Service Above Self: The Rotary Club International

SmilePaul Percy Harris was a Chicago attorney who had a personal vision to make the humility evident in community service part of the mainstream business world. Born in Racine, Wisconsin on April 19, 1868, he moved to Vermont with his family at the age of 3 – eventually attending Princeton University, the University of Vermont, and the University of Iowa. Before taking up his career as a lawyer, Harris first became involved in work as a reporter for a newspaper, an actor and cowboy, a hired hand on cattle ships bound for Europe, and farm laborer. Finally taking up residence in Chicago, he started a law practice in 1896 – coming up with the idea for the Rotary Club very soon after taking his first patrons. The initial formation of the Rotary Club occurred in 1905 when Harris joined with his clients Silvester Schele, Gustavus Loehr, and Hiram Shorey for the purpose of organizing a club of professional business men interested in finding friendship and fellowship. However, he soon came to realize that the mission of the Rotary Club should bear a greater purpose, specifically in the realm of international goodwill and world peace. A spiritually aware man, Harris envisioned service as the catalyst that could cure the world’s preoccupation with hatred, violence, and war.

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Rotary Club Meetings Occur Around the World
Photo credit: vk2gwk – Henk T / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The very first service project conducted by the Rotary Club came in 1907, when the organization sponsored the construction of public toilets in Chicago. Since then, the Rotary Club has expanded to include 34,282 clubs and over 1.2 million members worldwide – and as one the world’s first service organizations, it has always lived by the principles of its founder, who insisted the world would judge its success based on “the results it achieves.” Placing “service above self,” Rotarians around the globe have banded together in a spirit of service “to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems.” Although it weathered a tough time during World War II, when clubs in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Japan were forced to disband, it was able to bounce back and rebuild its strength when hostilities ceased in 1945. The word “service” has always been at the forefront of Rotary Club efforts, and beginning in 1979 the organization took on the mission of eradicating polio in the world – and in such a capacity it has succeeded in all but three countries. The organization took its name originally from the fact meetings were “rotated” amongst the various business locations of the members, creating a geographical rotation that is no longer in effect today. The organization has become so famous even an asteroid has been named after its founder.

The object of the Rotary Club seeks to promote the ideal of service and worldwide brotherhood in four basic ways:

  • FIRST: The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
  • SECOND: High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
  • THIRD: The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
  • FOURTH: The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

Members are encouraged “to find ways to improve the quality of life for people in their communities and to serve the public interest.”  These efforts are not limited to the local community or country, but instead reach out to the international community as well – for the promotion of peace and mutual understanding amongst the variety of cultures that make up the world as we know it. Overall, the organization breaks its dedication to service into five avenues of service: service to the club itself, vocational service to the local work community, service to the welfare of community in general, international service, and the dedication to youth programs that empower and promote young professionals.

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A Rotary Service Project in Port Arthur, Australia
Photo credit: vk2gwk – Henk T / Foter / CC BY-NC

The Rotary’s involvement in the promotion of world peace is notable, including an international campaign to raise $125 million for the support of worldwide Rotary Peace Centers. As part of this program, each year up to 100 Rotary Peace Fellows are chosen to participate in either a master’s degree or certificate program at one of six universities located in the United States, Thailand, Japan, Great Britain, Australia, and Sweden. The master degree program offers intensive study (15 – 24 months) in peacebuilding and conflict resolution at 5 different universities, whereas the studies for a professional development certificate take place over a 3 month period of time at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. The fellowships “cover tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship/field study expenses.” Applications for a fellowship are available to the public for download.

The concept of service is indeed a crucial element to the promotion of world peace and the elimination of transnational violence.  At the root of this need is the fact that each of us is called to be “global citizens” – and the call to be peacebuilders should be our obligation, rather than a superhuman quality ascribed to a special few.  Betty Williams, a 1976 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has gone so far as to say peace should no longer be “glorified,” but instead become a daily focus of everyday life. “We could sit all day here and glorify it, but it’s not a thing that should be glorified,” she has postulated. “It’s a thing that should be done in reality, every single day of our lives.” The Rotary Club International should be commended for making this reality a part of the worldwide business community. Please add your voice to the cause for world peace by signing the petition to which this web site is dedicated. It only takes about 5 minutes of your time.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause. 

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Inquire, Learn, and Reflect: The May 4 Memorial of Kent State University

ProtestorsIn the spring of 1970, the United States was a country sharply divided over the ongoing Vietnam War – and the friction many times showed up dramatically on college campuses in the form of protests. In the majority of cases, the dispersal of college protestors occurred with numerous arrests and minimal harm – but on May 4, 1970 one such event erupted into perhaps the most tragic event of the era. The unpopularity of the war had grown to an even more agitated pitch when on April 30 President Richard Nixon announced the Cambodian Campaign, a military invasion of neighboring Cambodia for the purpose of routing the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong or “Charlie”), which were using the area as a staging ground for attacks on US troops in Vietnam. One reaction to the announcement came in the form of nationwide student strikes that occurred on both the high school and college level, building in intensity over the weekend of May 1st to 3rd. Such was the case at Kent State University in Ohio, where the mayor requested help from the National Guard to quell the unrest. On Monday, May 4, 1970, around 1000 students of that school converged on the University Commons to protest both the presence of the troops at their school and the recent “escalation” of the war.

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A Display Remembers the Events of May 4, 1970
Photo credit: PapaDunes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

In response to the raucous gathering of protestors, national guardsmen began to lob canisters of tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd – and faltering in that effort the troops at first appeared to be retreating. However, quite suddenly they wheeled, knelt and unleashed a volley of 67 rounds that killed four students and permanently paralyzed another. In response to the tragedy, high school and college strikes escalated, involving approximately 4 million students who were further motivated by the lyrics of a hit song released by the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – entitled Ohio. Controversy continues to this day concerning the motivation of Companies A and C, 1/145th Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry, Ohio National Guard (ARNG) for unleashing such a deadly volley of bullets, when most critics agree there was no ominous threat to their lives. Did the troops act on their own, or were there specific commander’s orders given to fire on the students? A civil suit filed on the behalf of the mother of Jeffrey Miller, one of the four students killed that day, led to a federal trial (1979) that eventually exonerated Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, Kent State University President Robert I. White, and 27 National Guardsmen. When the judgment was later reversed through the process of appeal, the plaintiffs accepted $675,000 in damages. In response to another separate indictment (1974) by the federal government, eight of the guardsmen were eventually declared innocent of depriving the students of their constitutional rights.

The accused guardsmen testified that they fired on the students in self-defense, even mentioning that they heard gunfire that made them fear for their lives. However, recent research revealed in 2010 seems to contradict that claim, providing interesting audio evidence that the troops actually fired in response to an order given by the commanding officers. The same audio recording has revealed that a firearm, possibly a handgun, may have been discharged at a very crucial point prior to when the guardsmen opened fire. At the time of the shootings, the FBI examined the same recording, but came to no conclusion that a firearm had discharged or that the guardsmen had receive orders to fire at the protestors.  At the very most, the Scranton Commission organized to examine college unrest concluded that the “indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Despite the new evidence, it is very unlikely that the federal government will reopen the investigation, because a “double jeopardy” clause in the Constitution prohibits government authorities from re-trying the surviving soldiers involved in the tragedy.

Often referred to as the “Kent State Massacre,” the 40-plus years since the event have made Kent State University very unique when it comes to memorializing non-violence. Originally in 1971, the school chose to establish a “living memorial” through a Center for Peaceful Change, which was later renamed as the Center for Applied Conflict Management – with an undergraduate program in peace and conflict studies (sponsored by the center) that was established in 1973. Although a sculpture entitled the “Kent Four” was erected near the School of Art, the college seemed reticent at first to erect a permanent memorial – but a formal recommendation finally came in 1984. Designed by Chicago architect Bruno Ast, the May 4 Site and Memorial received its official dedication on the 20th anniversary of the shootings – amongst some controversy. The memorial is essentially a plaza that rests on a 2.5 acre piece of land adjacent to the locality of the famous tragedy, including four black granite disks that lead directly north to four free-standing pylons situated in a wooded area. Near the sidewalk, a plaque bears the name of the four students who died, as well as the nine others that were wounded. Before any visitor can step on to the plaza, they are greeted with a quote engraved in the stone floor – “Inquire, Learn, Reflect.” The memorial is surrounded by 58,175 daffodil bulbs that represent the lives that were lost in the Vietnam War, and recently a May 4 Visitor’s Center (see video above) received its official dedication on the anniversary of the shootings.

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“Inquire, Learn, Reflect” – Click for Larger Photo
Photo credit: jleberle / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

If monuments dedicated to non-violence are intended to be cathartic in nature, there is no better example than the May 4 Memorial at Kent State University. The very history of the memorial, which includes the recent addition of a visitor’s center, is very heavily steeped in the human need for healing and consolation. Whatever your opinion is on the Vietnam War Era, the monument speaks to the heart of matters – including the heavy loss of life that took place on the battlefield. Memorials are more than just inanimate objects occupying time and space without a purpose, since they speak profoundly in a universal language that needs no words. Peace symbols in particular speak outwardly to humanity concerning the inward need within all of us for tranquility. A monument to those that have passed away as victims of terrorism – whether they have died at home or abroad – would speak to this need in a very special way. Such a marker goes beyond simple recognition of those that have died, announcing the universal need for amity amongst the human race. Please join us in our efforts to promote such a statement on peace by clicking the link below and signing the petition to which this website is committed.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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