On Tuesday, Feb 6th, 2024, the Rotary Club of Westfield hosted Past District Governor Dr. D. Michael Hart who told the story of how Rotary started.

Paul Harris as a young lawyer, started the first Rotary club in Chicago in 1905 with three other business colleagues. Since they rotated the meeting place between their offices, they decided to call themselves the Rotary Club.

At that time, the United States did not have federal protections for consumers. The free market operated as “Caveat Emptor”, which is Latin for “Let the Buyer Beware”. If you bought a bad product, you could not return it or get a refund. It was hard to decide which business people you could trust. Paul Harris decided that the club would consist of one ethical, trustworthy person from each profession: one lawyer, one butcher, one coal vendor, etc. The club would have an ethical code. He focused on the owner or head manager of each business. It became very prestigious to be invited to join the Rotary Club. This was a group of highly ethical business people you could trust.

The autobiography of how Paul Harris started Rotary is detailed in his book “My Road to Rotary” published in 1945.

Paul was raised by his grandparents in Vermont, and graduated with his Law degree in 1891. However, for the next five years, he traveled the world and worked odd jobs: for a newspaper, as a salesman, a reporter, on fruit farms, as an actor, a cowboy, and on cattle ships that traveled to Europe. He stayed in peoples’ houses all over the United States and all over the world, and made friends everywhere he went. He settled down after his “five-year folly” and started his law practice in Chicago in 1896.

Since Paul Harris had traveled extensively for 5 years, and made friends all over the world, he stated writing to his friends about this concept of starting a highly ethical club of business leaders. Rotary clubs started springing up all over the world. Paul and his wife traveled extensively to help the clubs become established. By 1946 there were 5,700 clubs worldwide, and they held their International Convention in Atlantic City, NJ.

Rotary International currently has 1.4 million business men and women members in 46,000 clubs in over 200 countries around the world.

Famous Rotarians include: astronaut Neil Armstrong; Winston Churchill; Walt Disney; Gerald Ford; Pope Francis; JFK; FDR; inventor Thomas Edison; World Champion Boxer Manny Pacquiao; J.C. Penny; Colonel Sanders; founder of Wal -Mart Sam Walton; and inventor of the airplane Orville Wright.

The Rotary Club of Westfield is holding their annual fundraiser for scholarships called Breakfast with the Bands on Saturday, March 2nd from 9 am to noon, at the Westfield High School cafeteria. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Last year the Rotary Club of Westfield Foundation awarded $117,000 in college scholarships and $29,978 in community grants. Recently, the Women’s Club of Westfield ceased operations, and turned their assets over to the Westfield Rotary Club Foundation to continue their legacy, which will add another $30,000 in annual scholarships for women students, and an additional $9,500 in community grants. Since 1967, Westfield Rotary has awarded $3.5 million in scholarships to 1800 students. Scholarship applications for Westfield students are available through the Westfield High School guidance department.

The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first three Tuesdays of each month for lunch at noon, at Limani Seafood Grill on North Ave. Guests are always welcome. For information check out the website www.westfieldrotary.com  or contact club secretary Dr. D. Michael Hart by email at drmhart@yahoo.com

Photo: Left to right: Rotary Club President Barbara Frantz, Esq, Speaker Past District Governor Dr. D. Michael Hart