual Auction to raise monies for local charities. First year proceeds under Steve Percy, were over $10,000.
Later in 1987, The Supreme Court ruled in a case and Rotary agreed to abide by ‘The Law of the Land.’ Qualified women were now allowed to be members of clubs within the United States. The New London club seized upon this opportunity and the results are evident today. 

Rotary International decided on a course that could change the world forever.  An international service organization, would not only raise the money, but help deliver vaccines against polio and other childhood diseases to every corner of the world. In order to raise the necessary funds, a major Polio Plus campaign began. At the 1988 Philadelphia Convention, the excitement built as the U.S. announced that is had raised in pledges and funds $120 million by itself…this meant we Rotarians raised over $220 million, world-wide, to accomplish what has never been done before in history. We as Rotarians can all share this pride as we still continue today to complete our committment.

To meet our area commitment pledge, a major event was planned, with Millie Devine in charge. Five area shoreline Rotary Clubs teamed up to raise over $70,000 for Polio Plus and the Lawrence & Memorial Hospitals that service our region. The Itzak Perlman, Eastern CT Symphony benefit performance was talked about around the world. President of Rotary lnternational, Hugh Archer attended our event. The only time recorded that a sitting Rotary International President visited Southeastern CT. Also that year Roger Gross received the first Rotary International Carl P. Miller Discovery Grant to develop an International Friendship Exchange with rotary clubs in Brazil.