FORSYTH COUNTY — The Rotary Club of Forsyth County has come a long way in the past 40 years, from members and service to memories and friends.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary on Thursday, many of the civil service club’s past presidents joined the group for lunch at Mountain Education Charter School to reminisce on past accomplishments and social milestones.
They haven’t always met at the school located behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building. As each past president — sitting for one-year terms — stood up to be recognized, they recalled where the club met that year. The spots ranged from restaurants and golf courses to banks, and most had a story to set the place in time.
Though Rotary is an international organization, focused on improving the surrounding community through service projects and fundraisers, Forsyth’s club did not begin where it is now.
In 1975, many of the most influential community and business members were involved in service clubs such as Kiwanis and Lions, also groups with an international reach.
So when they chartered 23 members that year, they were the “second tier” in the business community and did not come into the club with a lot of money, said Terry Smith, the group’s second president.
It’s all right that he calls himself and the others second-tier. They all do.
“We’ve grown to become one of if not the leading private civic organizations in the county,” Smith said.
The club has donated about $250,000 to the community in the past 40 years through projects and scholarships, he said.
Members donated physical therapy equipment to and built a garden area at the old hospital on Samaritan Drive in 1976-77, Smith’s year at the helm.
They gave a car to the sheriff’s office and rounded up about 500 books for the original library. That was back when the county’s population was 20,000 and donation boxes were set up in country stores.
More recently, the club has been awarding a Challenge Scholarship to students who overcome adverse family situations or disabilities. More than $15,000 has been directed to this cause since 2001.
The club’s most recent gift to the community was the benches that can be seen in front of the new courthouse, which officially opens Monday.
On a grander scale, Rotary International was instrumental in funding research that led to the eradication of polio around the world.
Since the club did not have much money to start out, Smith said, members found ways to raise funds, which eventually led to everyone just having a good time.
They’ve had golf tournaments. They’ve thrown Christmas parties. They had one Halloween party that many still distinctly remember.
Then there’s Tommy Bagwell’s boat party. The club’s inaugural president bought a barge in the ’70s and fixed it up to create what Smith described as a “lavish ship now.” Every year the group takes a boat trip.
Membership has grown to about 65 people, Smith said.
And though it started out as a men’s club, Melissa Durand became the first female president in 2004.
“We’ve had a major impact,” Smith said. “It’s things that people have used. The things we do are kind of behind the scenes, like the scholarships, but they give back to community.”