This is taken from Anson Leary’s "archives of the Westport Rotary Club” – a year by year record maintained faithfully from 1924 until his death, in August 1962, from a heart attack at a Rotary meeting in Honolulu.
Anson had hoped to write a history of the club he helped establish, but he had penned only a beginning before his final, fatal trip to Hawaii. "As far back as I can remember,” He wrote, "it was generally understood that I was the official Historian of the Westport Rotary Club. My wife accuses me of never throwing anything away, and she is mostly right… So this is Rotary’s beginning in Westport:
In the Beginning: 1923
"In 1923 there were no men’s organizations in Westport. Most things of a civic nature were instigated by the Women’s Town Improvement Association, which later became the West Woman’s Club. Several people talked to me of the need for a men’s club. It happened that I had been introduced to Rotary during my services as YMCA Secretary in Newark, New Jersey. I suggested Rotary for Westport.
"With only six men, we cast about for help. I knew several Rotarians in Greenwich, so we asked their help. In those days 18 members were needed to secure a Charter. Each of our six men agreed to get two others. We held our preliminary meetings at The Manor House on the Post Road, in the southeast corner of Compo Road and Rotary International granted us a charter. (on March 7, 1924.
"We arranged for a Gala Charter Night at the Westport (now Birchwood) Country Club on March 26, 1924 although the actual charter date is March 7, 1924. In the midst of a blinding snow storm the Westport Club was launched officially. Ninety-eight Rotarians came from all over this part of the state, 25 of them from Greenwich, our Sponsor Club.
"Our 18 Charter Members were:
Einar W. Andersen, commercial banking;
William D. Dickinson, plumbing;
Karl A. Dodge, soaps and disinfectants;
Leonard H. Gault, coal and gravel;
Charles F. Hendricks, embalmers’ supplies
Edwin W. Hubbell, insurance
Willis C. Jones, printing
John A.Kimber, tanning;
John D. Lawson, publisher;
Anson T. Leary, YMCA secretary;
Angus B. MacDonnall, artist;
Edward C. Nash, ice dealer;
David Sachs, groceries;
James Sniffen, twine and cordage;
Edward J. Taylor, florist;
Austin Wakeman, mattress manufacturer; and
Leo F. Williams, laundry.
Our first officers were: Anson T. Leary, president; John A. Kimber, vice-president; Edward W. Hubbell, secretary; Einar W. Andersen, treasurer.”
The First Community Projects
"The playground of Bedford Elementary School was covered with rocks. All our members augmented by other citizens, spent an entire Saturday, June 7, 1924, with teams, trucks and other heavy equipment clearing the area and making it into a good playground. The project cemented the ties that bound us together.”
projects followed. A town ambulance was needed, so we organized a citizen’s
committee and raised the $3,600 needed to purchase one. We needed a Chamber of
Commerce, so we organized one. We
organized and equipped a Junior High School Fife-and-Drum Corps. We sponsored a twilight baseball league and
several Boy Scout troops. We built the
Rotary Pavilion at the YMCA Day Camp.”
Original Meetings at Compo Beach Pavilion
-"then at the Manor House, where the Compo Acres Shopping Center now stands. In 1925, we moved to The Hidden Door, in Church Lane... Several special meetings were held at Coley’s Tavern, North Avenue and Easton Road in the late ‘20s. From about 1937 to 1955 we met at the Y, with lunches served by the Ladies’ Aids of various local churches such as Norfield, the Methodists, Lutherans, Christ and Holy Trinity, and Greens Farms Congregational and the Daughters of the Eastern Star. In 1955 we returned to restaurants - The Townley until 1964 and then Barn’s on East State Street.”
"Fun was part of every meeting. The Club had its own orchestra, the envy of every other club in the area. It played at every Westport Meeting and every Charter night in the old 30thDistrict, and at many invitational affairs.” In November, 1040 it reached its apex, at the Rotary Pavilion at The World’s Fair. A 1932 entry of Anson’s notes that”Herb Baldwin started to play his bass viola with us which added considerably to the sound.” But time took its inevitable toll, and their sweet music has not been heard since the early ‘50s.”
In 1935, Ozzie while serving as president - was presented with a 24 inch cigar by the club, on the occasion of his birthday. That same day all past presidents were treated to a drink, a "cocktail” of weak tea embellished with a cherry.”
Early records chronicle brilliant speakers on a variety of intellectual subjects: for example, "Disinfectants” by one Clarence Weirich, not yet a Rotarian; Ed Nash on "Ice Harvesting”; Undertaking by Charles Fable; "My Trip Overseas” by (naturally Karl Dolge; "exercise” by Al Bresslin; and Len Gault told "How I Traded my Cows for Horses to Go into the Coal Business”.
"In the Archives we read: "Doc Rogers has promised venison for the past four weeks. How much longer must we eat his promises?” And this note by Anson himself: "The Club presented me with a beautiful traveling bag. I used it and then my kids used it all through school and college, and it went down with Bob’s ship at Saipan”.
"But the more solemn duties of a Rotarian are never far below the fun of Anson’s proposed history. What, he asks, is the real purpose of Rotary? And he answers in part:
"First, its object is to develop acquaintance which leads to friendship and fellowship;
"Second, Rotary gives to many of us the weekly interlude we need to break the monotony of life;
"Third, Westport is a friendly Club. Friendship is the soil of in which Rotary grows; and
"Fourth, friendship cannot be bought as can membership in a golf or yacht club. To win a friend, you must be one.”
In 1999, at the 75th Anniversary of the Club, updates included.
Taking Health Care to Heart
The Westport Rotary Club has, from the very beginning, taken to its heart the entire area of health care. Few who are familiar with the Annual Roast Beef Dinner realize that the first activity of the Westport Rotary Club was the payment of tuition for a Westport girl who wished to become a nurse. Within two months we raised half the cost of the first Town Ambulance, and before that year was up we had contributed handsomely to the fund for crippled children. Payment of surgeons and hospital bills for a youth threatened with blindness, contributions to ambulances in foreign countries, and many years of active committees helping crippled and retarded children, are just some of the examples to be found in the old records of the club.
With Blistered Hands and Aching Backs
"Blistered hands and aching backs, on men who were not accustomed to that type of strenuous activity, welded them together as nothing else could.”
This type of physical participation has been repeated many times. Rotarians planned and executed with their own hands, the first six fireplaces at Compo Beach. We aided in the construction of the swimming pool and clearing of the grounds at the Girl Scout Camp at Aspetuck. The all time major job was building the Rotary Pavilion at YMCA Camp Mahackeno. Within two years we were at it again building the Director’s Cabin at Mahackeno where Rotary labor provided the Association with a vital facility.”
Rotary worked with the Chamber of Commerce to persuade Western Union to establish a local office in the days when telegraph service really meant something in convenience for the townsfolk.”
Service Above Self
Service to the Youth of the Town has also stood high on the list of Rotary activities. As a club, we provided college scholarships for many years. We sponsored, organized and equipped a junior high school Band when such things were not expected of the Board of Education. The first Westport twilight baseball league was a Westport-Rotary sponsored activity and the Boy Scouting has the Club to thank for several troops. Although not major projects, the club has on literally dozens of occasions contributed time, money, and effort to the Boy’s Department of the YMCA. It is fair to say that without the personal participation of Rotarians over the years, the Y would not be the organization it is today. Rotarians have served as lay officers and committee men, have provided the (original) Y pool and were instrumental in obtaining the funds with which Camp Mahackeno was purchased.
The annual Roast Beef Dinner initiated in 1958 by Ed Mitchell and continued for fifty years honoring local public servants and public safety contributors.
The Club went through hard times during the Depression. At one time, dues had to be lowered to $10 and the luncheon dropped from 90 to 75 cents. Then, as now, a good lunch is part of the happiness at a Rotary meetings and, in search of that ideal, we have met in a good many places. First at the Mansion House, and for the first three summers at the Compo Pavilion, now long gone. The Normandie, the New Englander ((Now the Westport Inn,) Barna’s, the Three Bears, the Canterbury. But the lunches upstairs at the Y, catered by the Ladies Aides of various churches and the Daughters of the Eastern Star were truly outstanding in quality at $1.25 until the characterization of the community ended that sort of activity. Currently, we are very fortunate in the facilities and service at Longshore.”
Helping Those in Need
"When the respected and affectionately-regarded Chief of Police. Sam Luciano, died suddenly, leaving a widow and three school aged girls, the Club volunteered to pay for their post high school education, a pledge on which we made good for the next six years. When the commitment was over we were able to contribute substantially to the Meals on Wheels programs and at the same time to support Staples Hockey and Staples Radio Station WWPT.”
"Some of the things for which Westport Rotary has supplied at least part of the funding include the Nature Court at the Youth Museum in 1960 (now The Nature Center); half of the cost of an ambulance sent to South West Africa, and several year’s contributions to the Levitt Pavilion.
Most of the projects we have supported were planned first, and then the funds raised. But, upon need, we have frequently responded on a crash-let’s-do-it-now, basis. As the war was winding down we got an urgent appeal for clothing for the Holland Dutch (sic) over whom the fighting had rolled. We undertook a clothing collection jointly with (you should pardon the expression) the Kiwanis Club, with the Fire House as a Collection point with Rotarian Harold Shippey , then Chief of the Fire Department, offering the Central Fire House as the collection point, One week after starting, Howard Gault’s trucks and men loaded two box cars with clothes the firemen had packed in cartons. It has always stuck in my mind that every bit taken in was in a A-1 shape and the only thing we couldn’t match was a single lady’s high-heel shoe.”
few more recent community projects include construction and landscaping of the
bus-stop shelter at Canal Park; painting the bathhouse at Burial Hill Beach;
300 hands shrubs planted and mulched by Rotary hands and backs at the library.
A new bus stop near Super Stop and Shop as well as sponsorship of and
participation in Make-a-Difference-Day.
Our on-going fund raisers are, of course, the regular weekly fines and Happy Dollars, with the Annual Family Roast Beef/Chicken/Pasta Dinner. And then there are special projects with the Bike-a-thon jointly with the Bridgeport Club) and the Calgary Cook Books; the Golden Nails for the Comp Beach Playground construction (and homeless shelter, medical supplies for Haiti and Santo Domingo hurricane and earthquake relief…. It never ends.
A New Era
November, 1998 opened a new ERA (pun intended), with the election of the first of a growing number of women who have caught the spirit of Rotary and put their shoulders to the Rotary Wheel. They bring impressive educational, professional and business involvement and have moved smoothly into the responsibilities and activities of the club. In 1996 we elected our first woman as President of this Club: Judy Rovins. Judy set a high standard of leadership and accomplishment for all who would follow!