A longtime fixture in the social and professional fabric of inner North and Northeast Portland has reached a milestone this year. The Rotary Club of Albina, the most racially diverse club in Portland, is celebrating its 25th year of service to its community.
The club's motto — and that of every Rotary Club in 169 nations around the world — is "service above self." This belief has guided the club as a benevolent force in the neighborhood; every year, Albina Rotarians are involved in everything from cleaning up school grounds at Tubman middle school to ensuring children are immunized to awarding college scholarships.
"At our club, we emphasize doing good work on a local level, and we contribute to a number of ongoing efforts at the international level," said Mark Cooksey, the club's president.
Cooksey described several projects, including an effort to work with inmates and their families to reduce recidivism, a program that sends high school students to live and work in Latin American countries during the summer and the Neil Kelly Memorial Scholarship Program, which provides two college scholarships annually to students of limited means from inner North and Northeast Portland.
"For only having 30 members, we manage to do an awful lot," Cooksey said.
At the regional level the Albina club is partnering with other clubs in the area to provide clean drinking water to villages in the western part of Peru, said Tom Jenkins, past president of the Albina club and current governor of Rotary District 5100, which is composed of 73 clubs in northern Oregon and southern Washington.
"This project is on the Amazon side of Peru, on the edge of the Amazon Basin," Jenkins said. "Basically, we're going to dig a well, install a water tank and run a gravity feed down to 11 different villages.
"We're giving the people there clean water, which is probably the most scarce commodity in the third world. Most of the water in the third world is polluted with either bacteria or parasites; in Peru, the problem is more about parasites … . In the third world, 6,000 kids a day die from one waterborne disease or another.
"So it's a small project … but it's the difference between life and death for a lot of those kids."
Cultural exchange, too, is something that the club and the district promote, Jenkins said. Each year, the club sends 47 American high school students to live and study for a year in 24 different nations and brings 47 foreign students from those same 24 nations to study here. Sometimes, but not always, he said, the exchange occurs between Rotarian families in the different countries, helping to draw the movement's international members closer together.
At the international level, Jenkins said the Albina club and other clubs in his district are partnering with Rotary International on the movement's largest project to date — Polio Plus, an attempt to eradicate polio throughout the world.
In most parts of the world, immunization has all but wiped out polio. Only in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria is polio still an endemic problem, Jenkins said. The Polio Plus project is moving aggressively to immunize the remaining unprotected populace in these nations, he said, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Gates Foundation.
"Rotary is the catalyst that is making this happen, because we've got the boots on the ground in 169 countries," he said.
The international Rotary movement started in 1905 in Chicago, Ill., when a group of civic-minded businessmen began holding regular meetings and "rotating" the meeting place among their respective businesses.
The Rotary concept spread quickly across the United States. By 1922, chapters had been established on six continents and the movement officially adopted the name Rotary International, which it maintains to this day. Rotary International now boasts approximately 1.2 million members from more than 32,000 separate clubs.
The Albina chapter got its start in 1981 as an offshoot of the East Portland Rotary Club, said Robert Hughley, past president of the Albina club and one of its charter members.
"The club was founded during the tenure of the late Joseph F. Bowman, who was the first African American president of the East Portland Rotary Club," Hughley said. "With Joe's push and that of the other members of that club, the Albina club was begun with an eye toward the needs of Northeast Portland."
Hughley recalled that the new Albina club immediately embarked upon its first project — providing Christmas gift baskets to underprivileged families in the neighborhood — when it was less than 2 months old. The club has kept that tradition, delivering food baskets to several dozen families every December.
Even in 1981, Hughley explained, the Rotary Club still extended membership only to men. That policy changed in 1984, and the Albina club welcomed its first female Rotarian — and the second in the greater Portland area — Dolores F. Bowman.
Hughley said the project that he remembers most fondly was the development of the club's close association with the Portland Rose Festival. He said the annual crowning of the Rose Court Queen happened first at Peninsula Park, as part of what was then known as the Greater Albina Spring Festival. He also takes pride and pleasure in seeing people of quality become Rotarians.
"Persons are still encouraged to membership because of the great work that Rotary does, locally, nationally and internationally," Hughley said.
Some of the early club presidents include Dick Bogle, Bill Gerald, Hughley and John Jenkins.
The Rotary Club of Albina welcomes men and women in positions of leadership and management in the business community, whether at the top of a business or farther down the organizational structure. For more information, visit www.albinarotary.org.