(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles on the chartered service clubs that have given thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to various community projects and to the schools and youth organizations in countless ways since the first, the Martinez Woman’s Club, was chartered in 1911. The final article in the series. on the Martinez Lioness Club, will appear in the July issue.)
Each of the international service organizations with Martinez branches has its own unique characteristics. For the 64 year old Martinez Rotary Club, one is the group recitation at the beginning of each weekly meeting of the organization’s core principles: the Four Way Test.
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
The late Robert E. Hilson, owner of Hilson’s department store and a 44 year member of Martinez Rotary Club, always said publicly that he lived his life based on the principles of the Four Way Test – an assertion with which current members who knew him agree. And so has the Club in its selection over the years of projects, causes and activities to support in Martinez as well as around the world.
Dick Hallford, a longtime member of the local Rotary Club, explained that Rotary International, the world’s first service club, was founded in 1905 at the beginning of the Progressive Era. The turn of the 20th century was a time when it was easy to run into corruption and dishonesty in businesses and local government. “The whole purpose was that (Rotary Club founder) Paul Harris wanted to do business with people who had character and would treat people fairly,“ Hallford observed. To make sure that the network of honesty was broad, Harris developed the membership classification system later copied by other international service clubs. For many years, the membership of each local club included one member from each of dozens of classifications and sub-classifications of professions. Nowadays that requirement is more relaxed but the goal of having a variety of professions represented is still honored. The name Rotary was devised by Harris because in its early years in Chicago, the club’s meeting location rotated weekly among the various members’ offices. The second club was founded in 1908 in San Francisco where the results of massive municipal corruption before the 1906 earthquake were being confronted. Currently there are about 1.2 million members of 31,000 Rotary Clubs in 166 countries.
Martinez Rotary Club was chartered on April 14, 1944 with about 20 members led by local businessman L. Wight Lasell. Taking to heart the International’s motto, “Service Above Self,” soon it was funding scholarships at Alhambra High School, assisting with recovery efforts at Port Chicago, sponsoring Boy and Girl Scouts troops and playing a key role in the construction of the Martinez Camp Fire Building. It joined the other local service clubs in raising and contributing funds to the Municipal Swimming Pool. For many years it sponsored the Martinez Teacher of the Year award and it currently sponsors the Martinez Young Woman of the Year Award. It sponsors Alhambra High’s Grad Night, and donates to the Boys and Girls Club of Diablo Valley (formerly the Martinez Boys and Girls Club), the Martinez Education Foundation, the Martinez Regional Land Trust, the Wellness Community, and contributes and participates in Martinez First Night and Meals on Wheels among many other local projects and organizations. The Club has at various times sponsored Christmas Parties at Juvenile Hall, provided volunteer assistance to the Las Juntas School’s Junior Achievement Program and currently donates Thanksgiving dinners and food certificates to one family each year and gifts and food certificates to five families each Christmas.
A major project of the local club currently is sponsorship of the Alhambra High School Interact Club. Rotary International’s service club for youth ages 14 to 18, Interact clubs are sponsored by individual Rotary clubs which provide support and guidance but they are self-governing and self-supporting as they select and complete at least two community projects annually, one of which furthers international understanding and good will. Martinez Rotary member John Searles says the club, which meets twice monthly, select projects from the Rotary Foundation list and raise funds to support their choices. One of the Alhambra club’s most successful projects over the past 3 or 4 years has been a periodic e-waste drive which has drawn community praise. This year, The club is raising funds to donate $2000 to the Heifer Project. About 25-30 students are active members.
It is the strong tie of the local clubs such as Martinez to Rotary’s international projects that members appreciate. Describing various projects of the Rotary Foundation, Hallford says that is one of the most important things to him about the club. Established in 1917 “for doing good in the world,” some of the money raised from the contributions of $100 per year per member goes to the community and the rest to large international projects particularly in health and education. The best known currently is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative begun in 1988. Operated through Foundation funding and the volunteer efforts of Rotary members in each country, the project has helped create a 99 percent decline in the number of polio cases worldwide. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was so impressed that it recently provided a challenge grant of up to $100 million to be matched in three years by Rotary Foundation to finish the job. The Gates are so confident in Rotary’s ability to raise that amount that it has already turned over the money which will be used in the coming year.
The Martinez club not only supports huge worldwide efforts such as polio eradication but it is also encouraged to develop and carry out some sort of international medical or dental project on its own or in conjunction with neighboring clubs. Denny Horack knows local Rotarian friends who go to Mexico with medical-dental teams to perform reconstructive surgeries for children born with cleft palate and hare lip. Currently, Martinez helps sponsor LN-4, a project which provides prosthetic hands for distribution through the Rotary clubs in countries dealing with land mine issues. Local orthodontist Tom Casey and his wife have traveled to Fiji and St. Lucia to distribute the hands which are made by a Pleasant Hill Rotary Club member and assembled by volunteers from Martinez and Pleasant Hill Rotary Clubs among other nearby clubs.
It was a court decision in the late 1980s involving a southern California Rotary Club using a public building for its meetings which caused all national and international service clubs to change their practices regarding gender exclusion. Martinez Rotary and other previously male service clubs began inducting women immediately. The late Frank Bray commented on the change in a 1990 News-Gazette interview. A 36 year member at the time, Bray said “It’s been a step forward. You get different ideas…it’s a little more lively.” He noted that there was some resistance originally by members but that soon disappeared. In 1992-93, Martinez Schools Superintendent Patricia Crocker became the first woman to preside over the local club. She was the fourth superintendent to hold the office. Butch Knowles, Tom Turner and John Searles held the post previously.
Other presidents over the years include County Hospital administrative staff such as Paul Rhodes, Frank Puglisi and current president Jim Tatum. The second president was Martinez Postmaster Maurice Huguet, Sr. followed 50 years later by then Postmaster Curtis Ross. Local businessmen over the years include Robert Hilson, Ralph Downing, Hank Simonsen, Kermit Coon, Cliff Hoff, James Dean, Gene Ross, Harold Lee, Denny Horack, and Gary Hernandez among others. Contractors Victor Kaufenburg and Bruce Christensen, accountant Margaret Copenhaver, attorney Frank Bray, and former News-Gazette publisher William R. Sharkey, Jr., are some who served as president at one time or another before becoming part of the local club’s practice of ceremonial “demotion” at the end of their terms. A treasured club tradition, the “demotion” party features a theme, costumes and skits poking not so gentle fun at the outgoing leader. Realtor Gene Ross’ demotion skit in 1972 played on his years as an Air Force jet pilot while in 1999 orthodontist Tom Casey was lampooned as “King Casey” by his not so respectful vassals.
The hold of the club on local Rotarians is easily expressed by them. Hallford appreciates the fact that he can travel anywhere in the world and be greeted as a friend by a fellow Rotarian who spots his lapel pin. Horack says it is the one community activity he could never drop. Bray was one meeting short of 50 years of perfect attendance missing his last meeting only because the ambulance drivers insisted on taking him to the hospital rather than to the Rotary meeting he was dressed to attend. During his lifetime he made a practice of ‘making up’ missed Martinez club meetings by attending Rotary meetings wherever in the world he was. He attended Rotary meetings in Israel, Germany, France, England, Australia, Japan and throughout South America. Since the meetings follow the same format, he could often figure out what was going on even if he did not know the language. However, many clubs in major cities overseas make special arrangements for visiting members. In Tokyo, for example, guests sign in and note their native language and then are seated at a table with headphones for simultaneous translation. That didn’t stop him from hearing a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to a Tokyo club member singing the familiar American tune with Japanese words.
In 1990 Bray, who collected dozens of club banners for Martinez by attending meetings around the globe, summed up what Rotary meant to him saying “We’re part of the world. We want to do what we can locally but we want to influence things internationally.”