With a motto of “Service Above Self,” Rotary International is a non-political, non-religious civic organization that is open to all adults. There are about 35,000 individual Rotary Clubs located in more than 200 countries around the globe. Arkansas has more than eighty separate clubs in communities throughout the state. Most of the 1.2 million members of Rotary worldwide are business, civic, and professional leaders in their communities, and club members volunteer to serve others on the local, state, national, and international levels. At meetings, there are usually guest speakers who present programs on topics of interest.
The first Rotary Club was founded in 1905 by attorney Paul Harris (1868–1947) in Chicago, Illinois. Harris wished to share his vision of meeting other like-minded professionals who wanted to serve their community. The Rotary Club received its name because the group’s weekly lunch meetings would rotate among the offices of its original four members, called Rotarians. More members joined the original group, and meetings moved to larger, more permanent venues such as restaurants or hotel meeting rooms. Soon, other Rotary Club chapters were formed outside Chicago.
Established in 1911, the Rotary Club of Little Rock is known as the oldest civic club in Arkansas. Sidney Brooks (1886–1985) of Little Rock (Pulaski County), owner of Brooks Advertising, the state’s first advertising agency, invited some friends to pursue becoming affiliated with Rotary. When the Rotary Club of Little Rock received its charter in 1914, it had thirty-six members. By 2021, it had more than 350 members. The Rotary Club of Little Rock has the distinction of being known as “Club 99,” because of the number on its charter, placing it among the first hundred Rotary clubs to be founded.
Arkansas is recognized internationally through the byline of Arkansan Victor Fleming, a member of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, on the popular crossword puzzle in the monthly Rotary magazine, seen by more than one million Rotarians worldwide. Fleming has created the crossword since 2006.
Each club, including those in Arkansas, pursues its own humanitarian causes and community projects. However, Rotary International has an overall goal of eradicating polio from the world, in which it has largely succeeded. Rotary clubs in Arkansas are known for strongly supporting this effort.
Rotary International divides individual clubs into geographic districts containing about twenty-five to thirty clubs in each. There are three in Arkansas: Districts 6110, 6150, and 6170.
District 6110 contains clubs in the corners of four states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and northwestern Arkansas. Some of the Arkansas clubs in this district include Alma (Crawford County), Altus (Franklin County), Bentonville (Benton County), Berryville (Carroll County), Booneville (Logan County), Bull Shoals (Marion County), Fayetteville (Washington County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Harrison (Boone County), Mountain Home (Baxter County), and Yellville (Marion County).
District 6150 is composed of clubs including Batesville (Independence County), Blytheville (Mississippi County), Brinkley (Monroe County), Cabot (Lonoke County), Forrest City (St. Francis County), Harrisburg (Poinsett County), Heber Springs (Cleburne County), Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), Jonesboro (Craighead County), Little Rock, North Little Rock (Pulaski County), Searcy (White County), Stuttgart (Arkansas County), Van Buren (Crawford County), Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County), West Memphis (Crittenden County), and Wynne (Cross County).
District 6170 clubs include Arkadelphia (Clark County), Benton (Saline County) and Bryant (Saline County), Camden (Ouachita County), Conway (Faulkner County), El Dorado (Union County), Hope (Hempstead County), Hot Springs (Garland County) and Hot Springs Village (Garland and Saline counties), Magnolia (Columbia County), Malvern (Hot Spring County), Monticello (Drew County), Morrilton (Conway County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Mena (Polk County), Prescott (Nevada County), Russellville (Pope County), Sheridan (Grant County), Stamps (Lafayette County), and Warren (Bradley County).
Larger communities often support two or more separate Rotary chapters. Arkansas Rotarians often sponsor Interact clubs for young people ages 12–18 and Rotaract clubs for those 18–30, as well as providing college scholarships. They may also sponsor young people for the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), a program to help develop future leaders.
Prospective club members are welcome to attend meetings and express an interest in joining. Many Arkansas Rotary clubs meet weekly for lunch, but there are also those that gather in the morning or evening as well as E-clubs that connect electronically and Satellite clubs that meet only once a month. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many clubs in Arkansas met virtually through YouTube or Zoom, directing a large part of their fundraising toward COVID relief efforts.
For additional information:
Forward, David C. A Century of Service: The Story of Rotary International. Evanston, IL: Rotary International, 2003.
Rotary Club of Little Rock. http://www.littlerockrotary.com (accessed July 15, 2021).
Rotary District 6110. http://www.rotarydistrict6110.org/ (accessed July 15, 2021).
Rotary District 6150. http://www.rotary6150.org/ (accessed July 15, 2021).
Rotary District 6170. http://www.rotary6170.org/ (accessed July 15, 2021).
Rotary International. https://www.rotary.org/en (accessed July 15, 2021).
Garland County Historical Society
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