In 1974, these officers took their posts in the club. Pictured is: Larry Lester, front row from left, Jim Wrath, Mill McAlpin, Hart Wash, Troy Chatham, back row from left, Jack Barnes, Dick Long and Harold Humphries.
DULUTH -- Just like every Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., the Rotary Club of Gwinnett County gets started with a bang of the bell, a prayer and the pledge of allegiance.
It's the way the service club has opened its meeting for the past 40 years. For its anniversary, current members have been making a yearlong party out of the date. The club is 96 strong, including prominent Gwinnettians like County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, Gwinnett Medical Center President and CEO Phil Wolfe, Gwinnett Village CID director Chuck Warbington and former County Chairman Wayne Hill.
"We've had a lot of fun this year celebrating the 40th anniversary," current president J.K. Murphy said. "We've also reflected on what the club has accomplished. We've reminded the current membership of the people who had the foresight back in 1973 to recognize the need for a Rotary presence in Gwinnett County."
Founded in 1905, Rotary is recognized as the world's first volunteer service organization. The club's mission, according to its website, is to "provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders." At each meeting, members recite the four-way test of the things they do and say:
-- Is it the truth?
-- Is it fair to all concerned?
-- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
-- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
One of the ways the Gwinnett club benefits all is through community service. This year, the group has hosted a comedy night with clean comedian David Ferrell to raise money for Rainbow Village and sponsored Casper Tolstrup, an exchange student from Denmark who studied at the University of Georgia.
But the current members haven't forgotten where the Gwinnett club came from. On June 29, 1973, the county's first Rotary club was chartered with Troy Chatham taking the position of president.
Charter member Boyd Duncan remembers how the whole thing got started four decades ago.
"Troy Chatham really instigated the whole thing," he said. "He was moving down from Gainesville and I sold him a house. In the process, we would sit, talk and become friends. The Rotary Club thing came up -- he was a strong member up in Gainesville."
They found others to join and the rest -- as they say -- is history.
Over the years, the Gwinnett club has seen several changes, including the location of its meetings.
"We began meeting over in Duluth," Duncan said. "There was a motel over there that had an upstairs -- we met up there for awhile."
From there, the group moved to a motel in Norcross on Peachtree Parkway, the former Falcon Inn on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and the Northwood Country Club on Club Drive. Now, members meet at the 1818 Club inside the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce -- and have for more than a decade.
When Rotary International started, it was strictly an all-male club. In 1987 and 1988, the rules changed to allow women into the organization.
"We have something else that has caused us to change in the last few years. This thing called women," said 39-year-member Elliott Brack with a laugh.
In 1991, Jo Ann Pinder of the Gwinnett County Public Library was the first woman to become a member of the Gwinnett Rotary. According to Brack, she would get a "nervous stomach" before coming to the meetings because none of the men would talk to her.
In 2000, Connie Wiggins of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful took over as the first female Gwinnett Rotary president.
"Now (the women) are taking over and it's good," Brack said. "They'll make us work harder."
Since its start, the Gwinnett club has had a part in co-sponsoring and forming seven other clubs in the county, including Peachtree Corners (1981), South Gwinnett (1982), Duluth (1986), Snellville (1990), Norcross (1992), Buford (1994), Lawrenceville (1997) and, most recently, Gwinnett Mosaic.
"There are eight clubs in Gwinnett County. We're the oldest and largest," said Murphy, who is a vice president at SCNI, the parent company of the Daily Post. "They all have their local campaigns and efforts. Every one of them helps build the community, helps the less fortunate and makes it a stronger community fabric."
No matter how much time passes, the Gwinnett club will continue its charity and communal work in the county because that's its basis: "Service Above Self."
In the past 40 years, the Gwinnett Rotary has raised money for Annandale Village, recognized an outstanding policeman, firefighter and high school student on a yearly basis, participated in Friendship Exchanges in Europe, and served as bellringers for the Salvation Army at Christmas -- just to name a few. As part of Rotary International, all of the clubs raise additional funds to continue the eradication of polio.
"It's a good organization because it's done by good people," Duncan said. "They're not playing around trying to emphasize their own personal benefit. It's still the best-organized organization in the universe."
On Tuesday, Murphy's tenure ends as president. He will pass responsibilities to Paige Havens, and the club's tradition of service will continue toward its next milestone.