USA: Rotary Club of Plattsburgh turns 90

PLATTSBURGH — The Rotary Club of Plattsburgh is going strong in its 90th year.

The club was first recognized by the Rotary Club International Board of Directors in Chicago on March 3, 1926, sponsored for membership by the Montreal club.

“That’s a condition for any club; they need to be sponsored by a Rotary Club,” explained current Rotary Club President Kyle Brister.

20 FOUNDING MEMBERS

The club’s first president was Corydon S. Johnson, president of the First National Bank, and it started with 20 members.

“Plattsburgh is a good industrial and railroad town of about 11,000 population, and the organization of a Rotary Club in that town should be a very good factor towards the extension of Rotary in that section of the district, where there are many possibilities and very few Rotary Clubs yet,” read the District Governor’s Report that accompanied the membership application.

Other first officers were Vice President Harold A. Jerry and Secretary and Treasurer Edward H. Dow. The Board of Directors included William B. Jacques, George M. Elmendorf, Burton H. Brooks and Martin I. Traynor.

SPINOFFS

The club now has 103 members, Past President and Past District Gov. Bonnie Black said.

Roderic Giltz, who has been with the club since 1963, has the most seniority, followed closely by Bill Rowe.

The club at one time had upward of 150 members, but it has faced the same declining enrollment as many other service organizations.

Three other clubs have spun off from Plattsburgh: Rotary Club of AuSable Forks in the 1930s, Rotary Club of Plattsburgh Sunrise in 1987 and Rotary Club of Champlain-Rouses Point in 1990.

Past President Rosemary Souza Botten said they are part of District 7040, the bulk of which is in Canada. The district includes 70 clubs in Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec, Northern New York and Nunavut.

DISTRICT LEADERSHIP

During its history, Rotary Club of Plattsburgh has seen four members serve as district governor.

The first was Emmitt Roach, who was the dean at SUNY Plattsburgh. The club marked that occasion by creating a scholarship through the Plattsburgh State College Foundation.

Later came Roderic Giltz in the late 1970s, Nick Troisi in 1990 and Black herself in 2013.

In this district, only the Rotary Club of Massena has had more district governors.

“There are only one or two clubs that have had more than one,” Black said.

ROTATED MEETINGS

Rotary International, now with about 1.2 million members worldwide, was founded by Chicago-based attorney Paul P. Harris.

According to its website, he started the Rotary Club of Chicago on Feb. 23, 1905, as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.

The name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member.

The club’s first community project was to build a public restroom in downtown Chicago, Black said. The businessmen had noticed that retail sales peaked in the morning and afternoon, with a lull around lunchtime, which they reasoned resulted from women going home to use the bathroom.

They decided that if they built a public restroom, they would encourage shopping throughout the day.

“It was a business decision, but it helped women and helped the prosperity of the community as well,” Black said.

SERVICE MISSION

Community service has been a hallmark of the group ever since.

“Doing good in the world is what Rotary does,” Black said. “It is known for its humanitarian service.”

The Plattsburgh club has supported community initiatives, such as a new pavilion at what is now Rotary Centennial Park on the Old Base, the Strand Theatre renovations and the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration.

About 15 years ago, the club invested in the Clinton County Fire Safety House, in conjunction with the Clinton County Firefighters Association. The mobile demonstration unit is used to teach in-home fire safety to the region’s youths at schools and public events such as the Clinton County Fair.

“The Christmas Bureau is a big cause for us,” Brister said.

They continue to take up collections to bring gifts and cheer to nursing-home residents who might otherwise spend the holidays without a visit.

Brister said that effort was started by longtime club member Angelo LaMariana and continues as one of the ways to keep his memory alive.

FUNDRAISING

Many of the causes are supported by the fundraising drives that take place throughout the years, including the annual Rotary Fishing Tournament; Roducky Derby and the Bed Race, which take place during the Battle of Plattsburgh; and Radio Days, held in conjunction with the Sunrise Club.

During meetings, the members take up a collection for the Salvation Army and Interfaith Food Shelf.

INVOLVING YOUTH

Black said they send some high school sophomores or juniors to the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy in Lake Placid each year — a chance to interact with students from across Rotary District 7040.

“It’s a weekend long leadership training for young people,” Black said.

The club has many other smaller projects, too numerous to list.

It also sponsors the Rotaract Club at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Rotaract is an international project to get community members age 18 to 30 or college students age 18 to graduation experience with Rotary and community service.

“The idea is if they get a taste of it, they’ll become community leaders and continue with Rotary when they move into the business world,” Souza Botten said.

INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS

Black said the club reaches out to help others beyond the local community.

“We do a lot locally, but we are always looking for international projects as well,” Souza Botten said.

Together with a club in New Jersey and another in Chiquilistagua, Nicaragua, they took part in a project in 2008 to build 204 latrines for impoverished families and schools in that Central American community.

After that, they partnered with Plattsburgh Sunrise Club to provide water tanks, school furniture and educational materials for that same area.

“We know of that through the community-needs assessment provided by Mission of Hope,” Black said.

Polio eradication has been a major Rotary cause since 1985, Brister said, started in conjunction with the World Health Organization and later joined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Polio is now prevalent in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. No new cases were reported this year, Black said, so eradication may be achieved prior to the goal of 2027.

Souza Botten finds it reassuring that Rotary International audits every grant to make sure every penny is accounted for.

“You know it’s going to get used for the intended purpose,” she said.

PERSONAL GROWTH

Brister, who has been a member for 14 years, didn’t know much about the organization when he first joined.

“Over time, I got to meet some of the nicest people in the world,” he said.

He was nominated for a future role as president four years ago, making his way through the succession as sergeant-at-arms, president nominee, president-elect and then president.

“Over that time, I’ve grown quite a bit personally and professionally,” he said.

Souza Botten said she too has experienced much through involvement with Rotary.

“Everybody likes the opportunity to make a difference, and Rotary gives you a great avenue to make a difference,” she said.

One of the most satisfying was the chance to host exchange students. A young woman from Belgium stayed with her family for nine months and ended up being like the big sister her two sons never had.

“When she got married abut five years ago, my husband and I went over for the ceremony,” Souza Botten said.

The club, and the organization, offer many opportunities for professional and personal development.

Black just returned from week in Chicago, where she represented the district during a conference on Rotary’s bylaws and constitution.

It was a great opportunity to experience the viewpoints and beliefs of the different cultures that are spread across the districts, she said.

“It’s very interesting to experience that worldwide network of Rotary,” Black said.

Souza Botten said the Plattsburgh club has always had tremendous community support. Its longevity and community involvement have really made it very recognizable, so people are willing to contribute when asked.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of this community. We can make a difference because of the support they give us, the donations they give us, whether its monetary or even (fundraiser) participation.”