The First 60 Years of West Allis Rotary 1927- 1987

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The First 60 Years of West Allis Rotary

1927- 1987

Written by Ray Pahle

Rotary began in February of 1905 when Paul Harris, a lawyer born in Racine, Wisconsin, and three friends met in Chicago to discuss forming a club to encourage friendship, fellowship and mutual assistance. At first the club was a loosely organized group without a name. Paul Hams suggested the name, Rotary, prompted by the original plan of the club to meet in rotation at their various places of business. In 1907 the Chicago Rotary Club became more organized and Paul Harris was elected the first president. It was at this time that he voiced his hope to eventually see Rotary clubs in every city of importance in this country. San Francisco became the second Rotary club followed by Oakland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. Winnipeg, Canada formed a club in 1910, making the movement international.

In 1912 the first Wisconsin club was chartered at Superior, the fortieth club to enter Rotary. The Milwaukee club became the fifty-seventh club in 1913. The 1000th Rotary club was formed in York, England in 1921. As of June 30, 1997, there are now 28,736 Rotary clubs in 155 countries.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, in his plane the "Spirit of St. Louis", flew from New York to Paris in 33 ½ hours, and the first transatlantic telephone service was opened. In April of 1927, West Allis Rotary was born. They were sponsored by the Milwaukee Rotary Club, being club number 2,543 to receive a Rotary charter. Charles W. Pendock, president of the LeRoi Co., manufacturer of gasoline engines, was active in the organization of the West Allis Rotary club and was the club's first president. He is the only West Allis member, to date, to serve as district governor, which he d1d in 1936-37. There were seventeen charter members of the club as follows:

Harold Baker John Gohres Jack Schnaufer William Bowen Bernhardt Jeske Sam Stem Robert Dieckelman Tom Jones Dr. Robert Thompson George Erwin Ray Knippel Harry Welboume L.M. Fidler Claude Olney Lee Wilson Ross Foltz Charles Pendock

Membership in the 1928-29 Rotary year totaled 23. Rotary was an all men’s group until a Supreme Court decision in 1987 mandated that women could join Rotary. Sue Zwitter and Laura Homan became members 1n 1987.

The early West Allis Rotary meetings were held above the Capitol Theater, 7239 W. Greenfield Avenue. This theater was in business from 1923 to 1967. This building also housed the YMCA offices in an area in the southern part of the building. This building has been converted into other businesses but still stands on 73'" Street extending south of Greenfield Avenue. In 1941 meetings were moved to the Tanner-Paull Legion Post on 69th and Orchard. At that time meals at Tanner-Paull cost 75¢. A fire in 1987 at Tanner-Paull forced a change of meeting site to SueShar's restaurant in the former Allis Chalmers Club House, 1115 S. 70th Street. In December 1996, Rotary meetings were moved to Mykonos Restaurant on 82nd and Greenfield, as SueShar's was sold and torn down in February 1997.

Club activity in its beginning years centered on young people and handicapped children work, which led to establishing an orthopedic school in West Allis called McKinley for the education of handicapped children. Very little information is available about the activities of West Allis Rotary in the 1927-40 eras. In the West Allis Historical Society archives, I found clippings about West Allis Rotary activity as follows:

12/22/32 - At a West Allis Rotary Christmas meeting each member brought a toy to give to the poor.

1933 - West Allis Rotary picnic held at Wind Lake.

11/22/34 - West Allis Rotarians take entire West Allis High School football squad to Madison to see the game between the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

8/5/37 - 850 boys and girls were taken to Borchert Field as guests of West Allis Rotary to see Milwaukee play Louisville.

Since the club was formed just prior to the depression years, it was probably struggling just to keep going. History of the Rotary district reported that during the depression, membership in the district dropped considerably, few new clubs were formed, and many clubs had financial problems. In the oldest historical record they have (an attendance book on all members from 1927-51), it shows that during the depression years West Allis Rotary lost only 1 or 2 members and by 1933 had its highest membership since its inception - 34 members. So it seems the depression had little effect on membership in West Allis Rotary. In these early days of West Allis Rotary, in addition to its boys and handicapped children work, there are also records of their involvement in Aid to International Students.

During the 1941-73 period of time we do have history files of financial records, budgets, and balance sheets to give some idea of West Allis Rotary activity during this 30+ year period. Conversations with my father and other Rotarians of long tenure added to this history.

The Milwaukee County Bank (now the M & I Marshall & Ilsley Bank) played a major part in the formation and development of West Allis Rotary. Four of the charter members of Rotary were members of the bank's Board of Directors, and since the inception of Rotary four of their presidents have been West Allis Rotary presidents.

After World War II, a civic alliance of all service clubs was formed in West Allis. West Allis Rotary was a member. In 1947, Ray Ross of West Allis Rotary became president of the Civic Alliance Club. During those years, several meetings were held between all of the service clubs in West Allis, each club in turn acting as host. In September of 1957, business leaders in West Allis felt a need for a more business-oriented civic organization and in 1957 the West Allis Chamber of Commerce was born. Rotarians again were an integral part of this organization.

During this 1941-73 period, West Allis Rotary gave financial aid to a youth hostel, handicapped youth, aid to West Allis youth in supplying badges for a bike patrol and 130 basketball suits. Support was also given to the Boy Scouts, Department of Recreation Christmas Fund, Red Cross, and Trees for Tomorrow, Badger Boys State, Skate Club, and for several years’ large amounts (one time, $1,000) were given to the YMCA in West Allis. Boys' football, baseball, and basketball teams were also recipients of West Allis Rotary support.

Early Rotarians enjoyed and held social activities. Stag parties, later called smokers were a yearly feature. Ladies' nights and regular meetings, where Rotary wives were invited, were held. In 1948, a dinner with the wives was held at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. The cost of the meal was $5.00. It was common each year to have a father/son banquet and in 1948, Harry Stuhldreber, Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin, was the speaker. Also in 1948 they had the first father/daughter banquet. These banquets were traditional for many years. I remember attending many of them with my father and then talking my sons and daughters when I became a Rotarian. The annual family Christmas party held today probably substitutes for these early day banquets.

Club picnics have been a tradition in West Allis Rotary. The earliest I can document was held in 1933 and they have probably been held every year since. Early picnics were usually held at the homes, farms or summer residences of the members, most on large estates or lakes. Auction fund raisers were also common at the picnics. One was held at the Harry Welbourne Farm m 1947. Rotary picnics then were restricted to members only.

West Allis Rotary held bowling tournaments during the 1958-62 period of time and hosted a state bowling tournament for Rotary in 1959.

West Allis Rotary was responsible for the erecting of the first historical monument to General Billy Mitchell, whose home was in West Allis. In 1956, on 57th and Hayes Street at the site of the Mitchell estate known as Meadowmere, a large historical marker was sponsored and paid for by West Allis Rotary and erected by the City of West Allis. Meadowmere has been sold, broken up, and the Mitchell home is now a home for the Aged but the monument still stands in the middle of a residential area at 57th and Hayes. I visited the marker recently and it is' in need of repair. Some study should be done to see what can be done about repairing or moving this historical marker. Repaired in 1998 and is now being repaired in 2013.

In this era Rotary always had a House and Road Sign Committee. It was their responsibility to keep in repair any Rotary signs, especially those at the entrance to the City announcing West Allis Rotary and its meeting place.

The largest and most successful Rotary projects were the post prom parties held from 1948-76, twenty-nine years of service to the community. In 1948, my father, Raymond A. Pahle, was president of West Allis Rotary. Lester Krebs of Sells Printing Company heard about the idea of post prom parties to help prevent problems with teenagers after high school proms. He brought the idea to the Board of Directors, who decided it was a good idea and endorsed the project. Clarence Stender was appointed Chairman of the first Post Prom Project. Allis Chalmers Company was a big part of West Allis in 1948 and they accepted the co-sponsorship of this project. This alone helped ensure the success of this venture. The entire community got behind the project and a post prom party was held for each of the West Allis high schools on successive Friday and Saturday evenings each spring. The post prom parties were held in the Allis Chalmers Club House at 1115 S. 70th Street (the building was demolished in 1997). The early success of these parties was tremendous. The parents liked it, the schools were very much behind it, Allis Chalmers enjoyed the publicity, and West Allis Rotary found a project the entire community got behind. The students were involved, some in the planning, and from all reports they were highly supportive of the project. This was certainly a community project exemplifying Rotary's motto of "service above self"

Post prom parties were extremely well organized and a first-rate production. The students were asked to pay a nominal fee for tickets to the event, but a majority of the cost was underwritten by West Allis Rotary and Allis Chalmers. Rotary members donated prizes and supplies. The records show West Allis Rotary budgeted $1,000 each year for post prom parties from 1961-1967, in 1968 - $1,150, 1969 - $1,200, and by 1973 it was $1,300. Well over 50 Rotarians worked each post prom party and many were on committees for months before the event. The help of Allis Chalmers officials and their financial contribution, made this one of the most successful long term events of community service in West Allis history.

The post prom party started after the high school prom with 250-300 guests arriving about 11 :30 p.m. West Allis Rotary provided a lot of the transportation from the schools to the event as many young people didn't have cars. The King and Queen of the prom were brought in a very fancy conveyance, from a horse and buggy to a limousine, depending on the year and the theme of the party. In later years most guests arrived at the Club House in their own cars. They arrived at the Club House to walk up a red carpet under a canopy and to be greeted at the door by Rotarians and their wraps checked. A soda bar was available (no liquor allowed). An excellent meal served by Rotarians was provided followed by first-class entertainment, usually with some audience participation.

Milwaukee County Bank provided Kennedy half dollars as audience participation prizes. It was a tradition for the King and Queen each to receive watch, compliments of the two jewelers in the club, and the ladies all received a small gift. A photograph was taken and provided complimentary to each couple. After the entertainment, a band would play for the guests to dance. The party was over at 3:30 a.m. In most of the years a theme was selected and decorations, favors, public relations and dress of the Waiters was done accordingly. If possible, an airline or a Steamship company was contacted for some help in providing brochures, favors and gifts. For one Hawaiian theme party, fresh orchids were flown from Hawaii for the party. In 1964 the theme was the "Zuider Zee Festival." A government agency for the Netherlands supplied Dutch posters and flags to use during the post prom parties. They also sold us miniature chocolate Dutch shoes and pairs of small wooden shoes for favors. The general consul of the Netherlands sent a letter to each of our high schools thanking them for featuring the Zuider Zee Festival and told them a little about the Zuider Zee. The Rotary club of Emmeloord, Netherlands, was contacted as they were near the Zuider Zee .and they helped the club in making some of the foreign arrangements. The Holland American steamship line provided beautiful colored jackets for the post prom menu for each guest. This post prom party is just one example of the efforts of West Allis Rotary and the great cooperation they received.

Other organizations also began to sponsor post prom parties for schools in their area and through the years West Milwaukee, Juneau, Greendale and Greenfield utilized our structure and Allis Chalmers to put on post prom parties.

The post prom parties were a part of West Allis Rotary for 29 years. Many hours were spent on this Project but most of us enjoyed it very much. Times change and so do people and by the mid-70’s attendance began to drop off. Young people began to resist an organized, structured, no-alcohol function, and probably parental and school control began to loosen. In 1976 one post prom party was held jointly for Hale and Central High Schools. This didn't prove very successful either and the project was then discontinued.

From the early days of Rotary, music was always important in West Allis Rotary. It made for a lot of fun fellowship and entertainment. For a good portion of his 50 years in West Allis Rotary, my father, Ray A. Pahle, led the Music Committee. He became affectionately known as the Maestro. He was a singer, quartet leader, poet, story writer, humorist and downright zany character. I've had many people tell me they made up at West Allis Rotary because of my father’s antics at each meeting. He was a prolific poet and provided poems for almost every Rotary function. He also wrote a poem every week for the West Allis Star. Most of his poems were homespun, humorous verses about everyday life but many carried a message. He was characterized as the Will Rogers of West Allis. He was also the Rotary Bulletin editor for the club for many years, often including some humorous article he had written. He joined the club in 1932 and served as president in the 1947-48 year. Ray also led a group of Rotarians performing for years at Rotary meetings. He called it his Quartet, but it actually contained 8-15 people and guests he would select from the audience. The Quartet did many crazy, humorous things including commercials that poked fun at the members. The singing frankly was not good but the fun they had was infectious to the club. Many of the songs they sang were humorous songs he had written, usually to the tune of some well known song. He also wrote the welcome song we still use at Rotary meetings today. His letters each week to the Quartet members prior to the meeting to explain what they were going to do were the craziest outpourings of humor that I've ever read. In his file I found letters from secretaries of some of his CEO Quartet members thanking him for making their day as they were privileged to open their boss' mail. They looked forward each week to receive these letters. I once asked him if the Quartet ever held a practice and he said, "No that would louse everything up."

Another project of my father’s was to honor and recognize each month those that had birthdays that month. He wrote some humorous thing about each and gave them a pair of white cotton gloves. Someone once asked him, "Why white cotton gloves?" With a twinkle in his eye and an impish grin, he'd shrug and let you figure it out. This was a tradition the club enjoyed for many years. The West Allis Rotary club, in May of 1982, had a special Rotary meeting to honor my father on his 50th year in West Allis Rotary. He resigned from the club in December of 1982 due to declining health. Laurie Andres received a 50th anniversary plaque from West Allis Rotary in 1996 and Tim McMicken will achieve his 50 year milestone in 1998. Harry Russell (57), Ray G. Pahle (58), Joe Schmid(60), Jerry Fusek (61), Jerry King (65), and Emil Regali (67) are currently the members with the longest Rotary tenure.

Another Rotarian very important to West Allis Rotary was Fred Zirkel, past president 1945-46, the first head of the West Allis Recreation Department. His leadership in the club fostered many youth activities, many of which the club is still involved in today. In the early days, the club honored at banquets and gave financial help to our high school baseball, basketball, and football squads. Other youth sports teams in the area were also honored. The Skate Club was honored yearly. This activity with skating led the West Allis club to be involved in the early development of the Olympic rink at State Fair Park. The West Allis Recreation Department was one of the finest in the country under Fred Zirkel.

The baseball programs m West Allis were partly responsible for producing major league baseball stars like Rocky and Nick Krsnick, Harvey Kuenn, Don Pavletich, and others that came close to major league status. He brought much to the table for Rotary and the city of West Allis. In a speech to West Allis Rotary on November 6, 1942, entitled "What Part Does Recreation Play during the War Period?" Zirkel advocated a forced curfew for West Allis teenagers at night and heavy fines for parents in the event of a violation. Fred was an avid bowler, ran bowling tournaments for the club, and chaired the State Rotary Bowling Tournament that West Allis Rotary sponsored in 1959. His life ended as he would want: he had a fatal heart attack while bowling. Other Rotarians of the past that were very impressive to me and who I feel gave something special to the club were as follows:

Lester J. Krebs - President, Sells Printing Company Entered the club 1933. He was still in the club in 1983 but I can find no evidence of a 50th year celebration for him, but likely some recognition was given. For twenty or more years he was the piano player for the club, playing at most every Rotary meeting. As noted before, he was the one that brought the idea of the post prom parties to West Allis Rotary.

Clarence Stender - Comptroller, Pressed Steel Tank Company Past president '49-50. A leader in the club who had a lot to do with the fiscal responsibility of the club. He was also the first Post Prom Project Chairman.

Paul Dietz -Manager, Export Department, Allis Chalmers Company Past President '53-54. He, at one tine, was held in an internment camp in Hong Kong by the Japanese. He put on some great programs about the many foreign countries he visited in his Work.

Lloyd Fulton - President, Fulton Company Past president '61-62. He donated a lot of money to the Rotary Foundation for West Allis Rotary, making our club, at one time, fourth in the world in our percentage of donations to the International Rotary Foundation.

Richard Smith - CEO, Sterling Wheelbarrow Company Past president '51-52. Club historian, he kept a Rotary scrapbook from 1942-60. Much of the material for this club history came from his scrapbook.

Everald (Gus) Kellogg - Superintendent of Schools in West Allis Entered Rotary in 1950. He was a leader in youth activities, a great help with the post prom parties and was honored as Man of the Year in West Allis in 1953. He was a great friend to me in my early Rotary years.

Harry Schofield - President, Firebrick Engineers Entered Rotary in 1949. He was nicknamed "the Senator" by his fellow Rotarians. He was a gentleman's gentleman and had a habit of greeting and shaking the hand of every Rotarian before each Rotary meeting.

Wilmer T. Orth - President, National Ice and Coal Company Entered Rotary in 1946. He also owned Sunny Lea Farms with a herd of purebred Guernsey cows. He willingly supported many Rotary projects and presented some good Rotary programs. I especially remember a film he showed on how they would cut ice on the lakes and then store the ice to sell the next spring. This of course was before the era of refrigeration

Though not a West Allis Rotarian, it should be noted that Milwaukee Rotarian, Cliff Randall, became our District Governor in 1949-50. He then served in several international posts and became Rotary International President in 1958-59. It was quite an honor to have an R.I. president from our district.

There are many more early day Rotarians whom I'm sure deserve special recognition but I may not have found enough about them in our history files or didn't personally know them. In fact, knowing a little about the history and activities of this club, most every Rotarian has, in his or her own way, contributed their time, talent and finances to make West Allis Rotary the great club it is today.

Raymond G. Pahle


References Pahle, Raymond A. - Personal Rotary File Russell, Harry - Personal Communication Smith, R.A. - West Allis Rotary Scrapbook Solowicz, Jim - Personal Communication Stave, Fred A. - "Some Wisconsin Rotary History" West Allis Historical Society - Miscellaneous Clippings West Allis Rotary Historical Collection - Miscellaneous Records

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