As often is the case, actual birthdays, and other origin stories, are not always as clean and simple as they appear. The official records indicate that our club #70 charter is May 11, 1926.
The Longview Club was chartered by the Kelso Club and formed with a charter membership of 21, of which 14 had been members of the Kelso-Longview Club. Some familiar names from that list include Ed Gebert (first pastor of the Community Church), K.T. Myklebust (owner of major department store), and Wesley Vandercook (Long-Bell employee who chose the site for Longview). In later years, the Longview Club chartered both the Early Edition Rotary group in 1980 and the Woodland Rotary Club in 1997.
Helping to Build a New City
The records of the Club show that it has every reason to be proud of its part in the affairs of the community. There are records of contributions to the city’s cultural, educational, philanthropic, and patriotic activities. It should be remembered that Longview, at the time of the organization of the Rotary Club, was a city barren of the usual resources found in an older community. It hasn’t always been easy for the Club to maintain its self-elected civic status, and in the depth of the Great Depression, it was especially difficult, financially speaking. Dues were reduced to $15 per year, and even so, members were dropping out because of their inability to maintain their membership. To exemplify the distress of those years, there is an item in the minutes from 1932 in which the Club provided $25 “to aid in providing shoes for local children unable to attend school because of lack of shoes.”
Robert A. Long’s vision of Longview is continuing to unfold, and it is the people of Longview and organizations like this one that will help make Mr. Long’s dream a reality.
What Longview Rotary Does
Despite the stringency of the times, the Club established a student loan fund in 1931, aided in summer camp for boys, built a Boy Scout cabin, and injected itself into NRA (that is the National Recovery Act, not the one we think of today) activities. Hardly had the Club recovered from these trying years when it moved into the period of World War II. The Club, as such, and its members as individuals were involved in various enterprises and activities which had a bearing on the war and the post-war era. One example from 1946 showed the Club assembling 13,000 cans of foodstuff and packed shipped off 500 cases. These included every kind of processed food of the time.
Those of us today may not remember such organizations as the Defense Council or post-war planning organizations, but Club members were heavily involved in such activities. By 1939, the 48 member club was operating on an annual budget of $720.
The major money making project of the Club was the Country Store, which was the sale of virtually everything the members could gather together, and it proved a huge success. The first one, a men’s suit sale only was held in 1953 and netted $1,500. It grew from this one event, moved around over the years before eventually turning into a three-day garage sale at the Fairgrounds.
The Country Store “opened” every 18 months and was a steady source of revenue for the Club. The proceeds from these sales were used mainly by the Club in its education program. In 1957 the proceeds from the store provided band uniforms for the newly established Mark Morris High School. In 1978-79, the Country Store had a huge year at the Cowlitz County Fairgrounds with furniture from the renovated Hotel Monticello, surplus materials from the Longview School District, and other large items that led to a live auction.
The Country Store eventually ran its course and was replaced by the Tour de Blast is the Club’s largest fundraiser.
Then there’s The Tour de Blast. Rotarian Vince Hughes and non-Rotarian (but still great guy) Andre Stepankowsky came up with this crazy idea that a service group could pull off a world-class bike ride event. Of course, they were right. It began in 1997 or 1998 and has had as many as 1,650 riders from around the world and is the biggest money raiser for Rotary to give to local and international projects benefitting the community and the world.
Some of the many organizations that Longview Rotary has touched in the recent past include scholarships to local high school graduates, CAST (Children’s After School Theatre) through the Columbia Theatre, Habitat for Humanity, Columbia Theatre, Cowlitz Historical Museum, YMCA, Cowlitz County Child Advocates (formerly CASA), Emergency Support Shelter, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Cowlitz Free Medical Clinic, Lower Columbia School Gardens and Community House on Broadway just to name a few. We have also added a literacy program in Uganda, a computer program in Thailand, water wells in Kenya and Uganda, ShelterBox USA, Schools in India, and, of course, Polio Plus.
Then there’s literacy. The Longview Club has always had a strong connection to helping children, education, and literacy. Some of our recent projects include money to Head Start for a Play and Read program for those families on the waitlist and for early childhood math tool kits.
There has been plenty with Longview School District as well, including book donations to the school libraries and classrooms, funds to help the Longview Early Education Program (LEEP), and math literacy support through the elementary school’s Family Math Nights and most recently, The Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Of course, Rotarians participated in many of these projects but nowhere more obviously than in the project that has helped keep the libraries at Kessler, Olympic, and St. Helen’s open for two hours per week during summer school.
One of the numerous activities in which the Longview Club has gained satisfaction is its exchange student program which began in 1953.
Members hosted many students from a variety of countries, including Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, and Brazil.
The celebration signaling freeing of tolls from the Lewis and Clark Bridge in October of 1965 was the climax of the bridge opening celebration back in 1930, where Rotarians K.T. Myklebust and R.L. Sailors played important roles.
On May 2, 1951, the Club observed its Silver Anniversary with a banquet at the Hotel Monticello, which included entertainment and a speaker.
In 1963, the Club was honored by having its first District Governor with the election of Cliff Hadley. This has since been repeated with Em Piper in 1975, Ferris Albers in 1982, and Harold “Alex” Alexander in 2009. We have also had two District Secretaries in Tom Manning and Jim Hennig.
The Longview Club has been part of a number of districts over the years.
It first had the distinction of being a member of District 1, then during reapportionment to District 101.
Subsequent changes moved the Longview Club to Districts 102, 152, 154, 502, and at present 5020, which includes only portions of Western Washington and British Columbia, thus making it a rare two-nation Rotary District.
Three District Conferences have been held here: in 1954, 1964, and 2010.
During World War II, this Club paid its debt to patriotism in the death of Captain Robert J. Gotthardt, who was a member at the time his plane was shot down over Germany.
The Club President was also the “Fine Master” for a long time. Some past presidents, who shall remain nameless, had a great time finding our members for all of their notoriety while being recognized for their leadership and generosity, and their personal and familial successes. Earlier, the fines rarely exceeded a quarter.
For many years, the basic location had been The Monticello Hotel.
It provided a central location, good food, and a meeting room without charge. Due to instability of finances and ownership, however, we needed to find other locations, sometimes without much warning. One member, Henri Paul, allowed us to switch to Henri’s Restaurant on short notice. Once the Hotel was back in service, we returned. For a similar reason, we moved to the Elks Club building. That lasted several years; later, we returned to the Hotel.
More recently, we met weekly at the Cowlitz Regional Conference Center before re-establishing our current meeting location at the Longview Country Club..
Then there was the impact of a hijacked airplane on November 24, 1971.
The hijacker was the now infamous D.B. Cooper, who departed a Boeing 727 somewhere east of Woodland with $200,000.
The first FBI agent in charge of the event was club member Tom Manning. He received quite a bit of kidding in subsequent years due to his inability to find the culprit.
From its inception, Rotary was a male-only organization. In the mid-80s, the movement to include women in all-male groups swept the nation. Rotary, along with many other organizations, were put under the microscope.
Eventually, the court system forced the change. In our Club, the prospect of allowing female members was formally discussed during a debate between Pete Pickett and Jim Hennig at a club meeting; the conclusion was a vote for the affirmative. The first female to be admitted to membership was Lynette Waller (proposed by Bob Chace), and Stella Wilson became the Club’s first female President in 1999, followed by Maryanne Wainwright in 2004, Marti Johnson in 2015, and Denise Ferner in 2017.
In 2005 there was the ill-fated attempt to move to an online version of the logbook. After great protest and considerable pressure, Buz Ketcham published a (most likely collectible) impromptu paper version.
In the 2009-2010 Rotary year, the Jim Torkko Award for Ethics in Business was established.
A Rotaract Club at LCC was started in 2012-13, and most recently, an Interact Club began in 2020.
Service Above Self
Why Rotary? What do we gain in coming together each and every week, other than enjoying the fellowship and pleasantry of one another’s company? To be sure, there is always a program and fining, lots and lots of fining, and light-hearted bantering and assessing. It is not until one reviews the efforts and accomplishments of the Club, particularly through its Board of Directors and committees, that one acquires knowledge of its value to the community and its contribution in the greater field of Rotary International.
Locally, many of these activities and accomplishments are not reflected in reports and meetings. A review of the history of the Club demonstrates that is a valuable standby asset in the community, responsible and dependable when the need for its services arises.
We have a short five years until we turn 100, and perhaps by then, we will be able to say that polio has finally been eradicated. Regardless, the commitment to service continues on and is still the cornerstone of this Club.
95 YEAR CELEBRATION
At our regular club meeting on May 12, 2021, our celebration included District 5020 Governor Greg Horn and Assistant Governor Anil Puri. 13 long-tenured club #70 Rotarians and past presidents, with 550 total years of service, shared their recollections and “Rotary Moments.”