Members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rotary Club celebrated the Club’s 80th anniversary last week, a chance to look back at the early days of the group that had much to do with the development of Bethesda.
The list of charter members reads like a who’s who of men who helped shape the area after the Great Depression.
Thomas W. Perry, Sr. started the TW Perry lumber yard business that remains in Chevy Chase. Thomas Pyle was the B-CC High School principal who today has a middle school named after him. George P. Sacks was the banker who built the Sacks Neighborhood. John Henry Hiser managed Hiser Theater, where at one time, a newsreel, cartoon and feature cost 20 cents.
They were among the 17 members of the Club when it began on April, 12 1933. On Thursday, the Club of roughly 80 Rotarians representing local businesses, nonprofits and other professional organizations gathered at the Mansion At Strathmore for an anniversary reception.
The Club started small before growing, like much of the Washington area, during and after World War II. Early fundraising was geared toward B-CC High School, Suburban Hospital, and a student loan fund. The Club sponsored a trip for 25 boys to attend the 1939 World’s Fair.
In the late 60′s, the Rotary started its own incorporated foundation. The Turkey Chase 10K race and 2-mile fun run began in 1983 under Club President Hank Bowis with 300 runners and $3,100 in fundraising for the Bethesda YMCA. Last year’s race had more than 9,000 participants and raised almost $200,000.
Also in 1983, the Club donated the clock at Bethesda Metro Center in honor of its 50th anniversary. In 1987, Amalie Dobres was elected as the Club’s first female honorary member. Joan Finnerty, the president of Suburban Hospital, was elected as the first active member. Carol Trawick served as the first female president in 1998.
In the early 40′s, every war bond bought at the Hiser Theater meant free admission.
Talks at the group’s weekly luncheon, which for most years has been held at Kenwood Country Club, included “The American Businessman’s Answer to Communist Atheism.”
The core purpose of the Rotary has always been charity, both for local causes and Rotary causes worldwide, such as polio research.
“We have members who are all business folks who want to give back their time to support charitable works. Most of our money goes right back into the community,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services director Ken Hartman, a member of the Club and the county government’s point man in Bethesda. ”We’re really fortunate to have a Rotary Club in Bethesda that’s been so active over the last 80 years.”