by PDG Bill Cunningham

As the senior member of the local Rotary club, Past Rotary District Governor, Bill Cunningham was asked to speak to the membership about the organization’s history. Following is a brief summary of the achievements of the Rotary Club of Martinsville, Indiana.

The world’s first service club was the Rotary Club of Chicago. The club was formed 23 February, 1905 by lawyer Paul P. Harris and three friends — a merchant, a coal dealer, and a mining engineer. Harris wished to recapture the friendly spirit he had felt in the small town where he had grown up. The name “Rotary” was derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among member’s offices.

The first Rotary club was formed to promote fellowship among business among its members. Word of the club soon spread and other businessmen were invited to join. By the end of 1905, The Rotary Club of Chicago had 30 members. Three years later a second club was formed in San Francisco, California.

As Rotary grew its focus shifted to service and civic obligations. Early service projects included building public “comfort stations” near Chicago’s City Hall and delivering food to needy families. In 1913, the 50 Rotary clubs then in existence contributed $25,000 for flood relief in two U.S. midwestern states. One of those states was Indiana.

By the end of its first decade, Rotary had grown so large (nearly 200 clubs and more than 20,000 members) that a district structure was required. During its second decade, Rotary clubs were launched in South and Central America, India, Cuba, Europe, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The Martinsville Rotary Club was chartered on August 23, 1980 — 75 years and 6 months after the first Rotary club meeting. The new club had 21 charter members and was sponsored by the Bloomington North Rotary Club. The local organization has enjoyed much success by keeping its vision fresh and alive for 20 years.

Some examples of that success and vision are:

  • Our club planted 29 trees behind Poston Road School — (one for each club member at the time) — one of the trees died and was replaced with another tree upon the death of a charter member of the club. The trees act as a sight and sound barrier between the elementary school and a nearby shopping center.
  • Rotary began an Adopt-A-Grandparent program that matches preschool children with the elderly residents of local nursing homes. Both the young and old enjoy the frequent visits.
  • The Rotarians have sponsored several students to attend the World Affairs Seminar in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The event hosts hundreds of students from around the world, thereby introducing the high-school-aged students to many cultures.
  • Several years ago we started a high school “Shadow Day” program that matches students for a half-day with someone in a profession in which they are interested. Each year the organization provides financial support for local high school seniors participating in the IU Honors program in foreign language.
  • The club has always been a strong supporter of literacy. They have donated hundreds of dollars to the Morgan County Adult Literacy program. They also recently provided personalized books to all MSD of Martinsville kindergarten students through the I like Me! program which is cosponsored by Ameritech and the Telephone Pioneers of America.
  • Several community non-Rotarians are recognized each year through such commendations as the Citizen of the Year, the Four Way Test and the Public servant awards. Cosponsoring the Mayor’s State-of-the-City Address Dinner, with the Martinsville Chamber of Commerce, celebrates the achievements of our entire community.
  • Our fund raising projects are varied. The club began the Rotary Pancake Day in the spring of 1987, sponsored 50s-60s dances during Fall Festival and our Old-Time Basketball Sectional raised over $16,000 in just two years.
  • The club was the first organization in the Bloomington INDOT district to do adopt-a-highway; we still pick up trash along a two-mile stretch along State Road 37. We have “adopted” a family during the Christmas season for several years. We also raised the money to build the welcome sign on 37, by the country club, and have enough money for a second.

Our local Rotary club has received much recognition on a district level. We:

  • were the club with greatest increase in membership for 1988-1989 and again in 1997-1998;
  • had the outstanding club secretary in the district for 1992-1993;
  • provided a District Governor for 1995-1996;
  • will also be the home club of the 2002-2003 District Governor;
  • currently have 2 members serving as Assistant District Governors out of a total of 8 in the district;
  • had a Rotarian receive The Outstanding District Committee Chairperson Award in 1996-1997;
  • were the outstanding club of the year in the district for 1997-1998;
  • had the outstanding club president of the year in the district in 1998-1999;
  • had a club member chosen as the outstanding Rotarian of the year in the district in 1998-1999;
  • have a member that received The Rotary Foundation Distinguished Service Award in 1998-1999.

The organization has been a strong supporter of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.


  • Our first Paul Harris Fellow (PHF) was charter president, Robert White, in 1981
  • We have donated $2,000 to the Rotary PolioPlus program, a program to eradicate polio from the world by the year 2005
  • We currently have 20 PHFs, 6 Benefactors, 10 Centurions and 1 Major Donor
  • We have rated in the top three in per capita giving clubs in the district for several years
  • We also had the first major donor (with a gift of $25,000) in the district.


Our Rotary club has long been dedicated to cultural understanding and awareness. Beginning with Steven Hardie, of South Africa, we have hosted youth exchange students from the countries of Belgium, Mexico, Hungary, France, Brazil, and many more.

We have also sponsored a Group Study Exchange (GSE) team member to Argentina and Austria. GSE is a Rotary program that exchanges five adults between two different areas of the world for a period of about one month.

One of our our members started the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) program in the district and chaired it for three years. The program develops leadership in high school students and introduces them to such Rotary youth programs as youth exchange and Interact (a service club for high school students).

In fact, RYLA has been responsible for the formation of at least six Interact clubs in southern Indiana. An Interact club will be chartered at MHS next month that will ingrain the concept of service into the lives of our high school students.

Our local Rotary club recently established a Martinsville Rotary Club Foundation to support scholarships for graduates of MHS.

These are just some of the highlights; our club has accomplished so many more things over the last 20 years and it is all because of caring members. Sometimes Martinsville Rotarians might even think they are special, but they are not special because they are Rotarians, they were asked to be a Rotarian because they were already special.

January 25, 2000