When asked “What is Rotary?” most persons would say that Rotary is a “service club.” To say that Rotary is a service club isn’t enough. Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. In more than 160 countries worldwide, approximately 1.2 million Rotarians belong to more than 30,000 Rotary clubs. We LOVE it.
By deliberate design, Rotary club membership represents a cross-section of the community’s business and professional men and women. The world’s Rotary clubs meet weekly and are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds.
Although Rotary clubs develop autonomous service programs, all Rotarians worldwide are united in a campaign for the global eradication of polio. In the 1980s, Rotarians raised US$240 million to immunize the children of the world; by 2005, Rotary’s centenary year and the target date for the certification of a polio-free world, the PolioPlus program will have contributed US$500 million to this cause. In addition, Rotary has provided an army of volunteers to promote and assist at national immunization days in polio-endemic countries around the world.
The first Rotary Club was formed when attorney Paul Harris called together a meeting of three business acquaintances in downtown Chicago, at Harris’ friend Gustave Loehr’s office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street on February 23, 1905. In addition to Harris and Loehr (a mining engineer and freemason), Silvester Schiele (a coal merchant), and Hiram Shorey (a tailor) were the other two who attended this first meeting. The members chose the name Rotary because initially they rotated subsequent weekly club meetings to each other’s offices, although within a year, the Chicago club became so large it became necessary to adopt the now-common practice of a regular meeting place.
Each Rotary Club member is “loaned” a classification “which covers the principal and recognized activity of the firm, company or institution with which he is connected, or if he be independently engaged in a business or profession, his classification shall be that which covers his principal and recognized business or professional activity” (Article V Section 2(b) Rotary Club standard constitution).
With its somewhat unique classification system and the requirement that Rotary Club members be executive level people, Rotary probably represents the world’s largest consortium of management level and professional people.