The Mesa Rotary Club was the first Rotary Club in the East Valley and one of the first in Arizona. The Club has been serving Mesa for over 100 years. When you join the Mesa Rotary Club you become part of a long tradition of serving our community and making Mesa a better place.

Rotary of Mesa Club History

{Written by Charlie Mitten 55 years Ago; Updated by Dilworth Brinton Jr April 2022}

It’s late September of 1920.
Another torrid Mesa summer is just about over and with no coolers. People who
left town in June are flocking back. The Harding-Davis campaign is getting hotter as the weather gets cooler.

The service clubs are not looking ahead to an active season - because there are no
service clubs in Mesa. But Dr. Ralph Palmer is about to correct that. Dr. Palmer has heard a lot about the Rotary Club movement which has been going on for 15 years and he is determined to get a club started in Mesa.


That was the setting for the birth of Mesa Rotary. The Phoenix Rotary Club, first in
Arizona, had been launched six years before and the Phoenix members were eager to sponsor another club.


Mesa was the most likely site. The town had about 3,700 people then and was
already developing a reputation for civic-mindedness, energy, and a will to grow.
Still a predominantly Mormon community (about 70 percent). Mesa was a farming
town and the tourists had not yet started to flock in with the first Eastern snows. The
business district was small. Perhaps the biggest stores in town were the O.S. Stapley
Hardware and Toggery, the best dry goods store.


Dr. Ralph Palmer, aided by District Governor Charles Christy and Phoenix Rotary
Club president John Brown, called together Mesans Herman Hendrix, L.H. Van
Spanckeren, John Cummard, George Silverthorn, Spence Dingle, Frank Gurley, George Johnson, Harry Price, Ed MacDonald, Charles Flynn, Rev. Francis Bloy, J.C. Raymond, Marquis “Cardinal” Gibbons, Dan Collett, Harvey Bush, Frank Samuels, William Walters, Paul Beville, W.M. Beach, Will Bowen, Arthur Viault, and Charles Price and Dave Ross, Jr..

For their meeting place they chose the Guild Hall at the Episcopal Church at 137 West Pepper Place. Phoenix Rotarians joined the Mesans at those early meetings. The first six weeks, the programs were about Rotary and the responsibilities of Rotarians.

Finally the club was banded together solidly enough to apply for a charter. Dr.
Palmer was elected president and Rev. Bloy was named the first Secretary.
The charter was approved and the Mesa Rotary Club was officially launched in
February 1921. They kept the membership at about 24 for the first year, and then
slowly added carefully selected members one and two at a time until the club reached 30 members two years later.


From the very first, the Mesa club was an enthusiastic convention group. Almost to
the last man they trekked to Long Beach for the district convention in 1921 (a month after the club was formed) and brought home the club attendance cup.

They won the district attendance prize again in 1922 at the San Francisco
convention, a trip best remembered for the burro the Mesa Rotarians hauled along with them on the train.

The club grew and prospered steadily until the depression of the early 1930's. The economic pressures began to be felt and some of the members found it necessary to drop out of Rotary. Frank Gurley, a charter member who served as president in 1932-33, deserves much credit for his efforts in holding the club together during the worst of the depression.

World War II did not hit the Mesa Rotary Club as hard as some other service clubs
with younger membership. As a result, the Mesa Rotarians were able to do more toward supporting the various war drives than any other group. They spearheaded scrap drives, rubber drives, paper collection drives, blood donor drives, purchasing of war bonds and served in civil defense work and the establishment of two air bases for pilot training.

Since the war, the club has been a powerful force in civic betterment. Its work
with Boys Ranch, Sunshine Acres, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, crippled children, dozens of local charities and international projects has been outstanding. Just as important has been the work of individual members on projects of civic importance. Virtually every Rotarian contributes a major effort toward the betterment of Mesa government, schools, recreational facilities, business expansion, city beautification, and many other fields. In the club’s first century they have had over 1,000 members. Of the 144 Outstanding Citizens awarded in Mesa, over 55% were or are Rotarians (80) and over 46% were members of the Mesa Rotary Club (67). Thirteen mayors and forty two city council members were (or are) Rotarians of the Mesa Rotary Club. Mesa Rotarians currently serve on dozens of city advisory boards and local charities.

The Mesa Rotary Club met first at the Episcopal Church; went thru a period of
meeting on members lawns; then met for several years at the El Portal Hotel. For many years the meeting place was the Mesa Women's Club and moved to the Plantation Restaurant. When the restaurant closed a few years later the meeting place was moved to the Mesa Country Club. After many years at the Mesa Country Club, Mesa Rotary Club grew too large for the facilities available there, and moved its meetings to Mesa's Centennial Hall and then back to the Country Club. From there the club has moved to the Hilton Hotel near Alma School. For a short time the club met at the top of the Mesa Public School building at Sirrine and Main St. (The building was built by Rotarian Joe Woods on the site of Rotarian Rial Randall’s Dodge agency.)


During 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 prevented in-person meetings, but the Mesa Rotary club met over the utilizing with Zoom meetings. When COVID-19allowed, the Mesa Rotary club resumed ‘in person’ meeting at the Benedictine University hall. This is the location of the former Southside Hospital (which was originally built through the work of Mesa Rotary club.)

Mesa has been host to the District Conference five times, in 1927, 1932, 1951, 1961
and 1980. The Club has contributed six District Governors: Herman Hendrix in 1932,
Horace Griffen in 1945, Jack Leyda in 1951, Dr. Lloyd Kent in 1954, Pete Guerrero in 1963, and Lynn Sharp in 1980.

The Mesa Rotary Club has, for years, installed its incoming President with a hi-
jinx stag party and at the same time assisted the out-going President into the ranks of the GGOPP (Grand and Glorious Order of Past Presidents). Over the years the 'best & brains'; of the GGOPP have devised many outstanding stunts for these fun parties. An effort is made to plan the ceremonies along the theme of the candidates business, hobby, or some frailty as has been exposed during his membership in the club.

In past ceremonies incoming presidents have milked cows, rode mechanized
horses, castrated sheep, and have been disinfected in vat baths. Fishing, hunting, and surgery have all gone 'the rounds' in the annual ceremonies. All in all, the majority of the membership got a real 'kick' out of the annual event. About 1987 things quieted down as the GGOPP change their annual “get together” into a roast of the outgoing president.

Mesa Rotary Club has sponsored more than a dozen new clubs. The clubs in
Apache Junction, Gilbert and Chandler were established to serve geographical areas
which did not currently have Rotary Clubs. Mesa has also given up territory to help form Rotary Clubs in Tempe and Gilbert. In addition, five new clubs (Baseline, Mesa West, Mesa East, Mesa Sunrise and Mesa Boeing), have been established within Mesa's territorial limits to provide greater Rotary opportunities in these area.


Mesa has been pleased to take into its membership Ike Parrish, a Past Rotary
International Director who retired to this area. Ike was an active member of the club and made an honorary president of the club.


In search of fund raising activities, the Mesa Club began sponsorship of an annual
Bar-B-Que; as new clubs have been formed, they have joined in the sponsorship of this annual event, and the five clubs prepared and served in excess of 3,000 traditional western meals each year at this very popular winter season event. Eventually the Bar-B-Que was dropped and the Mesa Rotary Club joined with Bashas’ in a golf tournament to raise money for charity. In 2001 Bashas’ did away with the tournament. In 2002 we combined with the other Mesa Rotary Clubs for a fundraising evening at the Broadway Palms Dinner Theater.


The club has also raised funds by having several ‘opening night premiers’ for new movies being released. Mesa Rotary actively participates in Rotary International programs and goals.


This club has always placed a very high premium on attendance, and in the first 65 years of its existence, club attendance has never been less than 90%. Great emphasis is placed upon participation in the Rotary Foundation, and more than 80% of the members of the club are either Paul Harris Fellows or Sustaining Members. It was a special honor to have Paul Harris address the club just prior to his death.


Additionally, two Rotary International Presidents have been sponsored in the District by the Mesa Clubs and the Mesa Club has been especially honored by attendance and an address at one of its weekly meetings by the Rotary International President, Hiroji Mukasa in 1983.

Mesa Rotary has also been a strong supporter of the Youth Exchange Program and has often sponsored at least one and usually more out-bound students and has usually welcomed into its community at least one in-bound student each year.

In 1984 the Mesa Rotary club started a project to take Christmas to children in Guymas Mexico. Each year aircraft arranged for by Marge Thayer and Rotarians fly candy, gifts and Rotarians to Guymas for a week end of fun and service. The club started giving dictionaries to every third grade student in Mesa.

The Mesa Rotary club is also involved with international projects to build homes and schools in several Central American countries. The club also provided solar panels for Sunshine Acres and to the University of Kubal in Afghanistan. We also have several micro lending program in Mexico.

The Rotary clubs in Mesa have grown and shrunk, but they are still a leading
agent of change for the betterment of our community, our state, in the US and across the world as we start our second century of “Service Above Self”.

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