Rotary Club of Fort Wayne:
Celebrating 100 years of service
 
In 2015, the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne will begin celebrating its Centennial Year. Milestones such as this beckon us to examine our past to better understand our heritage and how we evolved to be the Club we are today.
 
Shortly after Paul Harris and a handful of friends established the Rotary Club in Chicago in 1905, Harris became evangelical in his zeal to establish Rotary clubs throughout America, and soon, around the world. That ardor ignited the Rotary quest in Fort Wayne, as well.
 
Sponsored by the Toledo, Ohio, Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne was established in 1915 when 35 men gathered January 9 for the first meeting at the old Commercial Club Building on Harrison Street.  
 
Our Club was blessed with two strong, visionary leaders: Martin Luecke, first Club president, and Frank Bohn, who led the charge to begin the Club and served as its first secretary-treasurer.
 
In their 75 years of Service booklet, authors Ersel and John Walley described a powerhouse of activity in the Club’s early years. The Club sponsored Fort Wayne’s first public swimming pool in Lawton Park, served as a booster club for Fort Wayne’s entry in the Central Baseball League, assumed a leadership role in routing the Lincoln Highway through Fort Wayne, and, in general, “Acted as a clearinghouse and sponsoring organization for most every worthwhile civic project.” The local newspaper even carried a special Rotary Section!
 
Since those busy early days, our Club has been instrumental in the founding of the Irene Byron Tuberculosis Sanitarium, sponsored a Boy Scout Troop at the former County Home, established and has maintained a robust Rotary Youth Exchange program, and held large annual banquets in the ‘50s and ‘60s for international students and other “internationals” living in Fort Wayne.
 
In the mid 1980s, when Rotary International declared its “STOP POLIO NOW” quest to eradicate polio, the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne launched a $100,000 campaign to support the effort. The club met the goal within 90 days—with a 5 percent bonus!
 
In 2004, our Club launched a Signature Project and adopted Washington Elementary School in downtown Fort Wayne—an endeavor that continues today. In 2005, in honor of Rotary International’s 100th anniversary, our Club established and still maintains the “Circle of Hope” and “Avenue of Trees” in the Headwaters Park area. In addition to those special projects, the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne maintains several ongoing youth-based projects that include sponsoring the annual High School Speech Contest, awarding the annual Cleo Fox Music Scholarship, hosting and sponsoring Rotary Youth Exchange students, holding an annual “World Affairs Conference” for area high schools, and participating in the Rotary Youth Leadership Award weekend.
 
Today, our Club is in the midst of one of our most ambitious projects as we honor our Centennial Year. The Local Service Committee hopes to install 100 Little Free Libraries in greater Fort Wayne. The International Service Committee is coordinating the funding and building of a new middle school in the Village of Gléi in Togo, West Africa. And our Club as a whole is nearing the $200,000 pledge amount to fund the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne Centennial Tower, set to rise in downtown Fort Wayne in the fall of 2015.
 
We have much to be proud of … and much work to do to make this Centennial Year a worthy commemoration of service and celebration that honors our founders and their shared code of “Service Above Self.”
 
Happy Birthday and thanks to all who are making this year worthy of celebrating a century of service in Fort Wayne!
 
Barb Wachtman