About the Rotary Club of Evanston

We are neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who are committed to create lasting change – across the globe, in Evanston, and in ourselves.

As one of Evanston’s leading charitable and service organizations, the Rotary Club of Evanston has provided countless hours of volunteer service and significant monetary support for a variety of local causes since it was founded in 1920. The club proudly celebrated its Centennial in 2020. 

For  more than 100 years, the club has divided its service to the community between hands-on, volunteer projects, and raising funds to help organizations and causes. It has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for not-for-profit organizations, helping Evanston cope with pressing issues ranging from illiteracy to domestic violence to homelessness and poverty.

The club’s philosophy is to provide general assistance wherever it is needed – thus it has provided volunteers for everything from building homes for low-income families to cleaning up Evanston’s beaches to delivering hot meals to the needy.

Over its history, the club has placed a strong emphasis on helping Evanston’s youth as well as addressing food insecurity

Charitable Fund

The Rotary Club of Evanston Charitable Fund is a 501c3 organization that provides monetary grants directly to local charitable organizations.

In more than two decades of service to the community, the Charitable Fund has raised and distributed many thousands of dollars in Evanston. 

In 2019, the club launched a major, multi-year initiative aimed at addressing food insecurity in Evanston. A formal task force is now working in partnership with other local organizations and the club has begun new fundraising efforts to bolster food security.

The Friendship Garden

The Rotary Club of Evanston planned and built the International Friendship Garden in the early 1960s as a living symbol of goodwill toward all people of the earth. It is a central part of Evanston’s 23-acre Ladd Arboretum on McCormick Blvd. The club maintains this beautiful resource, available to all Evanstonians, on an annual basis, planting flowers and providing general upkeep.

What Makes Our Club Unique?

The Rotary Club of Evanston is known as the "Home Club" -- it was the first Rotary club established in Evanston, the city where Rotary International is headquartered, and it meets every week in RI's corporate headquarters building. This brings us in contact with visitors from all over the world, including officers, directors and special committee members and leaders. It is a tradition that the RI President becomes an honorary member of our club. Several RI Executive Directors have also served as our club President.

We have a diverse membership, which over the course of the club's history has included prominent leaders from the business community, city government, academia and not-for-profit organizations.

Among our volunteer activities, we:

  • Provide hands-on service support for a wide range of local not-for-profit organizations that help the needy.
  • Raise money through our annual Pizzafest, and other benefits, to fund the special projects of community organizations such as the YMCA, Family Focus, Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU), and many others.
  • Organize local volunteers where help is needed, via our Rotary Community Volunteer Corps.
  • Host special forums for community connection, such as "Heads Up, Evanston," where we promote leadership-networking and discussion of issues.
  • Send youth-exchange students all over the world, and host exchange students from other countries.
  • Host Rotary Graduate Scholars – who travel abroad for graduate study.
  • Actively support the Rotary Foundation's campaign to eliminate Polio world-wide.
  • Support Rotary projects in Guatemala, building homes, schools and wells for clean water, and helping to install digital x-ray machines.
  • Work with Rotarians  in Uganda and Kenya to build wells for clean water and promote maternal health and economic development.
  • Provide thousands of dollars each year in scholarships to students at Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University.

Our Club’s History

The Rotary Club of Evanston was organized by Ralph B. (Cy ) Dennis, Dean of the Northwestern School of Speech.

Cy had been a guest at a couple of Rotary meetings of the comparatively few clubs in the Chicago area. Impressed by what he had seen, he thought that more acquaintances and friendships between men connected to the University and the Evanston business and professional sector would be enjoyable to all and a benefit to the community.

Cy gathered a few friends that included a realtor, a banker, a minister and a publisher. They put together a list of business and professional people, informed them of the ideas, and invited them to a luncheon meeting to be held at the North Shore Hotel.

23 potential members met there on April 27, 1920, where they learned the story behind Rotary, organized, elected officers and applied for a charter. Cy was elected the Rotary Club of Evanston's first President.

Rotary International issued the Club charter on May 1, 1920. Rotary International was 15 years old at the time, and our club was the 734th to be organized worldwide.  The club has met every week for more than 100 years on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. For nearly nine decades it met at the North Shore Hotel, and now meets at Rotary International headquarters at 1560 Sherman Ave. in downtown Evanston. 

More than 1,000 men and women have been active members during our first 100 years.

The history of the Rotary Club of Evanston has been a proud one of a group of men and women of varied backgrounds, faiths, experiences, and resources joined together through acquaintanceships turned friendships, and working together to serve others truly putting "service above self."