LOOKING BACK: 100 years of the Franklin Rotary

Published 3:15 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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On April 1, 1924, the organization of a Rotary Club in Franklin was perfected at a luncheon in the dining room of the Virginian Hotel.  John C. Parker, who had been active and hopeful in launching a Rotary club in Franklin, presided.  Covers were laid for sixteen, and a fine dinner was served by the Woman’s Auxiliary of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.  The agenda included election of officers, adoption of a constitution and by-laws, and completion of details necessary to secure a charter from Rotary International.  

The following officers were elected:  Paul Scarborough, president; John C. Parker, vice president; J. Edgar Weede, secretary; E. T. Fitzgerald, treasurer.  Those four officers and Sol W. Rawls Sr., M. H. Moore, and W. T. Pace constituted the board of directors.

Charter members, in addition to the officers and directors named above, were:  W. O. Bristow, J. F. Bryant, James L. Camp Jr., Dr. E. A. de Bordenave, George R. Hayes, L. R. Jones, George H. Parker, John A. Pretlow, and Robert A. Pretlow. 

For a long time, a Rotary club had been a cherished ambition of many Franklin business and professional men. The actual organization of the club was preceded by discussions among interested parties here and with Judge James L. McLemore and other influential Rotarians in Suffolk. 

In 1924, a Rotary Club was defined as a voluntary association of men, each representative of a line of business or profession, who were organized to develop fellowship and apply the principles of unselfish community service to all their business contacts and civic and social affairs.  Service above self was the prevailing motto.  An important part of the Rotary’s mission was to advance understanding, goodwill, and international peace through a world fellowship of business and professional men.    

The club was fortunate in effecting its organization in time to send delegates to the District Rotary Convention meeting in Raleigh the following week.  Robert A. Pretlow and John A. Pretlow were selected as delegates.   

On May 1, 1924, the Franklin Rotary Club was ushered into full-fledged activity in the Sunday School assembly rooms of the Franklin Christian Church when charter night was observed.  Delegations from other regional Rotary clubs joined the charter members of the Franklin Rotary Club in observing the event.  The Suffolk Rotary Club attended practically as a unit, and there were large Rotary delegations from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Petersburg.  One hundred people attended – including the Franklin Rotarians and their guests. 

The ladies of the Church provided a feast of good things. Under the direction of Mrs. J. A. Williams, a splendid menu was prepared and served. The assembled group proceeded to enjoy a delightful supper consisting of grapefruit cocktail, Smithfield ham, roast chicken with dressing and gravy, cranberry sauce, creamed potatoes, hot biscuits, butter, cornbread, tomato salad, lemon pie, coffee, salted nuts, mints, cigars, and cigarettes.

“Blackstone” McLemore, past president of the Suffolk Rotary Club, presided – under whose sponsorship the Franklin club was organized.  James L. Camp Jr. of Franklin sang “On the Road to Mandalay” with Mrs. Sol W. Rawls as his accompanist.  The fun was fast and furious, but between it all, there was the spirit of Rotary, which uses frolic and pleasantry only as a means to the end – that it may improve club motto of service above self.

The Franklin Club was especially honored to have as its guest District Governor G. Franklin Lenz of Newport News, who spoke briefly on Rotary’s principles and presented Franklin with the charter, which the local president received on behalf of the club.

Special guests invited to the charter night celebration:  Mrs. Sol W. Rawls, E. T. Fitzgerald, F. F. Jenkins (superintendent of schools), E. C. Smith, Rev. Winfield Shiers, Joseph P. King Sr., Southampton County Clerk of Court H. B. McLemore, and Dr. W. T. McLemore.   

On April 11, 2024, the present-day Franklin Rotary Club will celebrate its 100th year of existence.  The celebration will be held at the Village at Woods Edge with a dinner; a history of the local organization will be presented, including highlights of the club’s many projects – that were held over the past one hundred years.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net.