The Rotary Club as an organization was first established in 1905 in Chicago, Ill., but it would be 32 years before Manchester developed their club. "At that point in time it was a men's organization and it was made up of business owners basically," said Andy Shaw who has been a member of the club for more than 25 years. "That's one major change - is that it is now open to men and women,"following a Court ruling by a court in California 1n 1988.
The Manchester Rotary Club first started in 1937 it was made up of business owners. In April of 1938, realizing that one of the club's aims was to better the community, the Rotary Club invited 55 people to a meeting to discuss improvements to the town's business conditions. That meeting led to the creation of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, according to a history of the club compiled by Shaw.
In 1941 the Manchester Rotary Club, through a donation by Ethel Pew funded the construction of a swimming pool in the Dyer meadow - the property where Manchester Elementary Middle School is located. The pool became a focus of the club as they formed a a corporation - Rotary Swimming Pool Inc. - to operate it, according to the history. The operation of the pool continued for over 30 years until the pool at the parks and recreation department was
One of the early members of the club - and the one responsible for documenting much of their early history - was G. Stewart Bennett who joined the club in 1940. Bennett - who was the owner and publisher of The Manchester Journal - published a regular newsletter known as The Rotary Record. Along the way, the community events supported by the club has shifted. According to current president of the Rotary Club, John Conlon, the club used to be one of the biggest sponsors of the Manchester Car Show in previous years. They also used to be responsible for the Fourth of July fireworks display at the Manchester Parks and Recreation Department.
Today, there are other fund-raisers the Rotary Club has become involved in.
"Right now what we're focused on ... is the bike climb up Mount Equinox (Mt. Equinox Bike Climb), which is probably our biggest fund-raiser,"said Conlon. "More recently we started up what's called March Money Madness, which is a reverse raffle where basically you keep drawing names to elimate people until you get down to a winner."
The Mt. Equinox Bike Climb is a fund-raiser to benefit Lyme Disease research and began in August of 2004. The second March Money Madness was held this past March, the winner of which receives $10,000.
While the events that the Rotary Club is involved with varies from year to year, the club continues to support the parks and rec deparment.
"We were able to provide a lot of support to the rec area,"said Shaw. "Over the years Rotary has had a lot to do with things over there. That's been one of our major beneficiaries."
In 2005, the Manchester Rotary Club also provided the scoreboard for Applejack Field, which, at the time, had just been created at the rec park. The Manchester Rotary Club also historically has an association with the little league. Also, Conlon said they also work indirectly and directly with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels, among others.
The club also gives out $1,000 scholarships every year to two graduating high school seniors. Shaw said the scholarships are for four years and the students receive the money as long as they stay in school for that duration. According to Conlon, the scholarships are not only based on academic performance, but are also awarded based on community involvement and financial need.
On an International level, one of Rotary's aims - which began in 1985 - was to eradicate Polio worldwide by immunizing children throughout the world. Shaw said that Rotary International has probably spent more than $500 million towards immunizing children against polio.
While they are involved with a number of organizations, Conlon said the Rotary Club can longer participate in as many events because there has been a decline in membership over the past several years. The club currently has 21 members and according to Conlon senior members - some of whom aren't around year round - represent a large contingent of that number. Conlon said not only have their numbers been declining, but the average age of members is increasing. In addition, the club is also having difficulty finding new members, Conlon said.
Despite it's difficulties with membership, Conlon said the club remains involved in the community.
"We still have a very active club," Conlon said. "Even the senior actives, they all participate in the club activities. They help out with the bike race, March Money Madness, [they are] regular attendees at lunch when there is an event going on I'd say we have very close to 100 percent participation in terms of a fund-raising event if not 100 percent."