The Pine Bluff Rotary Club charged into its second century of existence Thursday night with a rousing celebration at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
In honor of the club’s 100th anniversary, outgoing president Tommy Brown announced the club would donate $40,000 to the Go Forward Pine Bluff economic and community revitalization initiative.
“Our community is going forward with us, and we are going forward with them,” Brown said, to a standing ovation of about 100 people in attendance. “We will tie this in to the economic benefit of this wonderful community, filled with wonderful, magnificent people.”
The club has also pledged other donations to honor its centennial with a “100 things” program. It plans to donate 100 duffel bags as well as toiletries to children in foster care, who frequently use garbage bags when moving from home to home. The donation was made possible through a $2,500 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation.
The club will also donate 100 20-inch fans to the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Arkansas for elderly people who lack air conditioning. Another planned donation is 100 sporting goods items to kids through the Salvation Army, such as baseball gloves, basketballs, footballs, volleyballs and basketball goals.
Finally, the club will contribute $1,000 to PolioPlus, Rotary International’s worldwide campaign to end polio. The donation has been tripled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Brown said, for a total contribution of $3,000. The funds will pay for polio vaccinations.
Traditionally, the club gives to local causes such as Neighbor to Neighbor (a food pantry) and American Red Cross, as well as sponsoring Little League baseball teams. Over the years it has distributed thousands of dictionaries to third-graders in Jefferson County schools in an effort to promote literacy.
Rotarians also volunteer during Christmas with the Salvation Army, and the O.C. Hauber Rotary Foundation, Inc. gives scholarships to local high school students so they can attend college.
Thirty people attended the first meeting of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club on March 17, 1917 in the basement dining room of the Hotel Pines, according to an article in the program for the centennial celebration.
Attorney Paul Harris formed the first Rotary Club in Chicago on February 23, 1905, as a place where local professionals could network and socialize. The club’s name derived from the practice of rotating meetings between members’ offices, according to the Rotary International website. Eventually it grew into a service organization, with chapters spreading across the country and the world.
Thursday evening’s keynote speaker, Simmons First CEO George Makris, commended the donation to Go Forward and traced some of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club’s history.
Just two months after the club formed, it put together a parade to raise funds for the Red Cross during World War I. The parade reportedly drew 5,000 participants and 10,000 spectators. The attendance was notable, Makris said, because Pine Bluff’s population at the time was only 15,000. Governor Charles Brough reportedly called it “the most magnificent exhibition of patriotism I have ever witnessed in the state of Arkansas.”
H.K. “Kemp” Toney served as president of the club for its first three years, making him the only person to serve more than two years in that capacity in the club’s history.
Makris recalled how his father, the late George A. Makris Sr., kept perfect attendance for 36 years at the club until his death in 1989. When his father couldn’t attend a meeting in Pine Bluff, he made sure to be at Rotary wherever he was.
“He attended his last meeting in a robe and slippers as a patient of St. Vincent’s [Medical Center] Infirmary [in Little Rock], just a few days before his death,” Makris said. “I attended that meeting. I consider that the gold standard for discipline and commitment.”
Makris singled out Charles Bonner, who joined the Pine Bluff Rotary Club in June 1959, for Bonner’s own record of commitment. Bonner now lives in Conway, but retains his membership with the Pine Bluff Rotary Club. This month he celebrates 58 years of perfect attendance.
Makris called the club’s success in the past “foundational to its future.”
“That future starts now,” Makris said. “How are we going to begin it? We’re going to begin it $40,000 better off than we were earlier today.”
Makris said the Go Forward Pine Bluff plan, when implemented, “will make a significant difference in Pine Bluff.” He said he was confident that the Rotary Club and its members would be key players in successfully implementing the plan.
“Pine Bluff has changed much during the past life of the club, and the club has changed along with it,” Makris said. “Now Pine Bluff has an opportunity for more change, all positive. And Rotary Club can and should be a vital part of that successful transformation.”
The club’s president, Tommy Brown, also passed the gavel to president-elect Carolyn Blakely. Brown is an attorney and Blakely is a longtime professor, administrator and former interim chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The university’s honors college is named after Blakely.