A History of Our Club


The following was originally presented by Jack Beardall on February 3rd, 1965.
Rotary International was founded in 1905, and after World War I many problems of adjustment had to be made and thoughtful men faced the future with a determination to promote world-wide fellowship, which seemed to set the stage in harmony with the principals of Rotary.

On September 22nd, 1921, such a group, under the chairmanship of R .L. Stratton, gathered in the chambers of Judge Ward Stanworth, Harrison Hall, to discuss the possibility of organization of a Rotary Club in Chatham.

Charter Night was held in the Sanita Hotel where the Thames Theatre now stands, and Charter No. 1011 was presented to the Chatham Club under the sponsorship of the London Rotary Club and part of Rotary District No.23. Twenty-five members were inducted by District Governor Geo. E. Barnes of Philadelphia, Penn., however I should state that due to unforeseen circumstances, the actual presentation of the Charter was not made until Feb. 22nd, 1922, in conjunction with the celebrating of the 17th Anniversary of Rotary International. Only two of the original Charter Members are still active in our Club today: Wm. M. Gray and S. J. Smith; three others who are still living are Austin McLeish, our first Secretary; Howard Taylor, a Past President and Ted Sulman, who resigned from the Club years ago.

The committee system was inaugurated in 1923 with 8 committees. These have expanded under the 4 avenues of service into 23 committees and the latest addition is the Club Archivist, Jack Beardall, who was appointed July 1st, 1962. Today we have a President, Vice-President, 5 Directors, a Secretary and Assistant Secretary, Treasurer and Sergeant-at-Arms, Rotominder Editor and a Membership of 121 with the possibility of 5 new Members in the near future. The first Luncheons were held in the Chamber of Commerce Building, on the corner of Wellington St. West and Market Square East. Later, they moved to the Gray-Dort Club Rooms, now the Masonic Temple. Since 1930, these Luncheons have been held in the Princess Marina Room of the William Pitt Hotel.

Our club has been a part of six different districts, starting out in the 9th District (1921 & 22)… on to 638th District (1957 to now). Today there are 48 Clubs in 638; 40 in the State of Michigan, covering the Counties of Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw and in Canada, the 8 Clubs of Kent County, with a District membership of nearly 2,300. Our present District Governor, John E. Farrell of St. Clair Shores Club, Michigan, is the 49th Governor of this District. Canada has contributed 5 District Governors. In 1935 Wm. M. Grey, Chatham; 1940 Dr. Del Marr, Ridgetown; 1952 Alan Brander, Wallaceburg; 1956 G. Clarence Nichols, Blenheim; 1960 Dr. John R. MacPherson, Ridgetown; and further, in 1966 Nominee-Elect Proctor A. Dick, Chatham.

During the first 7 years, minutes of every meeting were kept and approved, but since 1928, the only records available were through the Rotominder. Minutes of the Directors’ Meetings are still kept in brief, but are not passed on in full to the Membership. The Club Rotominder has always been one of the banner publications of the District and has had only three Editors - the late Harry Thomas (25 years until 1952), Proctor A. Dick (11 years 1952 to 1963) and Harry Morgan presently. Harry Thomas and Proctor Dick also served as Club Secretaries, Harry Thomas 1922 – 1947 and Proctor Dick from 1947 until the present.
Through the years, Summer Meetings have been held at the homes of Bruce Bradley, Harry Pugh, Shirley Holmes, Perc. And Jack Chinnick, Bob Perry, Nap King and Sil Corsini. For many years past our Club has held special events which include: the serving of Christmas at the Thamesview Lodge and Victoria Home with our Members acting as waiters since 1921; Dinner our Children’s Party at Christmas for our Members’ children and grandchildren; Easter Party for handicapped children; Hallowe’en Party at the schools and the broadcasting of Christmas Carols by our Clun, taped in advance for broadcast over CFCO on Christmas morning.

Rotary pins were first available in 1922 and were specified to “be of Canadian manufacture”. On our Silver Anniversary in 1946 Harry Thomas and E. C. Steele presented the Club with a gong and gavel, while Jack Beardall, Bill Gray and Shirley presented the Club with a modern speech amplification system which is operated by remote control from a member’s table. In 1957 the latter trio followed through and presented a rostrum complete with reading lights, timer and microphone. In 1964, Jack Beardall presented the Club with a fine oil reproduction of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, making the toasting to her more realistic.

A Rotary Fair was held at the Armories for several years with Geo. R. Cummings as Manager, but when World War II started, the Armouries was no longer available for this purpose. Our first $10.00 Banquet was in 1940 and was given a tremendous start by R. L. Bevan – our last $10.00 Banquet was the 25th and we raised $3,800 – the largest amount in 25 years. The origin of these Banquets was the brain wave of the late editor of the Chatham Daily News, R. W. Angus.

The Rotary Club of Chatham is the Senior Service Club in the city, being organized in 1921; the Kinsman Club in 1928; Kiwanis Club in 1930; Optimist in 1937; Jaycees in 1949; Lions in 1949; Sertoma in 1952; Maple City Kiwanis in 1961. Our Club has always endeavoured to further the influence of Rotary in our District and gave valuable assistance in organizing Clubs in Blenheim, Thamesville, Tilbury and Wallaceburg. We can also claim, as our grandchildren, the Clubs in Ridgetown, Bothwell and Merlin.

Our Club has had some very talented musicians among its members who have assisted at the piano: Lou Challinor, John Allen, Harry Hirst, Jack Willard, Whitney Scherer, Jimmy Dunn, Jim Millman, Wilf Davidson, and at present the reliable Joe Emmott. Geo. Cummings, Stewart Douglas and Ron McGregor have acted as song leaders over the years.

Phil Coate first chaired our Crippled Children Committee which was formed soon after the Club was organized. He was succeeded by E. C. Steele who was the President of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children in the late 1940’s, then by the late Stewart Douglas. Since 1958 Bill Poile has ably carried on. In 1951 we undertook to manage the Easter Seal Campaign and Don Rispin and his office staff initially worked many hours mailing the appeal letters to all city homes from a list supplied by our local Hydro office. In recent years Rotary Anns have been invited to a regular Club Luncheon and afterwards remained to stuff the envelopes ready for mailing. This year, 1964, we mailed 11,564 envelopes (a stamp cost 3¢ -ed) and since 1959 our Rotarian Postmaster has given valuable assistance to the Committee. The amount raised in 1964 was $9,134.00 – the largest amount in 14 years.

Our Youth Work started in 1922, guided by Howard Taylor and K. L. Stratton. Later, Harry Thomas carried on for many years with his famous “Knights of St. Andrew”. Later again, we turned our attention to Junior Hockey and the word “Rotary” is still in the shirts of a Juvenile team today. Since 1948 we have sponsored, in conjunction with the Y.M.C.A., the Hobby Show, which has had as many as a thousand exhibits. S. J. Smith who was President of our Club in 1931-32 formed a “Better Sugar Beet Club” in 1930, and was instrumental in starting the Rural Urban Night. In 1929 Jim Gray and Phil Coate organized the Chatham Branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses. In 1948 our then President Proctor Dick, with Grant Thompson, organized the Cancer Society.

Starting in 1954 N.A.T.O. Airforce Cadets have been the guests of the Club for a day, attending our Luncheon and a Maroon Hockey Game as an Annual Event. Several other visiting foreign groups have attended our luncheons as our guests. In 1957 some 30 foreign students were guests of the Club and stayed overnight at homes of our Members. Since then it has been an Annual Affair.

The most spectacular Rotary event ever held in Kent County was the District Conference of 1939, when our own Bill Gray was General Chairman and Roy A. Plumb of Hamtramck, Michigan was District Governor. The main Banquet was held at the Chatham Armories and just a few short of 1,000 Rotarians and Rotary Anns sat down for supper. The special guest speaker was Hon. Howard Ferguson. The catering for this vast affair was by the combined services of the Women’s Societies of all the Chatham Churches and even to this day that notable event is still often mentioned. After all expenses in connection with the Banquet were paid, the Chatham Club had a profit of $500.00. However soon after that, a new ruling stated that all profit from a District Conference was to be turned in to the District Fund.

Only two Members have served as President for more than one year: R. L. Stratton 1921-22 and Proctor Dick 1947-48. Our present President Frank Gee, is our 43rd President. For 41 years the Club operated without a local set of Bylaws and the credit goes to Past President Larry O’Conner, who had them written and approved by the Membership in 1963.

Two Rotary International Regulations which plague all Rotary Clubs are: “all meetings must start and end at scheduled times” and “attendance must be regular, otherwise Membership must terminate”. In 1922, President R. L. Stratton was fined (25¢ - ed) for allowing the meeting to run a few minutes overtime. Later in order to permit a discussion which would run overtime, special permission was granted by vote to allow this privilege. In regard to regular attendance our Directors have found it necessary to request poor attenders to improve or resign, on several occasions. Our “Rotominder” Editor coined a new word for such Members – “AMOTT Members” – (Away Most Of The Time).

During the past 10 years our Club has received several bequests, including Mrs. Phemie Miner, Clarence McNeil, Lottie Hulen, Chas. Glock Estate, Mrs. Ben Kelly, Col. W. Grant Thompson and several grants from the W. A. McGeachy Estate. A few months ago, the entire plant and grounds of the Canadian Leaf Tobacco Co. was donated to our Club for our Incorporated Service Fund, which was started in 1956.

I have not been able to cover all the events that have taken place, through lack of time, but I believe I have hit most of the highlights. I feel, after visiting many of the Clubs with our District Governor John Farrell, we have one of the best organized and active Clubs in the District. There are 26 Past Presidents living. Arranged near the head table are 13 of them, as follows:
  • W. M. Gray
  • Larry O’Conner
  • Bill Colby
  • Doug. Foster
  • Bob Parry
  • Ralph Keevil
  • Bev. Easton
  • Vern Pritchard
  • Harold Agnew
  • Ernie Ansell
  • Joe Storey
  • Irving Kopstein
  • Proctor Dick
The Speaker was introduced by President Frank Gee and thanked by Earl Price.

Charter members of The Rotary Club of Chatham

  • John Forbes Allan
  • Stewart Campbell
  • J. Lew Challinor
  • P.S. Coate - DIRECTOR
  • H.E. Jack Foex
  • C.H.R. Harvey Fuller
  • S. Chester Glenn - SERGEANT AT ARMS
  • James Gray
  • William M. Gray - VICE PRESIDENT
  • William M. Guy
  • Fred Hall
  • A.E. Herman - TREASURER
  • Austin A. McLeish - SECRETARY
  • Jack Methvan
  • Rev. Arnot .S. Orton - DIRECTOR
  • Percy G. Piggott
  • W.G. Richards - DIRECTOR
  • James A. Ross
  • Neil Smith
  • S.J. Smitty Smith - 50th year member (1970-71)
  • R.L. Stratton - PRESIDENT
  • C.D. Ted Sulman
  • Howard W. Taylor
  • William W. Turner
  • Fred J. Wood

Paul Harris Fellows

A Rotarian who makes personal contributions to The Rotary Foundation, or an individual honoured with donations by Members or the Club Board, receives recognition from TRF by being named as a Paul Harris Fellow. Since 1974 270 Fellowships have been awarded to 150 Rotary Club of Chatham Members and other honorees, and a Million awards have been made world-wide.
The 1960s
Joseph Storey, awarded 2010.
The 1970s
Proctor Dick, Donald MacGregor, Hugo Rossini, Tomassina Rossini, Norman Nabb, Thomas Weir.
The 1980s
Douglas Foster, Roy Reynolds, Alexander Kehoe, Irving Kopstein, Richard Pearce, August Sunnan, Clayton Leach, Frank Archibald, Frank Gee, Rae Porteous, Ralph Keevil, Stevenson Emans, Ross Sherk, Keith Koke, Marty Koke, Clare Bagnall, Glenn Smith, Charles Dent, Ross Eberlee, Helen Buhlman, William Case, Herbert Todgham.
The 1990s
Deborah Schmidt, Edna Klopfer, Gordon Pritchard, Alan Jewson, Bernice Jewson, Joyce Griffiths, Lois Pearce, Napolean King, Richard Whittington, Frederick Brisco, John Schillington, Robert Tyndall, Edward Mariconda, Ferne Coneybeare, Jeffrey Connor, John Hornell, Noel Courtice, Shirley Ann Courtice, William McGee, George Morris, John Pearson, Douglas Sulman, Andrew Watson, Barry Fraser, Beverly Easton Jr., Beverly Easton Sr., John Chinnick, Murray Bowman, Richard Kemping, Richard Kuhn, Thomas Storey, Clark Robertson, Elizabeth McKay, Kenneth Koke, Lois Eberlee, Madaline Pritchard, Kellie Watson, Robert Watson, Blake Ward, David Pudwell, Irene Todgham, Peter Bakker, Rena McNaughton, Thomas McNaughton, Russell Templeton.
The 2000s
Arthur Newton, Brian Reid, Douglas Hanley, James Lemack, Michael Laborte, Robert Asselin, Sparky Leonard, Charles Seaman, Hal Bushey, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, Anita Pudwell, Elizabeth Reid, John Ferguson, Tom McCarthy, Bradley Langford, Harvey German, Jim Gilbert, Lisa Gilbert, Albert Kraemer, Carl Verboda, Cheryl Prince, Diane McQuigan, Dorothy Smith, Edward Robbins, Elizabeth Musson, Gerald Bellinger, Janet McGuigan-Kelly, John Cheek, Keith Dawson, Larry Robbins, Patricia McFarland, Paul Mayrand, Paul McDonell, Robert Bradley, Robert Rankin, Russell Gorham, William Grin, Bert Osterbrook, Cindy Reid, Denise Spadotto, Greg Hetherington, Gwen Robinson, Maurene Geddes, Peter Cook, Robert Browning, Wayne Schnabel. Maria Soares, Marjorie Crew, Lenora Fletcher, Robert Fletcher.
The 2010s
Bryan Prince, Moira Kerr, Sheila Gibbs, Christine Muckle, David Barr, Henry Roffelsen, Kelly Farruga, Lindsay Nicholls, Richard Bodnaruk, Tracy Vanden Bossche, Laurie Leonard, Chris Taylor, Pat Pearson, Sandee Frederick, Alysson Storey, Diane Craig, Fannie Valvoulis, Karen MacDonald, Paul Watson, Peter Tanner, Rob Myers, Tania Sharpe.
The 2020s
Jennifer Hill, Tony Hill, Brett Smith, Bruce Ross.

Past Presidents and District Governors

1917-1918 Leslie Pidgeon D.D. - Winnipeg
1921-1922 Crawford McCullough - Fort William
1933-1934 John Nelson - Montreal
1950-1951 Arthur Lagueuz - Quebec City
2007-2008 Wilfred Wilkinson - Trenton Ontario
2022-2023 Jennifer Jones - Windsor Ontario
1935-1936 William M.Gray
1947-1948 Proctor Dick
1984-1985 R.J.Pearce
2000-2001 Keith Koke
2007-2008 Audrey Chevalier
2017-2018 Barry Fraser
2019-2020 Sparky Leonard
1921-1923 R.L. Stratton; 1923-1924 A.A. McLeish; 1924-1925 H.S. Thomas; 1925-1926 Howard Taylor; 1926-1927 A.L. McIntyre; 1927-1928 Dr. F.W. Hall; 1928-1929 E.C. Steele; 1929-1930 W.M. Gray.

1930-1931 R.G Stoehr; 1931-1932 S.J. Smith; 1932-1933 P.J. Chinnick; 1933-1934 W.S. Goodeve; 1934-1935 W.D. Colby, Jr.; 1935-1936 Stewart Douglas; 1936-1937 Neil Smith; 1937-1938 S.W. Simpson; 1938-1939 G.A. Person; 1939-1940 S. Chester Glenn.

1940-1941 J.H. Agnew; 1941-1942 W. Watts; 1942-1943 R.D. Mess; 1943-1944 D.S. Aitken; 1944-1945 W.D. Davidson; 1945-1946 A.E.Bradley; 1946-1947 Ron Todgham; 1947-1948 Proctor Dick; 1948-1949 E. Brand; 1950-1951 Douglas Foster.

1950-1951 Ernie Ansell; 1951-1952 Arthur Poulter; 1952-1953 Vern Pritchard; 1953-1954 Ben Rothwell; 1954-1955 Dan Gaynor; 1955-1956 Irving Kopstien; 1956-1957 Herbert Todgham; 1957-1958 B.E.Easton; 1958-1959 Bob Parry; 1959-1960 Joe Storey.

1960-1961 Harry Denning; 1961-1962 A.A. Gillespie; 1962-1963 L.G. O'Connor; 1963-1964 Ralph Keevil; 1964-1965 Frank Gee; 1965-1966 Alex Gilroy; 1966-1967 Steve Eman; 1967-1968 Clint Leach; 1968-1969 Gord Colpitts; 1969-1970 Frank Archibald.

1970-1971 C.Wm. Case; 1971-1972 Dick Whittington; 1972-1973 G.E. Pritchard; 1973-1974 C.Ross Eberle; 1974-1975 R.J. Pearce; 1975-1976 F.B. Brisco; 1976-1977 Jack Shillington; 1977-1978 Dr.Tom Martin; 1978-1979 Hugo Rossini; 1979-1980 Peter Crawford.

1980-1981 Robert Tyndall; 1981-1982 Willliam Magee; 1982-1983 Eddie Mariconda; 1983-1984 H. Glenn Smith; 1984-1985 Hank Bruhlman; 1985-1986 Augie Sunnen; 1986-1987 Keith Koke; 1987-1988 Barry Fraser; 1988-1989 Alex Kehoe; 1989-1990 Doug Sulman.

1990-1991 Tom Storey; 1991-1992 Jack Pearson; 1992-1993 Richard Kuhn; 1993-1994 Bev Easton; 1994-1995 Rik Kempling; 1995-1996 Rob Watson; 1996-1997 Tom McNaughton; 1997-1998 Robert Asselin; 1998-1999 Gerry Bellinger; 1999-2000 Ralph Robinson.

2000-2001 Karen Kirkwood-Whyte; 2001-2002 Tom McCarthy; 2002-2003 Brad Langford; 2003-2004 Diane McGuigan; 2004-2005 Robert Rankin; 2005-2006 Janet McGuigan-Kelly; 2006-2007 Joanna Haan; 2007-2008 Russell Gorham; 2008-2009 Wayne Schnabel; 2009-2010 Rick Bodnaruk.

​2010-2011 Andy Watson; 2011-2012 Charles Seaman; 2012-2013 Carolynn Barko; 2013-2014 Kelley Doyle; 2014-2015 Don Leonard; 2015-2016 Fannie Vavoulis; 2016-2017 Alysson Storey; 2017-2018 Tania Sharpe; 2018-2019 Jennifer Hill; 2019-2020 Paul Watson; 2020-2021 Brett Smith.

Same Day, Same Time, Seven Different Places

Hotel Santina
Gray Dort
William Pitt
Christ Church (Anglican)
Tree Room
Although the Rotary Club of Chatham was first created in Judges' Chambers in Harrison Hall on September 22 1921, and the Chartering Ceremony took place in the Ball Room of the Hotel Santina on November 1 1921, the regular Wednesday Luncheon meetings first took place in the Chamber of Commerce Building on 6th Street. The Santina was on the site now occupied by the Chatham Cultural Centre and Kiwanis Theater, and 6th street has long vanished.
In 1922, a funeral forced the club into the Gray Conference Hall (^). According to the current occupier- Gentry Manor- this building on Park and Central Streets has an interesting history beginning in 1875 as the 6-room Chrysler Ward School, being expanded and renamed Queen Street School, and then at the turn of the century being sold to Gray and Sons and used as a repair shop for buggies. After a time the company began making automobiles and the Gray-Dort Social Club was created for its employees with pool table and a silent movie theatre. William Gray was a charter member.
As Gray-Dort suffered in the Great Depression, the Hall was sold to the Masonic Lodge. Rotary International was avoiding connection with "Secret" organizations as rumors were circulating and some Catholic Diocese forbid member in Rotary perceived relationship. Accordingly, the Club moved to the William Pitt Hotel. Meeting were held here for the next 5 decades, until 1980 when the hotel was demolished. The block is now occupied by the Downtown Chatham Centre.
From 1979 until 2008, the Club met in the hall of Christ Church (Anglican) whose staff ably assisted the Sgt.at-Arms and catered lunch. The church Deacon was a Club Member. The church also provided very handy office space which meant one-stop shopping for the Members.
After a controversial vote, a move was made and meetings resumed in more comfortable conditions at the Tree Room of the Wheels Inn, which also catered. At one meeting the 'head table" mysteriously disappeared and thereafter everyone sat in the orchestra.
The Tree Room was a great location - good sound, meals, parking and separate committee space. The only problem was the Rotary Office which had to find space off-site. After only 2 years, the Wheels was reconfigured, the building demolished, and the Club was again on the move.
From 2010 until 2016, the Rotary Club of Chatham met at the Chatham Capitol Theatre in the Rotary Lounge, so named because of the Club's significant support in the transformation of the historic one time movie theatre into a performing arts centre. We shared office space with theatre people across the street above ScotiaBank. Eventually logistics such as food service trumped location, and in 2016 our "Downtown" Club retired to the outskirts at the Links of Kent Golf Club .
For the first 95 years of the Club an office had been maintained in proximity to the meeting area, but with the move to the country another location was established on the Thames River North Bank in a historic Tudor grist mill. The office sees a lot of traffic from happy winners of our TV Bingo collecting their cheques, and for some years has been solely manned by volunteers.
There has been a long tradition in the Club to take the regular meetings off-site, especially to the Chatham-Kent rural community such as area farms. Other locations have been an horse ranch (bbq), a base-ball stadium (hotdogs and pop for lunch, and inductions!) a tour of the Rotary Eco-Trail, a 60-acre tomato greenhouse, a retirement home.
Since the Pandemic Spring of 2020, regular meetings have been conducted via Zoom, with the extra added benefit of being able to join other clubs and connect with luminaries such as future RI President Jennifer Jones, RI's CEO, and a number of Past RI Presidents. Past speakers at our meetings and past exchange students have also rung in. Live meetings have been broadcast on Community Cable since 1975, and presently the Zoom meetings are available on YouTube - click HERE or cut and paste the line below into your browser to see them.