100 years of Rotary’s great service

February 1915 is a faraway time.

Big news of the day was World War I raging and Poland — the country — about to be overtaken.

Small news was, well, a Youngstown guy got a police escort to New York City to be placed on a ship back to his homeland at his father’s request as “he was causing too much trouble here.”

Downtown, the Mohican Co. sold raw lard for 12 cents a pound.

Around the corner on Phelps, the John Gallagher Co. sold whiskies, pure drugs and medicines “for your relief.”

Those items were from the pages of The Vindicator, which was coming on 50 years of age those days.

There’s not much still ticking from those days.

One group that was just getting its start then and will mark 100 years in existence this year is the Rotary Club of Youngstown. Last week, it swapped presidents for the start of its new year, welcoming Paul Garchar and thanking Scott Schulick.

With that changing of the guard, Rotary launched its yearlong celebration of its first 100 years.

On July 30, the club will conduct its regular meeting at the former Hotel Pick-Ohio, where the club met all its years until 1981. The place is known today as the offices of the Youngstown Municipal Housing Authority.

At the end of January 2015, they will put on a Centennial Gala Celebration at Youngstown Country Club.

The club plans a commemorative centennial project for downtown and the kickoff of another major community project as only those busy Rotarians know how to do.

It’s one of my favorite crews in town. And its ex-president Schulick is one of my favorite leaders — who can go from gushy Valley cheerleader to an unabashed contrarian. And with 100 years of Rotary, he’s gushing.

“How many things last 100 years?” he asked. “So with that, everyone in Rotary is excited for this year.”

A 20-year member and two-time president, he said Rotary evolves over time and with the times.

“Some people want to clean up a highway, and some want to write a check. So we have to meet people where they want to have an impact.”

Chicago is Rotary No. 1, and turned 100 in 2005. The name comes simply from that initial group’s routine of rotating meetings among each member’s offices.

Youngstown is club 137. It’s had four homes in 100 years — Hotel Pick-Ohio, Elks Club, The Youngstown Club and now the YMCA downtown.

But it’s always been at home in the community.

I was able to join them last winter at Harding Elementary School to pass out jackets, gloves and scarves. It was pretty special to see the kids and the faces.

They’ve been making such service happen for 100 years. It’s wrapped nicely in a book compiled by Rand Becker in 2005. The club’s members have been from dynamic and varied backgrounds, and its projects reflect the same.

Charles Owsley founded the club, and it was amid a period of significant personal accomplishment. He was part of a family of architects, and his projects included the Mahoning County Courthouse, the Home Savings & Loan building, the current Ford Nature Center that was originally built as a private home, the downtown library and the YWCA Building.

And in 1915, he built Rotary. From that start grew things such as the Crippled Children’s Home, Student Loan Fund, the Metropolitan Citizens League, Camp Stambaugh support, Charity Horse Show, the Boys and Girls Club, Better Business Bureau, Party on the Plaza, air shows at the Youngstown airport and so much more.

The Vindicator had a key role in the early days, and newspaper fixture Esther Hamilton began covering the meetings in 1921 in the then-Youngstown Telegram. In 1947, she was made an honorary member of what was at the time an all-male club.

Along for so many of those years has been Charlie McGrudden.

His membership reaches back to 1960.

“When you joined back then, you were introduced in a roast format by another member. It was part-fun, part-embarrassing. But it was an excellent way to meet people. I like all the people and also to be involved in all the programs.”

His proudest moment was starting the Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown.

But he also can’t shake one lighter memory.

In May 1966, Reed Pennel was chairman of the club’s charity horse show.

To stoke some enthusiasm into the membership for the upcoming show, Pennel, unannounced to most that day, rode a horse up the Hotel Pick-Ohio’s elevator and right into the club’s luncheon in the second-floor ballroom.

Point made, McGrudden remembers.

So much has changed in our lives in 10 years, let alone 100 years.

Steadying us through all the changes, ultimately, is us.

And that energy is multiplied when funneled through a focused and committed organization such as Rotary.

It’s been 100 great years of service first.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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