Member Login

Anniversary Month Recollections By Rotary’s 2nd President

By Glenn C. Mead,     President of Rotary International, 1912 13;  Member, Rotary Club of Philadelphia, Pa.

TO STOP and look back into the past in these days when all eyes are focused anxiously on the future reminds me of a yarn Paul Harris liked to tell. The story concerned a strange bird that always flew backward because he didn’t care where he was going, but he certainly wanted to see where he’d been.

None of us wants to fly backward. Few of us groan for the past. Still, there are certain values in taking an occasional backward glance for, as our old friend and Founder Paul well knew, “What is past is prologue.” Now in February, as our 7,191 Clubs celebrate Rotary’s 46th birthday, is a fitting time to look at some of the events of yesterday that shaped the world wide fellowship we know today. With your indulgence, my fellow Rotarian, I shall dip into my store of memories to illustrate them.


One day in August of 1911, 149 men from various parts of the United States dropped their work and caught trains for Portland, Oregon for the second Annual Convention of the National Association of Rotary Clubs. I was privileged to be one of them, having helped to start our Club in Philadelphia just a year before. Since its founding in Chicago in 1905, Rotary had sprung up in 30 of the largest U. S. cities, and in Portland it was trying to find itself. I was fascinated to hear earnest fellows from Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and other places expound their views on what Rotary was, how far a Club should go in civic service, how to explain Rotary to the public.

The climax of that small reunion had overtones that ring to this day. It came when President Paul, presiding, read a message from a Chicago Rotarian named Arthur Frederick Sheldon, a business school founder. The message ended with the words “He profits most who serves best.”

Instantly the words made a “hit” and when the Convention adopted a Rotary Platform, they appeared as the final words in it. Brief in its language but broad in its meaning, the phrase has stood the test of time as a concise expression of Rotary fundamentals. For 39 years it served as a motto available to Rotarians. Just last Summer in Detroit Rotarians of the world in their 41st Convention made it, along with “Service above Self,” a Rotary Motto.

Another surprise, with meaning for the years to come, awaited us in Duluth, Minnesota, where our growing Rotary family held its third annual gathering. To our joy we found a delegation of five Rotarians from Canada present. They represented the new Rotary Club of Winnipeg, and Santa Claus and his reindeer could not have been more welcome. So then and there, with Clubs also formed in Britain and Ireland, we changed our name to the International Association of Rotary Clubs, which later was shortened to Rotary International. Duluth saw the beginning of one of the most inspirational elements in Rotary the great annual friendly gatherings of Rotarians and their wives and children from many, many lands. If you will be in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for Rotary’s 42d Annual Convention May 27 31, you will see what I mean.

What were Rotarians talking and thinking about with respect to Rotary in those days “way back then”? Some were saying that Rotary could not thrive in a city of less than 20,000. felt that it could not flourish outside of the Anglo Saxon world. Time and events have of course proved both views in error. On every hand Rotarians continued their groping for the true meaning of this Rotary and, indeed, in 1914 they set up a “Committee on Philosophy and Education” to gather the best thinking of Rotarians everywhere on the subject and then to “write down Rotary.” I was honored to serve with that Committee and I recall with a great pride in my fellow Rotarians of that day the vast outpouring of earnest thought they addressed to US.

(The philosophy of Rotary, suggested by Paul Harris, in 1915, has yet to be created in 2016 ed.)

THE FUTURE HISTORIAN of Rotary will conclude, I am certain, that the foundations of the movement were planned and laid with the utmost care.

But my love of Rotary, as I knew it then, is second to my hopes for it for tomorrow. I can do no better than to echo words my dear late friend Paul Harris spoke in 1912 as he stepped down from the Presidency: “The grandeur of Rotary is in its future, not in its past. This is the matin not the vespers, of Rotary. The call for … conscience responsive thought has never been more insistent since the birth of Rotary than at the present day. Men will arise to the call . . .”.

Originally published in the ROTARIAN, February 1951

Submitted by archivist Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Corporate Members

View All