The Durham Rotary History Book Is Here

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A Century of “Service Above Self -100 Years of the Rotary Club of Durham

I guess when you start reading a “history” and can fill in some details from your own memory, you’re getting long in the tooth and may be history yourself soon.

Such was the feeling I had reading through my copy of the new history of our Club that I picked up at last Monday’s meeting.

The primary author of the book was our own Allen Cronenberg whose acknowledgement page cited the help of many Rotarians, some who contributed information and others who helped with the editing and layout. Primary among them was Past President Don Stanger, who conceived the idea and kept it moving from concept to the handsome and elegantly written volume that we now have.

In congratulating Don and Allen, I asked if they would like to share a little bit of the process they went through to get there. Both did, and I’m happy to be able to share their reflections here.

According to Don, “about 5 years ago, as we were beginning to plan for the Centennial celebration, I asked Allen if he would consider authoring a third book about the history of our club.” Allen was not just a random selection. As Don continued, “after all, he is an Emeritus Professor of History at Auburn University.”

There was scuttlebutt during the process that some things weren’t going smoothly, and Don admitted, “My lack of book editing experience and difficulty in working with our printer added to the time and work it took to bring it to fruition.”

I know from my own experience that this is an easy task to underestimate. “But,” added Don, “I feel the time and effort was well worth it.” Those who know Don, know that once he makes up his mind to get something done, he gets it done and done well.

For his part, Allen hoped the theme of the Club’s Centennial – 100 Acts of Service above Self – would provide the main theme of the history.  “From its beginnings in 1915/16 our club has been engaged in service to the community—from the gift of a bandstand in 1916 to the 3,000 acts of service performed by club members during our centennial year. In recent years a heavy emphasis has been in the areas of education and literacy with the Reading Rangers, Books on Break, Crayons to Calculators and our scholarship programs. But the thread goes all the way back to the 1920’s.”

He found another theme that placed our club in the context of the evolution of Rotary International. “The first explosive wave of Rotary’s worldwide reach occurred in 1929-30 during the presidency at Rotary International of Gene Newsom, our club’s founding president.  Rotary clubs were formed in major cities in southeastern Europe, in Africa and across Asia.

“More recently, Allen continued, “our club has eagerly supported Rotary’s effort to end polio globally and we have warmly embraced the Peace Fellows at the joint Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center.  Close relations with the Durham UK Rotary club, tentatively begun after World War II, have solidified in recent years.  Finally, there is our club’s impressive record in initiating Rotary grants to improve health, sanitation and clean water abroad.”

According to Allen another major thread is the adaptability of the Club to change and how diversity and equity have strengthened Rotary. “Now, Rotarians are admitted to membership not based solely on the profession to which they belong but whether they are committed to service.  The wide range of talents our club members bring to the table is amazing.  To be sure these steps were overdue, but our club smoothly integrated in 1969 and actively began recruiting women in 1988 even before Rotary International officially changed its membership policy.”

“Finally,” Allen added, “I hope the history of the city and the county is enriched at least a little by this Centennial History of Durham Rotary.”

Members come and go, but Durham Rotary’s history continues. The next written history will probably mention the reshaping of the Membership Committee under Marge Nordstrom’s leadership to provide a more robust orientation and mentoring of new members. We’re adding new members at a remarkable clip and they’re making the transition from being just members to true Rotarians faster than ever. If we could assign required reading for these new members, this volume should be at the top of the list. I can’t imagine anything that would provide a more positive perspective of what Rotary in general, and this Club in particular, means to Durham and the world.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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