By Lindsay Owens
Historic document photos were found at the Knox County Public Library.. Other photos were taken by
Past District Governor 2010-2011
Rotary International District 6580
The city of Vincennes is known for quite a few things. It’s the home of William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland, Vincennes University, and the George Rogers Clark Memorial. A lesser known fact about the city that serves as the county seat of Knox County is that it is also home to the first Rotary Club in a city under 100,000. The club will turn 100 later this month and will be celebrating its centennial with a banquet on March 28 at Green Activities Center on the Vincennes University campus. Special guest speaker for the celebration will be Rotary President Gary, C.R. Huang. The Vincennes club is one of only a handful of the thousands of clubs around the world that has had the honor of having Huang visit.
Rotary, one of the first service organizations in the world,was started in February of 1905 by Paul P. Harris, as a place for professionals with diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas and form life-long friendships. The name of the group was derived from its early practice of rotating the location of meetings from the offices of each member.
The clubs, which can be found around the world, have a deep commitment to service and now boast over one million members all dedicated to service.
Vincennes residents fought hard to bring Rotary to the area. In fact, letters from the International Association of Rotary Clubs rejected the city in 1913 due to its size. At the time, Rotary Clubs were only located in cities with a population of at least 100,000. Persistence paid off though, and the Vincennes club was organized on March 12, 1915 and was issued Charter number 151 on April 1, 1915.
Over the last 100 years, the Vincennes Rotary Club has had many notables and the future of the club, made of up over four dozen members, looks bright.
Doug Steele, the current president of the Club said the group is working on district grants and deciding on projects.
“Last year, we did Rotary Reading Corners at schools,” said Steele.
The Rotary reading Corners featured books and other materials donated by the club. Later this month, club members will get their hands dirty as they install new playground equipment at Lester Square. The club matched a $3,500 district grant to provide the new equipment that cost about $10,000.
“The new equipment has a fire truck theme,” said Steele, adding equipment is a centennial gift to the city from the club. “Our club will be putting the new jungle gym together.”
Steele said the Rotary club will also continue to provide the personalized “All About Me” books to Knox County kindergarteners. The “I Like Me” books started in 1997 and continues to be a popular project with the Vincennes club as well as others in District 6580.
“We have high school students who have been at our Rotary programs that say they remember getting those books when they were in kindergarten and some of them say they still have the books today,” said Jim Gislason who has held a variety of positions within Rotary International including district governor. “It’s a great thing for the kids.”
The Vincennes Rotary has also started Interact Clubs for students at Lincoln and Rivet high schools. The Interact Clubs are continuing to gain popularity with students at both schools.
Steele said plans are in the works to also get college students involved in the service organization. “We hope students want to become a part of Rotary when they come back here after college,” said Steele. “We have to plan for the next 100 years of Rotary in Vincennes. Everyone who joins, hopes to give back to their community in some way, shape or form. It’s really self-fulfilling.”
Highlights from the last 100 years of the Vincennes Rotary Club
1913 – Letters from the International Association of Rotary Clubs rejects Vincennes request for a club due to the size of the city.
April 1, 1915- Charter No. 151 is issued to Vincennes Rotary making it the 151 club and the first club in a town with a population under 100,000.
July 1, 1915 – Local Rotarians vote to build a fountain at the corner of College, Seventh and what was then Fairgrounds Avenue. The fountain, completed in 1916, became known as Rotary Point. The fountain was replaced with a new granite monument in 2006.
1918 – John Napier Dyer, a farmer, was installed as president of the Vincennes Rotary Club and was also elected District Governor of Indiana. Rural – Urban Nights started the same year to bring farm and city business men together to figure out how to do business together better. Dyer was later nominated for election as President of the International Association of Rotary Clubs. He lost on the third ballot after his supporters had to catch their trains home.
1920’s – Rotarians sponsored Christmas parties for children in the orphanages. The parties continued until 1979.
March 10, 1935 – The club celecrates 20 years in Rotary.
1940 – Rotary fonder Paul Harris visits Vincennes. He toured the George Rogers Clark Memorial. T. Max Shircliff and his wife Martha, travel to Cuba for the International Rotary Convention. Shircliffe was named Governor of District 156.
April 1958 – Rotary begins sponsorship of Cub League Baseball. The club still sponsors the program today.
1970’s – The club helps found the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous. Members also sponsored and manned a food booth selling French Lemonade and Gaulette cookies. The booth was discontinued in 2010.
1983 – Rotarians started raising money help fight polio. Local members pledged over $34,000 to help put an end to the disease. At the time, over 375,000 new cases of polio were diagnosed annually. Today, the number of cases diagnosed has dwindled tremendously.
1986 – Vincennes Rotary establishes a Rotary International Record by having three District Governors in the same family. T. Max Shircliff (1940 – 1941); son Robert (1975-1976) and son James (1986-1987).
1990- Women are introduced to the club for the first time. Mary Gladys Wheeler, Earlene Holland and Carol Smith all became members.
1994 – Club Board of Directors approves a motion to form a charitable foundation called “Vincennes Rotary Foundation”. The Foundation has total net assets of $414,295. 58. The initial transfer from the club to the foundation was $14, 244.48.
1995 – Rotary Galas become an annual event until 2014.
1997- “I Like Me” book program for kindergartners is started. The program continues today.
1998 – Rotarians donate $4,500 to help construct the Bettye J. McCormick Senior Center.
Oct. 2000 – “Open World” visit Vincennes from Russia. Since the first group in 2000, five other groups have visited.
2012 – Interact Club is formed at Lincoln High School. A second club as added at Rivet in 2013.
March 28, 2015 – Vincennes Rotary celebrates 100 yeas of Rotary with a special centennial celebration. Several events are scheduled throughout the day.