- Parent Category: Our Club
Stuart Rotary History
SERVICE ABOVE SELF
A HISTORY OF STUART
Early History of the Club
Just as Paul Harris, who founded Rotary International in 1905 in Chicago, could have never imagined the growth his organization would experience, the founding members of Stuart Rotary never foresaw the growth that would happen over the next 67 years.
Fortunately, a copy of the Stuart Rotary Club (Rotary International Charter Number 4885) Charter Presentation and Ladies Night has been kept. Held at the J.E.B. Stuart Inn a.k.a. Hotel Perkins (where Lemon’s Jewelry currently sits and the parking lot above it) December 19, 1938, the club was officially welcomed by the Hon. J. Murray Hooker. The charter was presented by the 186th district governor, Irvin W. Cubine, of Rotary International, to the Hon. John D. Hooker, the first president of Stuart Rotary Club. The charter member roster reads like a Who’s Who list of Patrick Countians because members were already community leaders, trailblazers in their professions, and represented a wide variety of occupations. Two sets of brothers are in this list, the first being W. Blair, E. Lyle, and J. Myron Clark and the second being W. Nash and Murray E. Thompson. Later, a fourth Clark brother, Robert L., would join. He served as Patrick County’s delegate to the General Assembly for 10 years from Jan. 1, 1958. He was well known for his work with the Patrick County Fair, which remains Stuart Rotary’s largest project. Soon thereafter, another set of brothers joined the club, B.A. Hopkins and A. D. Hopkins, both of whom were presidents and were valuable additions to Stuart Rotary Club.
Stuart Rotary Club Started During Hard Times
Ammon Sears, one of the longest serving Rotary members, said that times were tough when the club was founded. People in the county were poor and jobs were few and demanding.
Many say that rural areas like Patrick County were not hit as hard by the depression as more urban areas because rural areas were not accustomed to the fat years of the early 1900’s. No fortune was there to lose for the average farmer, and no one jumped out of Stuart hotel windows because of stock market losses. But our area was adjusting to having less than before, and local leaders were taking advantage of every new available federal program to ease that burden. Also, the first members of Stuart Rotary Club were looking for ways to create opportunities for citizens in Patrick County and to share the resources at hand.
Rotary Clubs are created by sponsorships from existing clubs. The Stuart club is an outgrowth of this process. Its heritage includes the original Chicago club to New York to Washington to Richmond to Roanoke to Martinsville to Stuart.
The Stuart Rotary club was active during the late 1930’s and throughout the 1940’s, but its formal activities really accelerated in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. This was due to the depression ending, the start and duration of WWII, and the recovery after the war.
One early addition to the club and community was Ammon Sears. He came to Patrick County to assess county growth potential and the value of the existing power company, East Coast Utilities, for Appalachian Power Company. Appalachian decided to buy East Coast’s local assets and left Sears here as the local manager.
The arrival of Appalachian Power was fortuitous because it encouraged the area to grow and brought Sears to the county to help facilitate that growth. Sears, fellow Rotarians, and Jaycees were drivers in bringing jobs, health care, entertainment and educational opportunities to the area.
World War II and Stuart Rotary Club
Stuart Rotary Club survived as a service organization during World War II, although it missed many of its members who volunteered for active duty.
As the military men returned home from war and resumed positions in the Patrick County area, Stuart Rotary Club was instrumental in bringing many activities, both new and old, to the county. Some events drew a lot of attention, such as the September, 1949, “Fast and Furious” softball games, held between Stuart Rotary and Stuart Volunteer Fire Department. Admission was free, but the hat was passed, with all proceeds going to an upcoming polio drive.
The Patrick County Fair
The fair has been, for some time, Stuart Rotary Club’s most successful project. Although all Rotarians work hard for the fair, it is a community effort with other groups, clubs, and individuals working to make it a success. A separate fair committee is set up to run the fair and has been ably chaired in recent years by Tom Inman, Henry Ayers, and Sonny Swails.
The fair had its beginnings from many activities that have been merged over the years into one full week of fair, now held each year during the second week in September. Patrick County was like most rural areas in the South in that a carnival came to town once or twice a year. It was originally set up on Main Street below Friendly Barbershop to the corner of Rye Cove Road and extending back to where the True Value Hardware Store is located. This was a county and town activity, but the date of Stuart Rotary Club’s first involvement is not known, although the fair officially became a project of Stuart Rotary in 1952.
The carnival and fair were moved to the Community Field in the early 1950’s. Community Field was a baseball field that accommodated a local recreation league and ball team, which was directed by Charles Moir and paid for by Stuart Rotary during the summer months. The location of this field was in the bottom next to the Mayo River on Commerce Street. The land was owned by J. Myron Clark, who had leased the land to the county for recreation. There was a cold storage unit (ice house) that had been abandoned. It finally became the concrete pad for silage storage at what is now K and P Dairy. It was not unusual to have up to 9,000 attendees during the four days the carnival ran (Wednesday to Saturday). Admission was 25 cents per person.
Rotarian D.G. Hanby recalls a humorous story from that time. A huge tent was erected each year to house exhibits during the fair and required a night watchman. Mr. John Clark had hired Mack Neely Hiatt to be the watchman. Mack had a wagon pulled by a mule named Old Whitey that he backed up to the tent opening each night. During one fair, Mr. John came by with a bushel of corn for his exhibit but was told he only needed three ears on a plate for his exhibit. So he chose his best three ears and left the rest in the tent. Mack Hiatt had no exhibit. Seeing the bushel left by Mr. John, he sorted through the ears and picked out three and put them in the exhibit. Hiatt won with those ears of corn, and the rest went to feed old Whitey.
The fair was held at Community Field for 10 years until the move to the current location at Rotary Field on Woodland Drive in 1962. One of the main reasons for the move to Rotary Field was the periodic flooding of Community Field. Much of downtown Stuart would flood because the north and south branches of the Mayo River converge near what was then Stuart Flooring and then flow through downtown Stuart.
After the floods of 1979 and 1982, a flood diversion channel was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Rotary Club endorsed this idea because its member knew first-hand how devastating the waters could be on land and businesses.
Stuart Rotary Club formed Patrick County Agricultural Fair, Inc., to buy land that would be more suitable for the fair and community interests. PCAF Inc. acquired 17 acres on a hillside near the Community Field, but part of the agreement was that a road had to be built between Commerce Street and Route 58, which is now called Woodland Drive. There were neither roads nor houses in the area at the time. S. G. Hopkins and Ray Lee Wood graded the new road and the fairgrounds site, and Stuart Rotary paid $5,000 for gravel to get the road into the state road system.
Additional land purchases were made between1961 and 1995 by PCAF Inc. to bring the total property to about 77 acres. These land transactions are recorded in the Patrick County Courthouse as follows:
August 17, 1961 – 15.04 acres from Charles M. and Barbara B. Clark.
August 15, 1972 – 1.30 acres from Samuel D. and Linda M. Martin.
October 17, 1986 – 1.00 acre from Charles M. and Barbara B. Clark.
July 30, 1991 – 11.59 acres from the Charles M. Clark Estate.
January 15, 1995 – 47.91 acres from the Charles M. Clark Trust.
Much of the value of this property is in improvements such as buildings, fences, sports fields, and an amphitheater. The original block building (later named for Judge Hooker) and the pole shelter for livestock were the first buildings put in place in the mid 1960’s. These two original buildings were constructed under the guidance and considerable personal support of V. R. Williams, J. Myron Clark and others. These people worked “hand in glove” to see these projects to completion.
With the completion of the Rotary Memorial Building in 1985, subsequent improvements in this building and the Hooker Building, adding a Scout building and an amphitheater, the club had invested over $450,000 in Rotary Field. This included the Hooker Memorial Building renovation with an added auditorium and space for the Patrick County Schools Quest Program. In 2004, the livestock shelter was renovated by the Patrick County Farm Bureau Federation.
The Patrick County Agricultural Fair Association continues to grow under the Stuart Rotary Club in the number of events it sponsors and the projects it supports. A booklet published for the celebration of the fair’s 50thanniversary in 2002 documents some past and present activities. The booklet cover shows ticket prices at 25 and 50 cents. Admission prices are now $1.00 and $4.00.
Stuart Rotary Club, as an entity and as its individual members, has always participated in projects that would benefit Patrick County and its citizens. Stuart Rotary provided a driving force and leadership needed to raise funds for the much-needed R. J. Reynolds Patrick County Memorial Hospital. Six Rotarians served on the board and brought this project from a vision to a reality: Robert L. Clark, Hugh A. White, Grant R. Miller, John D. Hooker, Martin F. Clark, and David G. Hanby. The project started in 1960, and the hospital opened in 1962.
Another project was the construction of the current Patrick County Library/Historical Museum. Robert L. Clark, John D. Hooker, and Thomas Inman worked on the committee to locate and acquire land for this project. Through the efforts of the late John D. Hooker and Patrick County native Joe Vipperman, who was president of Appalachian Power, the company donated the property for the new library/museum, which opened in June, 1991. Stuart Rotary Club donated $30,000 toward the project. Glenn W. Gunter and Larry E. Hutchens co-chaired the fund raising committee.
Stuart Rotary Club started and educational loan program in 1968. Since that time, 100 loans have been awarded at a value of $108,375. In 1976, a scholarship program was started. A total of 77 scholarships have been awarded in the amount of $34,250. These programs are now administered by the Stuart Rotary Scholarship and Loan Foundation founded in 1999.
In the late 1980’s, Stuart Rotary, under the direction of Bruce Griffith and Thomas Inman, started the Blue Ridge Mountain Car Show. This was in addition to another show held in conjunction with the Fieldale-Collinsville Rotary Club at the Martinsville Speedway. The BRMCS is held each year at Patrick County High School. For a number of years, the prime mover for this show was Denny Alley, an honorary member of Stuart Rotary, who recruited sponsors and entrants. Also, Stuart Rotary helped Denny Alley, who started the Patrick County Music Association in 2003, by providing a location to hold shows.
In addition to the above events, Stuart Rotary Club has endeavored to bring other entertainment, recreation, and assistance to citizens of this area. They have sponsored, over the years, such events as Christmas parades, horse shows, fiddler’s conventions, travelogues at the Reynolds Homestead and Patrick County High School, Dan River Canoe Races, Patrick County Antiques Festival, Connie Mack baseball and many other events. The club has also been a strong supporter of the Patrick County Education Foundation by helping to sponsor the GED graduation ceremonies. All proceeds from fundraising activities are returned to the Patrick County area for deserving projects. Part of each Rotarian’s dues goes to Rotary International for projects that benefit citizens around the world.
Boy Scout Troop No. 65
This troop was started in the late 1930’s by Jimmy Price, who served as its first Scoutmaster. It was originally sponsored by Stuart Methodist Church and Stuart Baptist Church, until Stuart Rotary Club assumed sponsorship in 1941. Bill Staples was a member of this troop as a boy and continued to work with it for many years through Stuart Rotary Club. Troop 65 is the oldest troop continuously operating under the same sponsor in Patrick County and now has a Scout building at Rotary Field.
Present and Future of Stuart Rotary
Stuart Rotary Club is proud of the good it has done for the county. Its members love the area and their fellow citizens and show this through its many activities and contributions. But another intangible asset is the memories that people have made playing ball at Rotary Field through recreation leagues or kids watching their first rodeo in the amphitheater. While buildings are nice, watching a nervous mother as her child takes his first Ferris wheel ride at the fair is just as valuable.
Stuart Rotary Club is intent on continuing to provide Patrick County’s citizens with the best it can offer. As they hold entertaining fundraisers each year like the fair, car shows, antique shows, musical events, etc., the intent is to benefit local citizens.
In 2005, Stuart Rotary Club will give back over $41,000 to its community, including improvements to Rotary Field, the United Fund of Patrick County, leadership seminars at Virginia Tech for Patrick County High School students, study abroad opportunities for college students from the community, and an exchange program for students from other countries. Other recipients of funds include Patrick County Dixie Youth baseball, P.C.A.A.U., P.C. 4-H, Home Alone Program, P.C. Educational Foundation, Hospice, CAFV, P.C. School Board, fire and rescue squads, and many others. These events are in addition to Stuart Rotary Club making a global impact by helping fund the Polio Plus program, which aims to eradicate polio worldwide and was supported by over $11,000 in private funds from Stuart Rotary Club members, and the Ghana Water Project.
The future of Stuart Rotary Club, as its history, will always be based on the Rotary International Motto, “Service Above Self.”