The Milledgeville Rotary Club was chartered on November 12, 1937 under the leadership of Porter Carswell, PDG and PD of RI, and member of the Rotary Club of Waynesboro, Georgia. Porter spoke to our 40th Anniversary celebration in 1977 and told the story of how he and charter member A. C. McKinley sat down on the front porch and selected a group of Milledgeville men to be charter members. Porter, who died in late 1986, was something of a missionary for Rotary in Georgia. He organized more than a dozen clubs in Georgia and a couple in other states. He was a personal friend of Paul Harris and hosted him on a whirlwind tour of a number of clubs in the area including Milledgeville on a non-Rotary day.
In 1937, Rotary was 32 years old and had more than 4300 clubs in five continents with a world total of more than 183,000 members. The Milledgeville charter group consisted of twenty-nine business and professional men who banded together to place Milledgeville, Georgia, USA among the spots on the globe in which men embraced the ideals and spirit of service exemplified by this rapidly expanding organization. Maurice Duberry of France was then RI president and J. Cleve Cooper, Clerk of Baldwin Superior Court, was the charter president of the club. In that year Rotary entered four new countries – what are now Bangladesh, the Sudan, Syria and Venezuela. We were approaching World War II and clubs were forced to disband in Germany, Austria, and Italy. At the charter night ceremonies on that November 12, over two hundred guests from Rotary Clubs all over Georgia were present including DG T. T. Molner and PDG Joel Chandler Harris, Jr. of Atlanta. DG T. T. Molner and Porter Carswell came back in 1954-55 to re-present the charter, a ceremony conducted in many clubs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rotary. Porter also came back as the principal speaker at our 40th Anniversary celebration in 1977.
On September 28, 1987, under the leadership of President Brad Oliver, Milledgeville Rotary celebrated its 50th Anniversary with R. I. President Charles C. Keller as the featured speaker. This was a magnificent event with our sole surviving charter member, Tom Hall Smith, present. DG Mansfield Jennings, seven PDG’s and many representatives from other Georgia Rotary clubs attended. This event duplicated the charter meeting of fifty years earlier including the reception in the old Governors Mansion.
Milledgeville Rotary has from the very beginning been active in Rotary activities beyond the local club. In the summer of 1938, Milledgeville hosted the three-day Rotary District Conference which then encompassed the entire state. In 1944 member Guy Wells served as District Governor and in 1985-1986 R. Linton Cox, Jr. served as District Governor. Several members have served as DG representatives and, under the current district structure; Sam Watson served as Assistant Governor. John Cooper served over 10 years as District Conference Registrar leading the District into the computer age. Milledgeville is proud of its long history in the Georgia Rotary Student Program (GRSP) and its part in developing the program during its early years. Guy Wells, President of GSCW (now GC&SU) was an early adviser and Salvo Mangiafico, the chairman of the Language Department at GC&SU, was an early trustee of the program who developed here a multi-week intense English study program for early students who needed further English training to manage courses conducted in English in Georgia colleges and universities. Because of the facilities at Georgia College, our community has hosted more GRSP conclaves than any other Georgia Rotary city. Now conclaves are rotated among the three districts and the last conclave hosted by Milledgeville Rotary was in 1988. Other Milledgeville Rotarians who have served in GRSP as Trustees include Salvo Mangiafico, Joe Specht, first Dean of GC&SU Business School, Randolph Puckett, Linton Cox, Jr., Ed Hall, who served a number of years as District Chairman, and current Line Trustee, Brad Serf. Our club has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 46 international students during the 59 year history of that program.
In 1945, under the leadership of Walter B. Williams, Jr., Milledgeville was the sponsor of the new Rotary club in Sandersville and in 1992, under the leadership of Brad Oliver; the Milledgeville Antebellum Club was organized but surrendered its charter seven years later. Our charter membership of 29 had grown to 58 strong by 1957 and in 1967 we reached 82 members and were at 98 members in 1977. Prior to the establishment of the Milledgeville Antebellum Club, the Milledgeville Club reached a high point of 115 members. Today we have 103 members including two, George Clark and Lee Davis who have been Rotarians over 50 years and 6 new members joining us since July 1, 2005.
Community service has been strong in the Milledgeville Club since the beginning. The first major project was the “Pilgrimage Project” which involved inviting out of town guests to come and tour historic Milledgeville homes with the funds received going partially to Rotary and partially to the UDC and to the Governor’s Mansion restoration fund. In 1944, the first Boy Scout meeting hall in the community was constructed and Rotary sponsored Scout Troup 113 there for many years. In 1960 Troup 110 was sponsored by Rotary and its sponsorship continued until the late 60’s. From the early 1940s to the present date the Rotary Club has sponsored scholarships for students attending GC&SU, GMC, and the local Technical College. In the 1960s the club established a revolving loan fund to assist students in an LPN training program which was developed by then Baldwin County Hospital. This program continued for many years and the resulting funds were eventually turned over to the hospital for future administration. Another significant project was the construction in 1990 during the presidency of Larry Peevy of a walking track at Walter B. Williams, Jr. Recreational Complex at a cost of over $5000.00. The club still maintains the track. The first Rotary Peace Monument in the U. S. was erected at the new Baldwin County Court House and dedicated on July 18, 1996 under the chairmanship of Brad Oliver and President Sam Watson. Annually since its dedication, Milledgeville Rotary hosts in February each year a community Peace Day celebration at the site of the monument. On February 23, 2005, we celebrated the RI 100th Anniversary at the Peace Monument. In the 2004-2005 Rotary year we contributed over $18,000.00 to furnish and equip an emergency room suite at Oconee Regional Hospital under the leadership of President Fred Van Horn using funds accumulated over the past few years for a “major community project”.
Other traditional annual projects include Shadow Day when Rotarians host in their businesses high school juniors and seniors for a morning to learn about careers; sponsorship of students from local high schools to the RYLA program in Douglas, Georgia; the District Speech Contest with participants from the three local high schools; distribution of over 125 Christmas baskets to persons with special needs and to spouses of deceased Rotarians. Club members also participate in Christmas Season Salvation Army Bell Ringing. For many years we have provided the welcome signs on major incoming highways that announce the civic clubs that have homes in Milledgeville and in 2005 those signs were replaced with wood columned signs. Milledgeville Rotary has been active in the international service area. Three club sponsored students have been selected for Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarships, including Ann Wells in the 40s, Emily Trapnal in the 60s and Claire Booth in the 70s. In 1985 Brad Oliver was selected to lead one of the earlier Group Study Exchange Teams to Australia and later our club assisted in hosting the Australian team on their reciprocal visit to the district. Through Rotarian Clyde Keeler’s lifetime interest and dedicated work with the Cuna Indians of San Blas Island, Panama, and our club provided medical supplies and educational materials to a clinic serving them.
Since the mid 70’s we have held an Annual Rotary Auction whose proceeds have annually funded our support to more than 20 local charitable projects and agencies. Since 2000 we have provided over $150,000 in local community support.
In addition, our club has been very supportive to the Rotary Foundation with over 44 Paul Harris Fellows and supportive of the GRSP endowment with over 23 Will Watt Fellows/Hue Thomas Fellows. In 2006 the club created an exciting literacy program, “Jill’s Books”. This project is named after Jill Stewart, daughter of Rotarian Randy Stewart and wife, Susan. Jill was killed in an automobile accident at the early age of 15. 2006 marked the 10th year since her tragic accident. Jill loved to read and enjoyed life. She continues to be very special to this community.
In honor and memory of this special young lady, and to further assist with literacy in Baldwin County, the Rotary Club of Milledgeville provided books for all 2nd graders in Baldwin County Schools and all 8th graders at Georgia Military College Prep School. A special bookmark was placed in each book with a picture of Jill with information about her, and Rotary’s commitment to literacy. On the back of each bookmark is Rotary’s Four Way Test. Also on the front of each book is a sticker with the Rotary International wheel. We have continued this each year since.
In the 2007/2008 Rotary year Karen Brooks was voted in as our first female president.
In an effort to increase the awareness of our local Rotary club, the decision was made in 2007 to participate in our community’s Sweetwater Festival’s Barbecue Cook Off. The Rotary Club of Milledgeville formed an awesome cooking team and competed in various competitions. We have continued this each year since.
At 72 years old (1937-2009), under the leadership of current President Keith Drinkwater, the Milledgeville Rotary Club continues to grow and thrive inspired by the founding vision of Paul Harris and the sense of fellowship and purpose that resides in our own club.
At the 2008 Rotary Club’s District 6920 Conference held in Macon recently, the Milledgeville Club walked away with several awards:
- Best Web Page – 1st Place
- Best Club Bulletin – Runner Up
- Best Online Bulletin – 1st Place
- Community Service Award – Runner Up
- Best Club Scrapbook – Runner Up
- Presidential Citation