100 Years of Service

By:John Klug Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Community

Rotary in Colorado

1941 meeting Rotary in Colorado has accomplished great things, working with the public and private sector as equal partners. But why is Rotary generally so successful at projects, both local and worldwide, that it tackles?

Where did the name “Rotary” come from and what does it mean? Paul Harris, a young attorney in Chicago founded Rotary International (RI) in 1905. From inception, it welcomed business executives and community leaders committed to ethical practices and was strictly non-religious and non-political. Meeting locations rotated amongst the homes and businesses of members, hence the name "Rotary." Rotary quickly began to spread to other cities and countries with an underlying core commitment—improve communities and the world in general. This resulted in the Rotary motto, "Service Above Self," which is the creed that all Rotarians live by.

Today, Rotary is trusted across the globe. The organization is active in 200+ countries, with more than 1.3 million members in over 33,000 Rotary clubs. Along with everyday citizens, Rotary clubs also generally include business and government leaders and the elite of the community. It is this remarkable mix of members and their diverse capabilities that gives Rotary its power to do good things, both in local communities as well as on a worldwide scale.

Rotary Comes to Colorado

By 1911, just six years after its founding in Chicago, Rotary had spread to the Rocky Mountain west and the Denver Rotary Club was chartered as the 31st Rotary club in the world. At that time, Denver was growing rapidly and was the nation's 25th largest city. Although Denver had a number of social clubs, Rotary was different. Gratton Hancock, Denver Rotary’s first president, brought together a number of like-minded citizens around three major goals: the promotion of the business interests of its members; the promotion of good fellowship; and civic and commercial development of the city. At Hancock’s first meeting on December 11, 1911, 40 charter members joined the Rotary Club of Denver. DAC

By 1916, membership had grown to 165 active Denver Rotarians. One of the most dynamic early Denver Rotarians was Mayor Robert W. Speer, who transformed the dusty and uninviting mining and rail center into a modern “city beautiful.” Coining the phrase, “Give while you live,” he convinced Denver businessmen and fellow Rotarians to contribute financially to the city that had brought them success. Speer argued, “Denver has been kind to most of us by giving to some health, to some wealth, to some happiness, and to some a combination of all.”

Growing Beyond Denver

Denver Rotary recognized the importance of growing beyond the greater Denver area. So, in June 1, 1912 the Pueblo Rotary #43 was chartered, and within eight years three more Rotary organizations would be established: the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs, originally the Rotary Club of the Pikes Peak Region (May 1, 1916), the Boulder Rotary (April 1, 1919) and the Longmont Rotary (June 17, 1919). After this, the growth across the state was astounding, laying the foundation for 146 statewide clubs with over 7,000 current Colorado members.

International Rotary Conventions Held in Colorado,

The Rotary Clubs of Colorado have been host to three International Rotary Conventions.


By 1926, Rotary International could proudly claim a presence in more than 2,000 cities worldwide. However, Rotary had been in Colorado only a short 15 years and stood nowhere near the top of any list in terms of population or prestige. Fortunately, Dr. John Andrew from Longmont, who just happened to be a member of the International Convention Committee, sold Colorado’s desirability as a convention destination and summer vacation spot. Denver was described as “a city of 300,000 in the midst of America’s Switzerland.” The Denver Post deemed the event a great success.


Although the 1941 Rotary International Conference was slated for Toronto, Canada, the Canadian government had taken over the exposition grounds for military purposes. So the 46 Rotary Clubs of Colorado were awarded the international convention in Denver. Denver welcomed enthusiastic Rotarians from around the world and became only the fifth city in history to host Rotary International for a second time. The theme of the convention was “The Rotarian Amid World Conflict” and the tumultuous international situation was on everyone’s mind. Although attendance from outside North America had diminished due to the war, 30 countries, including England, would be represented. A particular highlight was a concert and dedication of Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater which Mayor Ben Stapleton had hurried along to completion for the convention. The amphitheater’s June 16th dedication, attended by more than 9,000 Rotarians, would be a spectacular event and a coup for both Rotary in Colorado and the Stapleton administration. The opening received national coverage on CBS and a spread in Time. Also associated with the convention was the dedication of a memorial sundial and time capsule containing written Rotary records from 1941 atop Mt. Evans, a Colorado fourteener.


In 1966, Colorado prepared for the third Rotary International convention in 40 years. Local newspapers noted that Denver had nearly doubled in size since the first gathering in 1926. Traffic now buzzed through on Interstate Highways 25 and I-70 and the region could boast skyscrapers, a blossoming ski industry, a team in the American Football League, and even a tropical conservatory at Denver Botanic Gardens.

Billboards, bunting and balloons (150,000 courtesy of the May D&F department store) announced the imminent deluge of approximately 15,000 Rotarians from 67 countries into the city and region. And once again, on June 11, 1966, the conventioneers and their families congregated at Red Rocks Amphitheater to celebrate the park’s 25th anniversary. For months afterward, Colorado Rotarians received letters from around the world thanking their hosts for the hospitality.

Major Civic Achievements of Rotary in Colorado

As one might imagine, with over 7,000 Colorado members in 146 Clubs, the civic projects at the local, regional, and international level number in the thousands. Although there are many Rotary-led projects that are meaningful, there are a few that demonstrate the power and influence of Rotary in the Rockies and across the nation. In 1913, Colorado Rotarians appointed a committee to work with other local and state organizations, along with Congress and President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet, to create Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Estes Park. Drafted by the legendary James Grafton Rogers, future assistant secretary of state and founder of the Denver Council of Boy Scouts and the Colorado Mountain Club, the Rocky Mountain National Park Act became law on January 26, 1915.

District 5440

The Rotary clubs to the north and west in Colorado have a long history of international and local projects that focus on youth. Friendship and cooperation between the Rotary Club of Loveland and the Rotary Club of Manantiales, Tehuacán, Mexico began 20 years ago when four semi-truck loads of medical supplies and equipment were shipped to hospitals in their area. Later, the club provided computer technology and mapping software to the Water Forever Project in the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca. Additional youth activities throughout the district include Youth Exchange, support for high school students in Interact and RYLA, Kid Packs, Student of the Month and Teacher of the Month recognitions, gifts of free dictionaries to third grade students in the city, and merit and art scholarships for college-bound students. The clubs in District 5440 also produce the prestigious Governor’s Art Show and a Duck Race on the Thompson River which provides financial support for youth activities. In 2005, with leadership and support from the district Rotary, Smiles without Borders Foundation was created. This organization has matured and developed into an independent foundation that provides comprehensive dental care to Mexican children while they attend school. Today, thousands of children receive dental care by national dentists through a partnership of the foundation and the Manantiales club. In 2006, the club’s dentists, technicians, and engineers made full dentures for countless poor people in Ocotal, Nicaragua. Locally, the club organized a Third Chance Denture Clinic in 2009. In fact, over a two-week period, 52 sets of high-quality dentures were constructed for needy patients across the Loveland community. The free services provided were estimated to be worth $100,000.

District 5450

In the aftermath of World War II, when many boys were left without fathers, Denver Rotary put the motto “Service Above Self” into action when they announced the formation of Denver Boys, Inc. The purpose of Denver Boys was to help them, “live healthful, normal lives in their own neighborhoods, schools and homes; to choose a suitable occupation; and to develop into good, self-sufficient citizens in their communities.” This Rotary-led initiative was unique because it combined the efforts of government and private agencies, including Denver Public Schools, Denver Rotary Club and the Colorado Division of Employment, becoming an early example of a highly successful public/private partnership. Over the years, Denver Boys Inc. has morphed into Denver Kids which now serves nearly 1,000 underprivileged, largely minority, students in Denver Public Schools and helps to achieve a high-school graduation rate of 90 percent—almost 40 percentage points higher than the state average. Even more impressive, is that almost 90 percent of Denver Kids graduates go on to university or post-secondary education, many on full scholarships. District 5470 Rotary District 5470 works actively, both locally and internationally. To be sure, when disaster strikes in their part of the state—flood, tornado or wild fire—District 5470 Rotarians are there with a helping hand. This district also provides college scholarships for high school seniors, opportunities to study abroad at the high school and college level, and other community-improvement projects. Internationally, the district contributes to grants for international humanitarian projects especially focused on peace and conflict resolution and the eradication of polio. Recently, they sponsored a new Rotary club in Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories. District 5470 Rotarians have visited Ramallah and have established relationships with surrounding districts in the region. After struggling to overcome the governmental paperwork mandates, the district club was pleased to help create the first Rotary club in the Palestinian Territories in more than three decades. In 1945, Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary was asked, “What is Rotary?” His reply was, “Thousands have made an answer, each in his own way. It is easier to note what Rotary does than what it is. …If Rotary has encouraged us to take a more kindly outlook on life and men; if Rotary has taught us greater tolerance and the desire to see the best in others; if Rotary has brought us pleasant and helpful contacts with others who also are trying to capture and radiate the joy and beauty of life, then Rotary has brought us all that we can expect.” Every Rotarian in Colorado would agree. Portions of this article were excerpted from a study of 100 Years of Rotary being researched and written by Rosemary Fetter. John R. Klug is a writer, inventor and former newsletter and magazine publisher living in Colorado. He is also a committed Rotarian with 17 years of perfect meeting attendance.

Leaders, Leading Together, Towards Better Communities

1966 convention

To celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Rotary in Colorado, local Rotarians looked for a suitable centennial project.

Here are the facts...

* Colorado schools rank 42nd in the nation in terms of Internet speed and connectivity. * Colorado schools are paying, on average, 10X what schools in Nebraska and Utah pay. * Colorado schools need greater bandwidth immediately to keep up with the needs of students. * Colorado schools have little or no budget to pay for skyrocketing high speed Internet prices. * Public and private sector efforts to lay fiber optic cable are not working because of the expansive distances between cities and towns outside of the Front Range.

Considering the facts, it simply was not practical or economically justifiable for the Colorado-based carriers, like Qwest or Comcast, to lay new fiber optic cable throughout Colorado without some financial assistance. It was a high-cost, low return investment. And, according to research, the situation probably would not change for decades. It begged the question, “Would most of Colorado’s children and businesses be consigned to the rubbish-heap of educational and technological advancement?”

The answer was, “Not without a fight.” So, an idea was hatched—to use federal stimulus funds to help bring Colorado up to the superior standards of our neighboring states.

Working with EagleNet, a Longmont, Colorado-based nonprofit, the Denver Rotary Club, along with all three Colorado District Governors, and on behalf of and with the help of all Rotary clubs in the state, embarked on a statewide quest to help obtain these federal stimulus dollars. EagleNet would provide the technical expertise and be the lead agency to apply for the grant. Rotary would tap its organizing expertise and collective political and community rolodexes to work at the grassroots level to help make the grant application a success.

Meetings with the Colorado Press Association soon resulted in interviews with over a dozen newspaper editors. Articles appeared in the Denver Post, the Denver Business Journal, Longmont Times-Call, and other newspapers and media throughout the state. The Colorado congressional delegation was energized. Elder statesmen such as Senator Hank Brown and Governor Dick Lamm, both former Rotarians, representing both sides of the political “aisle,” were deputized to create a bipartisan YouTube presentation. Online petition forms were created to show broad statewide support. Countless PowerPoint presentations were made and Rotarians throughout the state beseeched school boards, local elected officials, and business groups to get involved.

The result was a fully funded grant request of just over $100 million announced in September, 2010, and in-kind contributions of $35 million. EagleNet and the Rotary were going to bring Internet capabilities to every school district in the state of Colorado—at gigabit speed!

Soon Colorado school children will literally be able to operate an electron microscope located at a distant research facility from their schoolroom in Meeker, Colorado or control in real-time an astrophysical facility in Australia. The capacity and speed will be so great that literally every hospital, every library, every museum, every business, every government entity, and virtually every residence in the state will also be able to connect and receive state-of-the-art Internet access. It will literally transform Colorado and assure our place as a high-tech leader in the 21st Century.

Obtaining federal stimulus dollars is highly competitive. In fact, most applications from other states were denied or only partially funded, and an earlier petition from EagleNet had been denied before Rotary got involved. Yet, with the grassroots lobbying ability of Rotary working hand-in-hand with EagleNet and other constituencies throughout the state, the second try was fully funded. Everyone involved, including the Governor’s Office for Broadband Connectivity, elected officials, and EagleNet, acknowledge that it would never have happened without the push from Rotary.

During tough times, it is possible for collaborative leadership to yield extraordinary results. In fact, more than possible, it is essential. And it proves that a 100+ year old organization like Rotary International can still be fast on its feet, innovative, and facilitate social entrepreneurship!

Rotary, government at the national, state and local level, educators, EagleNet, and community groups all came together to achieve a result that no one group alone could have accomplished. The effort epitomizes the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self”, and truly represents leaders—leading together—towards better communities and world peace!