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.


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.


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. 


About jrcclark

On October 2, 2001, scarcely one month after the horrors of 911, Representative Jim Turner of Texas introduced H. R. 2982 to the House of Representatives, calling for “the establishment of a memorial to victims who died as a result of terrorist acts against the United States or its people, at home or abroad.” The resolution was amended by the Committee on Resources in June of 2002 and eventually approved on September 25, 2002 on a “motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill.” It was sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but it has languished there ever since – in effect dead and going nowhere. In 2008, this Senate Committee considered making Dark Elegy, the work of a New York sculptor who lost a son in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, as the monument called for in H. R. 2982. However, the committee turned down the touching and thought-provoking sculptures of Suse Ellen Lowenstein – on the grounds that “…as compelling and impressive a proposal as has been made for the memorial in question, that we believe that, for the time being, that it relates to a very specific incident and should be treated as such rather than as a generic monument to victims of terrorism for all time.” Today the resolution seems forgotten, and it is the purpose of this website to promote a petition to the House of Representatives and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, requesting that H. R. 2982 be reconsidered and revisited.
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