History of Southtowne Rotary

history of southtowne rotary

Southtowne member and former Southtowne president (1998-99) Bert Toepel, who is also our club Historian, put together the following history of the club for the 40th Anniversary Celebration. 

Eugene Southtowne Rotary at 40

Birth of Southtowne

In early 1975, there were four Rotary clubs in Eugene—the Eugene Rotary Club, chartered March 15, 1923, which sponsored three of the other Rotary clubs: Springfield Rotary Club, chartered on January 21, 1947, Eugene Emerald chartered on June 15, 1967, and Eugene Delta on March 16, 1970. Since Thursday was the only day of the week on which there was not a Rotary meeting, and since a new club on that day could round out the week, the possibility of a new club to meet on that day was discussed by the board of directors of the Eugene Club in January, 1975. After nearly a year of investigating the possibility of a club in south Eugene, the Board authorized an extension survey to make sure there were at least 40 possible classifications.

The survey was completed in August with 42 possible classifications. At that time, only one “active” member was authorized in a club for each classification, with “additional active” of the same classification authorized with the concurrence of the member with the original classification. Thus, ideally, the purpose was to have a broad cross-section of the business community served by each club.

Bert and Mildred

Bert Toepel and his wife Mildred at the 40th Anniversary Celebration/Holiday Party.

It should be noted that, in those days, Rotary clubs had assigned territories and members were required to have either their place of business or residence within the club territory. The Eugene Club, as the sponsor of Emerald, Delta and Southtowne, had to relinquish some of its territory to those clubs, but retained the privilege of proposing new members from the assigned territories of the new clubs. Shared territory did not come about until 1982 and required the approval of Rotary International. Southtowne’s original territory was bounded on the north by 19th Street, on the east by Interstate 5, on the west by Taylor and on the south by a power line south of Lane Community College running from I-5 to the extension of Taylor. Two members—Dick Hulse, whose business was on the east side of I-5, and Bob Kime, whose residence was on the west side of Taylor—either lived or their businesses were outside of the assigned territory. It was necessary to obtain the approval of Eugene Emerald and Springfield to gerrymander the boundaries and retain those memberships by Southtowne.

In October 1975, the individuals identified in the classification survey were invited to a meeting at North’s Chuck Wagon at which the organization and purposes of Rotary were discussed. A second organizational meeting was held on November 5 at which 27 prospective Rotarians agreed to form the club. Officers were elected: Dick McClintic, president; Larry Gruman, vice-president; and Bob Stephensen, secretary. Thursday was selected as the meeting day, and the name Eugene Southtowne Rotary Club was suggested and adopted. The charter application was then prepared and forwarded to District Governor Sharon Eichelberger for approval and submission to Rotary International.

With this action, Southtowne became a provisional club and members of other clubs could officially make-up meetings missed at their respective clubs. Meetings were held each Thursday and at the end of December, notification was received that the Rotary Club of Eugene Southtowne was admitted to Rotary International on December 22, 1975, becoming the 15th Rotary Club in what was then District 511. Because Charter President Richard McClintic was to be in India as a Group Study Exchange Team Leader from January 4 until the end of February 1976, the official charter night was postponed until March 12, 1976. In his absence, Vice President Larry Gruman served as acting president.

At the first meeting of 1976, on January 8, the 26 charter members received their membership cards and Rotary pins. Two of those charter members—Lauren Alexander and Dick Hulse—are with us today. Again, in those days, club members annually received membership cards filled out and issued by the club secretary. About 150 Rotarians—all men – and Rotary Anns (then spouses of Rotarians) attended the Charter Night dinner of March 12. Thus, Southtowne Rotary was born.

Early Years

Records show that during those early years the club took on responsibility for bicycle safety. A comprehensive program for promoting safety took club members into classrooms of every fifth-grade class in the Eugene schools showing safety movies and distributing safety pamphlets, which the club helped to design.

The sergeant-at-arms tradition began during the third year. This featured activity was intended to recognize members for various capers or accomplishments and fined accordingly. It was to be all in fun except for the fact that fine money was to go totally to the Rotary Foundation for international educational and health programs. During the year 1979-1980, Southtowne President Len Taylor promoted the sponsoring of two new Rotary clubs in Junction City and Valley River.

Later Years

As years passed, Southtowne has been involved in a myriad of projects and programs, each unique to the board of directors and the desires of the membership. One of the first major fund raising activities to support club projects included an annual sale in the parking lot of Payless Drug Store (29th Avenue & Willamette Street). This was followed several years later by joining with other Eugene Rotary clubs in a popular weekly Bingo evening at the Lane County Fairgrounds known as County-Serv BINGO. This was initially intended to raise money for development of the amphitheater in Alton Baker Park and, later, to support club projects. Our participation came on one evening every six weeks, with nearly every club member helping. A lasting memory of this activity included the light blue smoky haze that engulfed the game arena and the need to change clothing immediately upon returning home. During the County Fair Week, we managed the BINGO on one day, usually a Sunday. Thankfully, this was carried out in an open-sided tent.

Over the years, the number of projects increased and, in reflection, it is doubtful that a complete record of projects can be recorded. My request several weeks ago to club members for a listing produced a number of projects that I had not been aware of or had forgotten. I’m sure that members involved in the earlier projects remember the playground construction at Fairfield Elementary School, fences constructed and windows insulated for senior citizens of Eugene. We also remodeled a Springfield motel to accommodate senior housing. The projects list seemed to be well under control until the mid-80s when a most significant change came to Rotary.

Reflecting back to 1978, it should have been noted that “things were about to happen” when the Rotary Club of Feira de Bantana, Brazil refused to remove women from membership and had its charter revoked by Rotary International. Eleven years later, in 1989, the Constitution and Bylaws were changed to admit women. The first woman to become a Southtowne member was Margaret Nichols, the 4J Superintendent of Schools. She was joined shortly thereafter by a number of other women, including our Christie McDonald in April of 1989. Thus, a new era began in the life of Rotary.

My point in mentioning this is that, soon after entering the decade of the 90s, our projects and activities appeared to increase exponentially. Here are some examples:

In 1996, we hosted our first Rotary Exchange student. And in the past 19 years we have hosted two students from Brazil, Germany and Taiwan, and one student from each of Argentina, Bolivia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Mongolia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and Turkey—that’s 23 students from 19 countries.

And the list of projects blossomed in both intensity and numbers: We undertook clean water projects in Mexico, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda; two members drove a truck loaded with supplies to Colima, school projects were completed in Oaxaca, Mexico; we supported education of students in Mexico; community kitchens in Bolivia; adopted village projects and shipped a vehicle to Uganda; volunteers supported eye clinics in Ecuador, provided school supplies to Africa; supported lip surgery in Chile; Lauren Alexander fostered the arranging for shipping of excess medical supplies to Third World countries; and, thanks to Nancy Hughes and Stove Team International, developed and provided a safe and efficient stove for cooking food, thereby improving the quality of life for countless people.

Locally, we have consistently supported food distribution programs such as Food for Lane County, Meals on Wheels, and regular distribution of food to needy families. We have supported Fairfield School third to fifth grade children with Oregon Battle of the Books program; provided bookshelves and books for Head Start classrooms, supported Habitat for Humanity with the construction of safe homes for those in need; supported the Great Rotary Duck Race and Great Rotary Raffle in its fight against child abuse in Lane County.

We have developed a Foundation that provides annual scholarships to Eugene high school students. This foundation was initially supported by Barney McCabe’s leadership in parking cars at local university football games for a number of years. And to support our many projects, we have held a highly successful Wine and Salmon Festival fundraiser for a number of years. Under the dedicated leadership of Past President Bruce Shaw, we have provided some $605,000 to support the Rotary Foundation which, in turn, provides financial support to our Rotary District and Club projects.

A total of 61 (72%) of our members are Paul Harris Fellows, each having contributed at least one thousand dollars to the Foundation. Four members and two spouses are Major Donors with contributions exceeding $10,000 each. Currently, our members are busy with a multitude of programs which I’ll not go into; however you can easily see that Southtowne is an active, energetic club with a history to be proud of. I know that I am and I trust that you are also.