East Chapel Hill Rotary Club History
Since January 17, 1968, East Chapel Hill Rotary Club has been one of District 7710's fastest growing clubs in membership, service and support of The Rotary Foundation. There is evidence it has led in fun and fellowship since day one.
Membership during first quarter of 2004 reached 135 and the District recognized the club twice for giving to the Rotary Foundation for 2002-03. Funds allocated to local and international service work surpassed $30,000. International projects were implemented in recent years in Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and South Africa. Local projects have ranged from support of anti-literacy programs to sponsoring two rooms at Ronald McDonald House that serves UNC Hospitals. Sponsorship of the Family House at UNC Hospitals, a home away from home for adults undergoing long term care, is the club's Centennial project.
Referred to by past district governors and visiting Rotarians as an "irreverent" club, East Chapel Hill Rotary has matched its irreverence with participation in district activities, fund raising and service projects. The "irreverent" moniker was earned by the members' strong fellowship, disdain for ceremony, deflating of pompousness among its members, and emphasis on humor at weekly meetings. The club's sergeant-at-arms has for years opened meetings with a brief invocation, introduction of visitors and humor.
In August 1967, Vic Huggins, past district governor and president of The Rotary Club of Chapel Hill, led a move to form a new Rotary club in Chapel Hill. He called on Phil Rominger, Collier Cobb III and Bill Hobbs to do the groundwork. Opposition arose and divided the senior club. A split vote at a regular meeting in October 1967 approved formation of a new club and a formal application was submitted in December 1967. Phil Rominger, who had asked most opponents individually not to oppose the new club, was the first president and is affectionately known as the "God Father" of East Chapel Hill Rotary Club. Other charter officers were Jim Heavner, vice president; Bill Anderson, secretary; George Harris, treasurer; Ed Tenney, sergeant-at-arms; and Earl Somers, Bill Hobbs, Joe Hakan and Bill Davis, directors. The club was chartered on January 17, 1968 and celebratory banquet was held February 29 at the Holiday Inn. The Research Triangle Park Club was chartered concurrently by the Chapel Hill Club. Luther H. Hodges Sr. of Chapel Hill was president of Rotary International and performed the ceremony. The two clubs held joint social and recreational outings for the first ten years of the new club's existence.
Other charter members were Charles F. Alexander, Robert N. Anderson Jr., Fred Chamblee, Richard Griffin, James R. (Bud) Harper Jr., Frank D. Horner, Dennis H. Howell, Charles Nottingham Jr., Pat Pope, Dwight Price, James L. Roberts, Donald E. Stewart and Richard R. Young Jr. Three members, Rominger, Tenney and Horner, and their wives attended the International Convention in Mexico City, May 12-16.
The club's bulletin, "The Scuttlebutt," was born May 29 1968. President Rominger provided the club motto that appeared on each printed issue: "There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." For over 30 years, Ed Lowdermilk has served as reporter and editor-in-chief.
Initial projects included a concessions stand for the town's Fourth of July celebration at Kenan Football Stadium to benefit the American Field Service, annual contributions to the Rotary cottage at Lake Waccamaw Camp for young people; and cleaning the bottom of a drained recreational Clearwater Lake for the YMCA and Boy Scouts and establishing sand beaches.
By July 1, 1969, when Jim Heavner became the second president, membership had grown from 22 to 31, and District Governor Alfred Paddison thought the club was having too much fun. Attendance and programs were good and the first installation banquet took place at the Chapel Hill County Club where regular Friday lunch meetings were held.
Elements of "irreverence" were present early. Third president Bud Harper wrote soon after his year, "Whatever may have been lacking in organization for our first two years of Rotary was more than compensated for by good times and fellowship. Our rude awakening to a lack of adherence to Rotary guidelines came early in the year however, when District Governor George Gibbs visited the club and we learned what a "club assembly" was supposed to be. Never before had committees been very active. District Governor was quite understanding until he was fined the usual $1.00 for not wearing his Rotary pin. The most outstanding club event of the year was 'The Great War' trip to Nags Head for the District 771 Annual Meeting. This represented our first major effort in participating in District affairs. The East Chapel Hill Club still labors (and relishes) under the image created at that event. The weekend trip was kicked off in fine fashion with a fantastic party planned by Mike Maxwell, Tim Smelzer, Bill Nebel and Dick Cashwell. It put everyone in a gala mood for the bus trip with Skip Moore providing excellent bar service. No one seemed to notice we had missed the District cocktail party by the time we arrived at the Carolinian Hotel at Nags Head. This weekend was truly the highlight of our year and, believe me, some of the older clubs in "771" began to take notice of this group of young upstarts." Bill Davis, fourth club president who brilliantly designed the club's banner, still in use and unchanged, recalls reaching the District Conference with everyone dressed for the beach rather than the evening's formal dinner which was starting as the club's contingent came bounding from the bus.
Dave McGowan, the club's fifth president, coined the often-repeated phrase about the club, "I don't believe this is what Paul Harris had in mind." The sentiment has been changed in recent years to, "This must have been what Paul Harris had in mind because it's working so well." McGowan also later wrote about the club, "Rotary as it was intended to be."
Golf and tennis outings were frequent; some were held with the senior Chapel Hill club.
An Interact Club at Chapel Hill High School was started in the 1972-73 year. Club members met often with the ECH Rotary Club for meals and programs.
Meeting site was moved to the Holiday Inn on July 20, 1973.
Contributions to support local high school athletic programs were made annually because sports at the University of North Carolina dominated locally and made fund raising for amenities difficult. Children of many members were acutely aware of the tight high school sports budgets. The contributions were annual until 2002.
Bus trips to UNC away football games or to Oriole Park at Camden yards for Baltimore baseball and side trips to Civil War sites were begun in 1974. A Wake Forest graduate and Club President, Bob Williams, routed the first trip to Winston-Salem to see Carolina play Wake.
The annual Wheel Toy Project, begun in 1977, has continued as one of the club's most gratifying projects. Members originally collected and repaired used bikes and tricycles. The number of man hours required became prohibitive as the need for bikes increased. The club eventually decided to buy 40 to 50 unassembled wheel toys wholesale and assemble them. The toys are given to the local Service League that distributes them through its annual Christmas House. Low-income families select toys, clothing, food and other items based on a point system for their families at Christmas. The year the project was not going to be renewed met a mighty protest from the Service League and the project continues. On the designated night in early December, club members try mightily each year to assemble the bikes before all the beer is gone.
A softball team was organized under the ECH Rotary banner and has played each year in the city recreation slow-pitch league. The bonds among team members have added to the strength of Rotary fellowship. Won and loss records were deemed irrelevant to the fun and fellowship.
Sponsorship in 1979 of Southwest Durham Rotary Club was led by Phil Rominger and Bob Williams. The formal chartering banquet was on May 17 with a large number of east Chapel Hill Rotarians attending.
Membership reached 100 in 1979 and a cap was imposed because of concerns over assimilation, maintaining strong fellowship through knowing each other. After the hiatus on membership growth for about five years and a change in 1986 to a larger meeting site, Hotel Europa, now the Sheraton of Chapel Hill, membership held level and eventually went into a slight decline. Membership dropped to 91 by 1992 before resuming its push to the 135 mark.
Hosting and leading Group Study Exchange Teams has been a priority through the years. Many visitors have stayed in members' homes. South Koreans have visited most often. Other groups have been from Tasmania, Brazil, Philippines, Australia, Japan, and Denmark, a country subjected to a GSE team with leadership from ECH Rotary.
RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) weekends have seen between two and six high school students sponsored by ECH Rotary every year.
Polio Plus has received over $40,000 from the club. There are over 55 Paul Harris Fellows in the club. Thirteen have contributed personally and directly to the Rotary Foundation; the club has designated the remainder.
Fund raising events were sporadic until 1995. A major event has been held each year since, alternating between musical concerts, golf tournaments and a raffle. "King Mackerel and the Blues Are Running," featuring the Coastal Cohorts, was presented March 23, 1995 in Chapel Hill High School auditorium. Other concerts have been by Mike Cross and the Red Clay Ramblers. Golf tournaments have been held at Finley Golf Course, the Chapel Hill Country Club and the Governors Club. Sponsorships by local businesses have insured the financial success of the events that have raised between $10,000 and $26,000 per year. For the concerts, club members could use, sell or give away the five tickets for which they were responsible.
Approximately $10,000 has been sent to Rotary clubs in eastern North Carolina to administer in relief of victims of Hurricanes Floyd and Isabel.
A scholarship fund directed toward high school graduates who are not college-bound, but need funds for vocational training, was begun recently.
Fellowship and social activities have provided a great deal of the appeal of club membership. The annual Christmas Party with live band has grown into a stellar event with almost half the men wearing formal attire. Special programs for spouses have been consistent. Watching away Carolina sports events on television over food and beverages at various locations has been a catalyst for fun and improving acquaintances and friendships. Each August since 1997, children, partners and friends of club members have occupied the left field foul line picnic area at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham. Proof that the food and fellowship was good came one year when only four of 85 people attending knew the final score of the baseball game.
Other strengths have been excellent programs, drawing on the close proximity of university, government and professional communities as well as club members. Charter members still active are Jim Heavner and Bill Davis.