The First Seven Years of Our Club

January 1, 1963

With a constantly increasing representation from Essex on the membership roll of the Rotary Club of Saybrook (the parent Rotary Club in this area), it was inevitable that sooner or later a demand for a separate club in Essex should arise; and during the spring and summer of 1955 this project was set in motion through the various necessary channels, with the gracious cooperation of the Saybrook Club.

At an organization meeting in Saybrook, on August 8th, a Constitution and By-Laws were adopted, and a Board of Directors were elected, by those members of the Saybrook Club who proposed to form the Essex Club. In this connection it should be noted that several Essex members of the Saybrook Club, long associated with said Club, preferred to remain with it and did so, as was their right.

The Directors elected on August 8th held their first meeting on August 22nd, at which time they elected the first set of Officers for the new Essex Club, to serve until June 30th, 1956, as follows: President, Richard Schneller; Vice President, Edward Harvill; Secretary, Cornwall Miller; Treasurer, Harry Reynolds; Sergeant at Arms, Freeman Fraim.

The remaining Directors were Waldo Grose and Frank Mellon. Without undertaking to set forth any complete roster of the sub-sequent Officers and Directors of the Essex Club, the succession of Presidents under whose leadership the Club has grown and prospered may well be recorded as follows:-l956-7, Edward Harvill; 1957-8., Cornwall Miller, 1958-9, Guido Malcarne; 1959-60, Rossiter Lord; 1960ó1, Donald Good; 1961-2, Philip Stueck; 1962-3, Edwin Sprigg. And without starting to single out the contributions to the Club of individual members, mention may surely be made here of the long and efficient service rendered by Harry Reynolds, Treasurer from 1955 to the end of 1961, and by Walter Wright, Secretary since July, 1957.

All preliminaries including a mass of paper work, having been completed, the first meeting of the Provisional Rotary Club of Essex (the Charter not having yet been received) was held on Monday; October 3rd, 1955, at 6:15 p.m., at the Johnnie Cake Inn in Ivoryton. There we continued to meet, except for some special occasions at the Ivoryton Inn, until August 20th, 1957, when a move was made to the Griswold Inn in Essex, and a new Tuesday meeting time.

Charter Night, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Saybrook, was held at the Ivoryton Inn on Monday, November 28th, 1955, at which time we received our Charter (dated October 3rd, 1955) from District Governor George Lovell, and became the 39th Club in the 292nd District (later the 798th). The charter was presented by the Governor with a few no doubt appropriate words in Latin–promptly replied to by our own President Dick Schneller in also presumably faultless Latin; but whether or not this classic interchange was spontaneous or connived at we do not know. Or do we? They did it again, as a matter of fact, when the Governor visited us in February.

Present at the Charter banquet were 131 Rotarians (including 3 past District Governors and one Past President of Rotary International) and 95 Rotary Annes, together with the First Selectman of Essex and the President of the Essex Lions Club. On the roll call 19 Rotary Cltibs from the area responded, and gifts were received from 33 Clubs, consisting of a Club banner, a bell, secretary’s books, badges, lapel buttons, 3 road signs, and framed copies (one for each Essex member) of the objects of Rotary. The American Flag was presented by our own Waldo Grose.

One of the speakers, a Past District Governor, remarked that never before in his experience had he known of a Charter Night for a new Club consisting entirely of seasoned Rotarians; and it is true that all of our 29 Charter Members had previously belonged to the Saybrook Club (and in one case to other Clubs as well), a few of them for as much as 15 years or more. Five of them were Past Presidents. Of the original 29, 3 have deceased (William Patton, Kenneth Cunningham, and Waldo Grose); 12 have resigned or moved away; and 14 were still with us as of January 1st, 1963, to wit:–Robert Baldwin, Albert Brown, Chester DuCJ.os, Elbert Hawkins, Rossiter Loyd, Thomas MacWhinne,, Frank Mellon, Alan Miller, Meade Hinnigerode, Richard Schneller, Amos Sprigg, Philip Stueck, Alfred Wright, and Walter Wright.

Naturally, one of our first concerns as a new Club was to elect new members and to fill Classifications made available by our independ-ent status. Indeed, the first October 3rd issue of our weekly news sheet The Essex Log (edited by Amos Sprigg) contained a call for proposal cards which might be acted upon after Charter Night. They caine rolling in, and as of July 1st, 1956, we boasted 43 members, representing 22 Major Classifications, 33 Minor Classifications, and 3 Additional Active members; 4 members were Past service and 3 Senior Active.

During the first seven years, the greatest number of members at any one time was 49. During that period, also, 2 more members have deceased (William Sangster and Caswell Haskeli; 11 proposed elections were never completed; and 34 members have, for a variety of reasons, resigned. This frequent and considerable turnover of members has always astonished visiting District Governors, but it has been characteristic of the Essex Club~ consisting as it has largely of younger men very much alive and stirring around, meeting the needs of growing families and the increasing demands of community life on their time and effort. And it would be foolish to pretend that in some cases lack of proper attendance was not a factor. It may also be noted that in 3 cases the resigned member later rejoined the Club.

Now, in January, 1963, we have 42 members representing 22 Major Classifications, 29 Minor Classifications, and 1 Additional Active Member; 8 members are Senior Actives 1 is Past Service, and 3 are honorary (Richard Schneller, the Reverend Allan Lorimer, and Dr. William Ames). We have 3 father and son combinations, the Spriggs, the MacWhinneys, and the Wrights, and the late William Sangster’s sons are both members And we have in our midst the current First Selectman, the Town Clerk, the Judge of Probate and Town Counsel, two members of the Board of Finance, the Chairman of the Regional Board of Education, and the Director of Civil Defense; also a recipient of the Deep River New Era· annual Han of the Year award — in fact, at one time we could boast two of these.

So seven years have passed. Have they been lean or productive gears? Aside from social events and outings, and the succession of interesting weekly programs and speakers (an arduous job right there ~or the Vice President’s Program Committees); and without forgetting the individual civic activities of many of our members–some of them deeply involved from time to time in the affairs of the County Hospitals, and of the Town’s Administration, of its Churches, of its schooIs, of its Public Library, of its Historical Society, of its Junior Chamber of Commerce, of its Planning Commission, of its Zoning boards while they lasted, of its waterfront, of its Yacht Club’s youth Training programs, and in the management of the Town’s Civil Defense Unit–aside from all that, what have we done, what have we achieved?

At first, of course, the question was not so much what shall we start to do for the community but what is there that ought to be done and what could we do about it. A great deal of time and effort was put in during the first years by the appropriate committees, in consultation with other local groups including the Woman’s Club, and by the Club as a whole in general discussion, on this subject.

Aside from some suggestions deemed too impractical and beyond our capabilities at the time (a public Town swimming pool was one), the upshot, following a panel discussion sponsored by the Woman’s Club, was our endorsement of a resolution worded as follows. The Essex Rotary Club would be in favor of forming a clearing house, consisting of representatives from the community Service Clubs in town, such as the Woman’s Club, the Lions Club, and the Essex Rotary Club, and a representative of the Board of Selectmen, to which could be brought, by any organization, suggestions or information for town betterment.  Recommendations of this clearing house committee would then be offered to the various organizations for individual or co-operative action. The autonomy of each participating organization is thus not to be violated, and final decision will remain with each group.

But this attempt to form a local United Nations was not found to be feasible; at all events, no further action was taken on this proposal. Still, there were things to do.

For one thing, we started with a built in Club project; one under-taken some time before by the Saybrook Club, and which our Charter members who were already taking part in it (and some of our new members too, as they came along) continued to serve. This was the furnishing of volunteer “plane spotter”, so called, Observers to man the watches at the Saybrook Observation Post of the United States Air Force’s Ground Observer Corps. This aircraft warning service, an essential part of our national defense (in which one of our members spent six years as Supervisor and Chief Observer), came to an end at the close of 1958.

Also, from the beginning, we have been concerned in scholarships at College for the Regional High School, and later in Exchange Student scholarships arranged for by the American Field Service; while also doing our part annually in the Rotary Foundation’s similar work. And in 1962 we collaborated with other local Rotary Clubs in a new form of exchange activity, which brought an educator from the South American State of Colombia to visit our area.

Also as of 1955, we began sponsoring the Essex Boy Scouts Troop, and have done so again from time to time, and in 1958 we included the Ivoryton Cub Scouts Troop. Among other things in April, 1956, we transported to Hartford 55 Scouts and entertained them at the Shriner’s Circus.  Another youth activity project in the spring of 1956 was the Club’s sponsorship of the Essex Country Player’s benefit performances of the play “Miranda”.  Early in 1957, too, a resolution was presented to the Club by its Community Service Committee stating that the Rotary Club of Essex stands ready to co-operate with the Planning Commission by publicizing and securing full and proper consideration of their findings, and furthermore would appreciate any suggestions as to how they might help the Commission in its work.  But this proved too controversial a subject at the time for any unanimous action.

Down the years a variety of other enterprises have enlisted our assistance and received our financial support – these funds originating both from individual members gifts and from the activities of the Club as a whole.  To name some, without any reference to chronology or relative importance: participation in various directives, such as Red Cross and other charities; annual gifts of toys to the Newington Hospital for Crippled Children; furniture for the Public equipment, musical instruments, and art reproductions for the Elementary School; road signs leading to the business center; donations to the Norwich State Hospital, to the Hi-Y, to the local Junior Basket-ball League, to the Special Education Class in the 4th Regional District, and to the Shakespearian Play programs of the Valley Regional High School; and sponsorship of students at the three day United Nations conference at Yale University.

Naturally the Club’s financial resources (from gifts and dues) were not sufficient to defray all of these expenses, and money raising projects had to be found, involving arduous labor by some members of special committees and the all out cooperation of the entire Club.

One such project was the Craft and Hobby Show held at the Essex Town Hall on March 6 and 7, 1959, preparation for which began in August, 1958. The Show, with ribbons and prizes, was open to amateurs young and old, from the towns of Essex, Chester, Deep River, and Old Saybrook. Exhibitors were charged a nominal sum, and admission for the public was $.50 per adult and $.25 for school children. The purpose of the Show was to furnish amateurs a place in which to exhibit their abilities and interests, and to offer those without an avocation an opportunity to see crafts or hobbies which might appeal to them.

The exhibits were divided into three groups, natural articles, purchased articles, and handmade articles — the latter group sub-divided for children up to 14 years of age, high school students, and adults. A further breakdown for high school students was made according to grade and material: wood, metal, leather, art metal, plastics, graphic arts, fine arts, mechanical drawing, and miscellaneous. A panel of 8 adult judges from the towns concerned waded through 65 exhibits, and the general verdict was that it had been a strikingly interesting and informative exhibition.

Financially, too, it was a reasonable success, and in 1960 the Show was given again. But this time, in spite of the same labor and effort, the public response was not sufficient, and the project was abandoned.

Another fund raising endeavor begun in June, 1960 (in preparation since February), has continued every year to date with increasing success and adequate financial results. This was the Planked Shad Bake supper, conducted the first year, in conjunction with the Woman’s Club Essex Tour of Homes, on the lawn, graciously loaned, of the historic Dauntless Club. All the shad you can eat, with pie and coffee, for $2.00 a person; the shad prepared, and cooked over open fires, and served at borrowed tables under a tent by our own Rotary experts, to the accompaniment of a visiting drum corps.  And let us not forget the Rotary Annes who made the salads and the pies, and the Rotary gang who helped to clean up afterwards.

In 1961, reluctantly (because the Dauntless Club location facing the river could not be matched) but with the ever present risk of rain or thunder storms in mind, a move was made to the Elementary School which placed the facilities of its cafeteria at our disposal. The shad was still cooked in the open, but if necessary a quick transfer to the kitchen could have been made.  People came from as far away as New York City, believe it or not, and 1,000 shad servings were provided for over 600 persons. In 1962, these totals were surpassed, but the net take was a little less than before because the price of shad had risen.

So the time has gone by; with an occasional attendance contest with other Clubs thrown in; or a visit to an important business enterprise, such as the Sikorsky plant, to mention only one; or a Rotary Clubs joint meeting, or District function; with good fellowship always the keynote, and a lot of fun at our Christmas parties, and at our Ladie’s Nights, some of them planned by our Rotary Annes. But that’s not all.

There remains one of our most important continuing projects, involving much thought and negotiation with other agencies; and for our younger members some really rugged manual labor, weather and season permitting compensated for, to be sure, by some historical social gatherings at the close of the day’s work.

This is Operation Cleanup, first proposed by our Community Service Committee in 1961, in consultation with the Town, the Essex Garden Club, and the owners of the property; whereby the Sunset Pond area (at the West Avenue entrance to the Village of Essex) was to be cleared and improved by the Essex Rotary Club, and left by them in proper condition to be landscaped by the Garden Club and mowed by the Town; a 10 year lease to the Town for public use, at $1.00 a year, having been obtained from the owners of the site, and ratified by a Town Meeting; with the proviso that if at any time the owners found it necessary to revoke this arrangement they would repay all expenses previously incurred, on an annual percentage basis.

The Garden Club has already begun to do some of its planting, and they tell us that the project has aroused considerable public inter-est and offers of assistance from both individuals and organizations. The Rotary part of the task, bulldozing and so on, ~houJ.d be terminatec. early in 1963 — at which time the indefatigable Community Service Committee will no doubt produce another equal~Ly imaginative enterprise.

And one thing more. It would not be right to close this account of our first seven years without recallinI! the frequent presence in our midst of our Guido Halcarne ës Cousin Vape with his charming stories.

Respectfully submitted to the Directors, – Meade Minnigerode.