Rotary Club of Mountain Home
A Brief History

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Several weeks ago, when President Randy Costa asked it I'd put together a program on the history of our club, I thought to myself, "Sure, I can do that. I know a lot of stories about the club - I've been a member for 32 years - surely I can do that." The last couple of weeks have been a time for me of remembering times gone by, of learning new things I didn’t know, and trying to put together some information that will be interesting to you.

First of all, I want to acknowledge the work of a group of Rotarians who worked together in the late 1990's to pull together a lot of information about our club from the archives of District 6110, from interviews with some of our older members, and bits and pieces of information from where-ever they could find it. They were: Dick Cole, Dan Lee, Jimmy Lowe, and Bill Sims. Since that time, others like Steve Johnson and Jodie Elizabeth Jeffrey have contributed to preserving the information. What we have is a wonderful, but unfinished work that commemorates the history of the Rotary Club of Mountain Home. Hopefully we can find the time and resources to make the information a permanent record that is updated every year.

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Bill Thompson, Mike’s father, moved to Cotter, Arkansas, in 1941, and joined the Rotary Club of Cotter in 1942. The Cotter Club was chartered February 23, 1938, according to Bill, because that date was inscribed on the club's bell. Cotter was a railroad town, a bustling and growing community. Several men from Mountain Home also joined the Cotter club, including Ray Ramey, Sr., who was a former District Governor in Mississippi. His son, Ray Ramey, Jr., Carl Keys, and Ennis Shiras were also members from Mountain Home. When there were as many members from Mountain Home as there were from Cotter, the name was changed to the Cotter-Mountain Home Club. During World War II, when gasoline was rationed, meetings were alternated between Mountain Home and Cotter. Shortly after World War II ended, District Governor "Baldy" Chambers noted in his visit to the club that due the growth of the two towns, it was probably time for a second club to be organized. The members from Mountain Home and Cotter were in agreement, and pursued a new charter.

The Rotary Club of Mountain Home was chartered October 17, 1946, by 32 of the leading business and professional men in Mountain Home. The charter banquet was held at the Mountain Home Café, located on the Northeast side of the square (Dryer Shoes location). Back in 1946, the Mountain Home area was recovering from World War II and the GIs were returning from war activity to peace time. Bull Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam were under construction, and the Corps of Engineers had five representatives in these initial thirty-two charter members. Other occupations represented were the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, a school superintendent, a county school supervisor, a dentist, a rancher, rural mail carrier, physician, minister, and several other businessmen. There were no bankers or lawyers.

The Baxter Bulletin, published weekly, carried most of its local news in small snippets, but the first article about the new Rotary Club was a rather large article for that day. That may have been because Pete and Ennis Shiras - co-owners of the Bulletin - were both members of the club. Advertisements in that edition of the Bulletin included round steak at Burrows Store for 58 cents a pound, or a one pound can of Folger’s coffee at Tom Clark's store for 48 cents. An evening meal at the Mountain Home Café was 89 cents.

Noteworthy Projects
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One of the first projects in the early 50’s was the purchase of the land that is today Mountain Home’s Hickory Park. The Rotary Club of Mountain Home purchased the land for an estimated $2,700, and deeded it to the city. There is a restriction in the deed prohibiting the City of Mountain Home from selling any of the land donated for the park without the consent of the Rotary Club of Mountain Home. Mike Thompson remembers coming with his father and other members of the Cotter club to help pick up rocks and improve the park. Later, the club helped build the first two tennis courts at the park and improve the ball field there. Most of the improvements at today's park have been made by other contributions and the City of Mountain Home, but the park's beginning was with our Rotary Club.

During the sixties, our club helped provide support for the Hospital for Crippled Adults in Memphis. And for several years the club administered a student loan fund for aspiring LPN's.

Since 1978, we have been active in highway cleanup, helping keep a stretch of Highway 62 Southwest free from trash.

Beginning in 1995, Dr. Tim Paden helped gather used medical equipment that was being upgraded so it could be donated for use in developing countries where that used equipment was "state of the art" stuff. We recently were awarded a Rotary District Matching grant to help buy a covered trailer for the Food Bank of North Arkansas. Another noteworthy project was the completion in 2003 of a $15,000 commitment to fund the development one of the new fields in the soccer field complex.

Probably the most enduring project for the club over the years has been our support of the Mountain Home Scholarship Fund. The majority of funds raised through our annual pancake day plus the fines we collect each week are used to fund scholarships. Ed Pinkston's wife, Fannie, was for many years the driving force behind the Mountain Home Scholarship Fund. I don't have a record of the total dollars that this club has contributed, but a 1996 Baxter Bulletin article stated that since 1990, over $50,000 had been contributed to the scholarship fund by the club.

Notable International Activities
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Over the years, four students from the Mountain Home area have been selected to become Rotary Foundation scholars for a year of post-graduate overseas study. In 1955, George Lane Keeter studied for a year at the University of Australia. More recently, Dr. Prema Abraham studied anatomy and physiology at the Christian Medical School in South India prior to entering medical school in the United States. Bill Kerr in 1990 studied for one year at Oxford University in England. I remember when Bill came to speak to our Rotary club after his year of study that he gave one of the most informative speeches on the work of Rotary and the Rotary Foundation that I'd ever heard. Jacob Abraham studied biology and genetics in Sidney, Australia on a Rotary scholarship.

Before coming to the United States, Dr. K. Simon Abraham, father of Prema and Jacob, studied two years for advanced training in cardiac surgery in New Zealand on the Rotary scholar program. In a letter to Dan Lee, Dr. Abraham said, "It is unusual for three members of a family to receive this honor, and we hope we have been able to honor Rotary by being good American citizens."

During the late 90's, Dave Matty also worked very hard in Rotary's International Student Exchange Program, where foreign students come to the United States and live in Rotarian homes while visiting. Dave also helped establish and nourish an Interact Club in Mountain Home High School, where Steve Hatch continues that work today.

Most recently, in 2003 Gil DeLorenzo was selected to head a Group Study Exchange team of three men and one lady to travel for Sweden for six weeks.

Notable Characters
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Ed Pinkston, who served as Secretary of our Mountain Home club for more than twenty eight years, reportedly showed up as an uninvited guest at the Cotter club, and liked it so much he just kept coming. According to Rotary legend, Ed was never proposed for membership in either the Cotter or Mountain Home club, but he served faithfully for decades. In the days before women were eligible for membership, the club would occasionally have a "Ladies Night," a dinner for Rotarians and their wives, who were called "Rotary Ann's." When it came time to introduce the wives, Ed would always stand and giggle, "Well, I brought my Fannie!" The Pinkston Middle School is named for Ed and Fannie Pinkston.

Another notable character would be Earle Johnson. Earle injected a lot of life and fun into the club meetings. He revived the "Rotary Tattler," a weekly newsletter that had its beginnings in 1951 with Kenneth Trammell, and published the "Tattler" for many years. He was also the original "News of the Day" reporter in 1979, fining Rotarians whose names or pictures appeared in the Baxter Bulletin. Back then, the Baxter Bulletin was still a weekly publication, so the job wasn't as hard as it is today for Jodie and Jackson. Earle also led the club in singing "Happy Birthday" each week. I remember when he first had us begin shouting "HEY!" at the end of the song. What a tradition that has become! Some of you may remember the meeting when we all secretly agreed NOT to put the "HEY" exclamation at the end of the song - but we didn't tell Earle. When he realized he'd shouted a solo "Hey!" and at the same instant realized he'd been had by the entire club, the look on Earle's face was priceless.

The most notable member of this club was Dr. Ben Saltzman, who joined this club during its initial year of existence, and is counted as a harter member. Ben served as president of the club in 1949, served two terms as District Governor of (then) District 611, went on to serve on the board of directors of Rotary International, as a trustee of the Rotary Foundation, and was named the first Chairman of the Health, Hunger, and Humanity Committee.

Remember that I said that during the sixties, our club would help support the Hospital for Crippled Adults in Memphis? Ben had a real interest in that work, and would periodically fly to Memphis to visit the hospital. On one on those trips, the hospital administrator told him this story:

"A father had been carrying his son, who had been unable to walk since birth, into the hospital for treatment every week for a month. During one of these treatments, the doctor asked the father if he would leave his son for four to six weeks for a special series of surgical treatments that all of the doctors felt would help the boy to walk. At every weekly visit the father could notice his son improving. One day when the father opened the door to the hallway leading to his son’s room, there in the hallway he saw his son standing on his own two legs for the first time since he was born. You see, Dad had carried his son piggy-back every place they went - for twenty-one years!"

Ben would later tell that story at a Lake Placid meeting of the Rotary International Assembly and Institute, and that story would be the seed from which would grow the Rotary International's 3-H Program - Health, Hunger, and Humanity. Out of that 3-H program was born Polio Plus, Rotary's commitment to rid the entire world of polio by 2005, Rotary's 100th birthday. To date, Rotary has funded $500 million of the $2 billion spent toward the eradication of polio. While the original goal of eliminating polio by 2005 will not quite be reached, the end is in sight, and the lives of millions of children around the world have been changed. What a difference Ben Saltzman made through Rotary.

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I didn't locate a record of any of the earliest fund-raising events of the club, or where the club got the funds to purchase the city park land.

When I joined the club in 1972, our fund-raising project was selling barbeque chicken halves. We'd cook the chicken on outdoor grills in Hickory Park, and sell them on the square. According to Roy Danuser, we had been doing chicken halves since 1962, and members of the club would start the wood fire in the wee hours of the morning and cook chicken halves 'til dawn. During that same period, the Cotter club held a coon supper as a fund-raiser. In 1978 we switched to pancakes, and held pancake day at the Legion Hut on Sixth Street. Tank Rea and I were the original dishwashers - and all we had was a deep sink, soap, and hot water. How things have changed for the better!

Some of My Most Memorable Moments in Rotary
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  • Joining with my two brothers in 1982 at the Cedar Grill to present our father, Neil Nelson, with a Paul Harris Fellowship.
  • At a ladies night at the Ramada Inn, being surprised with my own Paul Harris Fellowship after my wife, Brenda, had finished out my original Sustaining Member status.
  • At Chastain's in Bull Shoals in 1995, watching my shocked and grateful wife, Brenda, go forward to accept her Paul Harris Fellowship.
  • Finding a "Tattler" that had several pictures of a pancake day that included a picture of me and two of my grandchildren with a caption that reads "Future Rotarians?" I would like to think so.
  • Attending the RI convention in San Antonia, and being asked by a lady from the Philipines to thank the members of our club for helping protect the children of her country from polio.
  • Sharing a five minute conversation with a tall, black Rotarian from Nigeria as we studied a display of 25 outstanding Rotary 3-H projects around the world.
  • Being presented by then police officer Jim Stevens with a warrant for my arrest for "stealing Rusty Frazier's coat."
  • Hosting fireside chats with new members of the club, passing along the history and traditions of Rotary.

Memorable Story Titles
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  • "Spilling the Mashed Potatoes" with Neil Nelson and Reverend Ben Few.
  • "Don't anybody yell 'Hey' at the end of Happy Birthday" starring Earle Johnson.
  • "$10 says Frank Bailey can say the Four-Way Test backward" with Frank Bailey, Jim Allen, and Larry Nelson
  • "Exactly how’d you say you won that airplane?" featuring Ron Helvey.

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In 1947, dues were $1.00 a month. Members paid $1.00 per week, 85 cents plus tax going to the meal, and the rest into the treasury.

Our club has met in several locations since 1946: The Mountain Home Café, the Baptist College, and the fellowship hall of the Methodist church. When I joined the club in 1972, we met at the Cedar Grill on Main Street. We moved to the Carriage Inn Restaurant in 1978, then in 1980 to the Ramada Inn, then to Nettie's Cafeteria, and in 2000 met first at the Ramada, then moved to the Holiday Inn, and finally to Big Creek Country Club - three moves in a single year!

There were two sets of brothers that were charter members - Joe Bill and Hugh Hackler, and Pete and Ennis Shiras.

There have been five father/son members of our club: Ray Ramey, Sr. and Ray Ramey, Jr., also both charter members. The other four are Bill and Mike Thompson, Sam and Jackson Rhoades, Earle and Steve Johnson, and Neil and Larry Nelson. The Nelsons are also the only father/son combination to both serve as presidents of the club. My uncle Faye Nelson was a charter member, so there has always been a Nelson in the club.

Lane and Jodi Strother are one of two father/daughter combination to be members of the club. Jim Allen and Eden Cowart are the newest.

The first woman admitted to the club in 1990 was Dianna Dawson, manager of the local Arkansas Western Gas Company.

The first woman to serve as president was Pat Bailey in 2001. She and Frank are the only husband/wife combination to both serve as president of our club. Our second husband/wife team is Steve and Kala Hatch.

In 1973, our club presented a Paul Harris Fellowship to Dr. Ben Saltzman.

The three longest-serving active members of our club are: John Ed Isbell admitted to membership in December, 1967, Dick Cole, serving since November, 1966, and Sam Rhoades, who joined this club in April, 1966.

When the club was chartered in 1946, it had 32 members. Twenty two years later in 1968, it had 30 members. It grew during the seventies and eighties to a membership of 87 in 1988. Membership declined over the next seven years to 72 by 1995, but has rebuilt to 87 again this year - the same number as sixteen years ago.

The 1995 "Tattler" listed 72 members. Of those 72, 18% have moved, 11% died, and 32% are no longer active in the club. Only 39% (28) of the active members 10 years ago are still active.

I believe these next two statistics speak volumes about the make-up of the club today. Of our 87 members, 19 are past presidents, so we have a strong Rotary background in our membership.

In 1995 we listed 13 Paul Harris Fellows; in 2002 we showed a total of 14. This year 49 of our current members are Paul Harris Fellows - 56% of our membership, plus eight spouses that are Paul Harris Fellows. That surge of support for the Rotary Foundation in the last two years is unparalleled in the history of this club.

The Rotary Club of Mountain Home has had 57 men and 2 women serve as president of the club. As I read the names of each, if you are present, would you please stand and remain standing:

-Appendix - List of Presidents of the Club –
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Ladies and gentlemen, all past presidents of the Rotary Club of Mountain Home, I salute the contribution you made to the ongoing success of this club. You were challenged during your year to give a part of yourself, and to leave a part of yourself in the heritage of this club. We are here today because of your willingness to take a leadership role in promoting and sustaining this wonderful thing we share - called Rotary. Let's show our appreciation with applause.

So who will be at this podium fifty years from now, and what will they be talking about? Will they be talking about the way this club dreamed of exceptional service to this community and worked together unselfishly to make it happen? Will they be talking about the passion this club developed for the Rotary Foundation - or how the Rotary Club of Mountain Home, Arkansas became an example for all of the clubs in District 6110? Will they be talking about you? Remembering the contribution you made to this community and the world through this Rotary club? There are new Ben Saltzman’s around the world being invited to join Rotary each week – and they will provide the vision and leadership for Rotary into the next 100 years! Will you be one?

I challenge you to teach the ones who will join this club in coming years the stories of where we've come - the dreams and projects we've shared together, and above all, teach them "how to do Rotary the right way" - with enthusiasm and purpose - with "Service Above Self" as the primary motivator of what we plan and the "Four Way Test" our guide to take us there with integrity. My fellow Rotarians, as you reflect on these comments on the history of our club, let me encourage you to be one of the ones that Rotary history will remember.

Larry G. Nelson
Club President 1977-78