History of Our Club by Archie P. McDonald
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by Archie P. McDonald



            Humanity's yearning for fellowship is ancient, so much so, it is Biblical.  As every Freemason present knows, those seeking the secrets of their fraternity need only consult the scriptures about King Solomon and the building of temples.  Likely even before that some group calling themselves the Sons of Adam met every full moon to howl and curse the darkness.

            Rotary reflects that in-status yearning, though we are several centuries younger, and our Solomon was a professional man in Chicago named Paul Harris.  Mr. Harris, much like us, did not like eating alone, so in 1905 he began to invite other professionals to meet weekly in his office for fellowship; I presume that they were brown baggers, but I have never learned that part of the story.

            Good manners dictated that others take turns as host, and once they began "rotating" meeting sites, the called themselves Rotarians.  A wagon wheel became the first icon they employed to indicate such rotation, but by the 1920s the wheel had morphed into a rotary gear.

Paul Harris was not only innovative, he was evangelical.  Soon Rotary clubs appeared in New York and San Francisco, even in Winnipeg.  By 1914 they numbered 100 and then 1,000 in 1921.  The Nacogdoches Rotary Club was the 892nd.   A century after Paul Harris' idea to further fellowship began, there are more than 31,000 Rotary Clubs operating in 166 countries, and approximately 1.2 million Rotarians-about 145,000 of them female-who worry about attendance and make-ups and such.

            The Paul Harris of Nacogdoches was Frank Penman, manager of the W.T Wilson Grain Company.  Penman learned of Rotary from George Woodward, a businessman in Houston, when Woodward visited Nacogdoches early in 1920.   Penman liked the idea of fellowship and food-always a good combination-so he wrote to J. Lutcher Stark of Orange, governor of Rotary District 13 to learn how to start a Rotary Club.                                    

Woodward also informed Stark of Penman's request, so Stark asked Charles Ledwidge, secretary of the Rotary Club in Beaumont, to investigate the intensity of interest in Rotary in Nacogdoches.  Ledwidge corresponded with several businessmen in Nacogdoches and reported them "eager" to start a club.  Stark passed the yield of Ledwidge's inquiry up the line to the Rotary Vatican in Chicago on November 1, 1920, and by January 6, 1921, had received a letter authorizing him to set the potential Rotarians in Nacogdoches to work.  Stark appointed Penman the organizing chairman, and by mid-March, Penman had recruited fourteen other charter members, including, C.D. Atwell, a minister; banker Thomas E. Baker and baker J. Fred Feazell; Eugene Blount, who unabashed listed himself a capitalist; R.F. Davis and Giles Haltam, rival newspapermen; School Superintendent W.F. Davis; electric power provider W.S. Davis; farmer Thomas Maroney; grocer Oscar Matthews; physician A.A. Nelson; railroad official Dave Washburn; automobile dealer Ben T. Wilson; and Chamber manager H.L. McKnight. 

            The charter fifteen met officially for the first time at 12:15 p.m., April 1, 1921, in Captain H.H. Cooper's Sunbeam lunchroom, located at the corner of East Main and North streets.  They elected Nelson their president and Penman became secretary-treasurer.

            Before 1921 passed into 1922, the Nacogdoches Rotary Club had moved its meeting site from the Sunbeam to Mrs. Lockey's Tea Room, located on the corner of Church and Hospital streets, where it remained until 1929, then moved to the Liberty Hotel-the present city hall-and in 1935 moved again to the Redland Hotel, later GODTEL.  In 1937 Nacogdoches Rotarians lunched in SFA's cafeteria, located in Wisely Hall, then moved back to the Liberty Hotel during WWII, likely because the WACs needed Wisely more.  In 1946-1947 some of our elders made the long drive south to Harris' Hotel Courts, later the blighted 59 Motel, on the Lufkin Highway, and even arranged six-man teams for carpooling, but as that seemed a considerable distance and rurally isolated then, fewer did so than was acceptable to attendance intensive Rotary, so the club moved back to the Liberty, then in 1953 to Nance's Cafe on North Street, and joined the glorious old Fredonia in 1955.  In 1969 the club moved briefly to the newer Holiday Inn, back to the Sheraton Crest when Arthur Temple remodeled and rechristened the Fredonia, traveled out to the Pallas Inn when the Fredonia went dark, then came home when A.T. Mast, Joe Max Green, and Ed Cole, and others, turned the lights back on.

            Since Nelson, we have been sustained by the leadership of 84 presidents as of 2005; those still among us include (as of July 1, 2009) Gean Hale, Bob Dunn, Johnnie Johnson, Leon Hallman, David Adams, Jack Stanly, Farrar Bentley, Dave Wallace, Rob Atherton, Tom Choate, Don Rudasill, Archie P. McDonald, Tom Atchison, Mike Aikin, Mike Winthrop, Bryan Davis, Frank Brister, Roby Somerford, Jack McCullough, Danny Bay-and Neal Slaten.

            Penman remained secretary only one year, then passed the duty to W.F. Gintz and others for a few years each, but Douglas Swearingen, who became secretary in 1949, established the tradition of long-term secretaryships; Swearingen kept the office until 1962.  Later, Bieto Beseler, 1975-1990, and Raymond Gilmore, 1990-1999, served similar terms, and Frank Brister took over in 1999 and led the club into the Third Millennium.   Until Brister, the secretary-treasurer posts were one, but since the "treasurer" hat has been worn by others and now by Stacy Irwin, with billing handled by Axley & Rode.

            The format of weekly meetings over nearly 85 years has remained remarkably the same.   On April 1, 1921, the meeting began at 12:15, about the time later presidents have rung the bell, ready or not, to summon us from refreshment to labor.  The first reference to a presentation of the daily news, weather, and market report, in 1945, credits G.W. "Scoop" Hawkes with so doing.  Over the years the duty fell to others, especially Victor B. Fain, editor-publisher of the Daily Sentinel, and since March 24, 1962, to Bob Dunn, radio station owner-manager, city-commissioner, county-judge, and mayor, and unquestioned possessor of the best radio voice in the club.

            The Nacogdoches Rotary Club is a singing club, and those we quaintly called "club sweetheart"-euphony for piano accompanists-have kept us reasonably near the notes through the years.  Since early in the 1980s Sandra Raney has done so with grace and skill, practicing a duty that is sometimes amusing to her begun by Mary Ellen Squires, and continued by Ruth Reavley, Madeline Lilly, Patsy Estell, Florine Irwin, and Lucylle Jones.  Bieto Beseler and Tom Jack Lucas also played occasionally, but there is no reference to them as "sweethearts" when they did so. 

Earlier singing leaders usually had some connection to the music department at SFA, personified in the long terms of Frederick Baumgartner and William "Bill" Turner.  Baumgartner was a singer, and Turner was a horn tooter, but there was nothing indecisive about his direction, thought there was some monotony in his favorite "Home On The Range," a trait remembered in Ken Wood's perennial selection of "Smile" and, among others, the ubiquitous "R-O-T-A-R-Y" followed by the overly obvious "That Spells Rotary."  What else could it spell?  Since Turner, we have taken twice- monthly turns as assigned by Max Morley, with Johnny Johnson, Ronnie Collins, Sue Kennedy and others bravely attempting to lead us while desperately trying to remember the chronology of sing-pledge-sing-pray, and messing up at least once each month.

            In addition to serving as president, secretary-treasurer, and fill-in piano player, Beseler also took a turn as editor of the "Rotary Thunder and Lightening," now just "The Thunder," our weekly bulletin.    W.F. Gintz was the first bulletin editor of record, followed by Doug Swearingen, Tom Davison, M.S. Skinny Garrison, Ed Gaston Jr., Truman and then Lucylle Jones, and then H. Farrar Bentley, who took over in 1980 and right regularly wins awards for his effort at district conferences on our bulletin.

            The format of the bulletin changed some over the years.  At first it consisted of a single two-column broadside set on a typewriter and run off on a mimeograph machine.  A later version appeared on printed letterhead which identified officers for the year with weekly information, again, reproduced on a duplication machine.  Our present format was adopted in 1980.

            Early issues reveal that new members were called "Baby" Rotarians during their first year and that most had nicknames, such as Peanut Bay, because Willard Bay operated the Tom's Peanut distributorship, and Billboard Beseler, because Bieto ran an outdoor advertising agency, and there was one, who was known as "Budweiser;" that quite a few members became new parents, which required the passing out of cigars by the new papa, and prompted editor Gintz to remark on the occasion of Mrs. Milton Gray giving birth that "This should stop local Lions from referring to our Youthful Rotary Club as a bunch of old men.  If not, we'll have to give them further proof of our virility."  Gintz also offered these pearls of wisdom, which, though he may or may not agree, even editor Bentley would pale before printing:

            "A woman who concealed her insteps now has a daughter who shows her step-ins;

            "There is no rest for the man who does everything his wife tells him to do;"

            of insurance man E.R. Bates, Gintz composed this doggerel:

            "Now I lay me down to snore/Insured for $5000 more;

            If I should die before I wake/My wife will get her first real break;'

and my personal favorite, "To show a woman who's boss, hand her a mirror."

            Speaking of which, because all undoubtedly were masters of their marriages, we have produced five district governors, and though we have remained stationary, we have been in three districts-128, 591, and now 5910.  Our homegrown governors have been S.D. "Pinky" Redfield, 1962-1963; Jerry K. Johnson, 1972-1973; G. Loyd Collier, 1979-1980; and Leon Hallman, 1985-1986; and Jack McCullough, 2006-2007.

            In 1978, largely through the midwifery of Jack J. Yarborough, the Nacogdoches Rotary Club gestated the Fredonia Rotary Club, a group which came to understand that women could be Rotarians much sooner than did their parent club, and who for all of their upstartedness through the years have proved marvelous companions for the Rotary journey and the most convenient makeup station available, a favor the senior club returns weekly.

            Through the years Nacogdoches Rotarians have enjoyed some 4,150 (through February 2005), programs presented by such folk as Land Commissioner Bascom Giles, later an involuntary resident of an institution in Huntsville; Congressman John Dowdy, who resigned after disclosure of acceptance of a $25,000 bribe in the airport in Atlanta; Lt. Governor Preston Smith, who told us how proud he was to be in Lufkin; countless color films documenting Neal Smith's travels to the far flung reaches of the universe; lots of presentations by opponents of all the leading diseases and proponents of the best good causes; football coaches every fall, of whom Gean Hale is still champion for telling the club in 1963 that "James Pate is a good punter, and that's good because we anticipate doing a lot of punting this fall;"  and every Republican candidate or office holder that Steve Lilly could, and later Leon Hutchison, Arthur Speck, and James Raney could, find. 

            Memorable moments include a presentation on conservation by a game warden who was so struck with stage fright that he literally shook, and we wondered why, because he was wearing a gun; Bieto Beseler, namesake of the award for Mr. Rotary in Nacogdoches, wearing his tontine Christmas bow tie that Faye had made with her own hands, as the last surviving spouse in her sewing club; the best advice I received in Rotary, from Cecil Bomar, who told me soon after I joined to go on and miss a meeting and get it over with so I wouldn't have to guard my virginity of perfect attendance; getting royally reamed by the district governor when I served as president because we had no women in the club-me, of all people, lover of women that I am, caught dead-to-rights in an all-male club;  visits by generations of Raguet School choirs at Christmas, lending a measure of immortality to Mrs. John Rudisill, their director for so many of those years;  finally, finally, in 2004, taking home the Thanksgiving turkey, a program begun in the 1950s and won by Aaron Cox the first three years running; preachers giving Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas talks, partly from tradition, partly because of our posed piety or general need for repentance, and partly because they are always seeking an audience anyway; and, most of all, the friendships fostered, over the years.

            There is a practical side to Rotary.  Dave Wallace and Floyd Dobbs are not unmindful that this club is fish-in-a-barrel for salesmen of stocks and insurance, but none of us work harder than these two to uphold the higher side of things, though I am mindful that you are all, in both clubs, a roomful of achievers.  At times the entire city commission and a good deal of the commissioner's court have been members; and the convenience, the access, is marvelous.  How many times I have needed to meet with various folk with whom I interact and finding it perfectly natural, and wonderfully convenient, to say  "l'll see you after Rotary."

            Rotary is a world-wide organization of business and professional people who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards, and help build good will and advance friendships-not just between nations but between neighbors.  Around the world I have found that gear wheel a guarantee of welcome, even in Germany and Japan, where I couldn't understand a word anyone said, or in San Augustine, Texas, where I could.

            In an old bulletin, I found these questions that I now pose to you:

            1.         What is the single most important reason you are a Rotarian?

            2.         Would you want your son/daughter, to be a member of this club?

            3.         Would it make any difference if the club disbanded?

            My answers are because this is where the action is in Nacogdoches; yes; and oh lordy!

How many of God's children would still be in jeopardy of poliomyelitis; how many friendships are forged and furthered around these tables; how many call on each other in times of commercial, medical, or even spiritual need; where would we have lunch on Wednesday, if Paul Harris and Frank Penman and Jack Yarborough had not gathered us into Rotary. 

It ain't church, but Rotary does encourage us to be truthful; to strive to be peaceable; to be fair to everyone; and to fashion our lives for the benefit of all. 

Come to think of it, that isn't far off the Sermon on the Mount.