Formation of the Erie Rotary Club


In The Beginning


Club Formation

Mr. Amos M. Cassel, then Director of Erie Business College, was the first to hear about the idea of Rotary from a colleague who was President of the Rotary Club of DeMoines. Once Mr. Cassel received the literature about the Club, he was much inclined to start one in Erie. He decided he should not be the one to select all the original members himself, taking very seriously the Rotary admonition, “In selecting members, do not consider present friendship as an element in choosing.
Consider quality only. Get the very best men in each line, considering cleanness of character, mental acumen, business ability, and good fellowship as the basis upon which to choose.”

As he reported himself, “that no mistake be made in choosing the best men,” Mr. Cassel “determined to select but one man himself, and with his help to select a few others, and then with these, gradually to increase the number until a Committee of Organization of twenty or thirty be formed.”
Together, Mr. Cassel and architect C. Paxton Cody selected ten additional men and invited them to meet at the Y.M.C.A. cafeteria for dinner (called “luncheon” by Mr. Cassel) on Friday evening, August 8 1913 at 6’o clock sharp. Of the 12 invited, five attended, who then selected ten more for the next meeting and so on. On January 1, 1914, the Erie Club was officially accepted by the International organization as the 91st Club in the United States with 28 charter members.

Classification System

The Classification System was part of the Rotary International Constitution, which required each member represent a specific industry, business, or profession. These are presented in successive by-laws of each club, as in the early- and mid-twentieth century, new professions proliferated.  Membership was by invitation only and was extended only to those whose business or profession was not already represented in the Club, but almost from the start, this issue began to create problems and today, the Classification System has essentially been abandoned by the Erie Club.  
The Classification System was not intended to create a cartel of business people cornering markets for a “sinister purpose” as noted in the September 9, 1913 edition of the Erie Dispatch.  On the contrary, in the words of an unknown Erie Club member writing in October 1934, Rotary Founder Paul Harris intended to have “congenial men engaged I different lines of business, meet and give their various viewpoints on policies and principles relating to the conduct of business and thereby elevate the standards and ethics of business practices.”  
Further, “In order to extend that idea it was thought well to have each new member represent a different kind of business so that the logic of these principles could be put to the most thorough test, and if found sound, then each member could be the ambassador from Rotary to the other men in his line of business and carry his convictions and Rotary’s to them.”


On January 5, 1914, Mr. H. R. Basford, Past President of the San Francisco Rotary Club sent a letter to all the Clubs asking how to resolve the issue of classification at the next Convention in Houston. He made the point that devoted Rotarians may be barred from joining if they move across the country and try to transfer their membership to a Club that already has a member within their classification.
In March 1914 the problem came to the forefront when some members wanted to invite a Reverend Clement to join, but Bishop Israel was already a member. In the ensuing discussion It was noted that the Buffalo Club had resolved this by permitting one minister to represent each denomination. The point was made, “What right have we to only admit one minister? What more feeling if one minister represent all the Methodists than one boiler-maker represent All the boiler-makers in the City?” Another member thought it “very unwise to take in any more ministers now because of the feeling of the members; better for one man to represent the churches of Erie.”
In this case, it was decided to remove the name of Rev. Clements from membership
consideration at that time, but a motion carried to establish a “policy of the Club from time to time, to admit a limited number of ministers as honorary members.”
The question of admitting “Newspaper Men” also became a frequent concern at early Board meetings. Erie had three newspapers at the time: The Dispatch, The Herald, and the Times. No one wanted to exclude the chiefs of either of these papers due to concerns about bad publicity, but they were perplexed as to how they could invite them all to join. 
As early as June 1915, a local issue about the business classification system arose, when two business partners split and one became a competitor of the other. The suggestion was that the longer-serving active member remain and the other’s membership be suspended, but the Board was not satisfied with this outcome and decided to postpone the decision.  
Later on, the idea was developed to have up to two people represented in each profession by permitting the current member at a certain point to move into the “Senior Active” role within that classification category and appoint a new “Active” member, generally from their own firm or a close associate.  As William Pitt Gifford (1913-14) was the first to occupy the “Attorney” category, he was one of the first to become a “Senior Active” member. Until recently, new attorneys were always recruited from within the successor of his firm. In 1989, Norman Stark (1998-99) felt he had “arrived” at a significant professional milestone when his turn came to fill the “Active” member role in the Attorney slot, admitting, “by virtue of my position in the firm, I was nominated as the Active and felt great pride to serve in that capacity.”
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