Jan. 14, 2005 As Rotary clubs around the world this year celebrate the 100th anniversary of the organization's founding, Rotary Foundation coordinator John Smarge Friday talked about the organization's earliest humanitarian effort.
"We started out in the crapper," he told the three dozen members of the Rotary Club of St. John gathered at the Westin Resort and Villas for its weekly meeting.
He said, although Rotary began as a way for men to connect for business purposes, founder Paul Harris soon saw the need to include public service in the club's activities.
As an attorney in Chicago, Harris saw that the city had no public restrooms. Women's restrooms were located in dress shops. Men's were in bars. The members of that earliest Rotary Club took on the task of developing public bathrooms around the city.
According to the Rotary Web site, the name came from the practice of rotating meetings among club members' offices.
Smarge is on St. Thomas and St. John to train Rotary members on how to obtain money from the Rotary Foundation, the organization's humanitarian arm, for local projects. He will speak from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Westin's ballroom.
He is based in Naples, Fla., but travels as a volunteer with the Rotary Foundation.
Smarge spoke about a trip to India to help set up a Rotary project that brought water to rural villages and helped immunize 130 million children against polio on National Immunization Day.
The trip had many serious moments, as he learned first hand about the poverty that permeates India. In one instance, a girl was drinking water from a stream that had a woman washing clothes just a short way upstream. Just a bit further up the stream, a man was defecating. And women had to walk half a day for potable water.
He also spoke about children who will never walk because they had polio.
While his stories spoke of the need for Rotary's good works, Smarge also had humorous tales to tell.
He began by noting that the Rotary district governor in India picked him up at the airport in a decades old economy car. He drove three abreast in a game Smarge likened to playing chicken.
"You needed good brakes, a good horn and good luck," he said.
John Fuller, a Rotary Club of St. John past president, said that the club has a project in the hopper that will create a school safety patrol.
He said the idea began when Julius E. Sprauve second-grade student Javon Alfred was killed Dec. 22, 2004 after he ran out into the street and into the tire of a truck that was in motion.
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