On January 7, 1926, Roy Robinette, president of the Rotary Club of Cleveland, and a group of other Cleveland Rotarians met with some Lakewood businessmen who were interested in organizing a Rotary club in their city. Also present at the meeting was Leonard T. Skeggs, of Youngstown, who was the governor of District 21.

Mr. Robinette had convinced the Rotary Club of Cleveland to cede some of its territory for a Lakewood club, so those present at this meeting voted to organize the Lakewood Rotary Club. Seven directors were chosen at the meeting, and these directors appointed Harold Huxtable to be the club’s first president. Also selected were Lakewood Hospital Administrator Russ Crawford, vice president; Thomas W. Davies, secretary; and John Reidy, treasurer. Later, on January 18, 1926, several men who were to be the charter members of the club gathered at the Hotel Westlake for the first official meeting of the Rotary Club of Lakewood.

A charter night for the new club was held on February 8, 1926, with 28 charter members being recognized. Taking part in the program that evening were: Roy Robinette, president of the Rotary Club of Cleveland, who presented the gavel to Harold Huxtable; District Governor Leonard Skeggs, who presented charter No. 3534 to the club; and the Reverend Dr. C. Jeffares McComb, past president of the Rotary Club of Benton Harbor, Michigan, who gave the major address. Musical entertainment was provided by the Lakewood High School Orchestra and the Double Octette singing group from the Rotary Club of Youngstown.

The Rotary Club of Lakewood was the third Rotary club in the county, preceded only by the Rotary Clubs of Cleveland and Bedford. Although Rocky River was always included within the club’s service area, it wasn’t until 1979 that that city’s name was added to the club’s name.

Club meetings were held at the Hotel Westlake in Rocky River for about seven years, and then were moved to the Lake Shore Hotel in Lakewood, where the club met for nearly forty years. Beginning in 1972, the club met at the Lakewood Elks Club, then moved to the Beck Center in 1979, where it met until 1994. In 1994, the club moved its meetings to its current “home” at Rocky River Memorial Hall (which is now part of the Don Umerley Civic Center).

The charter president was a realtor named Harold Huxtable, and the club retains a deep connection with him since his daughter, Marty Harris, was a recent president of the Rotary Club of Lakewood-Rocky River Sunrise, and Marty’s husband, Jim Harris, is a past president of the Rotary Club of Lakewood/Rocky River (1985-86) and past district governor (1993-94).

With pride, the club points out that several members have advanced to the position of district governor. In addition to Jim Harris, the father-son combination of Hugh K. Dawson (1949-50) and Hugh L. Dawson (1977-78) served in that position. Quigg Lohr, who was Lakewood Rotary president in 1958-59, served as district governor in 1962-63, although he was a member of the Rotary Club of Euclid by that time. Finally, Bill Pinter served as district governor in 1996-97 while he was a member of the Rotary Club of Cleveland Heights and before he joined the Rotary Club of Lakewood/Rocky River.

Starting from virtually nothing, the early, enthusiastic group of members immediately began impacting the community. They organized an annual Christmas party for disadvantaged and crippled children. They built a Boy Scout cabin in the valley during the 1930s, a true hands-on undertaking. And they continued that great tradition with many, many projects throughout the years.

In 1946, club member Firmin Deibel had the wonderful inspiration to start a speech contest, engaging students from the two communities, and awarding scholarship money. This program has since been expanded to include music and art awards as well. The speech contest was picked up by the district and continues today as the Four-Way Test Speech Contest. It all started with the Rotary Club of Lakewood.

In 1952, the club founded the Lakewood Rotary Foundation, an effort spearheaded by Carl Dryer. The Foundation now has assets approaching a million dollars, which makes it possible for the club to contribute over $50,000 per year to the two communities. To recognize those members who make a contribution to the Foundation of at least $1,000, the club established the “Carl Dryer Award.” Most of the club’s members have received that award, and many are multiple recipients.

The club serves Rotary International as well, and is proud to count 35 Paul Harris Fellows among the current membership, with 11 being multiple recipients. Lakewood Rotary’s great tradition of giving back to the community has continued unabated through the years. Club members raised over $65,000 toward building a new band shell at Lakewood Park, and they played a major role in funding the transformation of the Lakewood Little Theater into today’s very successful Beck Center. The club continues to support that treasure of the West Side.

Each year, club members deliver dictionaries to all third graders in Lakewood and Rocky River, and they talk to the students about Rotary while making the deliveries. Through the years ongoing support has been given to both Rocky River and Lakewood School Foundations; Meals on Wheels; American Youth Foundation; North Coast Health Ministry; Barton Center; Rocky River Senior Center; and many other community organizations.

In 2014, the club donated more than $46,000 to the two communities, including $9,500 in scholarship grants to high school students and $4,500 to the speech, art, and music contest winners. We estimate our club foundation has donated over $200,000 in scholarships to local students since 1953. The Rotary Youth Exchange program continues to be an important avenue of service as the club members host students from around the world and make it possible for their hometown students to experience other countries and cultures. Moreover, each year the club honors outstanding students from the West Shore Career-Technical district. There were 15 honorees in 2014.

Keeping members abreast of all the club’s activities is the monthly newsletter, The Listener. The first issue was printed on the YMCA mimeograph machine in 1927, and it hasn’t missed a month since although the format has happily become far more professional. It has won many awards over the years and continues its tradition of excellence.

In 2006, members of the Rotary Club of Lakewood/Rocky River, with the encouragement of District Governor Jack Young and the blessings of the “noon” club, formed a “sunrise” Rotary club to appeal to the current and potential members who preferred an early morning meeting. Officially sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lakewood/Rocky River, the Rotary Club of Lakewood/Rocky River Sunrise was chartered on May 12, 2007.

The Rotary Club of Lakewood & Rocky River is very proud of its 88 years of “Service Above Self” and looks forward to the next 88. It meets on Mondays at noon at the Don Umerley Civic Center, 21012 Hilliard Boulevard, Rocky River.

Compiled by Thom Geist, past president of the Rotary Club of Lakewood & Rocky River, 2014