Rotary Club of Glenwood Springs charter member Jerry Hammar remembers taking a seat on a plane one time and noticing the man seated next to him was wearing a Rotary button.
“There was an instant connection and we of course started talking, even though we spoke different languages,” Hammar recalled.
It’s that sort of bond that defines Rotary, the international service organization that works on a global scale to help tie the world together through its various projects and relief efforts, and locally to do good deeds in communities that are served by individual clubs.
Hammar was among the 30 charter members who founded the first Glenwood Springs Rotary Club in 1964, which has been celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. Among other achievements, the club created Two Rivers Park as part of its enduring legacy.
“I didn’t know much about Rotary at the time,” said Hammar, the only charter member who is still active in the club, though he’s now confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke and has been unable to attend the weekly meetings.
“My father was a longtime member of the Lions Club, and I knew a little about the Kiwanis Club,” he said of two service clubs that preceded Rotary with chapters in Glenwood Springs. “It’s been a good experience for me, and a good thing for Glenwood.”
Hammar was the club’s fourth president in 1967-68, following in the footsteps of charter members Philip Smith, Jack Hall and Jim Rose, who served in the president’s role for the first three years.
Another charter member and president, Ken Coate, designed Glenwood Rotary’s distinctive cowboy chaps club pennant. That pennant can be found at numerous Rotary clubs across the United States and around the world where local club members have traveled and attended meetings.
A Rotary tradition is to exchange pennants with other clubs, and the pennants are often proudly displayed at meetings and special club events.
Later on, the Glenwood club adopted the tradition of passing along a full-size set of chaps from president to president each year with a signature from the outgoing club leader.
“The club’s first meeting room was at the Hotel Denver,” Hammar said. “As always, we met on Friday at noon.”
Today, the club still meets every Friday at noon at Rivers restaurant on South Grand Avenue.
Sowing Rotary seeds
The Glenwood noon club was the second Rotary Club on the Western Slope of Colorado, having been sponsored by the region’s first club in Grand Junction.
Over the next two decades, the Glenwood club went on to sponsor new clubs in Aspen, Vail, Rifle, Carbondale and eventually a second club in Glenwood Springs. That club met in the mornings and was known as the Sunrise Rotary Club for many years, before changing to an evening meeting schedule and changing its name to Sunset Rotary.
Other new charters have in turn been sponsored by those clubs, including in Snowmass Village, a second Carbondale club and Glenwood’s Club Rotario, which places an emphasis on serving the local Latino community.
“One of the things about Rotary is that it’s not meant to be a club to promote your business,” said Floyd Diemoz, a longtime member who joined in the early 1970s and served as club president during 1978-79.
“That’s an important message for new members,” he said. “Being a Rotarian is about service to the community.”
Diemoz’s term as president ended up being a particularly busy year when the club took on one of its major community projects, the construction of the city’s first soccer field in West Glenwood on a piece of land owned by the school district.
The club’s major fundraiser at the time, the Rotary Roundup Auction and Radio Bash, raised money for the project with an auction both on location at the Hotel Colorado and live on the air on KGLN radio.
The school district and the city both approved of the project, but neither had much money to help with the project, so the Rotary Club took it on, Diemoz said.
However, the soccer field only lasted about a dozen years before the new Glenwood Springs Middle School was built on that site.
The year prior to the soccer field being built, the Radio Bash also funded the initial site preparation work on the grounds of a former limestone and concrete processing plant that had been sold to the city for a new park.
“Today, the 22-acre Two Rivers Park is Glenwood’s foremost park,” Diemoz noted in a history piece he prepared for the Rotary Club’s 50th Anniversary party on May 3.
“The initial reclaiming of the land was accomplished by our club alone,” he wrote. “Besides contributing cash to the park at this beginning, we contributed $10,000 towards the park’s playground and picnic facilities.”
Calling all Anns
Rotary history holds that, back in 1914, nine years after Rotary was founded by Paul Harris, a group of Rotarians was traveling to the national convention in Houston, Texas. Among them was a lone woman, the wife of one of the Rotarians who was named Ann.
She came to be known on that trip as “Rotary Ann,” and at the convention was a second wife of an attending Rotarian also named Ann. From that point until 1987, the wives of Rotary members were referred to as Rotary Anns. But women were not allowed in the club.
That was, until a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that women had to be allowed membership in Rotary.
The very next year, Bob Bradshaw, now deceased, became president of the Glenwood Rotary Club and decided Glenwood should get with the times and induct the club’s first female members. That group included the late Vickie Lee Green and Shirley Schiesser, as well as Trish Kramer and Mary Kent, who remain members today.
“I always felt honored to be a part of that group,” said Kent, who served as the club’s first female president in 1994-95. “And I was already aware of the good work that Rotary did in the community and that it was a group that got things done.”
Two members of the club objected to her induction, she recalled, including Joe Llewellyn, though it wasn’t because she was a woman.
“He objected because he didn’t think I owned or managed a business at the time, which was one of the rules of the club,” Kent said.
She was able to prove that she did have part ownership at the Dalby Wendland accounting firm. She also ended up marrying Llewellyn.
From the club’s involvement in international programs such as the Polio Plus effort to eradicate polio worldwide and the Rotary student exchange program, to local grant and student scholarship programs, Kent said she’s proud to be a Rotarian.
“Any time you can bring fresh water to a Third World country, it’s a huge benefit,” she said. “And the benefits to the local community are many.”
Today, the Rotary Club of Glenwood Springs has about 60 members. Along with Diemoz and Kent, longtime club member Glenn Vawter and current club president Jackie Skramstad were instrumental in pulling together the history of the club for the 50th anniversary.