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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.