In Depth History

At the opening of the year 1910, Tacomans had much reason to be proud of their city and to have faith in its future. The population stood at 83,743, up from 37,714 in 1900. Shipping, lumber and manufacturing interests were booming, and the city was a thriving business and commercial center. Many substantial new buildings were under construction or recently completed, including Union Depot, Stadium High School, the Carlton and Olympus Hotels, the YMCA, and the skyscraper tower of the National Reality Company, now Key Bank, which was briefly the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Major engineering projects, such as the rail tunnel under Point Defiance and the Eleventh Street Bridge over City Waterway, were also being undertaken.

A few months earlier, in the Fall of 1909, Tacoma Insurance agent Harry L. Pelletier had been invited by his Seattle counterpart, Roy Denny, to attend a meeting of Seattle's newly founded Rotary Four. Pelletier was so impressed by the organization and its goals that he enlisted the support of Denny and others in the Rotary movement to assist in setting up a Tacoma chapter. The first meeting was held at the Tacoma Sheridan Hotel on January 29, 1910, and articles of incorporation were signed on February 2nd. Pelletier was elected the chapter's first President.

The first roster for the Tacoma chapter was published in May of 1910, and listed 70 members. In a revised roster for 1913 membership had climbed to 111. A club newsletter, The "Gyroscope," was established that same year. Minutes from the early days show that the club concerned itself with a variety of issues such as building club membership, good roads, good government, the promotion of Tacoma interests, the retention of Tacoma's baseball team, and other civic matters. A series of band concerts at Stadium Bowl netted $789.00 toward installing lights in that facility. The club was also active socially; early events included several "Ladies Nights," a two day trip to "Mt. Tahoma" in 1911, and a joint picnic with the Seattle chapter held at Des Moines in July, 1913. Tacoma 8 member Warren Burgess attended the first Rotary National Convention at Chicago in August of 1910, and second President W. Carl Morrow and Secretary William G. Stearns attended the second convention at Portland in 1911.

Thursday luncheon meetings were held at the Tacoma or Olympus Hotel, the price of the meal being set at 40 cents. Speakers in the "teens" included Puyallup pioneer Ezra Meeker, University of Washington President Henry Suzzalo and Washington Governor Herbert Lister. In 1914, member William W. Woodbridge published his inspirational booklet "That Something." The book was "dedicated to the Rotary clubs of the world by Tacoma 8," and became a best seller, remaining in print until at least the 1980s, and even being made into a feature film in 1920. The Pierce County Rural Development Company, dedicated to providing quality breeding stock to local dairy farmers, was a major Tacoma 8 project at mid-decade. The scheme was not a great success, but countless local herds are descendants of those "Rotary Calves" of 1915. Tacoma 8 continued to support the city's perpetually broke ball team, and lobby for the restoration of the Native name of "Tahoma" to Mt. Rainier. Other issues included assisting the Tacoma Women's Club in meeting mortgage obligations on the clubhouse, promoting an endowment campaign for the College of Puget Sound, now UPS, supporting the development of the Hylebos waterway, promoting the establishment of the Army post at Camp Lewis, and bringing the Boy Scouts to Tacoma. The club also supported the YMCA, and debated the merits of the proposal to establish Daylight Savings Time during the summer months. In 1919, there were 227 members on the roster. Famous bandleader and composer John Phillip Sousa was a guest speaker that year.

In the 1920s, Tacoma 8 held meetings at the dining room of the Commercial Club, and later in the Winthrop Hotel, which had replaced the earlier structure. In 1923, the name of the club newsletter was changed from "The Gyroscope" to "The Gearshift," and it has continued under this title to the present day. Arthur H. Wickens became Chapter Secretary effective January 1.1923. His fifty-one years of service to Tacoma 8 and the community is unique in Rotary history. The 1920s saw Tacoma 8 sponsoring the launch here of the S.S. Rotarian, and the establishment of the Rotary Club of Paris, France. The gavel of the Paris club was a gift from Tacoma. Speakers during the decade included many congressmen and governors, and Professor Edmond Meany of the University of Washington.

The Great Depression of the 1930's did not spare Tacoma 8, and membership decreased in the hard times, despite a reduction in dues and fines. A Business Advisory Committee was founded to assist hard-hit members. Much was still accomplished during the lean years, however. A major undertaking was the construction of Rotary Lodge at the Boy Scout's Camp Kilworth near Dash Point. The popular "Field Day" at the Tacoma Country and Golf Club also had its beginning during these years. Tacoma 8 meetings were regularly broadcast on a local radio station during the 1930s, and members enjoyed guest speakers such as J.C. Penney, racing driver Barney Oldfield, and Carlos P. Romulo, later vice-president of Rotary International and President of the United Nations General Assembly.

The War Years of the 1940s led to the establishment of Tacoma 8's "Duration Dormitory," a 400 bed facility to provide economical accommodations for servicemen on leave. After the war, the club was sponsor of a "Help a Vet find a Job" program, which continued for several years. All told, 16 Tacoma 8 members, 83 sons, and 4 daughters served in the Armed Forces during World War II. Speakers in the '40s included Selective Service director General Louis B. Hershey and the actor Edward Everett Horton.

Tacoma 8 grew rapidly during the 1950s. A highlight of the decade was the 50th anniversary of Rotary, and the 45th of Tacoma 8, in 1955. To mark this occasion, the Tacoma chapter constructed a Rhododendron Garden at Point Defiance Park and donated it to the community. Near the commemorative stone in the garden, the chapter buried a time capsule to be opened on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Rotary movement, on February 23, 2005.

1960 marked the 50th year for Tacoma 8. To mark the occasion, the club donated a room for the use of foreign students at the University of Puget Sound. Two years later, the chapter cooperated with other area clubs in sponsoring the "Rotary House of Friendship" at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle. Major activities of the decade included support of a self-improvement program for inmates at McNeil Island Penitentiary, annual International Students nights, and a student exchange program with a sister club in Roturua, New Zealand.

The 1970s were a decade of change for Tacoma 8. The 1971 closing of the Winthrop Hotel ended nearly a half-century of meetings at this location. Meetings were then held for several years at the Top of the Ocean Restaurant at Old Town, until this landmark's destruction by fire in 1977. Soon after this, the meetings moved to the Tacoma Bicentennial Pavilion, where they remained until the opening of the adjacent Tacoma Sheraton Hotel in the 1980s. The seventies saw the continuation of Tacoma 8's traditional projects, and increased involvement in support of activities for girls.

Arthur H. Wickens achieved his 50th year as chapter secretary in 1973, and the occasion was marked by the establishment of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 Community Service Award, bearing Art's likeness. The medal is awarded annually to a non-Rotary member living in Pierce County who has made a major contribution to community service. In conjunction with the award, Tacoma 8 makes a financial donation to a project or charitable organization of the award recipient's choice. Also, since 1971, the club has administered the Tacoma Rotary 8 Foundation, the proceeds from which are awarded to worthy local programs. Our long-time secretary is not forgotten in this process; contributors who donate $1000 to the foundation are named Art Wickens Fellows.

The past 20 years have seen the club's greatest growth in Tacoma 8's history. Much of this is the result of the opening of membership to women in the 1980s. The Women of Rotary had existed since 1920, and special activities such as Ladies Night and Father and Daughter Luncheons were a long tradition. But the decision to admit women as full-fledged members led to an influx of new life and talent to the chapter.

Today, Tacoma 8 continues to change and evolve, but much stays the same. The tradition of promoting friendship and service and of supporting community projects continues much as it was in Harry Pelletier and Art Wickens' time. Meetings are still held on Thursdays, as they have been since 1910.

Tacoma 8 recognizes a Rotarian of the Year, a club member who demonstrates the ideal of “Service Above Self.”

View Rotarians of the Year

View Tacoma 8 Presidents (July 1 – June 30 terms)

Fun Facts - Tacoma #8: The Last 100 Years

    • Tacoma #8 Rotary Office
      Landmark Convention Center
      47 St. Helens Ave, Ste 200
      Tacoma, WA 98402

      Mailing Address
      PO Box 1777
      Tacoma, WA 98401-1777
      Phone (253) 473-7723
      Fax (253) 473-7838

      Barry Benson
      President 2015-16

      Beverly Vincent
      Executive Director