Rotary Club of Norfolk Centennial Highlights
In December 2013, members of the Rotary Club of Norfolk were making preparations to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their club which was established in May 1914. At each club meeting between December 10, 2013 and April 29, 2014, a paragraph recalling highlights of Club history was read to the members. These were known as “Centennial Moments”.
Centennial Moments
How it all Began
One hundred years ago, on December 11, 1913, five men from Norfolk met at the Monticello Hotel to talk about forming a local Rotary Club. They had heard about the “Rotary Movement” while on business trips to other cities. They invited Samuel Rosendorf from the Rotary Club in Richmond to join their discussion. The five men from Norfolk were:  Moe Levy, Eugene Graves, Robert Johnson, Ernest Weeks, and C.J Mains.
On that historic evening, they drew up a list of prospective members. We are not sure what they had to eat or drink, or if they sang songs together, but we do know they decided the first step was to recruit other men who wanted to become members. They agreed that once twenty-five other men were on board, they would proceed with formal organization of the Rotary Club of Norfolk.
By January 1914, they had recruited 10 other men, and decided that was enough to seed the club. They elected officers and developed an action plan.
The Certificate of Incorporation was acquired in March. By May 1st, the Club was chartered as “Club Number 114” by the International Association of Rotary Clubs - the antecedent of Rotary International.
The early meetings
The earliest meetings of our Club were convened once a month over dinner at the Fairfax Hotel. Then they added one lunch meeting each month. By the end of 1915, the Club was convened every week. All meetings were at lunchtime, except once a month when they met for cocktails and dinner.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much detail about how they interacted and conducted business back then. There is reference to “bits of horseplay” in historical documents. And there is one quote from 1939 which reads “Rotary would not be Rotary without its lighter side!” Some things don’t change.
Starting the Boys Club
In 1916, two years after our Club was formed, the Executive Secretary of the Boys Club Federation of America was invited to speak. He talked about how his nonsectarian organization offered services to underprivileged boys from “neglected and deteriorated neighborhoods”. The boys were offered access to gymnasiums, swimming pools, craft shops, libraries and healthcare.
Immediately upon hearing this national speaker, our Club began the work of introducing the Boys Club movement in Norfolk. The startup was financed by a fund-raising campaign by and among members. The first Boys Club in Norfolk used the Parish House of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for club activities.
For each of the first five years of the Boys Club operations, our Rotary Club raised funds in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 annually to support the endeavor.
We take pride in our 100 year history of helping our community, and we anticipate more of the same in the years ahead.
Early generosity
There are many examples of how generous our Club was in their early years:
  • They started a Student Loan Fund and seeded it with $1,000.
  • In 1933, given the economic conditions of the time, the Club cancelled a major social event in recognition of the grim living situations of Norfolk’s less fortunate residents. Instead of spending it on a party for themselves, our Club allocated the money to a Relief Fund for those in need.
  • Financial records from our early years show constantly recurring entries, running from $500 to $3000 annually, given to assist people in the community.
By the way, $1,000 in 1920 would be the equivalent of $12,000 today.
A quote from our 25th Club Anniversary Book reads,
 “Rotary has always contributed of its
manpower and money in every worthwhile movement”
Clubs we sponsored
When our Club was formed in 1914, we were sponsored by the Richmond Rotary Club. Two years later, we were asked to be the Sponsor for Newport News. After that, we went on to Sponsor 8 more new Clubs:
  1. Portsmouth
  2. Elizabeth City
  3. Virginia Beach
  4. Northside Norfolk
  5. Port-au-Prince in Haiti
  6. Chesapeake
  7. Princess Anne, and
  8. Norfolk Sunrise
Those Clubs went on to sponsor dozens more new Clubs. Within our District, there are more than 30 descendents of the Rotary Club of Norfolk!
Randy Keaton, former president of the Elizabeth City Rotary Club, recalls a story of the founding of that Club in 1921. Several distinguished Norfolk Rotarians traveled by train (as was customary in those days) to Elizabeth City, NC, to help sponsor the new club. Unfortunately their train car somehow became detached from the train, and the gentlemen from Norfolk were so involved in Rotarian style fellowship (and libations) that significant time passed before they realized they were no longer attached!
Support of Literacy
One of the hallmark activities of this Club is our commitment to literacy. It started with “Read on with Rotary” which ran from 2001-2003. During those three years, our Club gave over 12,000 books to Norfolk elementary school children. The books were given to school libraries and offered at Book Fairs for children to take home and keep. In 2005, we organized four tractor trailer loads of books for transport to the gulf Cost to replenish libraries devastated by hurricane Katrina.
In 2007, we partnered with a national children’s literacy organization, known as “Reading is Fundamental” (RIF), and cranked up our support of literacy in Norfolk Elementary Schools.
Over the past seven years, we have spent more than a quarter of a million dollars buying books for libraries and children in Norfolk schools. And the best part of RIF was the opportunity we Club members had to visit local schools and read to the children in their classrooms twice a year.
At the end of each weekly meeting, the guest speaker is shown a book with his/her name on the inside cover and the name of the school to which the book will be donated. We honor our speakers by donating a book with their name to a Norfolk Elementary School.
Support for the Environment
Between 1998 and 2002, the Rotary Club of Norfolk focused on improving the quality of estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. We raised $145,000 which, when combined with matching grants, enabled the establishment of five oyster reefs in the Lafayette and Elizabeth Rivers. At the time, this represented 10% of all the oyster reefs in Virginia. Our Club was named “Conservationist of the Year” by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and was honored with a joint Resolution of Approval by the Virginia Legislature.
We continue to support the environment. Each year we form teams and roll up our sleeves to participate in:
  • Clean the Bay Day
  • Planting at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research & Extension Center
  • Activities at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens
This April 2014, we will help sponsor the RIVERFest Environmental Day along the Lafayette River.
Restoring the Cannons
While dredging the Norfolk harbor near Town Point Park in 1982, workmen recovered several cannons of Revolutionary vintage. In 1984, this Club voted to have the cannons restored and mounted on new, historically accurate wooden carriages. Three would be placed near the flag poles in Town Point Park, and one would be displayed inside Waterside.
In a cost-sharing arrangement with the City of Norfolk, our Club underwrote the cost of restoration, construction of the white oak carriages, and provision of a large bronze plaque noting the role of the Rotary Club of Norfolk in restoring the cannons.
The city prepared the park site with foundations, walks, and railings. The cannons were presented to the City of Norfolk in a ceremony held on July 4, 1986.
Career Visitation
Each spring, our one of our Club meetings is devoted to hearing stories from high school students who spent a day with Rotarians learning about their professional careers.  We started this Career Visitation activity almost 35 years ago!
In 1980, our Club initiated a vocational visitation program with the Norfolk Public Schools gifted and talented program, in cooperation with high school English teachers. Club members were recruited to spend an afternoon with a student interested in the Rotarian’s professional field. Not only did the students benefit, but Rotarians have always had a good time doing this, and Career Day has continued through the decades.
There are other examples from our Club’s history of how we reached out to help young people. For several years, we offered an experience for students who were at risk for dropping out of school. We arranged field trips to expose them to job opportunities they could pursue if they completed high school. We took dozens of kids to Norfolk Shipyard to learn about apprenticeships; and we took them to Norfolk City Hall where they learned about opportunities in government service.
Diversity in the Club
When our club was founded in 1914, it was all men and, in fact, Rotary excluded women. It was not until 1987 that the first woman was approved for membership in our Club, and it was none other than our own Nancy Chandler - - and what a way to start!
Nancy Chandler relays this story of her early experience in the Club:
My husband wanted me to be a Rotarian. So I became a Rotarian. When I was introduced as a new member, I did not see other Ladies. But I had a song book, so I joined in the singing…”I’m glad to be in Rotary and mingle with good men”. When they were aware of how that sounded, it brought down the house! The men gave me an apology, and explained they planned to change the lyrics to read “mingle with a few good friends”. I told them not to change it on my account, as I spent all my life trying to mingle with GOOD MEN!
Support for Seniors in the Community
More than 30 years ago, the Norfolk Senior Center wanted to improve their transportation support for seniors and add field trips to their program. In 1982, our Club raised the money to purchase a 15-passenger van for the Center. And when that van was ready for trade-in, we bought them another one in 1990.
We also helped the Senior Center more than double their licensed capacity for adult day care by donating $50,000 to underwrite expansion of their campus from 21st Street to Newport Avenue.
For those of you who don’t know about this, our Club, over a 7 year period, mobilized volunteers to repair and paint 135 homes of elderly people in the community who met criteria of financial need. Bravo to the many Rotarians who participated in “Paint Your Heart Out!
Support for Children in the Community
From 1968 to 1975, this Club raised $50,000 for the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters by organizing an annual Rotary Charity Horse Show. It was a major undertaking, involving hundreds of horses and thousands of tourists. The volunteer manpower of this Club was extraordinary.
From early 1980 to 1995, we provided financial support and volunteer hours to help CHKD with their fund-raiser called Run for the Children. We underwrote the cost of trophies and awards, and Club members served as race marshals, put up barriers and tents and staffed the concession stands.
in 1991 another project was not planned, but just presented itself! A toy company had truckloads of broken toys, which if repaired, could be donated to children in need. After significant Rotary volunteer hours, 1646 toys were repaired and locally distributed in December
Helping the International Community
This Centennial Moment highlights work we have done internationally supporting healthcare:
  1. In 1960, we began a major initiative to support a hospital in Haiti.   We provided medical equipment including hospital beds, incubators for infants, an X-ray machine and a generator.  With the assistance of other Tidewater Rotary Clubs, over 40,000 pounds of equipment was shipped to the hospital.
  2. In 2007, this Club awarded a $50,000 matching grant to provide rapid malaria testing devices to hospital and medical research center in northern Ghana.
  3. In 2012-2014, Norfolk Rotarians supported two projects to provide medical equipment to the children’s wing of a rural Brazilian hospital.
Our Club has also contributed to the Rotary International goal of eradicating polio worldwide. Over 2.5 billion children globally have been immunized, and 80% of the world’s population now lives in regions that are polio free.
Support for Medical Care
There is much in our Club’s history related to support for medical care. So let’s turn the clock back to 1958 – before Eastern Virginia Medical School existed. A local group of physicians identified the need for a laboratory in this community to enhance the ability of medical scientists to apply for, and receive research, grants. 
The Rotary Club of Norfolk established the Medical Research Foundation in 1959 and seeded it with $2500. Assets of this Foundation were eventually transferred to the Norfolk Area Medical Center Authority, which was empowered by the Virginia Legislature to create EVMS.
Support for Military
Members of this Rotary Club of Norfolk have always shown an active interest in military personnel stationed in this area, as well as the American military worldwide.
  • In 1918, our Club sponsored a dance party at the Armory for uniformed personnel and it was attended by over 2000 people.
  • Members were also encouraged to participate in “Liberty Loans”, with subscriptions in 1918 totaling $200,000. (If you aren’t familiar with WWI Liberty Loans, you can read about them on the Web!)
  • During WWII, our Club had a War Service Committee, and we hosted many entertainment events in cooperation with the USO.
  • We also brought convalescents from local government hospitals to our weekly meetings.
  • In 1966, Club leaders began a lunch program for members of the Armed Forces Staff College. The purpose was two-fold: to expose future leaders of the world armed forces to Rotary, and to enhance the integration of Norfolk’s large military presence into the community. The program continued for more than 30 years.
Norfolk Rotary Endowment Fund – a resource unique to our Club.
For those of you who are guests, and for new members wearing a Red Badge, let me first explain two key expectations of those of us in this Rotary Club of Norfolk.
  1. Like all 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, we are expected to open our wallet once a year and give to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. The money is used for both global initiatives, like eradication of polio, and for grants to regional Districts supporting good work on a local level.
When Dean Thomason stands up at these lunch meetings and shouts EREY, it reinforces what is expected of us – Every Rotarian Every Year gives to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.
  1. A second key expectation of members of this Club is to contribute to the Norfolk Rotary Endowment Fund which awards grants to help people in our community have better lives. Not every Rotary Club has its own Endowment Fund. We have one because of the foresight of people in this Club 25 years ago who seeded it with $67,000.
One of the gems I found in our Bute Street office is this binder which contains all the original documents from 1991 proposing the Endowment Fund. The proposal letter, written by Harry McCoy, says: This will be a permanent entity to receive and accumulate monetary gifts; the income generated will enable financial support for long-term charity work in our community.
Thank you, Harry, and thanks to all the other visionary Club members who created our Endowment Fund.