by Bill Batson
This landmark clock was a gift from the Rotary Club of Nyack. Despite an inscription at the base and a logo on the clock face, this fact is news to most of the pedestrians, protesters and village residents who use Veterans’ Park.
Rotary is a global organization that is both ubiquitous, and to some, mysterious. A recent survey by Rotary International found that in some countries, up to 90% of the population have heard of the Rotary, but know little of the purpose and history of one of the world’s oldest service organizations.
Attorney Paul F. Harris founded the Rotary Club on February 23, 1905 in Chicago. The group’s name comes from the practice of rotating meetings among the offices of its founding members. Harris wanted to establish a professional association that would reflect the spirit of mutual support and friendship that he remembered from the small town America of his youth. These ideals found an ardent following in Nyack, where a Rotary Club was established in 1923.
Some things about Rotary are timeless. A similarly scripted agenda is acted out in 34,000 service clubs by 1.2 million members around the world when Rotary clubs meet for a weekly lunch. In Nyack, the meeting is held on Tuesdays at 12:15 at La Fontana.
After the pledge of allegiance, there is a recitation of what is called the Four-Way Test: “Is it the truth? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Members, who are business owners, employees, community and civic leaders, then proceed with a meeting that seeks to focus their combined energy, talents and finances into four avenues of service:
- Club Service: the maintenance of the organization
- Community Service: the support of worthy community groups (recent recipients of Rotary support include the Amazing Grace Circus, the Nyack Center, People to People, Soup Angels and the YMCA)
- Vocational Service: programs to support the educational and professional advancement of young people
- International Service: programs that support the eradication of polio, the provision of clean water and the promotion of literacy, among others.
In other ways, today’s Rotary is radically different. For more than three quarters of the organization’s first century, it was a males only club. Women were relegated to a wives auxiliary called Rotary Anns. The surreptitious acceptance of a woman into a California club with an androgynous first name brought about a lawsuit that eventually overturned the Rotary International ban on female membership in early 1980’s, at least in United States.
Howard Hellman, past Nyack club President and owner of All Bright Electric, will tell you that his greatest claim to fame was recruiting Judy Martin into the Rotary. She was not the first woman to join, that was Joan Moffett, but Martin’s tenure is legendary.
Martin recently received a pin for 19 years of perfect weekly attendance. This feat of dedication and discipline was not accomplished without some very close calls. Since the Rotary is international, you can make up a missed local meeting by attending a session any where in the world. When in Rome with her husband Mac, Judy had to make a quick change in a restroom to make herself presentable for the only meeting available. In Rome, the Rotary’s weekly lunch is attended by the cabinet ministers of the Italian government.
Howard Hellman has a second claim to fame. He was the driving force behind the Rotary clock in Veterans’ Park. During a trip to Cape May, New Jersey, Hellman saw a stately time keeping monument. The Mayor of Nyack at the time, Terry Hekker, informed Hellman that there had once been a public timepiece in Nyack. The Rotarians collectively raised the funds and the fixture was dedicated in September 2001. Hellman thought the clock would hearken back to Nyack’s past grandeur and promote the service philosophy of Rotary.
Current Rotary programs that the clock symbol celebrates include the organization’s decade long commitment to introduce every Headstart and elementary student in Nyack to the joy of reading by giving each child their first book. Barnes and Nobles now donates the books that they distribute. Rotarians also engage middle school students through their partnership with Junior Achievement, a program that stresses the importance of financial literacy through a Rotary-modeled Interact Club.and Rotarians distribute food through Meals on Wheels to seniors in Depew Manor and Nyack Plaza.
The clock in Veteran’s Park is a perfect metaphor for the Rotary club. During the last eight decades, the Rotary has been a constant servant, looking out for the interests of the Village of Nyack. We can only hope that like the inner workings of this landmark, the heart of service that beats within Rotary will keep on ticking.
Special thanks to Win Perry.
Photo of founding Rotarians Courtesy of Rotary Images
The original sketch of the Rotary Clock will be one of the items available at a silent auction at the 90th anniversary gala at Nyack Seaport to raise money to support the Rotary’s community projects.
Nyack Sketch Log: Rotary Clock was originally published on April 3, 2012
Bill Batson, an artist, writer and activist draws sketches and writes essays curbside in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: The Rotary Clock”©2012, Bill Batson.