The Centralia Rotary Club was founded in 1920, with Leon E. Titus at the helm as the organization’s first president. Now, 100 years and 99 presidents later, a simple glance around Centralia is all it takes for the club’s impact to be seen.
Projects such as the Fox Theatre Rotary Lounge, an annual scholarship to Centralia College and the building of two parks, a basketball court and a batting cage — just to name a few — have enriched the local community.
Centralia Rotary’s work and its “Service Above Self” motto, though, isn’t confined by the city’s limits.
The club and its members have spearheaded initiatives related to clean water, sanitation and education in countries such as Papua New Guinea, Malawi and other parts of Africa. Papua New Guinea now has new water systems and a medical clinic, thanks to the efforts of Centralia Rotary.
John Elmore is Centralia Rotary’s current president and the first in the club’s history to serve consecutive terms. He called the work done by the club “inspirational.”
“It really inspires you to think about giving back to the community that helped give you an opportunity to achieve your goals in the first place,” Elmore said. “Quite honestly, when we started going through some of the centennial things and looking at our parks and some of the other things, I was really surprised at the depth and the breadth of Rotary’s impact.”
He continued by discussing the personal aspect of the club and the people he’s met since being involved. According to Elmore, it was former president and former Centralia Mayor Tim Browning who encouraged him to attend a meeting while Elmore was serving on Centralia’s City Council.
“He (Browning) just came up to me one day and said, ‘well, how would you like to come to a rotary meeting and see what it’s all about?’ and I said ‘sure, that would be fun,’” Elmore said. “Just one more perspective and a way to get involved in the community and really understand the history.”
Former president and current Centralia Rotary member Barbara Greatwood mentioned the work in Papua New Guinea as a project that made a lasting impression on her. She says while the Club’s history of service invokes a sense of pride, the focus during Centralia Rotary’s 100-year celebration has been on the tumultuous short-term challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centralia Rotary Club partnered with the Twin Cities and Chehalis Rotary Clubs, as well as United Way of Lewis County, to raise funds for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides children ages five and under with one free book, delivered to their home, each month. The plan centered around the proceeds from an annual auction held by all three clubs going to benefit the project.
Now, the auction has been canceled, as has a planned golf tournament that would’ve also raised funds for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. There will still be a “Raise the Paddle” portion of United Way’s Chef’s Night In fundraiser to benefit the project, but the projection is for a lesser turnout than was initially expected with Chef’s Night Out.
“It (the Dolly Parton Imagination Library) is in its infancy and we have about 11 months of funding at the current level and we still have sign-ups coming in,” Greatwood said. “We’re going to have to look for other ways to fill that gap, especially in the beginning here.”
Those interested in assisting the Imagination Library during this time can raise the paddle during Chef’s Night In on Saturday, May 2. Additionally, a $25 dollar donation is enough to cover a child’s books for a year. Donations can be mailed to the Lewis County Rotary Foundation at P.O. Box 1011, Chehalis, WA 98532.
There are hurdles to clear for the Centralia Rotary Club in uncertain times. Still, according to Elmore, 100 years is still something to celebrate, even if the celebration has to take place in a virtual manner.
“That’s going to be probably the next meeting we have next week, we’re going to talk about that (having a Zoom celebration for the centennial),” Elmore said. “It’s kind of exciting, because it’s kind of making us think outside the box. What do they say, necessity is the mother of invention?”
Browning said he doesn’t see the current challenges slowing the club down in the long run.
“We’ve been very active members of our community and we’ll continue to be that way,” Browning said. “We’ll find a way to make the commitment, we’ll find a way to be supportive and I suspect that, not only rotary, but the other great service clubs in our community, they’ll also step forward as soon as we can begin to make a commitment back to our community.”