A big thanks to all our recent fundraising donations!
1946 club meeting
Researching our club history has been a daunting task; something we hope to complete by our 100th anniversary in 2024 and certainly nothing that is anywhere complete by April of 2022. In the research of our club’s first 45 years we, have come across such interesting background information and compelling stories that a simple list seems a disservice. As a result, this is a “living document” and will be updated as our research continues. Our club has a long tradition of developing our local park spaces and has therefore been covered in a separate panel.
The Rotary Club of Camrose chartered on March 24, 1924 with eighteen members - it was the smallest community in the district to have a club. At the time, Camrose had a population of 2,000 with many other service, religious, ethnic, and profession-related clubs. In spite of its small population, the town was considered because it was such an important railway centre with considerable jobbing and it had a reputation for progressive, alert businessmen. The first club president, RJ (Jake) Sanders, began discussion with several prospective members in 1923 about forming a club. There was enough interest for District Governor James W. Davidson to encourage the formation of a local club. Davidson was a great believer in Rotary and was the impetus behind the formation of many clubs during his lifetime.
The Rotary Club of Edmonton members who sponsored our club, under President James W. Mould, introduced their Camrose friends to the advantages of Rotary. Each of the charter members was invited to join by a member of another district Rotary Club. The charter members were Jim Atkinson, J.K. Burgess, H.P. Curttis, John Douglas, Tom Gray, Gordon Hunter, Padre Howcroft, Father Harrington, Jim Johnson, George Lowry, Dr. W. H. Murray, O.B Olson, Bill Rushton, Jake Sanders, Dave Sutherland, Dr. P.F. Smith, Dennis Twomey, and Adair Younge.
One of the early club presidents, Frank Farley, remarked that with such a small membership they were often disheartened during that first year. Fortunately, a number of real livewires joined the club during the second year and it was off and running. By 1935, the club had grown to 35 members. That number grew to more than 50 in the 1950s and more that 90 by the late 1990s.
Rotary was formed in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris and several friends and acquaintances. They were looking to develop friendships with other businessmen that came so naturally in small communities. The new club would include members, each from a different profession, who would gather for friendship and mutual cooperation. They could join only if another member vouched for them. They took turns hosting the meetings in their offices. This practice of rotating meeting locations led to the name of the club - Rotary. Rotary clubs formed in San Francisco in 1908 and New York in 1909. The first international Rotary club was formed in Winnipeg in 1910.
Those early Rotary clubs were successful in providing a broad range of friendships, but it was not enough to give them purpose and direction. They quickly added community service to their mandates. Rotary’s aims became developing friendships, serving society and enlarging international understanding.
The Rotary Club of Camrose – finding its way
The Camrose club meetings were held every Monday at noon, initially at the Arlington Hotel in downtown Camrose. As clubs grew, the tradition of rotating meetings between members’ offices had been abandoned. The members enjoyed each other’s company and an excellent series of speakers right from the beginning. A review of the speaker’s list is a microcosm of what was happening in town and beyond and where the members’ interests lay. That tradition continues today and is a great way for members to be plugged into what’s happening.
In recent years the club has sponsored some incredible speaker’s series and invited the community at large to share the experience. In 2017 the speakers included famous Alberta historical figures in celebration of Canada’s 150 birthday.
That sharing tradition is not new. The club has a history of inviting spouses, children and farmers to special meetings held in their honour. Speakers and entertainment were tailored to the guests’ interests. During WWII visitors from the Camrose Garrison (a training facility for recruits) was the norm. Anyone new to town was invited to a meeting as a welcome to Camrose. As a result, many new friendships have been forged.
Another tradition was originally designed to cover operating costs. A Sergeant at Arms would mete out fines for real or imagined offenses – the goal to have fun and raise money. That tradition has been replaced today by happy bucks. Members share something they are happy or sad about and essentially fine themselves. It’s become a great way to keep up with what is happening with members.
And who can forget the club’s sing-a-longs? The club always seemed to have a member with a strong voice and one who could play the piano. In the early years, Theo Bailey organized a Rotary choir. The club had its own songbooks and for some time, when John Howard was a member, a word smith who set any theme to a familiar tune.
As with most groups of people who enjoy each other’s company the club soon started getting together at times other than its Monday lunch meeting. Members got together to work on projects, to have a barbecue, for winter fun days, for bowling or challenging a corn maze, for “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner?” Nights, garden parties and much more.
Rotary International has many outlets for developing interests and friendships. One of those is the Rotary Friendship Exchange. It’s an international exchange program for Rotary members and friends that allows participants to take turns hosting one another in their homes and clubs. Our club members enjoyed an exchange with South Africa and Botswana in 2014 and with Australia in 2017.
Women in Rotary
For its first 64 years, the Rotary Club of Camrose was an organization of business and professional men. The wives of members were quite active and were often referred to as Rotary Anns. The term grew out of two San Francisco Rotary wives named Ann who in 1914 boarded a special train to attend a Rotary Convention. With more women in business and professions, the club was opened to women in 1988. Rotary is certainly richer and more diverse with this transition. In any given year the club is about equal in terms of male and female members. The first female club President was Vivianne Grue who took office in July 2000. Today we are all simply Rotarians.
Service Above Self
It shouldn’t be any surprise that when a group of community-minded individuals gather together they get involved in making their community a better place. During the 1924 Rotary year, the club committed to running a camp for boys at Miquelon Lake and building a community swimming pool. The boys camp was held that summer to the delight of 45 boys who spent 4 days of fun swimming, playing baseball and football, participating in track and field events, and of course, enjoying nightly campfires thanks to members Howcroft and Farley. The camp was held again in 1925.
The club built a “swimming hole” within the Calgary Power dam in 1926-27. That structure was lost in the Calgary Power 1929 reservoir project. It would not be until 1947 that a standalone swimming pool was built with the help of the whole community.
The club continued to advocate for Camrose youth and work to expand their recreation and learning opportunities. They built baseball diamonds and held bird house building competitions in the 1920s. The 1930s saw a shift to deal with the economic hardships facing many local families. The newspapers reported on business closeouts and bankruptcies, unemployed workers and suicides. Rotary was holding a kids’ day at the fair, donating to the welfare association, conducting Red Cross drives and other projects to meet community needs.
Community needs change again
With the outbreak of World War II in the 1940s the Rotary Club of Camrose shifted its focus to assisting the war effort in every way possible. This was a time of excitement as young adults eagerly signed up for military service. It was also a time of rationing and shortages in farm labour in the midst of a need to produce and share more with war-damaged Europe. It was a time of sadness as casualty lists grew. Rotarians were active in Victory Bond, Red Cross and Salvation Army drives and salvage collection efforts, and they took an active role in supporting the soldiers from the Camrose Garrison (a training camp located in the then fairgrounds and what is now Rudy Swanson Park). They also supported the sailors aboard the HMS Camrose Corvette with cigarettes and other comforts and by writing personal letters to the seamen. They assisted the community in assembling 5,000 pounds of men’s clothing for the London bombing victims.
In 1944 and 1945 the club ran a stock show to fill the void left by the Camrose Fair which was usually held on the Garrison grounds. The object was for young farmers to see what type of cattle could be successfully raised in the area and to learn more about cattle from expert producers. Rotary supported the tennis club and wading pool to provide an outlet for local children.
The war is over. Now what?
After the war ended and into the 1950s there was much to be done in our community. The club got right to work supporting the high school band by buying instruments for students who didn’t own their own. They hosted an interschool debate and a community bridge tournament. The members sponsored the Boy Scout troop that had disbanded during the war. Rotary was involved in the erection of a Scout Hall and took Scouts to camp at Sylvan Lake. They helped to organize Home and School in the community. They helped to organize a fancy skating club by paying for an instructor. They ran a Skating Carnival for two years using the funds raised to support the skaters.
Friendship exchange Australia
The club’s support of the Bethany Children’s Home near Gwynne (above) began in 1953.
At the time it was housed in a three-story ex-army barracks moved in from Wetaskiwin which served as home and school for 43 children.
Over the years the club purchased needed appliances, funded Christmas gifts and parties, and framed a new building for the home. In 1956 Rotary appealed to the Provincial Cabinet to correct the funding inequity the school suffered.
A unique program from 1951 through 1954 was to take graduating students on a trip to Edmonton. Nine Rotarians provided transportation, and the agenda for the 1953 trip gives an idea of what a special trip was in store:
A planned airplane ride over Edmonton was canceled by a government order curtailing the consumption of aviation fuel so instead, the boys watched a football practice and the girls toured the airport.
One of the club’s longest running projects began in 1957 with the formation of a local Air Cadet squadron. The air cadet motto “to learn – to serve – to advance” mirrors Rotary’s mottos “Service Above Self” and “One Profits Most Who Serves Best”. The club’s role has changed over the year’s but the commitment remains.
Celebrating 90 Years in 2014
In its 90th year of operation, the club committed to contributing $90,000 plus volunteer labour to projects in the community. The majority of those funds went to the construction of the 7,500 square foot youth centre. There were funds left over to set up a $10,000 fund to support the Reading University Program, $5,000 for Kids Campus, $4,000 and volunteer labour for the Women’s Shelter.
Click here for more about our local project.
Rotary Youth Centre
Rotary’s Commitment to Peace
Rotary and the United Nations have a shared history of working towards peace and addressing humanitarian issues around the world. Rotary was one of the organizations invited to serve as consultants in 1945 when the United Nations charter was being drafted. Today, Rotary holds the highest consultative status offered to a nongovernmental agency by the UN’s Economic and Social Council. Rotary Day at the United Nations each year celebrates the organizations’ shared vision for peace and highlights the critical humanitarian activities that Rotary and the United Nations lead around the world.
The Rotary Club of Camrose looked beyond its own community with the onset of World War II. Members could be seen raising funds for the Red Cross, collecting clothes for bombed-out Londoners, and in 1951 sending a banquet to Rotarians in Kilmarnock Scotland. The banquet fed 48 Rotary members, their wives and other invited gets and consisted of rows and rows of tins. The menu included chicken noodle soup, Maple Leaf ham and Fig Pudding. The Camrose club was delighted with the return gift of Scottish Shortbread.
With that small start, the Rotary Club of Camrose has since made an incredible difference in the world. Most of the international projects have started with one member noticing a need, sharing their passion with the club, and the “team” moving forward to address the need. The team consisted of the Rotarians with the most commitment to the project, the most relevant skills, friends of Rotary, the local Rotary Club at the project site and donors and funders to cover the financial costs.
The club informs its members about the needs in the world by inviting a wide range of speakers and by encouraging members to attend District and International Conventions. This knowledge has been passed on to the youth of our community by providing learning opportunities. In 1953, the club sponsored a student to attend the United Nations School in Banff; in 1958, a student to Ottawa for Adventures in Citizenship, as well as many other similar youth programs since.
The first reported case of Polio in Canada was in 1910. Many outbreaks and quarantines were reported in the Camrose Canadian. Cases reached their peak in Canada in 1953 with nearly nine thousand cases and five hundred deaths. The availability of Salk vaccine in 1955 and the Sabin oral vaccine in 1962 brought polio under control in Canada in the early 1970s, but Canada was not certified polio-free until 1994. In Camrose the Royal Canadian Legion took on the challenge with the 1954 opening of their polio campaign. By 1958 the Camrose Legion was working with the March of Dimes organization to fund the eradication of polio in Canada and support children having lasting impacts from the disease.
Rotary International launched PolioPlus, an initiative to eradicate polio world-wide in 1985. Through decades of commitment and work by Rotary and our partners, more than 2.5 billion children have received the oral polio vaccine. Rotary’s partners in this initiative include UNICEF, the WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and governments of the world. Rotary uses its members’ skills and passion to build awareness, fundraise, and encourage governments to donate to and support polio eradication efforts. Over one million Rotary members have volunteered their time and resources to help eradicate polio. Polio cases have been reduced by 99.9% worldwide since 1988. It is critical to eliminate polio completely to prevent its resurgence.
The Rotary Club of Camrose jumped right into the PolioPlus Campaign with a number of innovative fundraisers to support the PolioPlus campaign. One of the most memorable included an iron lung display. This machine, a medical device, was vital to the pre-vaccine fight to save Canadian children infected with the polio virus. The display raised awareness among our members and in the community at large. Since those early days, the club and its members have supported the PolioPlus campaign each year. We are this close to eliminating polio!
Unless we eradicate polio, within 10 years, as many as 200,000 new cases could occur around the world each year. In the past few years, only two countries have reported cases of polio caused by the wild virus, but no child anywhere is safe until we’ve vaccinated every child.
Iron Lung visits Camrose
Dr. Ira. William (Bill) Dunbar
Where to begin? There are so many Rotarians over the years who have worked tirelessly within our club, in our community, and in the world beyond to make our world a better place, to have more fun and fellowship and to model personal and professional best practices. Perhaps we will have some success in honouring them as we work through more details of our club history, by recognizing them in the areas in which they demonstrated a passion. Here we wish to recognize the club presidents and 3 individuals awarded by Rotary International.
Our club has had two Past Presidents who have gone on to serve as District Governors:
Dr. Ira William Dunbar and David Taylor.
Dr. Ira. William (Bill) Dunbar served as club president in the 1949 - 1950 Rotary year and as district governor in 1972 - 73. Dr. Dunbar was a dentist who grew up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and attended the University of Toronto. He took a break from his dentistry training to serve at a pilot overseas during WWI. During WWII, he served for a time in Canada as a pilot instructor. Dr. Dunbar practiced dentistry from 1921 to 1969 (with the exception of his war service years) and moved to Camrose in 1944.
Dr. Dunbar was fondly known as Bill or Doc and gave graciously of his time and services. Through Rotary he was introduced to the needs of the Bethany Children’s Home near Gwynne and offered free dental services for the children. Dr. Dunbar was also active with the Air Cadets. Both he and his wife Helen became Paul Harris Fellows, exemplifying their work with international youth projects.
On his passing, the club established an Augustana Scholarship fund in his memory for students in Biological Sciences. The endowment was funded by local dentists and the club.
David R. Taylor served as club president in the 2001 - 2002 Rotary year and as District Governor in 2007 - 2008. David came to Camrose to serve as the development officer at Camrose Lutheran College and joined our club in 1984. He was an active supporter of Rotary and other not-for-profit organizations. David was a Paul Harris Fellow, a Paul Harris Society charter member and a Rotary Foundation major donor and benefactor.
On his passing, the club established the David Taylor Service Above Self Award at Augustana Campus to be given to a student who demonstrates leadership in school or community.
Ron Grue joined rotary in 1982 and was our club president during the 1991 - 1992 Rotary year. He was awarded the Service Above Self award in 2014 by then International President Ron Burton. The award is Rotary’s highest honour and recognizes up to 150 Rotarians each year who demonstrate their commitment to helping others by volunteering their time and talents. Ron was the first Rotarian from a rural Rotary Club in the district to receive this award.
As we work to complete our club history, Ron’s name will appear many times. He is committed to the ideals of Rotary and has the skills to take on incredible projects to improve the lives of many.
Sharing the Rotary we love with others
The Rotary Club of Camrose helped grow Rotary by sponsoring a Rotary club in Wetaskiwin in 1995 and went on to sponsor the Camrose Daybreak Rotary Club in 2002.
The club worked with a group of local retired Pro(fessional) and Bus(iness) people to form a Probus Club in 1995. Its goal is to stimulate thought, interest, and participation in activities. The club meets monthly and invites interesting speakers to keep the members informed.
Rotary International has clubs for younger people too. The Rotary Club of Camrose sponsored a community Rotaract Club in 2010. Rotaract clubs bring together people ages 18 and older to exchange ideas with leaders in the community, develop leadership and professional skills, and have fun through service. That club has since folded and a new Rotaract Club is active on Augustana Campus.
For high school students, Rotary has a program called Interact. These clubs bring together young people ages 12 - 18 to develop leadership skills while discovering the power of Service Above Self. The Rotary Club of Camrose sponsored an Interact Club in 2012.