Club History 1927 - 1962

1927—1962 Club History
Prepared by W. "Ed" Stokesberry

The Rotary Club has been an integral part of the Avon Community for 35 years. These three and a half decades have found the Club engaged in numerous activities and experiences of sufficient merit and interest as to make them worthy of historical record.

The first six years of Rotary in Avon were reviewed by Roy Allison, First President of the Club. The following paragraphs in quotes are taken from his history.

"Following a survey made by Frank Roberts of Perry Club, and a meeting one evening of a few interested prospective members, the organization meeting of the Club was held on the evening of April 19, 1927 at the Livingston House, and the Club organized with 18 members, and three others were contacted the next day and became Charter Members, starting the Club with 21 members. State Senator J. R. Hanley, who was at that time District Governor, had charge of the meeting and through his inspiring address Rotary was born in Avon."

"After charter formalities were approved by the Chicago office our first regular meeting was held at the Livingston House on Wednesday noon, May 11, 1927". The fact that a service club was to become a part of the community was early recognized, as at a first regular meeting a letter was read from the local Legion Post, asking our cooperation in raising funds for Mississippi flood relief."

"The charter was presented to the Club with an inter-city meeting being held on the evening of May 18th, 1927, with 180 Rotarians present from Perry, Geneseo, Dansville, Hornell, East Rochester, Batavia, Rochester, Canisteo, Lancaster, Depew and Wayland Clubs. District Governor J. R. Hanley was the main speaker, and the Perry Club, who sponsored Rotary for Avon presented the Club with the Gavel and Bell."

"Within a month after organization, our Club was contacted with propositions to assist in Community activities, such as raising funds for Band concerts, and other local promotional work, showing the need of some Service Club unifying and coordinating work that had previously been accomplished with individual effort, or various group activity. The first committee in regard to having a Rotary Boys Band was appointed on August 10, 1927, and by March 1928, the question of having a Band was decided upon, and meetings were held for its organization."

"We are proud of the Boys Band which acts as a medium of musical education, beneficial to Avons' Boys. This Band has enjoyed a warm spot in the hearts of our citizens, and since its formation surrounding villages have followed suit by organizing Rotary and High school Bands in the same manner. Every dollar the boys earned for concert aid other. Band appearances has been turned back to them in uniforms, music and instructor's pay, and our Club has also provided extra funds for their activities such as their trip to Fredonia contest last year, financed through a Play in which the community at large rendered valuable assistance."

"Under the present arrangement, the boys collect and disburse their own funds and the Club stands ready at all times to advise, assist and work for their interests and advancement. This method also trains the boys in self-reliance and the responsibilities connected with self-administration as a group, and is well recognized as a medium of training for the larger responsibilities of life they will all soon face."

"Early in the history of the Club the question of having a Community Chest in Avon was looked into very carefully, and after consultation and advisement with Batavia and Rochester Chest organizations, it was decided that such a move in a small community was not judicious."

"In March 1928, overtures were made to Avon for the formation of a Merchants Association patterned after the one operating in Geneseo, which operated a credit rating bureau, and 25 business men of Avon met with the Rotary Club, when the situation was laid before them, with all information that could be gathered. The method of handling such questions in Rotary is to act as the clearing house of information, and lend any assistance or present any facts we can gather and leave it to the groups interested, to decide upon what action they deem advisable. This has often proved beneficial in either starting something of real assistance to a community, or heading off something that would be a detriment to the community. Two instances come to mind where promoters tried to sell stock in Avon, -- one for a unit in a chain of tourists hotels, and the other for the development of a so-called health-giving water, utilizing our Sulphur Water for the product: and in both instances the judgment of our Club after listening to the facts presented, in our opinion saved the community the loss of a good many dollars."

"During 1929 the only major activity outside of the usual community work was the proposition of trying to start a golf course at Avon, and success seemed assured when the so-called depression came along and wiped out all the work on preliminaries that had been accomplished. The fact that this work was looked after by Rotarians and the legal phases reviewed by our attorney member, avoided any reaction as to subscriptions signed for, and although considerable work and time was spent on the proposition it never cost a citizen of Avon a penny."

"Early in February 1930 local sentiment was crystalized, and various organizations in Avon worked with the Rotary Club and the Legion relative to securing the Veterans Hospital for this District, and much time and effort was spent on this. Support was secured from Geneseo, Livonia and Mt. Morris, and after much effort we were sorry to see the hospital located at Canandaigua. During this time we had as our guest Major General Hines in charge of Veterans' work at Washington, who spoke about sites for a hospital of this nature, and viewed proposed sites at Avon."
(This hospital was subsequently located at Canandaigua.)

"Like any organization Rotary has its critics, and we generally place them in the class of people who speak without full knowledge and proper investigation of the facts. Rotary has its friends and well-wishers also, and from an unbiased view point may we just say that no organization has carried on in Avon with better success in unifying and coordinating good community activity than our own small club. The unselfish and whole hearted cooperation and work done without thought of our membership from the beginning."

"A better conception of good citizenship, proper respect for law and order, Knowledge of National, State and Local government, reasons for and solutions of taxation matters, and value of education have been clearly represented and helpful to all caring to attend the meetings; and without exception all such subjects interested, enlightened and stimulated proper thinking along these lines."

Thus from the beginning Avon Rotary sought to fulfill its obligations to the community at large and the records show that the Club through the years has made a vital and lasting contribution to the Avon Community.

Scouting is a prime evidence of this concern since March 20, 1935 when Jim Green proposed that the Avon Rotary Club sponsor a Boy Scout troop. This was done and the years since have found Rotary sponsoring and supporting with leadership and money the interests of Scouting in Avon. In 1950 Rotary took over the old school building in Littleville as a home base for the Boy Scouts. On several occasions, notably in 1955 and 1958, substantial sums of money and many hours of labor were expended in making the property suitable and adequate for Scouting activities. It is presently valued at $2,500.00. If Rotary had done nothing else for the Community, this one activity would have justified its existence; for many boys have been guided into and inspired for worthwhile living through Scouting, as some of our present members will readily testify.

Rotary, however, has served the community in other important ways. One of these has been our efforts in behalf of the Youth in our Public Schools. As early as 1935, it is recorded that the Club entertained the High School football team upon the completion of a perfect season. This same thing was done the next year and on numerous occasions since. Basketball and Baseball teams and Track squads as well have been similarly honored. Several times championship teams have been given miniature gold symbols of the sport in which they excelled. These teams and their coaches have always been welcome guests at Rotary and the Club has ever rejoiced in their achievements. It is recorded that Jess Furlan addressed the Club in 1942 when the Football team was entertained.

Rotary, likewise, has appreciated achievement in the classroom as well as on the athletic field and in many occasions has recognized and encouraged those who excelled in scholarship, notably those who attained membership in the National Honor Society. In like manner, the important service of the teachers and administrators of our schools has been recognized and proper tribute paid. In 1945 a Student Loan Fund was set up for the benefit of needy youth under Rotary auspices. The present policy of granting scholarships to eligible Seniors owes its inception to the late George Clark, and as a tribute to his deep concern in this regard, the Club on March 20th, 1957 voted that this program hereafter should be known as the George E. Clark Memorial Scholarship Fund. In 1961, four grants of $400.00 each were awarded. Whenever Rotary could "turn a hand" for the welfare of our Public Schools it has always stepped in with the needed support and encouragement.

One of the more spectacular efforts of Rotary to show appreciation to others for their efforts in behalf of the youth of the community was a series of RYAN (Rotary Youth Appreciation Night) programs held in the late fifties. All of the people of the vicinity who were involved in organizations and programs which contributed to the welfare of the youth, from Scouting to Little League baseball, were guests of the Club for specially prepared programs. The Guests list usually amounted to 100 names or more. It was a highly appreciated effort but its expense became a serious factor.

Another of our Club's concern has been in the area of good relationships with the farm population of our community. From the beginning, Avon Rotary has extended their hand of fellow- ship and appreciation to the tillers of the soil. Farmers' Nights were frequent occurances and generally enthusiastically attended. Even in 1944, when because of a huge snow storm which made it impossible for the speaker, Senator Wadsworth, to get to Avon, almost 100 farmers were on hand to enjoy the evening with the members of Rotary. Generally, these affairs were profitable in more ways than one. In 1943, e,g., $275.00 was collected is fines under the skillful prodding of Tom Coyne, which probably more than paid for the dinner 3 of the guests.

The history of Avon Rotary is replete with many evidences of community interest and service. In 1934 a movement was initiated to bring to Avon a branch bank of the Union Trust Co. This was successful and on several occasions the big brass of the Union Trust of Rochester were guests of the Club to further the interests of all in this important feature of the community.

An effort was made about the same time to revive interest in our sulphur springs. Wires were pulled which eventually brought to Avon a commission from the State Conservation Department in Albany to pursue the matter of establishment of a State Park in this area. After study the project was deemed inadvisable and consequently dropped.

As early as 1934 concern was expressed in Rotary meetings over the proposal to remove certain passenger trains from service in the Erie R R. A Committee of investigation was appointed, resolutions adopted and letters sent but the minutes do not indicate that the Erie refrained from carrying out its proposal.

Under the WFA program, a playground was established on the public school property. Clayt Stapley figured prominently in this activity by agitating for it and by supervising its preparation.

During Henry Selden's presidency a carnival with a parade of quite large proportions was held to provide funds for the installation of night-time illumination of the playground. The parade featured President Selden in suitable regalia as Chief, driving a one cylinder Oldsmobile, with his small son sitting beside him as the Chief's helper. The big event of the celebration was a mock battle staged ender the auspices of the National Guard which attracted widespread interest and which was brought to Avon rather than held in a neighboring community because of our nighttime illumination.

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching and vital contributions of Avon Rotary to the community has been the initiation of the idea and the implementation of the plan for ambulance service. This matter had been discussed from time to time but finally in 1957, during Gene Todd's Presidency, purchase was made of Frank Stephenson's discarded hearse for the sum of $250.00 and put into shape for ambulance service.

Evidently, even the living had no reluctance to riding in a hearse for the converted ambulance was called into frequent use. A year later, purchase was made of the Caledonia Fire Department ambulance and the old hearse was retired to a fate beyond our knowledge. At this point the Avon Lions Club became a valued ally in making possible adequate ambulance service which, to the surprise of all, has proved its indispensibility by its very frequent use. Presently, Avon, under the direct supervision of the Rotary and Lions Clubs but with the support of the entire community, is operating a new and completely equipped ambulance service which is second to none and which, since May 5, 1960, has answered about 250 calls for service.

The altruistic spirit of Rotary has found expression year after year in making contributions to Christmas funds for needy families, Christmas gifts to the boys at Industry, for Christmas community decorations, and for other forms of entertainment. In 1935 the Rotarians sat down to a lunch of crackers and milk and put the savings of that meal into the village Christmas fund. In 1945 a special food conservation luncheon consisting of the following menu: A 4 x 5 inch serving of Swiss steak, carrots, one roll, sour cherries on a biscuit, and water, was served for the benefit of the starving nations of the world. It might be pointed out that similar austere luncheons have been served to the Rotarians on more than one occasion without the accompanying sense of satisfaction of having contributed to some highly desirable, altruistic cause.

Other forms of community service may be noted in Rotary's support of the Sesquicentennial celebration through generous giving and participation in the sponsorship of an entry in Avon's Little League Baseball program; in the attempt to lift the level of Avon's cultural status by the sponsorship of a Travel Lecture Series of illustrated lectures, which lowered the level of Rotary's finances appreciably; and in other community activities unrecorded and forgotten, but which influenced the life and spirit of the village beyond our ways of knowing.

While Rotary was giving ample evidence of a real concern for the betterment of the Avon Community, the Club engaged in frequent activities which served to strengthen its own inner life and further cement the bonds of good fellowship.

At an early date in the life of Rotary, Ladies Night became a fixed feature. The records indicate that this special event was observed with greater regularity than any other one activity. Perhaps the wives and lady friends saw to it that their Rotarian men did not overlook these happy occasions. It is entirely fitting and proper, however, that Ladies Nights or events enabling the women to enjoy the spirit of Rotary should be had from time to time since a good Rotarian is called upon to give to his Club time and attention which otherwise might be bestowed on his home and his Rotary-Ann.

By 1940, and even before, Clayt Stapley was supervising the preparation and serving of clam bakes. Many of these were held at Avonola; but wherever they were staged, enormous quantities of food were prepared, consumed, and in some instances washed down the hatch with beverages of various hues and descriptions. Down through the years Paul Strasenburgh has been a dependable helper in clam bakes, steak roasts, etc., when the appetites of Rotarians had to be whetted and abated.

Club sports have always received favorable attention by Rotary members. In the early days, baseball was enjoyed by the members following their meetings. Teams representing Avon and other neighboring Clubs often played in each other's towns. In 1933 it is recorded that Avon Rotarians went to Honeoye Falls and outlasted the Falls boys in a slugfest which ended with the score 34 to 19. Later, the Honeoye Falls Rotarians got sweet revenge at Avon by defeating us 17 to 1.

Bowling, in the days when some people looked asquance at this sport, was on the sport calendar of Avon Rotary. In 1935 Bill Farnum served as captain of the team. This was long before the enroachments of age began to play tricks with his knees, his eyes, and right wrist.

As recorded earlier, and probably as a result of his prowess as a golfer, Roy Allison turned the interests of the Club to golf, and in the years since a number of the Rotarians have sought to bring glory to the Club and self on the Golf course. Presently, about all that the sports-minded members are capable of is golf for a few, bowling for others, and bridge with occasional sallies at poker for the more venturesome. Rotary has had bowling teams entered recently in Rotary tournaments held at Syracuse with varying degrees of honor to the home Club. In 1962 our team missed top prize by but 19 pins.

Reference has been made to our Club's interest in scholarship loans and grants. Obviously it has taken money to carry out this worthwhile activity, and various means have been followed to accomplish that end. Notably has been the Minstrel Show which has been a source of much of our revenue. The first show was given in 1943 under the driving influence of the President, George Clark. The show netted the sum of $582.00. After several years of minstrel shows, the Club took to sponsoring the High School musicals, of which the "Capers" was an example, in which the High School youth did the entertaining and the Rotary assumed responsibility for the financial phase of the show. In the mid 50's auction sales were resorted to as an income producing activity. After a few years, however, Rotary revived the Minstrel and Variety show, an with Paul Strasenburgh and Herbie Zahn as coordinators and spark-plugs, the income has exceeded anything previously attempted; that for the year 1961 amounting to a net of almost $2200.00.

The records of Avon Rotary abound with a miscellany of situations and circumstances which defy classification under any of the headings thus far followed. Consequently they are grouped together under the somewhat euphonic title of Pranks, Cranks and Thanks".

We can introduce this section with a fact which should be impressive to and appreciated by all of us. In 1933, while William H. Clark was President, the Avon Rotary Club had nine consecutive 100% meetings in connection with a contest with the Mt. Morris Club, which Avon won. That is a record not exceeded since, so far as the minutes show.

In 1934, Roy Allison's proposal of paying one's club dues with the purchase of his lunch ticket was adopted. There is perhaps no more painless way of meeting such an obligation than that which Roy proposed and which we continue to follow.

Major Kelly, former operator of the Avon Inn, and member of Rotary, was quite unpredictable, according to those who remember him. In 1936, while Charles (Parson) Madera, Rector of Zion Episcopal Church, was President, it is related that the Major gave a talk "blistering" some of the Rotarians. We are not told why. It is said, however, that his talk was well received! Rotarians can be very polite.

The Avon Rotary Club has had a variety of meeting places during its years of existence. The Club was organized in the Livingston House (1927), and continued meeting there until March 1929 when it moved to the St. George Hotel. A year later it was back at the Livingston because St. George wanted $1.00 for its luncheon. The Club continued to meet at the Livingston until September 1936 when Landlord Bohan announced that the luncheons would be increased from 60¢ to 75¢. The decision was made to move to the Avon Inn. During the next few months the meeting place switched to the White Horse Tavern and back again to the Inn. In December 1942 the Club voted 14 to 12 to go to the White Horse Tavern rather than the St. George Hotel, but the next week it met at the St. George. Less than two years later the members were back at the Inn. After a few months the Club moved to the Parish House of Zion Church; thence to the Fire Building; then to Avon Inn, where it remained until 1946 when Major Kelly kicked the Club out because of a special Ladies Night meeting which was held at Springbrook. Back to the Livingston the Club went for two months. After a series of picnics held principally at Avonola, peace was made with Major Kelly and the Club met again at the Inn. Here it remained until the fire in March 1961 when the Club was forced to meet at Fosters in East Avon where it is now happily situated.

On June 22, 1938 something happened in Rotary which has been a tremendous asset to the Club ever since, and without which it is hard to conceive just what our Club would be like today. The minutes of the meeting for that date, (6/22/38) state: "Herbie Zahn is our new piano player. Say, he is good!" That certainly is one of the thanks which Avon Rotary has and continues to express to this very hours.

Henry Selden recalls that at one of his meetings he had to question Bill Clark, our sixth President, for a report that he had carried a woman from the street into the St. George Hotel. Bill's story was that she was intoxicated, had fallen down in the street, and that he had done the only thing a gentleman could do - pick her up and carried her into the hotel where she could be cared for. Henry complimented Bill and did not carry the Questioning further.

During l940 when her husband was President, Margaret Stephenson and a group of wives showed up at a meeting and took command. With Margaret holding the gavel, the boys probably contributed more folding money to the treasury than they have since under more tolerant and understanding Presidents.

John Carpenter, President in 1939, was known widely for his much speaking. He could even out-talk Gene Todd for the two had a debate on the subject, "Is Avon Progressing?" Carpenter had the negative side of the question and won. The year following the Club debated the subject, "Shall John Carpenter talk at anytime more than three minutes?" The debate resulted in a draw, but John continued to talk.

In 1944 a prominent member of the Club gave a speech or petrified woods found in the South-western part of the U.S. His talk was well received. The following week, however, the Club had his letter of resignation in which he criticized the members for being a Club used as a fence for "sharpshooters to hide behind". After due process the resignation was accepted unanimously.

One day in 1953, Col. Frizzell, then Secretary, showed up at the meeting with his hand heavily bandaged, he having lost a portion of his thumb in an accident. When asked what disposition had been made of the severed member, he replied that he had buried it. He was then critized by the clergy member present for having done this "without benefit of the clergy". He was duly and properly fined.

During the same year, an anonymous person who visited our Club a couple of weeks previously, sent a check for $25.00, saying, "I like your Club".

It was during 1953, with Frank McGraw as President, that Al Dunbar's suggestion regarding the selection of a "Rotarian of the Year" was adopted. Paul Strasenburgh, the first recipient of this award, was temporarily AWOL when Frank made the'presentation. It was never learned exactly where he was but two guesses should hit it.

September 15, 1954, the minutes record an event of more than passing importance. "Bill Farnum was on time". To celebrate, he sang his famous, or infamous "Sarah".

Having purchased the ambulance, thereby assuming certain legal responsibilities in its operation, Rotary proceeded in 1958 to be incorporated under the laws of New York State.

The year 1959 was featured by our Club's sponsorship of a new Club in Greece. Fred Strauss, formerly of our Club, was largely instrumental in organizing the new Club and he gave us the opportunity of sponsoring it, which we were delighted to do.

1960 found the Rotarians operating Quinlan's Gas Station for a day, and taking a good share of the profits for Club activities, painting the village trash cans to help make Avon attractive; presenting Four-Way Test Book Marks to all the students of the public and parochial schools; serving pancakes and and entertaining their ladies.

1961 is still with us but we may be certain that Gay Brewer, President, and his capable officers will produce a record that is worthy of being added to the history of Avon Rotary Club. For 35 years, our Club has been endeavoring to fulfill the injunction, "He profits most who serves best."