A Brief History of
Our First 100 Years
In 2011, we celebrated a remarkable milestone. The Rotary Club of Wichita not only turned 100 years old, we also became the 19th largest club out of 34,000 Rotary clubs across the world. (And our ranking has improved once again since then!)
A New Service Club is Born in Wichita
It was the summer of 1911. Wichita was a city of less than 50,000 people and folks were beginning to ride around in Model T Fords. It’s also when Harry Stanley, a 31-year-old Wichita insurance salesman, attended a convention in Chicago and learned of a new kind of Club for businessmen called Rotary. (The first Club began in Chicago, in 1905, and its first few members held meetings in rotation at their members’ offices. Hence, the name Rotary was coined.)
Before Harry left Chicago, he met Paul Harris, the founder of this first Rotary Club, and became convinced that the very fundamental principles of business success, “namely acquaintance-making and service-giving,” would greatly benefit Wichita.
Harry returned home and invited eleven acquaintances to join him in a meeting. They were: A plumber, a real estate broker, a trunk and leather goods retailer, a brick-maker, a Firestone Tire dealer, a dentist, a car salesman, an office equipment dealer, a wholesale electrical supplier, a farm loan broker, and a purveyor of mantels, fireplaces and tiles.
All were committed to the Rotary motto, “SERVICE ABOVE SELF.” They declared as their primary goal for the club, “That the important men of all nations should know about Wichita, Kansas, USA, and the products we raise, mill and manufacture.” It was a bold beginning for this fledgling service club in Wichita.
Growth and Service
Those first 12 members were chartered as Rotary Club #30. In a just few months’ time, the number grew to more than 70. And, in a spirit of service beyond their own self- interest, they worked to improve our community.
Fifteen years later, by 1926, Wichita’s Rotary Club had grown to 225 members and its President was W.C. Coleman, founder of the world-famous Coleman Company. His son, Sheldon, joined that same year. Between them, the father and son remained active Rotarians in our Club for the rest of their lives (41 and 62 years of service respectively).
Rotary Instrumental in Wichita’s History
As the organization grew, Wichita Rotarians became more involved in the community, spearheading city beautification efforts and providing recreation and training programs for boys. In 1916, the group championed a plan to enact a city manager form of government in Wichita, successfully petitioning both the state government and Wichita residents for approval. Rotarians were also instrumental in revamping the Law and Order League into the Greater Wichita Civic League. When a plan was hatched to build Century II with municipal bonds, the club supported the effort and presented the case to the city.
The Rotary Club of Wichita has been instrumental in bringing a number of important organizations to Wichita, including the Boy Scouts of America, Easter Seal Society and the Big Brothers organization. Rotary continuously committed its time and efforts to aiding and improving Wichita and, in particular, the city’s youth, with a variety of activities.
Entering a Second Century of Service
In the course of 100 years, more than 2,600 Wichita business and professional leaders have been members of the Rotary Club of Wichita. Building on our rich legacy, today’s membership is energetic, diverse and always ready to serve.