Rotary Club of Walnut Creek – The Early Years

BY: Webmaster
POSTED November 13, 2023 IN
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Rotary Club of Walnut Creek

Early Years

Rotary International had it’s beginning in 1905. This took place in Chicago, Illinois. Thirty two years later on April 7, 1937, Walnut Creek joined the other 4190 Rotary Clubs in the World. With the Charter presented on that date, The Rotary Club of Walnut Creek became a reality as club 4191.

In 1936, Walnut Creek was a rather remote community. Driving from the Oakland side of the hills necessitated either driving over the crest of those hills on Fish Ranch Road or nearly to the crest on Tunnel Road.  Both were gateways to Contra Costa County. Tunnel Road terminated at Main street in Walnut Creek. It was a delightful drive on the two lane road that meandered along creeks and wooded dales through Orinda and Lafayette. The area even had an early Rapid Transit operation as the Sacramento Northern Railway took commuters to San Francisco and Oakland. Parts of Main Street were still unpaved in 1936 when the idea of having a Rotary Club in Walnut Creek became a plan. O.P. Erdahl, Dwight Potter and Bill Gears did the early planning. As Walnut Creek was more Village than City at the time, it was difficult to interest an existing Rotary Club in the area to sponsor such a new club. Richmond finally agreed to do so. It took nine months of weekly meetings before a formative meeting was held, a District Governors Representative being present. ’Four months later on April 7 1937 the Rotary Club of Walnut Creek received Charter #4191 which ended the many months as a Provisional club. Since that time, nearly 15,000 more clubs have received their charters.

At that Charter meeting, O.P. “Opie” Erdahl became Charter President and Dr. Dwight Potter Charter Secretary. The Charter members were; Jim Acree, Charlie Allen, Dr. Mel Bolander, Roy Brown, Sal Demaggio, Louis DeMartini, George Foye, Bill Gean, Steve Johnson, Harvey Marshall, Bill, Mayhew, G.M. Parsons, Vern Parsons, Dr. Dwight Potter, Dr. Ed. Radford, Willard Rockwell, Ward Schuyler, Ross Singrey, and Mike Stoddard. From that original group, besides O.P. Erdahl, other Club Presidents from the group were George Foye, Dwight Potter and Willard Rockwell.

In the early years of Rotary in Walnut Creek, the meetings were held in the Bungalow Barbeque which was located on Main Street — Tunnel Road at the time – and Mt. Diablo Blvd, which also ended at Main Street.  From there the club moved to the Walnut Creek Hotel, Colonial Inn. Leslie’s Fountain and back to the Colonial Inn (which had been renamed the El Curtoia).  The next moves were to Fausts, Masonic Temple, Kellogs, Red Rooster, Elk’s Club and then to the Rotary Room of the Heather Farm Park Community Center Building.

The basic concepts of Rotary were very strong in the hearts and minds of these charter members and they worked hard to develop an outstanding club. During the early years as Rotarians the club sponsored short wave radio program Treasure Island for communications with Central and South American countries.  It was the success of this club in it’s early years was led in part for the acceptance of other nearby small towns as potential locations of additional Rotary Clubs. This club has furnished District Governors to District 516 including Bill Palmer, Eldo Ewert, Buck Mauzy and Bill Harris.  The club sponsored the Salvation Army in this area even supervising expenditure of funds by the Army.

Looking back to these early days, if a member wished to make up a meeting it required a trip to Oakland. Berkeley or Pittsburg.  When Martinez was chartered in 1944 it became easier to make up there. Since that time, District 516 has been split a number of times, growing in numbers of clubs and shrinking geographically. Some major changes have also taken place in our club as part of our territory was given up for the establishing of more clubs including Rossmoor inside the same City limits. In the early years, the Roster included members from Orinda, Lafayette, Concord, Danville and the areas between.

Establishment of the Major Project Committee certainly put the club in the financial position to make substantial gifts to the community. This, of course, precludes a project each year but did allow the club to save up for such worth-while projects as the Rotary Room of the Heather Park Community Center Building, the first Senior Citizen Minibus, substantial assistance in the T.G. Casey Library and the Tel-Med project at John Muir Hospital, These Major Projects did more for community acceptance and recognition for Rotary in the area than anything else done curing the early years.

The Team system and Cogs have been a catalyst for our membership, giving every member the opportunity to partake in club functions. This helps make Rotary become a part of each member.

Incorporation was not thought of for many years but as the club became more involved in the community it became a necessity. Many clubs incorporated when receiving their charter, such as the Concord Club.

International Service has been carried on since the days of the Shortwave Radio programs. “I” House students from U.C. Berkeley have been hosted for many years to a one day tour of the county and an evening in a Rotarian’s home, in 1960 our club had an exchange Tape/Slide program with the Rotary Club of Mosgiel, New Zealand. For many years this club and the Rotary Club of Tokyo-Kohoku have had an annual exchange of a student. The selected student typically is a college-age child or grandchild of one of the members. The enthusiasm that this club shows for the Rotary Foundation is evident by the high percentage number on the club banner.  All of this seems to point to the growth of Rotary in Walnut Creek, not just in numbers but in spirit and in purpose.

No club history would be complete without mentioning the late Dr. Ed Dunbar. Ed retired from Dentistry in Nevada to grow Walnuts in Contra Costa County. He became a Senior Active member of this club as he had been an active member during his professional years. Shortly thereafter he became club Secretary, a position that he held for nearly one quarter of a century. He commanded a great deal of respect, not only on a club level but throughout the District.

What began in 1937 as one club with 20 members in Central Contra Costa County has grown to eleven clubs with hundreds of members.

by Roy F. Hjersman

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