From its humble beginnings in 1905 by four Chicago businessmen who rotated their meeting sites, Rotary’s networking format quickly spread coast to coast and, by 1912, had exploded into a global presence in 50 countries.
While the reach is expansive, the focus continues to begin within its members, seeking to better themselves and their communities.
William Jacobson, 77, of Cedar Rapids, a retired school administrator, has had a ringside seat to history unfolding within the organization since 1975, when he joined the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids. Last year, he felt the time was right to compile the local group’s evolutionary path, which includes admitting women in 1987.
The result is “Journey of the Cedar Rapids Rotary Club,” a 118-page softcover book designed mainly as a resource for new members, but also for anyone else interested is seeing how the group, founded June 1, 1914, has grown into the 34th largest Rotary Club in the world, with 325 members.
The local club also has branched off and provided a model for Rotary Clubs in Charles City in 1918, Belle Plaine in 1919, Monticello in 1921, Marion-East in 1969, Cedar Rapids West in 1980, Cedar Rapids Sunrise in 1990, Cedar Rapids Daybreak in 1995, Ely Gateway in 2001 and Cedar Rapids Metro North in 2003.
“The idea of service clubs is basically a product of the 20th century,” Jacobson said. “Between 1900 and 1920, many service organizations were formed. The Boy Scouts, Rotary, and a lot of other service clubs followed in that era, which opened the door to thinking more broadly about obligations we have to each other and to society.”
With a motto of “Service Above Self,” Rotary International’s mission “is to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.”
Connectivity is what drew Jacobson to the organization, and it’s what has kept him there.
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“I was the new principal at Jefferson (High School), and I spent three years getting to know the people around the school and in the school,” he said. “It dawned on me that I really needed to get to know the city and the people who are the major decision-makers and causing things to happen, and so the Rotary Club was one avenue to do that. ...
“It has very good programs that it attracts, and it has the ability to really connect into the bigger world of Rotary.” Jacobson served as district governor in 2008-09, meeting Rotarians in different parts of the country and discovering their differences and commonalities, based on communities and populations. Since he retired in 2003, he’s also been able to meet other Rotarians from around the world.
“If you go to another country, you can visit a Rotary Club anywhere you go,” he said.
The Cedar Rapids group has been involved in local and international initiatives, including partnering with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which has helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries.
The Cedar Rapids club has donated more than $200,000 to the cause. Rotary International has contributed more than $1.8 billion and has sent Rotarians into the field to help administer vaccinations, Jacobson said. Now the challenge remains to eradicate it in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, and keep it under control elsewhere.
On the homefront, the Cedar Rapids Rotary, now known as the Downtown Rotary, secured naming rights sponsorship of Rotary Hall for NewBo City Market, and has participated in Cedar Lake Trail system improvements, sent medical supplies to Central America, established a freshwater well in Africa and sponsored Metro High School initiatives.
“This club has had a long and interesting journey,” Jacobson said.
“Journey” is the term he’s embraced for his yearlong project in gathering information and rolling three previous club history records into the new book.
“I chose to use the word ‘journey’ rather than ‘history’ because history tends to be viewed as a rather dry look at all kinds of facts,” he said. “I really wanted to get the journey to represent that it’s a continuum of living things.”
l What: “Journey of the Cedar Rapids Rotary Club,” by William Jacobson
l Cost: $20
l To order: Email Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org
l Information: Rotaryclubofcedarrapids.org
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com