HISTORY OF THE ROTARY CLUB OF ST. AUGUSTINE
A Rich Tradition of “Service Above Self” in the Nation’s Oldest City.
Contributed by: Tracy Upchurch
The cover photograph of the September 2014 issue of Old City Life commemorating the Gus Craig Award winners is eloquent testimony to the role of our club members in the life of our community. This photograph illustrates that the history of our club is in many ways the history of our members serving our community.
This community service award is named for our long time club member Gus Craig who served through both the Salvation Army but also as a member of the Florida House of Representative. The Craig family is one of two in our club that can claim four generations of St. Augustine Rotarians. While Gus is deceased, so is another recipient of the award, Hamilton Upchurch. Like Gus, Hamilton was a member of the Florida Legislature and his family has four generations as members of our club.
As to the photograph itself, Sue Hale is the wife of our member and past president Patrick Hale. Sheriff David Shoar and School Superintendent Joe Joyner are Rotarians. Also featured in the photograph are four past presidents of our club: Bill Abare, Mark Bailey, Bill Proctor, and Bill Young. Other club members recognized but not pictured are Mike Davis, Lorna MacDonald and Katherine Batenhorst.
Our club was founded in 1920 through the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville. In turn, our club sponsored the Rotary Club of Hastings, the Sunrise Club, the Flagler Club, the Daytona Club and the St. Augustine Beach Club. Like many clubs, ours has a distinctive personality. Traditionally, particularly when the classification system was prominent in Rotary Clubs, we sought the leading men in our community. We regularly counted bank presidents, college presidents, National Guard generals, state legislators, city and county government leaders, business owners, and distinguished professionals among our members. We were successful in attracting the leading men of our community.
Our members have always actively served our community through their business and professional lives as well as other community organizations.
As such they were busy “doing” in many venues and therefore we traditionally were not a “busy” club. We looked to our Rotary membership as a means to financially support worthy projects and as an opportunity to network and enjoy the fellowship of other like-minded individuals.
For a period, our Rotary Club owned a camp for boys at St. Augustine Beach known as “Boys Works.” That property was sold and the earnings from those proceeds were used for many years to provide scholarships for local students to Flagler College. Now, that money has become the nucleus of our foundation.
For decades our club has made substantial financial contributions to worthy projects both locally and internationally. Notably our club funded the ticket booth at the St. Augustine Amphitheater during the 400th anniversary of our city’s founding in 1965 and financed the construction of Rotary Field at the St. Augustine Little League complex in the 1980s. Other projects provided funding for a number of local charity initiatives. Some but not all include Vans for ARC and the Boys and Girls Club, kitchen renovations at St. Francis House and remodel of apartments for the Alpha Omega Miracle Home.
Nationally and internationally, the issue of women joining Rotary, historically a man’s service club, was difficult. It was a bit of a challenge for our club as well. However, women were welcomed to membership; Susan McCrannie, then the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, was our first woman president. Since then women have become active members and leaders of our club and what was once a difficult issue, has quietly faded away.
As Rotarians of the St. Augustine Rotary Club we are a part of a rich tradition of “service above self” in the nation’s oldest city. We should be proud to be a part of that tradition and excited about the opportunity to carry it into the future.