February 1, 2021
Zoot Velasco, bringing the life of Rotary founder, Paul Harris to light, was the featured speaker on Monday February 1, 2021. Zoot has worked in the non-profit sector for decades, currently as the director of the Gianneschi Center for Nonprofit research at CSUF. Author, teacher, fundraiser, Fullerton Rotarian, he is the embodiment of a renaissance man. He is currently president-elect of Fullerton Rotary.
Paul Harris originally founded Rotary for the same reason many of us initially join the organization: the selfish desire to have a great business network. Paul was, what Zoot refers to as, “The First Great Generation”, the generation right after the Civil War. His dad was something of a con artist, traveling the country to make a buck. Paul was left in the care of his grandparents in Vermont where he was always getting into trouble in school. His grandfather set him straight, eventually having him turn his grades around so he could attend universities from which he got expelled: University of Vermont, Princeton. He finally did receive a law degree from University of Iowa.
Paul then set out on his “5-Year Plan”. This entailed seeing the world, and adventuring, before settling down in a career and a wife. During these years he traveled around the country working as: a news reporter in San Francisco, and Denver, a stage actor, and a cowboy. He attended the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago before heading to Florida and finding work as a tombstone salesman. He excelled at this and was sent to New York to open a franchise before being set to Genoa, Italy where he took up his life again as a cowboy before returning to the US. With his 5-year plan now over, he settled down in Chicago.
In the windy city, he began working as a collection attorney where he prospered, eventually becoming lead attorney and taking over the firm. While working in the city, he began to get the ‘hometown blues’. In a small community from which he came, everyone knows everyone else; there is only one of everything: one doctor, one blacksmith, one dentist, etc., so it is a tighter knit society. From this idea, he came up with creating a tight knit community that was a club. Clubs at the time were quite a bit different than what they are today, being composed mostly of religious, union, ethnic, or racial concerns. Rotary, so named because the meetings were rotated at the members’ places of business, was originally founded on February 23, 1905 to create a club with a small-town vibe in the big city. There were four members initially: Paul Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele and Hiram Shorey.
Rotary’s first project which designated it into a service club was the installation of bathrooms, known as “comfort stations”, in city hall. Thanks to the Rotary’s involvement, this project was completed, and the Rotary Club gained notoriety. The organization began to grow by leaps and bounds. In 1910, Winnipeg, Canada, began its first club making Rotary an international club. In 1916, Arch Klumph began the Rotary Foundation with $26.50 in left over funds. In 1921, Anaheim Rotary opened, followed by Fullerton a year later. In 1924, 9000 attendees joined in the first International Convention in Toronto. In 1943, the Four-Way Test was adopted. After Duarte Rotary began allowing women into their club and after some legal issues, Rotary International lifted gender requirements in 1989.
Zoot joined Rotary after a couple of false starts to realize the power the organization has to service. Within 7 days following the 2013 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that decimated the Philippians, Zoot organized a relief concert. Partnering with Arts OC, Orange County Community Foundation, The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Roteract and Intertact, the concert was held at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton. After an e-blast to 40,000, District and Rotary Club of Fullerton assembled this event which hosted 16 performers, entertained 350 attendees, and eventually raised $43,000! Thank you, Zoot for your continued support to Rotary International and your true embodiment of “Service Above Self”.