History of the Club
Rotary Club of The Woodlands
Four Decades of Service and Fellowship
The Rotary Club of The Woodlands came into being in 1975 along with The Woodlands itself. As the foundations of the first homes were being poured, the first businessmen who would be living and working in the community began building the foundations of Rotary. The spirit of service and fellowship that are the hallmarks of the town were embodied in that fledgling club when it was chartered June 19, 1975.
Forty years later, the club has grown to nearly 200 men and women. Our commitment to service remains strong as we support our community’s youth, those in our community who are less fortunate, and each other. Each year we give more than $50,000 in scholarships to area students and we support them in Interact. We ring bells for the Salvation Army at Christmas, we collect food and funds for the Montgomery County Food Bank, we work to improve a home for a needy family, we honor our seniors and our veterans, we conduct literacy campaigns, we give blood, and we immunize small children with the Shots Across Texas program.
And we have fun! We play golf. We join in the YMCA Dragon Boat races. We have casual after-hours get-togethers. We support each other in times of need.
Charter president Vernon Robbins understood well the significance of Rotary and the opportunity a club brings to a new community. Vern had launched the club in Columbia, Maryland, a master-planned community similar to the one he came to help build in Texas. Gathering together leaders from the burgeoning town, he established The Rotary Club of The Woodlands and served as president for a month. Tom Boak took over the helm, overseeing the array of social and service activities conducted in one year by just 28 members.
The spirit of service and fellowship was set in that first year. Rotarian and Olympic diving coach Dick Smith proposed that the club host the 37-member Brazilian diving team who were coming to The Woodlands to train for the Olympics. Some 30 families opened their homes to the participants for seven weeks. As The Woodlands grew, so did the program, such that a dozen years later, when the last training was held, more than a hundred divers were training for the Olympics in the Woodlands and being hosted by local families.
What we do for and with young people identifies our club more than any other area of service. In 1985, under the leadership of President J.R. Moore, the first Interact clubs were established at two local high schools. That year, the club also helped five other District clubs start Interact clubs. Rebecca McGowen Thurman has been one of the most ardent proponents of our Interact program; in 2000, she was recognized by the District. In 1995, the club co-sponsored The Woodlands Celebrity Golf Classic, presenting more than $100,000 to Montgomery County Youth Services and Texas Children’s Hospital.
The club’s primary fundraising objective has been to raise money for student scholarships, with the first being awarded in 1979 to a McCullough High School student. The funds were limited to a few hundred dollars until 1983, when President David Dollahite initiated a club raffle. That annual raffle now contributes more than $30,000 to the scholarships awarded to needy and/or exemplary high school and community college students. An endowment fund was established in 1985. The International Fellowship of Golfing Rotarians established a $50,000 permanent scholarship fund in 1990. In nearly 30 years, the club has distributed more than $300,000 in scholarship funds.
Adjoining The Woodlands is Tamina, a community of extremely low-income residents. Rotarian and homebuilder Tom Cox initiated an annual service project in which the club provides much-needed improvements to a resident’s home. In 1998, thanks to member Bob Price, the club was able to provide a nearly new three-bedroom mobile home for one family when it became apparent their dilapidated trailer was beyond repair. Members then filled the house with furniture and dishes, affording the family an entirely new start. President Ann Snyder initiated “Tamina Restoration,” in 2000, making the program ongoing.
President Terry Brown instituted the club’s Vocational Service awards in 1997. Under President Scott Wolford’s term, the club received its first Rotary International matching grant, enabling us to send an ambulance to a hospital in Pakistan. Several times a year, members give blood, frequently in response to special needs of children in our community. We also participate in the Hunger Plus Program.
President Don Stirman oversaw in 1992 the first joint meeting with the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs in The Woodlands, now an annual tradition. The next year the club held a Mother’s Day Fashion Show. President Stirman recalls Rotarians, as models, presenting dance numbers, but with no one in the audience recognizing the members’ movements as “dance.”
In 1999 our participation in the local YMCA’s Dragon Boat Races launched an annual opportunity to build community and solidarity, to work together as a team, and to just have fun!
The celebration of the club’s 20th anniversary was attended by 15 of the first 20 club presidents in 1995. That year, under the leadership of President Dan Cox, the club was recognized as the District 5910 Outstanding Club.
Each year on Veterans’ Day, area veterans are invited to be guests of the club and are honored for their service to our country with a special patriotic program. Perhaps one of the most significant impacts on the Rotary Club of The Woodlands has been the admission of women in 1987. While the United States Supreme Court had essentially made the question mute, the club vowed to reach a consensus on what was a highly controversial matter. One week the regular program was cancelled, and the time was dedicated to discussing the issue among the members. When the question came to a vote, there were only two dissenting votes. Toni Baker was accepted for membership two weeks later. Another milestone was reached when Ann Snyder agreed to serve as secretary, putting her on the ladder to become the first female president of the club. Needless to say, the club now enthusiastically receives the female members and the energy, commitment and enthusiasm they bring to the club.
The Rotary Club of The Woodlands is a relatively young and extremely vital club. The spirit of service and fellowship on which it was founded three decades ago is even more vibrant. A number of the Charter members are still active, and each year we pin new Rotarians. This club generates a camaraderie and commitment that is infectious, enduring, and so very exemplary of the essence of Rotary.