Whenever I’m traveling, I like to see how a city welcomes its visitors. Some simply spell it out: “Welcome To…” Others note an historical fact about their community or someone famous born there. Often among those signs is one bearing the image of a wheel, the international emblem for the Rotary Club. You’ll see one of those Rotary signs as you enter our city, where the Fulton Noon Rotary Club has been welcoming its members for 100 years.
Rotary started in Chicago, when, in 1905, Paul P. Harris invited three business acquaintances to discuss an idea he had. Harris wanted to meet regularly with other community members to encourage and foster the idea of service as a worthy goal. The members chose the name Rotary because initially they rotated weekly meetings at each other’s offices. When the number of participants outgrew office space, Rotarians moved to local restaurants for lunch and conversation.
Those at the first Chicago meetings included Montague Bear, an engraver who sketched the club’s emblem as a 13-spoked wagon wheel with gears. The spokes, Bear proposed, “represented strength and the gears symbolized power.” In 1929, Oscar Bjorge, of the Rotary Club of Duluth, Minnesota, redesigned Rotary’s emblem, giving the wheel six spokes and 24 cogs, reflecting “a real, working gearwheel.”
By the time Rotary’s emblem became official, the city of Fulton had already been an active club for a decade. In 1919, our city became the home of Rotary Club # 549, under the sponsorship of the nearby Syracuse Rotary Club. (Three years later, Fulton extended that neighborly gesture by sponsoring the Rotary Club of Oswego). When Fulton’s club was founded, Rotary’s international headquarters noted that our city was one of the smallest in the world to receive a charter. At that time, Fulton’s population was 15,000, a far cry from Chicago’s 2,700,000.
But the size of our city wasn’t important; it was what Fulton Rotary members planned to do. Our club’s original twenty-five members were a cross section of Fulton industrialists, clergy, educators and business owners who cared about their city. Immediately, the group went to work. One of its first projects raised funds to provide medical treatment for handicapped or crippled children.
As our world became more inclusive, so did the Fulton Rotary Club. In 1987, women were accepted as members and, in 1999, after realizing that many working people could not make the weekly luncheon meetings, the Fulton Sunrise Rotary Club was formed; that group starts their charitable work at an early-bird start time of seven am.
To learn more about the Fulton Noon Rotary Club’s history, I met with Steve Osborne, the club’s current president, and two longtime Fulton Rotarians, Bill Rasbeck and Judy Young. Rasbeck, a former Fulton School District Superintendent, helps coordinate the club’s generous scholarship program for students from our high school.
“I work with the current school administration to identify students who excel in education, athletics and community service,” Bill said. “The students we grant scholarships to receive $500 for each year they continue their studies in college, up to a total of $2,000.”
The club also provides hometown youth with scholarships through the Tarandi Foundation, a charitable organization set up in memory of Fulton’s Dr. Shah. Along with G. Ray Bodley students, Rotary also supports those attending Cayuga Community College.
Along with financial assistance, the Fulton Noon Rotary Club supports youth in other ways. They sponsor programs at the YMCA and Salvation Army and fund recreational activities for young basketball and baseball players. For many years, club members have been involved with Rotary International’s Youth Exchange Program, which Judy has spearheaded in Fulton for many years.
“Years ago, I sponsored a young man from Denmark,” Judy explained. “He was 16 when he stayed with us and really enjoyed participating in the many programs Fulton offers our youth. He enjoyed his stay so much and has returned to visit our city four times.”
The Youth Exchange is one of the ways that Fulton Rotary’s work reaches beyond our city’s borders. “One of the things I like about our Noon Club is the opportunities that Rotary International offers,” Steve said. “Clubs across our nation work together to sponsor humanitarian aid for countries that are struggling to provide for their own. Our Fulton club has contributed to the development of a medical clinic in Northeast India and a technical school in Brazil. Recently, we funded a project to provide “shelter boxes” for countries that have been hit with disasters. The boxes hold a tent, portable stove, sleeping bags, food and supplies for ten people. We’ve also been involved with Rotary’s Polio Plus, which works with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate that dreaded disease.”
Along with these far-reaching projects, you’ll also find Fulton Rotarians cleaning streets and parks each spring, making our city more welcoming. To commemorate its 100 years of service locally and worldwide, the Fulton Noon Rotary Club has planned a few celebrations. “We’ll have a formal dinner for our members on November 8th,” Steve said. “Assemblyman Will Barclay will be our guest speaker. November 3rd, the club will offer its traditional First Sunday in November Pancake Breakfast, beginning at 7:30 at the Polish Home. Normally this is a Rotary fundraiser, but in honor of our 100 years, we’re offering it to the public at no cost.”
If you attend a Rotary Club meeting—I’ve had the pleasure of attending several—you’ll find that they end each meeting with a pledge known as “The Rotary 4-Way Test." Rotarians stand together and speak as a group, asking themselves four questions: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Here in Fulton, we are fortunate that Rotarians have been answering those questions with their service, charity and good will for a century.