ROCKINGHAM —Rockingham Rotary has a few members who have celebrated their fair share of birthdays.
It’s no wonder, then, that the group celebrated in style Monday afternoon as the chapter celebrated its 75th anniversary at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital. For Russell Bennett, the mission has been a personal one. The group’s longest active member — and only person with at least 60 years’ membership — Bennett spoke of how much Rotary has influenced his life.
“I’ll always remember as a young 24-year-old, someone told me it’s hard to get into Rotary Club, but it’s easy to get out,” said Bennett. “Miss four or more meetings or don’t pay your dues, and they’ll be no more Russell in Rotary. That always stuck with me.”
Bennett added, “Rotary will always be a major thing with me. It has done so much for me. I can never give back all that Rotary has given me.”
Bennett has been a member since 1950. The current Rockingham Rotary Club has 70 members, 56 men and 14 women, including 22 members with 20 or more years in the group.
The meeting began with its customary opening, as Joe Davis led the group in song. Monday’s vocal effort was dedicated to Black History Month. Member J.C. Watkins, the group’s first African-American member, helped Davis with the verses. In typical birthday fashion, the group also sang a personalized happy birthday song for the organization’s 75th anniversary complete with a cake large enough to feed the 50 people in attendance.
Rotary President David Wood acknowledged that the Rockingham club has raised more than $1 million with auctions in Richmond County. Wood also spoke about the history of the Rockingham Rotary Club and how it started.
The club was organized on Jan. 18, 1939 and received its charter at a formal presentation dinner on March 9, 1939, said Wood. The president of the Wadesboro Rotary Club at that time was Hawley C. Cobb, an enthusiastic Rotarian who took Rotary and its principles seriously. In his effort to expand Rotary, Cobb directed his attention to Rockingham which at that time had only one civic club, the large and very active Civitan Club.
Having had no problem in getting a prospective list of about 20 influential business and professional men who were not members of a civic club, said Wood, Hawley and two or three other members of the Wadesboro Club came over to Rockingham and met with the interested group in the little court room of the courthouse; this meeting was in 1938.
The next year, the Rockingham Rotary Club was born.
District Governor Luther Moore also spoke of the significance of a club reaching 75 years old and how being in Rotary can help people to live a long life.
“Stats show that people who are in a civic club or go to church, those that are social, are more likely to live a long, healthy life,” said Moore.
“Civic clubs are about doing good,” said Moore. “Rotary adds fellowship and networking to that.”