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. 

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Nothing More Than Nothing: The Weight of a Snowflake

SnowDecember 14, 2022 will mark the 43rd anniversary of the day my father fell victim to a terrorist attack while working in Istanbul, Turkey as a civilian contractor with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). After a long career in the Air Force that saw him rise to a high rank through WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, it took the heartless act of terrorists to rob him of his life and the ability to grow old in the eyes of his family. An expert in intercontinental warfare, he was in Turkey engaged with the removal of nuclear ordnance – as dictated by the agreement ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although I can never get through the anniversary of that day without remembering his death, which I have always referred to as the darkest day in my life, I do not write this just to commemorate my father- for there are literally hundreds of Americans that have died overseas, fallen victims to terrorism while defending their country. One list chronicling the attacks up through 1997 is available through the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Should you be interested in reading the circumstances of dad’s death, hit the link and scroll down to the date December 14, 1979 and you will find a brief synopsis, which is listed along with other tragic attacks that have taken place down through the years. You can also find reference to my father’s assassination on the Global Terrorism Database, which has recorded over 200,000 worldwide acts of transnational violence. For each affected family, the death of their loved ones has been equally tragic to the acts of 911, I can personally assure you – because I felt the anguish and grief with my mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins exactly 43 years ago.

Lt. Colonel James B. Clark at the rank of captain

Photo Circa 1953

In the wake of 911, Congress at one time agreed to call for a national monument to the fallen victims of terrorism, as you can ascertain through some readily available documents at the Library of Congress. However, the committee dedicated to constructing this noble commemoration, which would duly honor my father’s memory along with the other hundreds of victims that have died, seems to have fumbled the ball, for nothing has happened – at least to my investigation, and the office of Congresswoman Kay Granger in Ft. Worth, Texas has confirmed this oversight. The resolution has died in the Senate.  For those of you who read this, you could do my father and the other victims of terrorism an honor by signing the petition found at Tell the government you would like to honor Lt. Colonel James B. Clark and the hundreds of others that have died as victims to terrorism, at home and abroad. If you truly appreciate being an American, I fail to see how you can refuse to do so. If you aren’t a U. S. citizen, then sign it as a testimony of your dedication to world peace.

As for now, stay warm and happy in heaven, Dad. I know you are there with the Great One, because they say martyrs go straight to paradise.  I am an old man now, but I still remember and love you as I did forty-three years ago. The time is coming soon when we will be able to sit down once again and enjoy a father and son conversation. I just hope this country will one day admit that it loves you too. I send to you, and anyone that happens to read this, the wisdom of the Coalmouse and the Dove:

Bird In Snow

Photo credit: Shannonsong / / CC BY-NC

The Weight of a Snowflake

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coalmouse asked a wild dove as they sat on the branch of a tree.

 “Nothing more than nothing,” the dove answered.

 “In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coalmouse said. “I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to snow. Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard. No, just like in a dream, without any violence at all. Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,471,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch–nothing more than nothing — as you say — the branch broke off.”

 Having said that, the coalmouse flew away.

 The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on peace, thought about the story for a while. Finally, she said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

Are you one of those snowflakes, those voices? If not, I must ask you why?

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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