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Service Above Self — 75 and Counting

Rotary Club Celebrates A Milestone.

There was a lot of pride, emotion and kudos for the Rotarians and guests as they gathered to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Alexandria Rotary Club.

What started out with 15 members is now the largest club in Northern Virginia and Rotary International's 7610 District, with 145 on the roster. But it took seven years’ gestation before birth.

Thomas Field Sr., chairman, Historical Committee, and Gant Redmon noted the club's long formation period during a powerpoint presentation titled "Celebrating 75 Years: Going Down Memory Lane" to the 150 Rotarians and guests assembled at the Belle Haven Country Club Saturday night. Although Rotary International encouraged an Alexandria club in June 1921, it took until March 15,1928, to be officially inaugurated, they explained.

It was then that Alexandria business and community leaders James Armstrong, Taylor Burke, Herbert Cross, H.A. DeButts, Frederick Goodnow, Nelson Gray, Hal Latane, Robert May, Lawrence Rowland, Marshall Shuman, Vernon Slaughter, W.E. Swan, Ed Sweeley, Alfred Thompson and William Wools united to form the new club.

One of the stumbling blocks faced by the group was that the Washington, D.C., and Fredericksburg, Va., clubs refused to sponsor an Alexandria club. In July 1927, Rotary's district governor appointed J. Donald Richards of the Warrenton, Va., club as his special representative to form the local organization. In December of that year, the district governor reported to Rotary International that Alexandria was a "go" for chartering, with Warrenton as its sponsor.

Seventy-five years later — Feb. 25, 2003 — Alexandria City Council proclaimed March 2003 as "Rotary Club of Alexandria 75th Anniversary Month." It is one of 31,000 clubs in 163 countries.

KICKING OFF THE evening's events, Alexandria mayor Kerry Donley read that proclamation, which noted, "We can measure a community in a number of ways, and our service clubs are a measure of how citizens become involved. Rotarians do this better than anyone."

U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., was guest speaker. He acknowledged both his father and brother had been Rotarians and he had visited the club with his father as a young naval officer home on leave. "I challenge this club to invite those in uniform now to the club," he said. "Each of us bears a responsibility for the young people in the military today."

WARNER REVEALED that last week he had been in Afghanistan and Kuwait and "looked into the faces of those young military personnel. It reminded me of myself at 17 when I was scheduled to be part of the invasion of Japan.

"I didn't have to become part of that invasion because of the decision by President Truman to use a weapon of mass destruction. Now the situation is reversed, and the weapons are chemical and biological."

Warner insisted that the United States "does not have any chemical or biological weapons in its entire military inventory." They have been disposed of over the years, Warner emphasized.

As part of the historical review, the club's involvement in such civic endeavors as Alexandria Little Major League Baseball, job fairs at T.C. Williams High School, contributing to the funding of Inova Alexandria Hospital's Cancer Center, and ringing the bells for the Salvation Army during the holiday season, was highlighted.

"We try to be involved in service organizations because they are so helpful to us. This club raised $8,000 this past Christmas ringing the bells," said Salvation Army’s Maj. William Hurula, Financial Section, National Headquarters, and a member of the Alexandria club. "There are so many people who provide services we need."

ANOTHER HIGH POINT of the festivities was the presentation of awards and recognitions by club president Patrick O'Brien. He started with the Paul Harris Fellows, named for the founder of Rotary in 1905, which is awarded to those who contribute $1,000 or more to the Rotary International Foundation.

"The foundation distributed more than $59 million in humanitarian and educational grants throughout the U.S. and world last year," O'Brien said. Those named Saturday night and presented with a medallion of recognition were Jeff Weaver and Robert Vincent.

Next came the Rotarian of the Year Award. For only the second time in the club's history, there were two recipients — Gayle Spurr and Robert Vincent. Spurr serves as public relations director for the club and has directed its holiday gifts-for-the-elderly program. O'Brien attributed her with gaining more publicity for the club than had ever been achieved.

Vincent was recognized for his efforts in raising funds for a chemical analyzer for the hospital in Ogre, Latvia, and a grant to bring two doctors from that hospital to spend two weeks on an educational visit to Inova Alexandria Hospital.

Stephen Gresham was named Distinguished Rotarian, which honors a member who exemplifies the spirit and ideals of Rotary's motto "Service above Self" for a minimum of five years. Gresham is "a third-generation Rotarian, a past president ... an extraordinary fund-raiser and ... next year ... has accepted the role of assistant district governor," O'Brien said.

THE FINAL AWARD of the evening went to Jack Bogle. Called the "Four Avenues of Service Award," it is bestowed by the president of Rotary International, according to O'Brien. The four avenues are club, vocational, community and international service.

"Jack has served in all (club) leadership positions ... He has supported ... the RI Polio Plus Campaign (dedicated to eradicating polio worldwide by 2005) and joins his fellow Rotarians on local street corners each December to ring the bell for the Salvation Army," O'Brien acknowledged.

A special tribute was made to an organization that served the club from 1938-95, known as the "Inner Wheel." Before women were admitted to membership in Rotary, the Inner Wheel, composed of wives of Rotarians, served as both a social and community-oriented organization geared to providing support to the club's objectives and its members, according to the program.

It has been disbanded because women are now active members of Rotary International and all local clubs. Sandy Duckworth, district governor of Northern Virginia, District 7610, exemplified that fact when she presented O'Brien with a certificate from Rotary International recognizing Alexandria's 75th Anniversary.