Winchester Rotary Club History (1978 – 1996)


The salient feature of the Winchester Rotary Club from 1978 to 1996 has been the growth of the club and an increase in club activities at the local, district and international level. Rotary, as an international organization, stresses service in these three areas and a brief review will illustrate that Winchester Rotary has carried out this mandate.

The membership of the Winchester Rotary Club in 1978 stood at 125 and in 1996 had increased to 183, making the club one of the largest clubs in the district. Almost every profession and business in the growing community is represented and there is an excellent balance among all age levels. In 1988, the club inducted its first female member, Sharen Gromling. While this made her a pioneer, it was a short-lived distinction as 1996 finds 13 professional women as active and contributing members.

During this period, the site of the weekly meetings changed several times. After meeting at the George Washington Hotel since 1943, the club moved in the mid 1970’s to the Cabaret Room at Duff ‘s Rebel Restaurant on Millwood Avenue. After a few years, the meetings were held at the Lee Jackson Restaurant for several years, and then, the club moved to the Travel Lodge where the meetings continue. The summer months in this period saw weekly meetings held at the club shelter in Jim Barnett Park, and twice yearly, a Shrimp Feed is held at the Izaak Walton Park.

Since 1956, the Winchester Rotary Club used the annual beef barbecue as the source of income to provide assistance to various community projects. In 1974, the club held the first Apple Harvest Arts & Crafts Festival as an additional fundraiser. After a few shaky years due to inclement weather, the event increased in attendance, quality of craftsmen and profits, and 1996 finds it as the major source for funds for the club to give back to the community. The Festival is held the third weekend every September and today brings over 150 craftsmen from all over the east. Good food, musical entertainment and quantities of apple products make this weekend a highlight for the entire area.

The Rotary Student Loan Program, begun in 1942, saw significant change during this period. An increase in demand for money saw the Club place 10% of the profits from the barbecue and the Arts and Crafts Festival in the loan fund. The loan committee applied these additional monies to the corpus of the trust fund, which has made more money available and 1996 finds over 20 students a year receiving assistance. In 1994, the Board of Directors created a scholarship fund to complement the loan fund and monies are now being collected and invested to create a permanent endowment for the scholarships.

On a local level, the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self” has been reflected in significant increases in the local club’s assistance to many worthwhile community projects. During the period 1978-1996, the club has donated over $100,000 to local agencies and organizations to assist them as they strive to help others. Financial contributions have been made to: The Fremont Street Nursery, the Winchester Day Nursery, Camp Fantastic, The Food Warehouse, The Sheltered Workshop, Shelter for Abused Women, The Evans Home, The Salvation Army and the Rescue Squad. These are but a portion of the total number of agencies assisted.

During the 1978-1996 period, the Winchester Rotary Club has increased participation in Rotary activities associated with the District. The local club has sponsored and conducted a youth leadership development conference on the district level. Club attendance at the annual district conference held every March at The Homestead has increased and club members participate as speakers, panel members and award recipients.

The Winchester Rotary Club during this same period has increased participation in the many programs sponsored by Rotary International. Several local Rotarians went to Haiti to assist in the construction and operation of a health clinic. The local club supported efforts to eradicate childhood diseases from developing nations by giving financial assistance to POLIO PLUS. Winchester Rotary has been host to exchange groups from Sweden, India, Australia and the Philippines and have sponsored local citizens as members of teams sent to these nations. Local Rotarian, John P. Lewis, was a team leader for a group from our district that spent six weeks in India in 1995. The local club has sponsored local students who have studied abroad and the club hosted over 125 students from Russia for two weeks. All of these activities increase our knowledge of a shrinking world and increase our understanding of different cultures, religions and language that represent Rotary around the world.

The main source of income for Rotary International to carry out the programs cited is from money given by local clubs or individuals. For every $1000 given, a club or individual can name a person as a Paul Harris Fellow, in honor and memory of Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary. The Winchester club has used this means on a very selective basis to honor local Rotarians who have been outstanding in their service to the club, their profession and the community. Until 1978, only six local Rotarians had been honored by Winchester Rotary with this distinction. 1996 finds that an additional 37 Winchester Rotarians have been chosen for this singular honor and three additional awards are to be made in November 1996, in observance of the 75th anniversary of the Winchester Rotary Club. In 1994, the Winchester Rotary Club created the Phil Sprenkel Vocation Award in honor and memory of Phil Sprenkel, a long-time and distinguished member of the local club, to honor a person in the community who at “mid career” has established themselves as a leader. The first award in 1994 was presented to John Tyson, manager of The Technicon Corporation, the second was given to Nick Nerangis, owner of numerous local McDonald’s franchises and the 1996 award was given to Dr. Gary DeOms, County Extension Agent.

1996 brings the 75th year of Rotary in Winchester. The growth of the club in terms of numbers and service has been spectacular. Reflection on those who have gone before and laid the foundation makes every Rotarian realize what an honor and privilege membership is, but to also realize that “Service Above Self” is not just a slogan. It is a mandate and a way of life.