TAMPA — The Rotary Club of Tampa is called the “big granddaddy” of the international service group’s 46 clubs in the Tampa Bay area.
In order to form a Rotary club, another club must sponsor it, said George Robertson-Burnett, governor of the Central Florida Rotary district.
“Without (Tampa Rotary) having been set up, all the other Rotary clubs would not have been set up, either,” he said. And all the good works those clubs have done through the years would not have happened.
The Tampa club is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and the 154-member philanthropic group of business professionals is holding a membership drive and other events to mark the occasion.
“It’s something that they can rightly be very, very proud of,” Robertson-Burnett said of the group’s anniversary.
Since Rotary International was founded in Chicago in 1905, it has grown to include more than 1.2 million members and 35,000 clubs worldwide. The Rotary Club of Tampa was founded in April 1914. It is the second-oldest club in Florida and, as the 117th club formed, one of the oldest in the country.
The Tampa club has provided tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships and funded life-saving cardiac surgeries for children in developing nations. The group contributes every year to the Rotary Foundation, which helps fund the clubs’ work worldwide, and to local charities including Metropolitan Ministries, the Children’s Home and the Christmas Gift Wrapping Project with Hillsborough County schools.
“But it’s not just writing checks,” said longtime member Eric Newman of Tampa’s J.C. Newman Cigar Co. and the Cigar Family Foundation.
The Rotary Club of Tampa founded the first non-English speaking Rotary club in Havana, Cuba, which no longer exists. But it is one of the club’s goals this year to work on re-starting that group, said Andy Bowen, the club’s public relations committee chair. Through the years the club helped expand Tampa’s YMCA and Hospice programs and was instrumental in starting what became the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay.
“That has become one of our legacies, which we will continue to fund for years to come,” said club President Wayne Critcher.
Decades ago the group dedicated Memorial Highway, which stretched from what is now Howard Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard into Oldsmar. Monuments at each end honored the 106 servicemen from Hillsborough County who died in World War I. One of the club’s centennial projects this year will be to replant trees along the road, said Andy Bowen, the club’s public relations committee chair.
“That will be a real historic moment for us,” he said.
Despite all the good work they’ve done in Tampa, the Rotary Club members say what they really are celebrating this year is 100 years of fellowship.
That is why the first Rotary Club was founded and why so many members have joined, Robertson-Burnett said. It’s a way for business professionals — from all walks of life — to network, do good in the community and make friends.
For Charlie Banks, the Tampa Rotary Club’s oldest member at age 95, that aspect of the organization is what keeps bringing him back to the weekly meetings, year after year.
“There’s something about being a member of the Tampa Rotary that is kind of special,” Banks said. “I’m honored to be a member. We take great pride in the things that we’ve done.”