The Rotary Club of Bellingham was chartered September 17th in 1917 and given club number 331. The sponsoring club was the Seattle Rotary Club (Seattle was #4; numbers were assigned in the order in which clubs were chartered.)  The Clubs in Tacoma, Everett, and Vancouver B.C. sent delegations to the charter presentation held in the Leopold Hotel.
There were 31 charter members: Clifford Barlow; Dr. Tony Barlow; Charles Beard; Sabine Carr; W. Coston Carver; A.S. Clark; Leslie Coffin; John R. Cole; Roland Gamwell; Dr. John Goodheart; Charles Graham; Horace Griggs; Will J. Griswold; Curtis Harter; E. Heal; Henry P. Jukes; Percy Livesay; E.T. Mathes; John Miller; Cecil Morse; Alexander Muir; Charles Nolte; Fred Offerman; Benjamin Reno; Dr. Charles Short; Henry Schripp; Henry Thiel; Joseph Wahl; Dr. Frank Van Kirk; Adolph Krabbe; and Charles Erholm.
The first officers to serve the Club were Will J. Griswold, attorney, President; Thomas B. Cole, customs broker, Secretary; J.B. Wahl, department store proprietor (Wahl’s), Vice President; and Henry Jukes, banker, Bellingham National Bank, Treasurer.  By May of 1918, the Club had grown to 75 members!
Originally the Club met in the south hall of the Leopold Hotel until 1929 when meetings shifted to the Crystal Ballroom at the Leopold, where they were held for the next 50 years! In 1979, the meetings shifted to the Elks’ Club on Squalicum Way (now a St. Joseph Hospital facility) until 1988, then to the Bellingham Yacht Club until 1996.  The Club meetings have been held at Northwood Hall since.
Through the years, the meetings have changed in content. In the early years, there were open discussions on many subjects of political and community interest.  Early members such as J.J. Donovan, Dr. Tony Barlow and Dr. Jacob Smith would expound and debate on a wide spectrum of topics both local and national. Throughout the years the names and activities of Rotarians amount to a “Who’s Who” of the leaders of the area.  Not all were of a solemn nature, though, as witnessed by men like Hugh Galbraith, Rabbi Fred Gartner, song leader Paul Wells, and past presidents Paul Hanson, Larry Johanson, Al Levin, Dave Nichols and Jim Roberts.  They joined others in keeping the Club fun across the years!
There have been some especially dedicated leaders among the long lists of officers and directors of the Club.  James Faul served as Secretary from 1923 to 1944, and was succeeded by Hugh Eldridge “Brick” Carr who served until 1978, 35 years. Sandee Lindhout was hired to help Carr, and has been serving since 1971.  The Club has supplied five Rotary International District Governors, Henry Heal, Mentor Boney, Roy Anderson, Curt Cortelyou, and Jim Caldwell. Our Club has also sponsored the creation of the Whatcom North, Bellingham Bay, and Nakhodka (Russia) Clubs.
After a court decision forcing conservative RI to admit women, this Club quickly admitted several; Ann Jones (radio broadcasting) was the first, quickly followed by Mary Robinson (university dean) and Sr. Catherine McInnes (hospital administration). The Club also has a significant list of cherished older members, several have been in Rotary for over 50 years!
Throughout the years Rotary has carried out an impressive number of community and international projects. The long list includes playgrounds, soccer fields, parks (including Boulevard Park, which Rotary “ramrodded”), YMCA’s and YWCA’s, Scouts, the city pool; environmental projects, the Fairhaven Village Green, the Depot Market, and more. To support these efforts, the Club has had many fund-raising projects including raffles, circuses, etc., but for the years 1975—1999 the Club relied on an annual Rotary BRAVO auction proposed by Paul Hanson and first chaired by Jim Caldwell; the name, created by JoAnne Ossewarde, meant “Bellingham Rotary Auction, a VIP Occasion”.
How much money have we given? Well, one study shows over $2,480,000 donated in the years 1990-2017 alone...
The 2005-6 year included a new Bellingham Food Bank building as a major effort with the other Bellingham Rotary Clubs; in 2006-7 the Club’s Members and friends donated over $130,000 for capital improvements to the Bellingham YWCA; and the year 2007-8 included commitments of over $175,000 with the primary project a new Hospice House at $155,069.  In 2008-9 the project was a new Marine Studies lab for BTC at over $107,000.  The 2009-2010 project was a contribution of $70,500 to the new Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, while in 2010-2011 the Club contributed $101,000 to build a new Kitchen at the Boys & Girls Club building in Bellingham.  In 2011-12, the Club raised over $291,000 with over 98% participation by Members. This was added to the scholarship endowment funds at our Rotary Club of Bellingham Foundation to fund these grants in perpetuity.  The following year we undertook support of building renovations at the Brigid Collins Family Support Center raising $110,000.  In 2013-14, four projects were supported with over $103,000; these included (with approximate amounts) Rebound of Whatcom County $27,000; Sudden Valley Library $10,000; Whatcom Land Trust $35,000; and The Whatcom Rowing Association, $30,000. In 2014-15 we helped renovate The Sun House raising $105,800 followed by 2015-16 Bellingham Theatre Guild renovation of their elevator in the amount of $100,000.  In 2016-17 we donated to the renovation of Lydia Place donating $103,100.
In celebration of the Rotary Club of Bellingham’s 100th birthday, the Club’s annual Major Project for 2017-18 is to procure additional funding for the Scholarship Endowment, with a minimum goal of $400,000 to add to the $668,645 currently in the Endowment Fund (as of July 2017). Leadership gifts will be solicited first, with a general campaign to follow that will include both Club Members and non-Club Members who wish to participate. Several leadership pledges have already been received.
The Rotary Club of Bellingham has a rich history of providing scholarship funds to deserving students in Bellingham, Washington through the Club Foundation’s Scholarship Endowment Fund, plus other assets managed by the Foundation. The Foundation is currently providing 20 scholarships annually to graduates of Whatcom County high schools, and hopes to increase this number as a result of this year’s major project.
The long history of the Club stands as a testimony to the hard work of the hundreds of Members and officers who, through the years, have never forgotten the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self”.