Installing street signs within city limits is a municipal duty these days. But few streets were marked when the Yakima Rotary Club was chartered on Dec. 1, 1919.
Only 31 years old then, Yakima wasn’t big. Members of the new civic organization still worried people would get lost, so they raised funds for proper street signs.
That was the club’s first community service effort. Its most recent project — the $22 million YMCA and Yakima Rotary Aquatic Center — opened for business on Nov. 14. Members also have committed to donating funds for a new playground and picnic shelter to Martin Luther King Jr. Park, at Race and Eighth streets on the city’s east side, this spring.
A lot has happened between those landmark civic efforts, including projects and programs supporting children’s health, literacy, hunger, quality of life improvements to parks and public spaces. The club, commonly known as Downtown Rotary, also awards $87,000 annually in vocational and academic scholarships.
One hundred years of improving the lives of Yakima residents is worth celebrating. With that in mind, Yakima Rotary Club members are holding “The Greatest Party Ever” at 6 p.m. Friday at the Yakima Convention Center. The community is invited.
It’s not a fundraiser, just a big party with an ambitious name. It will feature music by American Honey, Gary Winston and the Real Deal and the Joe Brooks Quartet. Tickets are $50 ($53.49 with service fee) and include entrance, food and a single drink ticket. It is a 21-and-over event.
The day before the big party, members will meet as they do every Thursday at 11:45 a.m. at the Yakima Convention Center. They will get a quick Rotary International history lesson from Rick King, a former Rotary International president who has spoken here a few times.
He’s glad to be coming back to help club members celebrate 100 years. “It’s a significant event. The Yakima club is one of our strongest and best clubs in the entire Rotary world,” he said.
King, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, was president of Rotary International when 9/11 occurred, he noted. King has traveled to 135 countries to see Rotary projects and talk to Rotarians. He has been a Rotary member for 52 years.
He will talk about how Rotary began in Chicago in February 1905. Paul Harris founded the club so professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form friendships, according to club history on Rotary International’s website.
“Some 15 years after Rotary began ... the Yakima Rotary began,” King said. “Rotary had its expansions in the early days on the West Coast. The second club was San Francisco, third was Oakland, fourth was Seattle, fifth was Los Angeles. Rotary developed very much on the West Coast and in the western United States in the early days before it spread all over the globe.”
Today there are 1.2 million members in more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in almost every country in the world. King plans to talk about some of Rotary International’s projects, including its long campaign to immunize every child in the world against polio. King was on the original Rotary committee to eradicate polio 35 years ago.
“We had something like 350,000 cases annually, primarily in Third World countries. Today we’re down to 15 to 20 cases” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, King said. “We’re close to it being eradicated. We hope to finish in another year or two.”