Beginnings: The Rotary Club of Wanganui held its first meeting on 3 March 1924 and received its charter on 14 July. Nearly 20 years before, on 23 February 1905, the Rotary movement began when a group of four businessmen convened by Paul H Harris met in Chicago, United States of America, to enjoy one another's company and enlarge their circle of business and professional acquaintances. By 1920, the concept of Rotary had spread to 14 countries and in 1921, extended to New Zealand where the first two clubs were formed in Wellington on 7 June and Auckland on 13 June.
First Officers: The Wanganui Club was the fifth to be established in New Zealand. Its first president was Louis Cohen. He was a well-known barrister and solicitor, an enthusiastic patron of the arts ; he was honorary conductor of the Orchestral Society , and a passionate supporter of rugby football. Louis died in March 1933. The first vice-president of the new Club was Hope Gibbons, secretary, Edwin M Silk and treasurer, W E Quigley.
First membership: These men governed a club comprising 24 members. They included prominent businessmen and public figures such as Arthur Bignell, building contractor and former Mayor, John Coull, auctioneer, Alfred 'Donnie' Donaldson, company manager and later Secretary of A and P Association, George Gordon, Solicitor, Hope Gibbons, brewer and generous benefactor, and Percy Higginbotham, company manager and benefactor. Several of the founding members of the Club in later years became president.
Meetings: Its meetings were held in the Returned Soldiers' Association rooms in St Hill Street. From its inception, the Club was a luncheon club, meeting at 12.30 p m. The meeting date was the subject of a vote taken on 24 March 1924 and a majority decided on Monday each week. Except for a short period in the 1950's, the Club has always met on that day.
Membership numbers: Membership of the Club was firmly based on the Rotary classification principle, i.e., that that one person each from defined business classifications would be admitted to membership. By 1927 the club had grown to 52 members. Numbers remained fairly constant around that level for the next 25 years or so.
Early Projects: Records of the Club during its first 30 years, show that it was active in community projects, both by practical assistance and by raising funds. As early as 1925, the Club began an association with Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) when it agreed to raise funds to help pay debts of YMCA. A substantial early project was establishing a public Health Camp in the City. In 1930, Dr Arthur Wall donated 20 acres of land in Castlecliff for a site for the camp, Rotarians donated trees for planting and funds were raised during the next two years. The cause of crippled children was another early project. In 1935, the Club sponsored the formation of a Wanganui branch of the Crippled Children’s Society and tried to promote membership. For many years afterwards, it arranged annual Christmas parties for the children.
Extension of Rotary: This Club was instrumental in extending Rotary in the district by forming new clubs. The first, in Marton, held its first meeting on 9 March 1943. The next was Taihape which began on 11 July 1945. Two more new clubs in Wanganui itself were established by redefining the territory from which members were drawn and Wanganui North Club met first on 11 November 1959 followed by Wanganui South on 20 May 1963. The Club promoted no more clubs until Wanganui Daybreak was established in 1998.
Father and son presidents: A number of presidents in the first 30 years of the Club had sons who later joined the Club and themselves became president
A Doig, 1925-26; H G Doig, 1959-60;
A R Donaldson, 1932-33; F H Donaldson, 1970-71;
T S Russell, 1944-45; R G Russell, 1965-66;
R P London, 1945-46; R R London, 1971-72
E H Poynter, 1954-55; C E Poynter, 1982-83.
Venue of Meetings: The Club continued until 1941 to hold its lunch meetings in the Returned Servicemen’s rooms. That year, meetings were moved for a short time to Foster's Hotel, and then, in 1942, to the Savage Club Hall, Drew's Avenue. This Hall housed the Club for the next 30 years. In 1972, the Club decided to move meetings to the Pioneer Room of the War Memorial Hall where meetings were held until 2010. Meetngs are now held in at the Kingsgate Hotel
Increased membership: In the early 1950's membership had begun to increase and in 1954, the Club had a discussion about the ultimate size of the Club. A decision was taken to limit membership to 100 and the classification committee were asked to aim at building membership to this figure. By 1960, there were 94 members; and by 1962, 108.
Alan Brown and District Governors: In 1957, Alan Brown became president. He was the first member of the Club to hold the office of District Governor, in which position he served in 1960-61. He was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow in 1981. Alan was renowned for his perfect 100 per cent record of attendance at club meetings. Alan’s wife Phyllis became a Paul Harris Fellow in her own right, an unusual step for a non-member but well-deserved for her personal work in the community and her support for Rotary. Phyllis was also elected an honorary member after Alan’s death. Three other members and former presidents became District Governor later, Stewart Frame in 1982-83,Duncan McKee in 1996-97 and Bob Smith in 2011-12.
Continuing Project : YMCA: The Club continued to support the YMCA. Over the thirty years after 1925, several fundraising efforts were carried out. Then, in 1955, the Club procured the gift of land for a camp site at Raukawa Falls. In subsequent years, it assisted with building a cookhouse and dining hall, laying paths, building sleeping huts, painting and other maintenance and landscaping. The YMCA gave life membership to the Club in recognition of its efforts.
Fiftieth Anniversary: The Club celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1974. As an anniversary project, members decided to raise funds for Hikurangi, the home for the elderly in Mount View Road. $5,000 was collected and handed over to the home.
Membership from 50 years on: Going into its second fifty years, membership of the Club kept on increasing. In 1980, it decided that its optimum membership was 135. Nevertheless, in 1983 membership rose to 139 but after a peak in 1986 of 140, numbers then slowly diminished over the next ten or so years to remain constant around the 100 mark. Membership dropped below 100 in 2002 and, at the present time (2004) stands at 90.
City Council connection: The Club has been noteworthy for its membership of several Mayors and Town Clerks of the Wanganui City Council (later, Wanganui District Council) over the years. A founding member, Hopeful Gibbons, was Mayor from 1924 to 1927. In later years, members who were Mayor were Ron Russell from 1974 to 1983; Doug Turney from 1983 to 1986; and Charles Poynter from 1986 to the present. The first town Clerk to join the Club was Charles R White in 1946; he was Town Clerk from 1940 to 1952. Later members who were Town Clerk were George Tyler, 1974 to 1984; and Colin Whitlock, 1984 to the present. A number of other senior Council officers have been members over the years.
Health and safety projects: Since the early seventies, the Club, amongst its other projects, has been active in providing facilities for public health and safety. Examples are the rescue vehicle (1972), “jaws of life” (1975), ambulance resuscitator (1979), cot death monitor (1984), C T scanner (1993). For the last one, the Club undertook to build two houses in a weekend, which subsequently were sold.
Kowhai Park: Wanganui's unique children's playground, Kowhai Park, has been the focus of several Club projects over the years. The first, in 1962, was the starfish sandpit (later sealed and painted). In 1987 all three Rotary clubs combined to build a maze although some years after, it deteriorated and was dismantled. The 'Pumpkin' shelter and barbecue was a major effort in 1991 by members' voluntary labour and a total cost of $22,000. In 2001 the Antarctica feature was completed.
Debating and Quiz Contests: In 1980, the Kapiti Club presented the Kapiti Trophy for competition by debating teams from Rotary Clubs in the District. That year, this Club's team won the trophy. A team has competed every year since then and has succeeded in winning nine times up to the year 2004. The team comprising Bob Wallis, Rhys Barker and Gerald McDouall won four times. In 1991, the District began an annual quiz contest and a team from the Club competed regularly. The team won four out of seven times. Bob Wallis was in the winning team three times.
Recent ongoing projects: In recent times, several other causes have benefited from ongoing Club activity. Some examples are :
Blue Beat Discos: This joint venture by the Club and the Police to entertain children and raise funds for other causes began in 1982. They took place on the last Friday every month. They were popular for about eight years after which interest declined and they stopped.
Boys' and Girls' Gym Club: Since 1991, the Club has assisted with the Giant Fair and Auction held on Anzac Day (sometimes Easter Monday) every year from which one half the funds raised goes to the Gym Club.
Foodbank: In 1991, the Club began to supply tinned food and soups to Foodbank by selling them to members every lunch meeting and then donating the goods. Up to the present time, goods worth over $30,000 have been donated.
Rotary Readers: Ron Lamaont began a project in 1998 which involved volunteers visiting primary schools for on morning a week to help children with their reading. Fifteen school with four in each invlolves 60 peopel every week. That project continues to the present day.
Women membership: Rotary had traditionally restricted membership to men. That changed in 1989 when Rotary International changed its constitution to admit women members. This Club welcomed its first women members in 1994 and, since then, many professional and business women have contributed to Club activities. In 2003, the Club's first woman president, Chris Coutts, took office.
75 Years: In 1999, Club members celebrated their 75th anniversary with a memorable celebration dinner. To mark the occasion, Ed Boyd and Hinemoa Ransom-Boyd wrote and produced an excellent history, "The Rotary Club of Wanganui : 75 Years" The Anniversary project adopted was to raise funds of $75,000 from the wider community to assist with building the Majestic Square. In fact, over $100,000 was raised, mostly by selling paving bricks inscribed with the donor's name.
Ron Russell looks back: In 1996, former president and Mayor of the City Ron Russell completed 50 years of membership of this Club. On that occasion, he gave an absorbing address to members in which he reflected on those 50 years and offered some thoughts. In closing, he said
"How fortunate I am to have been part of all this, to have shared so much with so many, and to have experienced the early opportunities which Rotary offered, to be able to look at all the names on our past Presidents' board and recall that I did indeed learn from them".
© 2015 Dongni Ma (Tonia Ma). All rights reserved.