Club History 1962 - 2002

1962—2002 Reflections of Our History
By Harold E. Cole

We are Rotary.

When a service club enters its 76th year, you are looking at an organization with longevity. In all these years, we have seen several generations of members. Sometimes we have been blessed with father-and-son combinations. In a few cases, we have seen a grandson slide into our membership. Our first member of the fair sex entered the club in 1987. This means in future years we could have mother-daughter combos.

Through the years, there have been many changes in lifestyle and in national attitude toward the philosophy of life.

During the 1960's in America, the vets of WWII were approaching or had already reached middle age. The veterans of WWI were fast becoming senior citizens. This meant the leadership of our club was, at that time, being taken over by the veterans of WWII or that age bracket.

These two groups generally felt a love for their country, which we had fought for. We felt a patriotism, which we believed was not present in the youth who had not been old enough to fight. Most of us had been through the Great Depression or had experienced it as kids. This also created a time gap between us and our children, who made up the flower children and the baby boomers.

Broadway productions included such "message" productions as Hair, 0' Calcutta and later, in the seventies, Miss Saigon. In religions circles, we went through God is dead and the open revolt at Kent State with the National Guard.

With the strong nucleus of veterans in our club, we also had a good number of the clergy. As you might guess, with the Vietnam War going on, there was a difference in the Hawk and Dove philosophy. Both poles were flamed into exaggerated positions.

Fifteen miles away, there were the terrible tragedies of racial riots in Inner City Rochester. On one occasion especially, there were words spoken to a member of the clergy who had marched at the head of a group of Black protesters. It was just a while later when the young clergyman resigned from Rotary.

Our club fought this influence, and attempted to carry its mission of service. Our board of directors inaugurated a group of fireside talks at different members' homes. These set meetings were very successful and they did settle down the overall mental attitude in the club.

At this time, there was a strong feeling within the club that our annual Rotary show should no longer be Black Face. I think that we had one black face act and there was a protest over that. This meant that our famous minstrel shows were a thing of the past.

Our club activities still include the co-sponsor of the Ambulance, of which we continue to be very proud. We continue our association with youth groups. We sponsor the activities of cub and scout group 26. We continue to support a Rotary Little League team in Avon. We also make several scholarship programs available to students.

The Rotary show during '64 was run by Martin Cole and Herbie Zahn, with the chorus directed by Lucille Scroger. We did have a skit in this show, which was a song and dance number. A group of older men came on stage and sang, "What's the Matter with Kids Today." This brought down the house, with its comic lyrics. However, before the applause quieted down, a number of kids came on stage and sang about what's wrong with grown ups. These two skits were well received with great enthusiasm.

With Variety shows competing with TV, skits and special novelty numbers had been conceived and put on. Plus, it was more difficult to find experts for directing and staging. We could see the end of the variety show in our small community. We knew that with Herbie not getting younger that we should look for alternate fund raising.

Ted Coyne and his brother Tom Coyne, who was an auctioneer, suggested replacing the annual show with an auction. With Tom's help, we put on some good auctions before the end of the sixties.

As we approached the decade of the Seventies our Rotary leadership was almost completely made from the WWII generation. The older Rotarians attended fewer and fewer meetings. We were slowly but surely losing our own personal bridge to the past. In the late sixties, Bill Farnum died. It was Bill who used to complain that Rotary had gotten too expensive. Doc Nash, an MD from the Rochester Club, always loved to come to the Avon Club. I saw Doc early in my year, in '68, then he could no longer make the Avon meetings.

It was in the year when Macaroni Sam D'Angelo was President, in spring or summer of '70 when King Cole left Rotary for the last time. Before he left, he gave us a cute farewell joke. He died before he returned to Rotary.

About two years later in the seventies, Rotary decided to have a combination Past President and charter member do our usual club meeting. Steve Stephenson was to bring in a future candidate for Rotary. Gene Mooney from Pine View Heights. He was just ready to leave when his mother called. His dad Frank had just passed away. This was at Rotary time.

In the same time period our old piano player and most famous non Rotarian member, Herbie Zahn passed on. Herbie had handled our Rotary shows for years, and all during that time, he played the piano for our Rotary meetings and all of our special nights. He was an institution.

With Herbie and Paul Strasenburgh no longer around to head up the managing of our shows, our leadership looked around for different fund raising projects.

We had the auction under Tom Coyne, but were were looking for a fill in.

In the past we had tried various culinary activities, such as spaghetti and meatballs or pancake suppers.

Our pancake suppers were always pretty good because we had Al Burke and a fellow Avonite by the name of Fred King. Fred sold coffee wholesale to grocery stores, and as an added incentive to his business, he was glad to help on the supper.

The Avon Club has had many homes during its 75-year existence. We have met in various churches and schools, the Livingston House, The White Horse Tavern, The St. George Hotel, The Avon Inn, and Foster's Party House. We enjoyed the hospitality of John Foster for about 15 years when we returned to our old home at the Avon Inn.

Our service to the community has been varied over these 75 years. We have had our share of lost causes, such as investigating the feasibility of a Veterans Hospital, a golf course and an Avon Community Chest. Our track record has been excellent in Scouts, Ambulance service and renovation of a Scout house, Little League and AFS Student Exchange program.

Our athletic tradition, to be passed on to subsequent membership, is of rather dubious quality at best. We have not been know for our athletic excellence. The important factor is that we have participated. There have been the bowling tournaments in Syracuse and the softball series with members of neighboring clubs. Our basketball series with Avon Lions is legend. We have a bowling team, wearing our colors, which participate in a local merchants' league. Contrary to tradition and all logic, this team recently won the championship in a sixteen-team league. This situation did not become chronic, since we soon resumed our position in the second division.

Our adventures in the world of Club finances have been quite interesting and at times rewarding. We have held auctions for many years. The last dozen years these affairs have been extremely successful. We have tried our luck in the culinary field, featuring spaghetti and pancake suppers. Apparently the food service field is not our forte. Our efforts in the theatre have resulted in some hit shows, of which we and our community can justly be proud. Our programs for the ordinary weekly meetings have varied from the dry, the ridiculous, the adequate, the interesting, the memorable, or even sensational. At one meeting, highlighted by a visit from the District Governor, we witnessed the surprise arrival of two Avon Rotarians who rode into the banquet room - one on a motor scooter, the other in a pony car, drawn by a pony!

We remember one fellow Rotarian explaining the rules of an upcoming attendance contest to the assembly. At the climax of his presentation, the ceiling in the other half of the dining room collapsed. Of course, the speaker was blamed.

Another incident occurred recently when Midge Costanza appeared as a guest speaker, during her campaign for a seat in Congress. She brought a friend, who upon his arrival, greeted an Avon Rotarian with a cheery, "Hello, I'm Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia." The Rotarian, undaunted by such deceit, countered with, "I am Clark Kent, but my real identity is Superman." Later on during the same meeting, our secretary leaned over to Governor Carter and asked him to write his name on a napkin, because this would help the secretary when guests were introduced. He had a very poor memory for names.

The above are a few reflections of this committee's personal experience and memories over a part of the last 75 years. We have left out our names, so that many dozens of good Avon Rotarians would not be slighted.

Before putting the decade of 1970 away - in the later part of the seventies, Avon was to be host club of the Quad City Dinner, to be served at the Avon Inn. The formats of the meetings are usually dinner first... then fun and fines... then a twenty-minute program.

Our setup was a little different. Our program was to be first. The program itself was quite different. The show was a fashion show and it was to last about an hour. Near the end of the program, the audience seemed to be a little restive. As a matter of fact, some Rotarians did leave.

I would not in the future suggest the fashion show again.

In 1976, we put on our last Rotary Show. Doc D'Angelo headed it up and Harold E. Cole helped write the skits. This show was in honor of the two-hundredth birthday of the United States. One of the featured was a group of young men playing the old Army game of cards at stage right. The skits and music features songs of our nation then to now. As each year passed by, another veteran left the group until after Vietnam there were none. Lucille Scroger led the chorus. She and Doc handled the solo numbers and we saw a return trip to the stage of Jack Ferris and Harry Clements, its spacemen.

The Eighties dawned acid we were still at the Inn. We continued to be close to the Perry club, who sponsored us in the 20s. We continued to have some friends stop in to see us on Wednesday afternoon. People such as Douglas and Russ Kenny, Jim Gibney or Chasey stopped into the club on Wednesday at noon. Mary Flick continued to furnish music for our club. As you remember, this meant that ex-governor Howard Fisher was a valued "almost" member of Rotary.

The partnership with the Lions flourished as co-sponsors of Avon Ambulance service. We were up to about 400 calls a year; we strained to have a complete volunteer ambulance squad. This was harder and harder to carry on, but money drives continued to be successful.

Our auction, with advice and direction of Tina Coyne, continued to be a tried and true source of finance. Under the suggestion and initial leadership we launched into the ever popular and successful Corn Festival.

Sometime in the mid-eighties the Avon club became interested in sponsoring a Youth Foreign Exchange Program. The gentleman who really got this program underway was a member of our club, Kent Durepo. Kent loved to travel and under the guidance of various district committees, became involved in the Rotary Foundation Programs. One of the sections under this foundation was Youth Exchange. Ken also recruited Jerry Dougherty into this district committee on youth exchange.

In 1986 we received our first exchange student from this program, George D. Bruyn from South Africa. Helen and Harold Cole helped on this program for years, as the host parents of 9 or 10 exchange students.

It was in this time frame that we welcomed a good addition to the club. Dewey Batzing was a well-known and successful dairy farmer. He had married Jean Downing, who before her retirement was an elementary principal at the Livonia Central School. Jerry Dougherty had asked Dewey into Rotary. Dewey became an excellent Rotarian; he was especially interested in our work with the handicapped. He helped Ernie Wiard and David Henehan with heir work at Sam Wood.

Dewey's dad had been President in the early fifties and his brother was a Rotarian for a few years but Corkey, his brother, joined the Lions because they met at night.

Incidentally, speaking of the Corn Pest, this was suggested and started by Corrin Strong of our club. Originally, the festival lasted two days, with Sunday the clean up day. The big night, Saturday, we sold tickets for the live band which four firms sponsored.

However, as time went on and the prestige of our festivity grew, we cut the day down to one, with a free musical night. The whole thing was handled in the downtown business section of Avon. The four businesses of Avon continued to furnish the live band. All the food booths were sponsored by different organizations. Rotary's Corn Festival meant lots of money for all these organizations and has become a top area drawing card for the village of Avon.

It was in 1987 that we had our first lady join Rotary, and this first lady was Hope Wallace. Also in 1987 our Rotary Club lost a long time Rotarian Stalwart, Paul Strasenburgh, manager of our many Rotary shows and also added spirit toward our club meetings. He is still missed to this day.

July of 1989, our club suffered another blow, my younger brother Marty Cole died very suddenly at home of a massive heart attack. Marty was 62 years old. He had been the manager of the 1964 Rotary Show. This was the show presented during Hoyt Mason's term in office.

Marty had long been active in many of the club's money-making projects with a special emphasis on the Rotary auction. Marty had a great sense of humor and his passing was a great shock to everyone.

As Rotary passed into the nineties, many of us were still numb but were committed to the future and most of all still had responsibilities.

As we looked back at some of the housekeeping changes and precedents that had occurred during the past decades, we still had a ways to go. It was an honor to be named Rotarian of the Year. This was because people like energetic Ted Coyne, Gene Van Overbake and Doc D'Angelo kept giving to Rotary. In order to encourage this type of dedication, we all should be open to Rotarian of the Year. Family participation in Rotary has always been encouraged. In Rotary's 75 years there have been two families with three generations of Rotarians; the Clark family with George, Bob and Rob and the Cole family with King, Sonny an Hal.

It was in the nineties that another, rather unusual thing happened. When Chris Lane served as President at his appointed time due to a sudden resignation, the next in line did not feel qualified and Chris was asked to serve again. Chris handled this additional service very well. Chris was quick and was great with good rejoinders. Plus, he had great support from his friends, the Rotarians of the Club. He did rub it in a little bit when he said, "President one year, and King the next year."

It was during the nineties that our Avon Lions Rotary ambulance service faced the future with two new ambulances. They were super ambulances bought early in the decade. One cost in the neighborhood of 80,000 and the other in the 100,000.

It had also become a fact of the times that we needed a few new professional ambulance people in addition to the fine group of volunteers. It was also in the nineties that our club was blessed, as it was when Dewey Batzing joined us back in the eighties. Harry Longfellow rejoined Rotary. He had been a President during the sixties and rejoined our club after he retired. Harry was like Dewey because he had a mature outlook on life. He was able to see the good that a good service organization could do. Harry also loved to play golf and was always on hand to help in raising money.

It is true that if you say hello you also have to have the courage to say goodbye. This was especially true with our exchange students and is also true, permanently so, with friends Jerry Campo, Jack Browne and Dewey Batzing, all club deaths during the early nineties.

It was in the later part of the nineties that we were informed that we had to make a choice. We could no longer meet at noon in the Avon Inn. Linda R. who was our hostess had deemed that she could no longer serve meals at noon. It also was not in the cards to serve meals for the general public because of the lack of support. Therefore we must meet at night if we were able to have a club meeting in town. We chose Tuesday night at Peppermints Sports Bar. Near the end of the nineties the last tragedy occurred when Hank Druschel and Harry died. It was also about this time when we heard another old friend, Kent Durcpo, died in Atlanta.

With the death of Henry, Harry and also Jerry Campo, the nineties were ending like the eighties. We were in the early part of the new millennium when Phil D'Angelo became sick and shockingly passed away. As it was going into the nineties, when we lost so many members, our service was still needed. We had to head up the Millennium Project. Jerry Dougherty did a commendable job of guiding the community.

Our Rotary is now hanging its hat at Peppermints. On this, our seventy-fifth birthday, let us look back to what we can remember as our contribution to the town and village of Avon.