An April Birthday for Rotary’s Founder

12415284058?profile=RESIZE_400xApril 19th marks the 156th anniversary of the birth of Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary. Born in Racine, WI, he moved to Vermont at age three to live with his paternal grandparents. He attended college at Princeton University and received a law degree from the University of Iowa in 1891, but did not practice his profession right away, instead working a series of odd jobs.  

In 1896 Harris opened a law office in Chicago’s main business district. There, he began to consider the benefits of forming a social organization for local professionals.  He found he was able to make “acquaintances, but not real friends” and wondered if others in the city had the same thoughts and if they, too, were searching for fellowship12415285065?profile=RESIZE_400x

Inviting three clients and local businessmen to join him, Harris organized the first Rotary club meeting "in fellowship and friendship" on Feb. 23, 1905. “I laid before them a very simple plan of mutual cooperation and informal friendship,” he later said.  “They agreed to my plan.”  The name Rotary was chosen because meeting sites were to be rotated among the members’ officesThe date of that first meeting would later be designated World Understanding and Peace Day.

Although their initial goal was to engage socially, Harris soon realized that Rotary members needed a greater purpose. The original club Constitution of 1906 had three objects: promotion of business interests, promotion of good fellowship and advancement of the best interests of the community. This third object – bettering community interests – would in time become the Rotary creed of “Service Above Self.”  

From its humble beginnings, the Rotary idea steadily grew. By 1910 there were 16 clubscreating an organization called the National Association of Rotary Clubs. Fittingly enough, Paul Harris was selected as its first president and served two years. The movement soon spread beyond the U.S. Today – as Rotary International – it reigns as one of the largest service organizations in the world, with over 46,000 clubs and a global membership of nearly 1.4 million men and women.

In 1947, upon the death of Paul Harris, memorial gifts poured into the nonprofit Rotary Foundation in his honor.  To cement the founder’s legacy, in 1957 the concept of Paul Harris Fellow recognition was proposed for Foundation contributors.  Those making a $1,000 donation – either once or multiple times – are designated Paul Harris Fellows and receive a distinctive medallion, lapel pin and attractive certificate signifying their financial commitment for RotaryInternational’s peace, education and humanitarian work.  Currently there are over 1,500,000 Paul Harris Fellows worldwide.  

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