To put things in perspective, consider this: the Rotary Club of Raleigh was founded before the first transcontinental phone call was made.
North Carolina’s oldest civic club turns 100 this year, and it will celebrate its centennial Aug. 1 with an anniversary gala at the Raleigh Convention Center.
“It’s an honor for our club to have been the first [Rotary] club in the state of North Carolina,” said Mary Moss, the event’s steering committee chairwoman.
The gala will feature Gov. Pat McCrory and Rotary International President Gary C.K. Huang. In addition to the celebration, the club has sponsored several events throughout the year to mark the milestone. Members, called “Rotarians,” have donated $200,000 to the Rotary Club of Raleigh Dental Clinic, which is run by Wake Smiles. According to club historian Sam Stone, the total is “by far the most” it has ever raised.
The organization has also installed a small exhibit in the City of Raleigh Museum, with a display that connects the Rotary International to the city’s chapter. A globe hangs from the ceiling over a kiosk that allows interested visitors to begin the process of applying for membership.
“We want to bring more people into the mission of Rotary,” Moss said, which is expressed in the organization’s motto “Service Above Self.” To that end, the club is working to promote its local history. Burning Coal Theater has been commissioned to perform a play, titled “A Century of Service: Rotary in Raleigh 1914-2014,” in November. The performance will center on what it would have been like to belong to the organization in 1914 in comparison to today.
Stone is preparing a more official history. He leads a project to research and compile the story of Raleigh chapter, and says it should be published in September.
According the Moss, the centennial has inspired members to get more involved. She says members have taken pride in the prestige of the anniversary.
“I’ve worked with nonprofits for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen a committee as dedicated as this one,” she said. She said the Rotarians’ hard work is representative of the way the club is engaged in the community.
In that aspect, Stone says, the organization has come a long way since its inception.
When the Rotary Club of Raleigh met for the first time under president Manly W. Tyree a century ago, it was an exclusive gathering of community and business leaders.
“It was a status thing, it was a membership thing,” he said. “You were just a member of Rotary, and that’s where it kind of stopped.”
Nowadays he says the club has shifted its focus to community service. For decades, membership – in both the international Rotary Club and the Raleigh branch – was limited to white men of social prominence.
According to Rotary District Governor Rusine Mitchell Sinclair, the club does not keep statistics on race. The Raleigh chapter has had one African-American president, Louis Rogers III.
Today, approximately one of every five members is female. Three women have served as president of the Raleigh chapter since women were first admitted in 1987.
“Women have not taken a backseat,” Stone said. “They are leaders in our club.”
A female president, Sinclair, installed a plaque at The Hudson on Fayetteville Street, the site of the Yarborough House, commemorating the site where the club first met in 1914. Another woman, Moss, has been elected to take over as president in 2016.
Reagan Weaver, who currently serves as Raleigh Rotary’s chapter president, will preside over the gala Friday. Mayor Nancy McFarlane has proclaimed the day “Rotary Club of Raleigh Day” in the city, and more than 300 guests are expected to at the event to celebrate. The gala includes dinner, dancing, and a vignette from the commissioned play. McCrory will proclaim August 2014 “Rotary Club of Raleigh 100th Anniversary” in North Carolina.