A bit of history from the desk of Past President John Ackenhusen;


Rotary International was founded by a lawyer, Paul Harris, in 1905, as he gathered Chicago coal dealer Silvester Schiele, mining engineer Gustavus Loehr, and tailor Hiram Shorey, all gathering in Mr. Harris’ law office.  To the second meeting came the fifth Rotarian, the printer Harry Ruggles, who produced most of the stationery for Rotary, including its first printed emblem, the wagon wheel.

Mr. Ruggles also introduced the tradition of singing to Rotary, when a guest speaker began what Mr. Ruggles knew would end up as an off-color story.  He felt it was inappropriate for the club, so he jumped up in the middle of the joke and yelled, “Come on, boys, let’s sing,” then leading them into “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”  This was the first time that businessmen ever sang at a business meeting.

Rotary Club of Ann Arbor began when Theron Langford, a surgeon, in 1916 visited a colleague in Toledo and aske

d about the unusual object on his desk.  It was the Rotary emblem, and Dr. Langford returned to Ann Arbor excited about the possibilities that Rotary could offer.  He gathered pastor Lloyd C. Douglas, newspaperman Harlan Johnson, University Musical Society Secretary (and later President) Charles Sink, and University of Michigan Secretary Shirley Smith, for a total of five founders.



In 1907, the second year of Rotary International, then-president Paul Harris felt that the club was merely a social gathering.  To introduce the element of service, the Rotary Club of Chicago conceived the project “Flushing With Pride,” by which public toilets were introduced into downtown Chicago.

In 1920, outgoing president of The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Harlan Johnson expressed concern that the club had become a mere luncheon club.  The club had begun its first year with three service projects:  helping World War I soldiers purchase equipment ($50), contributing to the welfare of French war orphans ($182.50), and purchasing a horse for Colonel Pack ($125 for a Pack Horse!)



Rotary International President Arch Klumph in 1916, the same year as the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor began, proposed a continuing endowment fund “for Rotary… doing good in the world.”  Its first contribution, from the Rotary Club of Kansas City, was for $26.50.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor started a fund in 1957 to serve as a continuing endowment to support its charitable projects.  That fund led to the establishment of our club’s Permanent Endowment in 1984.



Rotary International was searching for a significant international project in the late 1970s.  Rotarians from the Philippines suggested that if Rotary International could provide them with sufficient quantities of the polio vaccine, they would distribute and administer the vaccine to 6 million children in the Philippines.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor has expanded from “service by dollars” to add “service by time.” The club has always been associated with The University of Michigan, meeting most of its life at the Michigan Union (from its second year of existence until 1943, when it moved out to make space for returning war veterans, and again returning in 1956, only leaving again in 2018 when the Union was undergoing complete renovation).  As its approach to service, our Rotary club stressed the contribution of funds over the contribution of time (in the words of a past president, “You don’t ask the President of the University to wash cars”).  We established the Community Service Assessment, paid for charitable works each December, as a way to perform Rotary service. 


In 2003, we took on our first major, recurring effort to donate time as a service.  As a result of the emerald ash borer taking many of the trees from Ann Arbor, our Rotary club began its Tree Planting Project with the City of Ann Arbor.  Over the seven years of the project, we have planted over 1,300 trees.


In part to support this new project, we also began our first annual fund raiser, the Golf and Tennis Outing, in 2003.  The GTO, which each year raises about 25% of what our club provides for charitable projects, continues to this day.



In the late 1980s, Rotary International looked around for a project to celebrate its centennial in 2005.  Wouldn’t it be great if Rotary could lead the elimination of polio around the world by its centennial year?  The “Polio Plus” program dedicated to this goal was born in 1987.  Over the years, Polio Plus led the effort to reduce worldwide cases of polio from 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than ten now.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, WHO, UNICEF, and national governments have come together with Rotary International toward this goal.  However, since full eradication requires that no new cases occur for three years, success has been most difficult.  An estimate presented at the Rotary International Convention of 2017 was that we had an equal amount of financial needs ahead of us as we had already passed behind us to accomplish the eradication, maintenance, and testing.

In 2010, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor began looking for a project to celebrate its centennial, occurring in 2016.  Keeping in mind its theme of “Helping Kids Succeed” and wishing for a project that was sustainable and continuing long after its start, the club chose the building of the first public playground in southeast Michigan that offered universal access, including to children and adults using mobility aids such as wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.  To maintain sustainability, the playground was developed in collaboration with the City of Ann Arbor, who has taken it on as part of its Parks and Recreation Department and provides its maintenance.  The Rotary Centennial Park opened in 2017.



Both Rotary International (RI) and Rotary Club of Ann Arbor (RCAA) were founded by one person gathering four others, then more, RI in 1905 and RCAA in 1916.  Both made a transition to service under exhortation by their president, RI with “Flushing with Pride” and RCAA with its Pack Horse and other wartime support.  Each organization established a permanent endowment to fund its work.  RI chose the challenge of polio eradication as a major signature program, while RCAA chose projects under its slogan of “Helping Kids Succeed.”  In both cases, this signature program became the basis for the celebration of the centennial… for RI, with the goal of eliminating polio by its 100th anniversary; for RCAA, with the goal of building the first universal access playground by its 100th anniversary.


John G. Ackenhusen, January 9, 2019