The Rotary Club of Plattsburgh

The Rotary Club of Plattsburgh (also known as the Plattsburgh Rotary Club) is one of 64 clubs within Rotary District 7040, which encompasses Northern New York in the United States and the provinces of Eastern Ontario and Western Québec plus the Nunavut Territory of Canada. While a majority of the clubs have less than 25 members, the Plattsburgh Rotary Club is one of the three largest clubs in the district with over 100 members.

A Brief History of the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh

The Rotary Club of Plattsburgh was officially chartered on April 1st, 1926 with 20 outstanding members of the Plattsburgh community.  They were:
  • Lyman G. Barton, Jr. – Surgeon
  • Burton H. Brooks – Telephone Service
  • Edward H. Dow – Railroad, Traffic
  • George M. Elmendorf – Education
  • Benjamin F. Fitzpatrick – Corporation Law
  • Simon E. Fitzpatrick – Building Construction
  • William H. Howell – Hotelier
  • Samuel L. Huntington – Ice Cream Manufacturer
  • Jesse W.H. Holcombe – Abstract Corporation
  • William B. Jaques – Pharmacist
  • Harold A. Jerry – General Law
  • Corydon S. Johnson – Commercial Banking
  • George A. Lynch – Dentistry
  • Albert H. Marshall – Hardware, Retail
  • Fred C. Marshall – Jewelry Retailing
  • Herbert P. Mason – Lumber, Wholesale
  • David Merkel – Women’s clothing
  • Albert Sharron – Drygoods Retailing
  • Martin I. Traynor – Plumbing Supplies
  • Watson B. Wilcox – Coal, Retail
The first officers of the club were:
  • Corydon S. Johnson – President
  • Harold A. Jerry – Vice President
  • Edward H. Dow – Secretary/Treasurer
The Board of Directors consisted of:
  • Corydon S. Johnson 
  • Harold A. Jerry 
  • Edward H. Dow 
  • Burton H. Brooks
  • George M. Elmendorf
  • William B. Jaques
  • Martin I. Traynor
Regular weekly meetings were held on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. at the Witherill Hotel, located on Margaret Street (current location of the Glens Fall National Bank in downtown Plattsburgh).  Although the hotel is no longer in existence, the club continues to meet weekly on Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. at the Adirondack Room of the Butcher Block in Plattsburgh, NY.

The First 25 Years

During the first quarter century of its existence as our nation endured the Great Depression, Prohibition and World War II, the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh responded to many community needs through local programs including the Community Chest (predecessor of the United Way), Children’s Clinic (predecessor of BHSN), Public Library, March of Dimes, City Youth Commission, and even the improvement of City lighting. By the end of the 1940s as the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh continued to benefit many other organizations in the local community, the initial membership of 20 had quadrupled to 92.

The Second 25 Years

As the club was maturing in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the Plattsburgh Air Force Base was expanding, and Interstate 87 was opening the Adirondack Mountains to the growing traveling public. The Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind, and the North Country’s first major shopping mall was opening. The membership of the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh continued to increase to over 125. The community was growing, and Club members continued to hold some very successful fundraising events, e.g., Harlem Globetrotters, an annual golf tournament and Rotary Radio Day (which is still going strong today).  These events provided revenue to support many exciting programs, such as student trips to Washington, D.C. and Albany (the state’s capitol); nursing scholarships; Beartown Ski Area T-bar; canoes for Boy Scouts; YMCA summer camp development; Easter and Christmas baskets; and a Battle of Valcour Island diorama presented to the Clinton County Historical Society to commemorate the Bicentennial.

The Third 25 Years

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the Winter Olympics returned to nearby Lake Placid for a second time, the Fitzpatrick Cancer Center at CVPH was opened and the BRAC decided to close the Plattsburgh Air Force Base. At the same time, several major national and international programs and services were initiated by Rotary International, and the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh participated with great interest.

PolioPlus, an on-going commitment to eradicate polio from the face of the Earth by immunizing children around the world lead to the Club contributing $63,000 (188% of the amount requested) to the effort. The club supported the first Health, Humber and Humanity (3-H) Agricultural Program to improve the lives of small farmers and their families in Ecuador through more efficient ways of farming on mountainous terrain.

Some 20 students – locally and from afar – received the support of the Club through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Numerous major and minor community programs continued to receive support from the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh, including:
  • Interfaith Food Shelf
  • Community Meal Soup Kitchen 
  • Salvation Army
  • D.A.R.E. Program of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department
  • CVPH “HeartSmart” Program
  • Clinton County Firefighters Association Fire Safety House.
New, high-spirited fundraisers were also undertaken by local Rotarians to subsidize the growing list of programs, including Bee Bop Dance, Las Vegas East, Rotary Auction, Rotary International Fishing Classic, Vacation Raffle, 50-50 and the Roducky Derby.

In the midst of all of the Club’s activities, things were also changing for all Rotarians.  Smoking was no longer permitted at club meetings by the late 1980s. Then, in 1987, a particularly significant year in Rotary history was also noted in the Plattsburgh club. Internationally, women were invited to become members of Rotary.  Elle Berger was the first of four women invited to join the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh that year. Of the four, Elle is still a member of the Club, which has added many other women to the ranks and leadership of the once formerly exclusive men’s club.  The club’s first female President, Rosemary Souza-Botten, was installed eight years later in 1995.

What the Future Held in the Next 25 Years

Even as the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh paused to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2001 as a milestone, the Club’s membership continued to provide “Service above Self” to the community – locally and internationally. This effort continues today. 

The Club provided the financial support for students at Champlain Valley Educational Services to construct houses at the Plattsburgh BOCES campus that were later sold to local individuals.  The Club also constructed Centennial Park at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base honoring the first 100 years of Rotary International.

At the same time, the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh took on a major effort to improve the health of the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.  Through a Global Grant through The Rotary Foundation in cooperation with Rotary Clubs of Managua, Bergen-Highlands-Ramsey Club (N.J.), and the Plattsburgh Rotary Club, a total of 154 latrines were constructed over a two-year period. These latrines have improved the health of these people who desperately needed basic necessities and assistance.  These clubs also provided additional funding to complete the construction of the Paul Harris School in downtown Managua (started by a Rotary club in that city) and provided another 50 additional outhouses to extremely poor residents of the northern Nicaraguan town of Diriamba, all with education regarding sanitation and its connection to good health.

The Club has also sponsored several other nearby Rotary clubs that wanted to form, including the AuSable Forks Rotary Club (1932), the Plattsburgh Sunrise Rotary Club (1987), and the Champlain-Rouses Point Club (1997). The Plattsburgh Rotary Club also served as a focal point for community leaders by bringing state and national leaders to Plattsburgh to discuss important issues at the regular club meetings. 

Since 1926, when a group of local businessmen sought to join a national effort to promote “…world understanding and peace through local, national and international humanitarian, educational and cultural programs…,” the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh has continued that effort.  The programs, services and assistance provided also encourage fellowship and conduct that benefits others in the community and elsewhere.