Our Club History

Brief History of Rotary Club of Louisville, Inc.

By: Martin F. Schmidt and William O. Brittain

The Rotary Club of Louisville, the first Club in Kentucky, was formed June 14, 1912 as the 45th club in the world in a district which embraced ten states. The Rotary Club of Louisville was chartered on July 23, 1912, with 40 charter members. With constant membership growth, the district was reduced to four states in 1915 and in 1918 District #13 was established, which was designated for the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

In 1925, Kentucky was made a district by itself and continued that way until 1937 when Kentucky was divided into two districts as it remains today with Louisville being in District 6710 as it is designated today. The Louisville Club led the way in organizing many clubs throughout the state, as an example, it organized the Lexington Club on June 23, 1915 as well as most of the clubs in the metropolitan area.

In reviewing the Club’s early history, one sees the emphasis placed on acquaintanceship, fellowship and making the Louisville community a better place in which to live. The weekly bulletin, SPARKS, and the annual membership roster were started in 1913 so members could get to know each other better. In 1916 a movement to restore and improve the burial place of Zachary Taylor was initiated. A student loan fund was established in 1918 to support worthy boys at Male High School and Manual High School during World War I. In 1921 Rotarians were represented on a city government committee to devise changes in the city’s organization plans. In the same year a resolution was presented, by a Rotarian, to the Board of Trade and the Park Commissioners recommending a municipal air field for Louisville.

Fun was no stranger to Rotary in its youth, perhaps a more frequent visitor than today, when we effect a certain dignity and take ourselves more seriously. As an example, during the earlier years, the Club entered one of its members in a boxing match and on another occasion one of its members earned a ribbon in a mule race. When radio was in its infancy a weekly radio program was broadcast by the Rotary Club during the 1922-23 years.

The 1937 flood involved many members who worked valiantly to conquer the problems of clean-up, repair, and helping to put the local government in order as well as extending aid to eastern Kentuckians in similar straits.

When World War II began in Europe, Rotarians took their places in all the ranks of useful service through gifts of funds for the war’s needy, work with defense related agencies, and support for servicemen. Many served in the military forces.

The return of peace brought the revival of community work. Club members played important roles in building George Rogers Clark Park, in working with under privileged children and in providing loans to students. The California and Ormsby Avenue Boys Clubs were major accomplishments as well as the Harelip and Cleft Palate Foundation which we started.

More outreach work in the 1950s included support of the Hagan Surgical Research Foundation; active interest in science training for capable high school students; and the Rotary Lodge at Camp Kysoc. Hands-on and sponsorship of the Scout-O-Rama began in 1957, continues to be a major project with over one hundred of our members providing judges for competitive events of some 10,000 Scouts who come from through-out the state for this two day event. Our Rotary members are the food concession workers, ticket takers, and all behind the scenes activities. In 1954 the Rotary International Constitution was adopted and in 1953 the time-proven training for new members, called “Yearlings” was begun and continues today. The Rotary Four-Way Test came into poplar use. Three members served as District Governors in our second quarter-century and membership grew to 422.

Our third quarter-century will be remembered at least in part for the new search for a meeting place after meeting at the Brown Hotel for 47 years, it was closed in 1971 following the death of J. Graham Brown.

We met at the Kentucky Hotel, the Holiday Inn at Zorn Avenue, Jim Porter’s Tavern, and the YWCA, before being able to return with pleasure to the restored Brown Hotel in 1985. During this period the student loan program matured, making up to 50 loans a year – totaling as much as $35,000 – to worthy students. The loan fund reached a total value of $115,000 before changing circumstances led to its cancellation.

New projects undertaken were: a stockade and bath house for the Rough River Boy Scout reservation; help for the Newburg Boys Club; sponsorship of local visits for foreign students; distribution of safe driving pamphlets about the then-new expressway system, and improvements at Plymouth Settlement House. Other projects were concerned with Youth recognition; assistance to the Burn Unit at Children’s Hospital; to Camp Green Shores for handicapped children, and the establishment of Dental Care for the homebound. Still other work supported the Gift of Life Project of heart surgery for needy children from third world countries, and in 1987, when the members of our club donated $137,000 to the Rotary International program to eliminate polio worldwide.

The fellowship and pleasure of weekly meetings continued to make the members a cohesive group, enjoying the summer outings, days at the races, Christmas Holiday parties, theatre parties and competitive sports events.

The day of Louisville’s tornado, April 3, 1974, Rotary International President Bill Carter of London, England arrived and was entertained at a luncheon. The next year in 1975 Howard Fitch was recognized as the club’s first Paul Harris Fellow for his gift to the Rotary International Foundation. We now have 275 Paul Harris Fellows, including family members and friends whom club members have honored by making a Fellow gift. A celebration was held in 1962 for the Club’s 50th anniversary and then in 1987 five hundred members and guests attended a celebration commemorating the 75th anniversary.

On August 31, 1987 the first female member, Patricia W. Hart, the Club’s Executive Director, was admitted. There are now 58 women members. From 1987 to 1991 Rotary teams worked for Public Television Station Channel 15’s Auction to help raise funds for its operation. After the station elected not to continue its auction, all of the Rotary Clubs in Metro Louisville banded together to start an auction sponsored by TKR Cable to raise funds for educational projects.

In early 1988, the Rotary meeting place was moved to The Galt House Hotel complex, and the club’s office moved from the YWCA building to One Riverfront Plaza.

The Club members participate regularly in The Salvation Army’s Holiday Bellringer Program. Among other Rotary projects are a career guidance program for high school seniors and graduates, and a mentor program for high school students.

The Clubs International Service Committee has been active for many years in the various exchange programs and the many diverse scholarships including: The Ambassadorial Scholarship Competition; the District Scholarship; International Scholarship Competition; Group Study Exchange; Montpelier Cultural Exchange; The Kentucky Rotary Youth International Exchange; and Saving Lives Worldwide.

In 1990 the long-range planning committee developed 38 proposed improvements in current activities including new approaches, obtaining and retaining members, providing information to members, and in club recognition. In this year, it was decided to use the important legacy of Dr. Bert Williams’ gift of $844,000 for Rotary International to provide Paul Harris Fellow Awards to the club’s members as well as others to augment the Louisville Foundation funds. Nearly 200 Fellows have been the recipients of this award, by the Williams legacy. In 1999, Theodore Buerck provided over $600,000 in his will for our own Louisville Rotary Foundation and over $600,000. to the Rotary International Foundation. It should be noted that Rotarian E. Randall Allen gave under his will the sum of $577,000 to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

Meetings have been held a few places outside the hotel, such as Actors Theatre, The Star of Louisville, Churchill Downs, The IMAX Theatre, Youth Performing Arts School, The Seelbach, The Louisville Zoo and The Cathedral of the Assumption.

1991 found Past District Governor A. G. Spizzirri serving on the Rotary International Council on Legislation. A plan for quarterly pre-payment for luncheon meals began in 1991 and has proven helpful. To recognize the accomplishments of the Club’s members, the Rotarian of the Year award was started in 1991. In 1999 the ‘Lifetime Service Award’ started with the first one going to Henry Heuser, Sr. posthumously.

Beginning in 1991 also, the Metro Clubs of Louisville have sponsored each year a toast/roast banquet to honor one of Louisville’s leading citizens, raising money to date for The dePaul School for dyslectic children. In 2003 this roast format was changed to a live/silent auction and dinner.

In 1992 territory was released by our club to help organize a Rotary Club in Fern Creek, and again in 1995 for creation of a new club in Prospect. These were the eighth and ninth new clubs to be formed in the Louisville metropolitan area since the original territory was designated for the Louisville Club in 1912.

In 1996, the Club launched an initiative to collect and distribute surplus U.S. medical supplies and equipment to the world’s poorest communities. During the first eight years, the Saving Lives Worldwide Program completed 17 major humanitarian shipments valued at $4 million to ten developing, yet financially destitute countries. Through extraordinary partnerships with Rotary Clubs abroad, shipments were safely distribute to hospitals and rural clinics in Romania, Latvia, Nicaragua, Kiev, Panama, Ecuador, Ghana West Africa, Barbados, Belize, and Nepal.

In addition, through special international Rotary Club-to-Rotary Club partnerships, six new dental clinics have been established and are now serving poor communities in Panama, Ecuador and Nepal. In 2004, the Saving Lives Worldwide Program ‘in close collaboration with Rotary clubs in Cincinnati and Kathmandu’ will establish a kidney dialysis clinic the ‘first of its kind’ to serve the poor of rural Nepal.

In keeping with Rotary International’s credo of ‘Service Above Self’, the Rotary Club of Louisville has created the Rotary Leadership Fellows Program. Its purpose is to identify potential community leaders, early in their careers, and to involve them in a formal, three year Rotary leadership development program.

The Club budget has grown from $116,000. in 1987, our 75th anniversary year, to $471,000. our 92nd Anniversary Year. The Rotary Foundation of Louisville’s charitable grants have remained at about the same number but have become larger, their totals increasing from about $12,000 to $68,000.

The Club membership has remained in the range of 450 to 490 and most of those members have of course continued to serve our community in many ways.

Standing: Clarence T. Haydon, Frank P. Bush, Paul P. Gaylord, C. Oscar Ewing, Charles G. Harris, George E. Hays

Sitting: Joseph Burge, Wade Sheitman, John J. Saunders

Club Charter Members

L. H. Amrine
A. J. Anderson
Lawrence L. Anderson
Thomas E. Basham
J. Clarence Bond
Joseph Burge
Frank P. Bush
Daniel M. Carrell
Allen R. Carter
James Clark, Jr.
Lee E. Cralle, Sr.
C. Oscar Ewing
Frank E. Gaines
Paul P. Gaylord
Fleet H. Goodridge
Gaylord C. Hall
C. H. Hamilton
Charles G. Harris
Clarence T. Haydon
George E. Hays
Edward G. Heartick
Frank G. Jones
Arthur Kaye
Milburn P. Kelley
Nelson T. Little
F. W. Lund, Jr.
James C. Mahon
Owen R. Mann
A. T. McDonald
Robert A. McDowell
T. L. McGill
Ed D. Morton
A. S. Rice
Edwin M. Ritter
John J. Saunders
Wade Sheltman
Thomas F. Smith
H. H. Snyder
Enos Spencer
A. B. Weaver


I know that for many people, one of the most boring subjects they had to take in school was history. So I tried not to take it personally when President Stuart asked me to talk a little about our club’s history.

We have Rosters, issues of SPARKS, and board minutes going back to the very beginning, but I thought maybe there would be a little interest in changes over the past fifty years – since May, 1963.

We had 426 total members back then, 378 of whom were actives – expected to attend regularly. And indeed, attendance in May 1963 averaged 84%, or over 300 at each luncheon, which were in the Brown Hotel, along with the chapter office.

Classifications were very different then, reflecting a different local economy. There were lots of manufacturers – of paints, varnish, and lacquer; of tobacco machinery, tractors, freight trailers, whiskey barrels, air cleaning equipment, ice, carbide, cement, cigarettes, and lots more.

Many of us were in retail or wholesale trade – distributing everything from adding machines, dictating machines, duplicating machines, typewriters – remember those? – to coal, dry goods, folding doors, fences, farm machinery, agricultural implements, motor parts, refined oil products and hardware.

23 members were classified as physicians, versus 19 today, but there weren’t any medical equipment, medical supplies, managed healthcare or medical management classifications. They’re all new.

Charlie Castner is our only remaining member in Railroad Transportation; we had 6 in 1963.

Another 6 of our members were lawyers then, versus 38 today. There were 8 bankers, against 20 today, plus a lot of other financial services. The other really big expansion has been in non-profit association leaders – from 10 then to 37 today.

We regularly had out-of-town speakers for our meetings. For the Derby Week meeting, Earl Ruby of the Courier-Journal brought in sports reporters from Sports Illustrated and other national journals. M. Stanton Evans of the Indianapolis News talked to us about a trend he was seeing on college campuses – away from New-Deal-oriented liberalism and toward conservatism. I don’t think he foresaw the anti-Vietnam war movement. Charles P. Taft of the Cincinnati Tafts told us about the new European Common Market and its threat to American exports.

Our major service projects that spring, in addition to the on-going student loan program, were to build a replica pioneer stockade at the Boy Scout camp at Rough River, and to support Bridgehaven in making a slide film presentation of its work.

SPARKS had room for numerous articles and commentaries from members – and members had time to write them! There were bits of humor as well – some of it a bit misogynistic, as you might expect from a male-only group:

“What life sentence can you get out of through bad behavior? Marriage.”

“When she says she’ll think it over, brother, it is.”

And some was self-deprecating –

“An executive is anyone who can take two days off for a business trip and not be missed at the office.”

“By the time you fully appreciate the wonderful advantage of being young, you ain’t.”

But then as now, it was an active, involved group, regularly emphasizing the Four-Way Test and the spirit of Rotary. A lot of our History is now on-line – check it out HERE!