At 5,000th meeting, Everett Rotary Club reflects on record of service

It’s an Everett summer attraction, one that keeps thousands of kids cool and entertained. The Forest Park water playground is also an example of generosity. It’s a gift, one of many in our community, from the Rotary Club of Everett.

Kids playing in the spray likely have no idea they’re at the Rotary Centennial Water Playground. Opened in 2007, it was paid for with $100,000 donated by Everett Rotary members. The project was planned as a tribute to Rotary International’s 100th anniversary in 2005.

The water playground and other achievements spanning decades were highlighted Tuesday at the Everett Rotary’s 5,000th meeting. The group holds a lunch meeting every Tuesday in the Commons at Naval Station Everett.

Thirty-year member Larry O’Donnell, a past president of the group, narrated a photo presentation of Everett Rotary’s history.

A service organization, Rotary was founded in 1905 by attorney Paul Harris in Chicago. Seattle started its club in 1909. And on Dec. 8, 1916, according to a history of the club written by O’Donnell in 1996, 25 prominent Everett men got together to form an Everett Rotary club.

They met in Weiser’s Cafe, on the northwest corner of Hewitt and Wetmore avenues. By the end of that gathering, the group had adopted resolutions creating the Rotary Club of Everett. As Rotary Club No. 272, the group got its official charter on March 1, 1917.

Tuesday’s program was as much an Everett history lesson as it was an insider’s look at the club. O’Donnell’s 1996 booklet, “Celebrating Eighty Years of Service: A History of Everett Rotary Club,” includes a list of charter members — a local who’s who. Many names that evoked power and influence in 1916 are still familiar today.

Among notables from Everett Rotary’s first year were Roland Hartley, then vice president of the Clough-Hartley Mill Company, who became governor from 1925 to 1933; William Howarth, president of the Everett Pulp &Paper Company; Samuel Bargreen, proprietor of the Imperial Tea Company; and James Best, president and manager of The Everett Daily Herald.

“They were the establishment,” O’Donnell said Tuesday. More than two-thirds of those first members owned businesses within a two-block area of the downtown cafe where they met.

It was likely no coincidence that Everett’s Rotary Club was born in 1916, shortly after the labor strife that erupted in a shooting battle on the Everett waterfront on Nov. 5, 1916. Now known as the Everett Massacre, the violence left at least five people dead, including members of the Industrial Workers of the World known as “Wobblies.” Shingle workers in Everett mills had been on strike that year.

“Conflict between labor and management was ever-present,” O’Donnell said Tuesday. “Everett was in a fight with itself.”

In O’Donnell’s history, Hartley was described as a “rock-ribbed capitalist and staunch opponent of anything smacking of socialism.”

The Everett Rotary’s first president was Clayton Williams, whose son Parker Williams held that title in 1966, the local Rotary’s 50th anniversary. Both men were attorneys. Howarth — an Everett waterfront park now bears his name — delivered the program speech at the first regular meeting, on the subject “The Golden Rule as Applied to Business.”

Later years saw many more esteemed members, including Monrad Wallgren, who was governor from 1945 to 1949 and also represented the state in Congress and as a U.S. senator; construction company founder Howard Wright; artist Bernie Webber; and Mark Nesse, former director of the Everett Public Library.

The water playground is a recent contribution, but Rotary’s work in building Everett goes way back. The Everett Armory, now owned by Mars Hill Church, was built in 1921 after the club lobbied the Legislature to fund it. The former Deaconess Children’s Home on Highland Avenue was built after Rotary sponsored a fundraising campaign in 1927.

In the 1930s, the Everett Public Library was built with money largely donated by Leonard Howarth, William Howarth’s brother.

Military service played a role, with many local Rotary members serving in World War I and World War II. The club founded the Twelfth Company Coast Artillery Corps, part of the Washington National Guard, during World War I.

Everett’s Rotary was an all-male club until 1987, when Barbara McCarthy of Frontier Bank became a member. “I felt very honored to break the way for women, but there were a lot of members who didn’t like it,” McCarthy said recently. Today, there are nearly 160 members and many of them are women.

Today, more than parks and buildings, the Everett Rotary makes a big difference in young lives. In 2012, the club’s scholarships for graduating high school seniors totaled $161,500.

“We take our purpose seriously, but not ourselves so seriously,” O’Donnell said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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