According to a well-documented history of the club, in October 1916, 17 Johnson City businessmen and community leaders met with the Rotary Club’s district governor at the Hotel Windsor to plan a local Rotary organization.
The International Rotary organization had been launched a little more than a decade earlier in Chicago to bring business and professional leaders together in service to others in their communities and around the world. And while the international Rotary was at that time reluctant to accept smaller community clubs, the Johnson City group was persistent.
The Rotary Club of Nashville agreed to sponsor the new club and on June 1, 1917 the local group obtained a charter from the International Association of Rotary Clubs and became the Rotary Club of Johnson City, Tennessee, Club No. 298.
The first officers were Bert Pouder, president, J. W. Ring, vice-president, Munsey Slack, secretary, and W.F. Green, treasurer. Meetings were initially held at the Windsor and later at First Methodist Church, Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, Mayne Williams Library, Avalon Dining Room, John Sevier Hotel, Holiday Inn and since 1988 at the Johnson City Country Club.
Through all those years, current club President Gary McAllister said, the Rotary Club members’ guiding purpose has been service: “People join Rotary for a lot of reasons, but underneath it all is ‘service above self.’ That’s our Rotary motto.”
The results of that service are now evident in almost every corner of the city and over the past 100 years have also extended to several other corners of the globe.
1917 to 1920
The club promoted city playgrounds, a probation officer, a truant officer and a night school, supported the good roads movement and worked to keep carnivals out of the city. Early records indicate the club located 20 “scarlet women houses” but do not indicate what action was taken once the houses were found.
World War I
The club purchased Liberty Bonds to aid French war orphans, helped the East Tennessee Normal School, backed the public school system, endorsed a proposition that the city employ a full-time health officer and supported activities of the Boys' Work Committee.
The club launched its hallmark community activity by committing $40 to the annual upkeep of Rotary Park, endorsed a proposition that the city employ a full-time health officer, supported the Boys' Work Committee activity, initiated a student loan fund to provide money for the college education of boys and girls within 15 miles of Johnson City and conducted fund raising activities for community service efforts including the Crippled Children's Hospital and the Children's Home
The Depression took its toll on the club. Membership dropped and for a period of time the club accepted the promise of money for dues but even during those difficulte times worthwhile Rotary projects including support for the Salvation Army, Rotary Park and the Student Loan Fund continued.
The club assisted returning veterans, sent clothing for relief efforts in London, donated the cost of one weekly luncheon to a Rotary Club rebuilding in the Netherlands, sent local students to Boys' State, supported the Boy Scouts, Boys' Club, Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Crippled Adult Hospital in Memphis, promoted the expansion of Memorial Hospital and the completion of the Salvation Army building.
The club developed Rotary Park into a multi-use facility. It built large picnic shelters in honor of prominent club members including Allen Harris, Robert London, Lou Gump, F.L. Wallace, Raymond Long, and District Gov. Bill Norton, added playground and park equipment and officially dedicated Rotary Park on Aug. 5, 1956, 30 years after its founding.
The club provided support for Science Hill High School’s band uniforms, the Forensic League, Rotary Park, the Washington College Rotary Room, the Rotary Foundation Hospital for Crippled Adults, Girl's State, Boy's State, the Student Loan Fund, the Salvation Army Christmas Fund, the Red Shield, the Boys Club, the Old Hickory Camp for Crippled Children, the Preaching Mission and other organizations.
1970s & 1980s
The club increased its support for education through scholarships and Teacher of the Year awards and also sponsored its first Little League baseball teams.
The club participated in numerous youth exchanges, including a student placement into the Soviet Union in 1991. It increased community service in youth education, park enhancements and significant funding in the local Ronald McDonald house, created an Adopt-A-Spot location at the intersection of Interstate 181 and North Roan Street with a garden planted in the shape and colors of the Rotary Wheel.
In 1992, when the Soviet Union crumbled and the various Russian states were struggling with their independence, club members recognized the critical need for emergency food and medical relief for the citizens of Rybinsk, Russia, a sister city to the entire Tri-Cities area. They arranged the nation's largest known non-governmental relief effort to the Commonwealth of Independent States, 17 40-foot containers of food and medical supplies shipped from Johnson City to Rybinsk.
The club provided assistance to the local Ronald McDonald House, Good Samaritan Ministries, the Salvation Army, Niswonger Children's Hospital and local schools, and built a greenhouse for Coalition for Kids.
In partnership with other area Rotary Clubs, the club helped build the Rotary Station on the Tweetsie Trail, provided medical equipment to Kenya in 2012, and sponsored a Vocational Training Team with of six physicians to Kapsawar, Kenya, in 2014.
In celebration of its 100th birthday, the club partnered with the city of Johnson City and several community organizations to build a handicap-accessible, inclusive playground that opened at Rotary Park in April. A splash pad included in the new playground opened for its inaugural season this weekend and will remain open through Labor Day.