History of Muscatine Rotary Club

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"Excerpts" from " The History of the Muscatine Rotary Club"
by John Stevens, Muscatine Rotary Club Historian

In 1919 there were 758 Rotary Clubs in the U.S., of which 29 were in Iowa. Rotary International had appointed a five man committee with Fred O. Block as its chairman to establish a Rotary Club in Muscatine. The original plan to organize a Rotary Club in Muscatine had been delayed because of the war.

January 2, 1920, Fred's invitations were mailed, with a 2 cent stamp, to a select group of Muscatine's leading business and professional men, inviting them to meet at the Hotel Muscatine for a "dutch treat" lunch on Monday, January 5, 1920, to explore the formation of a Rotary Club.

With 25 members, a permanent organizational meeting was held the following Monday at the Hotel Muscatine at which time the following officers and directors were elected: Fred O. Block, President; James L. Giesler, Vice President; J. M. Bechtold, Secretary; Emil Webbles, Treasurer; and A. J. Magnus, Dr. A.A. Petersen and Edward A. Roach Directors.

The newly formed club received its charter dated February 1, 1920, at a six course banquet, at the Geneva Golf & Country Club, served by the women of the First Baptist Church. Rotarians from seven Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska clubs were in attendance to induct the new club and its members into Rotary.

In addition to Muscatine's Ziegler Orchestra, the entertainment included Davenport's fifty member Boy Scout Band and a number of solos, including Muscatine's Cliff Hakes. In an era in which we annually recognized our nation's greatest leaders and in keeping with the date, The Reverend Webster Hakes spoke on the life of Abraham Lincoln as exemplifying the eleven principles of the Rotary Code of Ethics. The Davenport Club had a song for each humorous incident occurring during the course of the evening. But the festive occasion was not without tragedy, a charter member, Dr. A. A. Petersen, had passed away before he could be officially inducted into Rotary.

"He Profits Most Who Serves Best" was the motto of Rotary. New members were required to memorize the eleven principles of the Rotary Code of Ethics. Because singing played a significant role at each meeting, all Rotarians were required to sing a solo on their initiation to prove their ability to become a Rotarian.

"What can the Rotary Club do for Muscatine?" was the original challenge discussed by the 25 members of the club.

During its first year, the Club sponsored two public concerts by the Tri-City Symphony; sponsored the Boys' Work Program at the YMCA; aided in the financing and organization of the Boy Scout movement in Muscatine; actively lobbied for the adoption of traffic ordinances in Muscatine; raised the funds to place the names of deceased veterans on a war memorial at the Courthouse; sought the establishment of a tuberculosis sanitarium for Muscatine County; encouraged and helped fund better care for the graves in Greenwood Cemetery; financially supported the Day Nursery; and, to secure a substantially healthier quality of milk for Muscatine children, was the prime mover in the adoption of a city ordinance requiring tuberculin testing for all milk sold in Muscatine. The Club was divided into two teams to raise funds for the YWCA building fund drive. The losers hosted a dinner.

In the second year, the club adopted a practice of presenting a birthday rose to its members and held a joint excursion with the newly formed Lion's Club on the Steamer "Washington." Projects included circus tickets for needy children and the children at the Lutheran Orphans' Home; donating funds to install and maintain a hospital bed for needy children at Hershey Hospital; aid for needy families at Christmas; the club again sponsored public concerts by the Tri-City Symphony; and continued to sponsor the Boy's Work Program at the YMCA.

In addition to its dedication to community service and singing, the club placed a premium on having just good old fashioned fun. Lee P. Loomis, publisher of the Muscatine Journal and News Tribune, joined the club and with his keen and dry sense of humor, began writing comedy skits for the entertainment of the club. From its inception, the club enjoyed elaborate hoaxes.

Early in 1922, the club conducted a series of programs and again discussed "What Rotary can do for Muscatine." Within a few weeks, a "Rotary Cottage" was proposed by Rotarians Ralph Stafford and Will Downer as a summer camp site for the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, local churches, schools and similar organizations. The club enthusiastically adopted the proposal and voted to produce and to commit the proceeds of annual Frolics to the project. Will Downer and Charlie Young surveyed sites and studied plans, and the cottage became a two story lodge.

Also in 1922, as another youth project, the club sponsored and outfitted a 50 piece Rotary Boy's Band under the direction of Muscatine's Music Man, Elmer Zeigler.

President Lee Loomis wrote and produced a highly successful all male variety show, "All Over Nothing at All", that had a two night full house run at the Grand Opera House in February, 1923.

Additional funding for the Rotary Lodge was secured by thirty members signing a series of joint promissory notes.

Work on the Rotary Lodge began in May, 1923 by Rotarian's giving a day or more of their time to cut logs and haul them to a portable mill to be sawed into 25,000 board feet of lumber. With professional help and under the supervision of Charlie Young, the Rotarians constructed the two story lodge and an ice house. Construction was completed in the fall of 1923. The lake was stocked with fish. Tennis courts and ball diamonds were laid out, boats and other recreational equipment was provided. In the dead of winter, ice was cut and with an adequate supply of sawdust, stored in the ice house.

Muscatine received the Rotary Wheel emblem, which we use today, on October 8, 1923 from Mt. Pleasant, and a week later, passed the wheel to Davenport.

Rotary's District Governor in 1923-24 , was Carl Weeks, a very wealthy manufacturer of cosmetics, who was in the process of building Salisbury House, a fabulous and unique medieval manor house (with plumbing) in Des Moines, Iowa. Carl invited each of Iowa's Rotary Clubs to contribute a stone, or a brick, to the Rotary room in the house. Muscatine's stone is unique. It is the only stone with the name of the donating club and the date.

In February 1924, Lee Loomis wrote and the club staged its second Frolic, "Rags and Tatters"' with all 70 members participating. The show was again a two night full house sell out of the Grand Opera House and paid off the joint notes before the Lodge opened in May. Lee moved on to become the publisher of the Mason City Globe Gazette and later President of Lee Syndicate.

In its first year, Rotary Lodge was used on 28 separate occasions by various organizations and became Muscatine's summer time community recreational center.

Between July 1929 and July 1930, before the advent of high school marching bands, the Rotary Boys' Band made 57 public appearances from concerts in Weed Park to football and basketball games, parades, moonlight excursions and Rotary Conventions. The band continued well into the 1930's appearing at such events as Iowa-Drake basketball games and made significant out of state appearances, including the Chicago World's Fair. Muscatine's Rotary Boys' Band placed both Muscatine and Rotary on the map and provided many Muscatine boys with an excellent education in music.

For a period of two generations, Rotary Lodge played a significant role in the life of almost every child growing up in Muscatine. Eventually the Y's, Scouts, and the churches, built their own camps and no longer scheduled camps and outings at Rotary Lodge. In the late 1950's the "Lodge" was sold, and the new owners, continued to sponsor the lodge for community use for another ten years before it burned to the ground.

From its inception, the Rotary Club of Muscatine has given education a high priority in our community. In 1958, believing that we placed far too much emphasis on athletics, Marv Krieger organized the first three point high school senior scholarship dinner and the tradition continues today.

To further encourage advanced education by Muscatine High School students, the Rotary Club of Muscatine has for many years offered two or more scholarships for graduates of Muscatine High School to attend Muscatine Community College. The scholarships are awarded at the three point high school seniors' banquet.

The club's interest in community health care has continued throughout the years and in 1966, the club purchased a cardiac monitor and a defibrillator for Muscatine General Hospital. Subsequently, in the 70's Rotary donated funds to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to purchase a mobile office trailer for use in the Muscatine Coronary Risk Factor testing program conducted by the University Hospital.

In 1969, the Rotary Club of Muscatine hosted its first Rotary Exchange Student. Carol Lovell-Shippey from Durban, South Africa became our first exchange student. Ann Bublitz, was the first Muscatine Youth Exchange Student to go abroad in the summer of 1970. Ann completed her senior year of high school in Whakatane, North Island, New Zealand and returned to obtain her Bachelor's Degree from Iowa State. Ann went on to receive her Ph.D. from Harvard.
Today, we are one of District 6000's most active clubs in the Rotary Exchange Student Program.
In 1969 the Rotary Club of Muscatine decided to celebrate it's 50th Anniversary in 1970 by adopting a project to fund an ICU ward at Muscatine General Hospital. The club successfully raised the necessary funds before the hospital was ready to install the equipment.

In 1970 at our 50th anniversary of Rotary in Muscatine, the club members and their Rotary Anns hosted a banquet with all of the district officers and the presidents of all of the clubs in the district and their Rotary Anns as our guests. We were truly honored to have Dr. J. P. Duminy, the First Vice President of Rotary International, and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Capetown, South Africa, as our guest speaker. The banquet was a great success and the highlight of our 50th anniversary year.

In the 1970's Washington DC beltway scribes, pundits and "think tankers" referred to the Middle West as "fly over country". As a Rotary International Service Project through the 1970's and into the 80's, and to educate embassy wives that there is more to America than Washington, New York and San Francisco, our club sponsored very successful biennial "Embassy Wives" programs. Georgia Mollenhoff, an Iowan, would select the wives of embassy officials in Washington, and bring them to Muscatine to live in our homes, visit our schools, government offices, hospitals and museums; and to tour our businesses, industries and farms. Before returning to the beltway environment, each visitor was asked to present a short program on her country at our annual Ladies' Night Banquet.

As a result of our "Embassy Wives" programs, we met and entertained many lovely and charming ladies from all continents (except Antarctica} and thanks to Georgia, hopefully the Midwest, and particularly Muscatine, today, is not unknown in such distant and mysterious cities as Katmandu.

Another milestone in our 50th anniversary year was the design of a unique Rotary Banner for Muscatine - a "steamboat".

Muscatine Rotary has hosted Rotary Group Study Exchange visitors from Norway, Australia, Nigeria, the Philippines and India.

Beginning in 1986, Rotary financed the purchase of flowering crab trees at greatly reduced prices to encourage the citizens of Muscatine to make our city a more beautiful place to live.

In 1987, Muscatine Rotary abandoned its male chauvinist posture and (God forbid} admitted women to our club. Fortunately, for the longevity and future success of our club, the move was not a coup de grace. The first women inducted into our club on August 27 were: Karen Diercks, Cynthia Maeglin, Janyce Myers, Kaye Petersen, Sarah Simpson and Bev White.

In 1988 Rotary International committed itself to the eradication of Polio by the year 2000. Under the leadership of former president Herb Wilson, 154 members of the Rotary Club of Muscatine contributed over $190,000 towards Rotary Foundation's Polioplus Program, a record of which we can be justly proud. Herb continues to be an active advocate of Rotary Foundation programs from Coralville.

To build a firm foundation for the staging of river front concerts, in 1989 Rotary financed a raised concrete platform at the upper end of River front park. Indignity of indignities, the city buried the concrete platform and our plaque under 20 feet of sludge. Like an ancient Egyptian monument buried beneath the sands of time, our platform and plaque have been excavated to again see the light of day and become available for summertime entertainment on the river front.

In 1990, E. H. Breckenfelder, one of our past presidents, was elected the last District Governor of District 600. In 1991, Governor Breck and the Rotary Club of Muscatine, under the chairmanship of Don Johnson hosted District 600's last conference, a most successful and gala affair that will long be remembered as "one of the best conferences ever!" Due to Rotary's world-wide expansion, we have now exploded to District 6000.

Rotary's first project in Muscatine in 1920 was the sponsorship of two public concerts to bring the Tri-City Symphony to Muscatine. In the tradition of our past, Rotary spearheaded bringing the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, by Mississippi river barge, to Muscatine for public concerts on the river front in the summer of 1994.

Also in 1994, reminiscent of our earliest concerns for the health of Muscatine children, in a joint venture with Kiwanis and Community Medical Services, Rotary provided free multiple immunization shots to children, including polio shots, as a part of a state-wide program to eradicate major childhood diseases.

To celebrate our 75th anniversary, under the leadership of President Bob Sheets, we invited the Rotary Clubs of Atlantic, Fairfield, Ft. Madison and Oskaloosa, who also received their Rotary charters in 1920, to join us in a banquet and dinner dance at the Holiday Inn, with Bill Ives, a past director of Rotary International, as our keynote speaker. Bob's goal of enrolling 75 sustaining Paul Harris Fellows in our 75th year was reached and exceeded. President Bob also initiated an annual award to recognize a Muscatine citizen who exemplifies the Rotary Spirit of "Service above self" to the community.

In July of 1996, Cynthia Maeglin received the gavel from President Bob Sheets to become the first female to preside over the Rotary Club of Muscatine.

From 25 charter members on January 12, 1920, we have become a club of 156 members. In total over 750 men, and now women, have been members of the Rotary Club of Muscatine.

Rotary, Muscatine's oldest service club, the club that pioneered summer youth camps, youth bands and youth activities in Muscatine; the club that from its founding has emphasized and recognized education and scholarship; the club that has entertained the community and brought it fine music; the club that financed the ICU ward at Muscatine General Hospital; and the club that has promoted not only community health care, but worldwide eradication of polio, survives and is alive and well in the 21st Century.