By Dr. Joseph Keefe:
Cal Coolidge, former governor of Massachusetts, was President; Alan Greenspan, Tony Bennett and Marilyn Monroe were born; Route 66 was established (remember” You get your kicks on Route 66;) NBC; radio was founded with WNAC its Boston affiliate; Robert Goddard fired off the first liquid-fueled rocket in the world right here in Worcester. It was the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan in Massachusetts with 150k members.
It was in that year, 1926, that a group of twenty-six Natick businessmen gathered and subsequently organized to form a Rotary Club. In February of 1927, this Club received its official charter in a gala ceremony held in Concert Hall on the third floor of the Clark Block on Main Street.
Among the founders were such notable Natick individuals as Hallett Jones of Jones Drug, John Hill of the Natick Ice Company, Henry Fiske of Fiske Hardware Corp and first Club president; Harold Fairbanks of Fairbanks Stationary and publisher of the Natick Bulletin, Arthur Palmer of Palmer’s Men’s Clothing. Lyman Brown who became Natick’s longest serving fire chief, Col. John D. Murphy who fought with the famous Yankee Division in WW1, Dr. Ewald G Baum, the first surgeon at Leonard Morse Hospital and the inventor of the screw-on milk bottle cap and J. Alden Wentworth, funeral director at 14 West Central St. His generosity created the Wentworth Trust that supports the Club in its work.
A bit of research into copies of Town of Natick records stored at the Morse Institute Library reveals that the founders represented diverse occupations: Owner of a commercial laundry; owner of a lumber company; owner of a steel fabrication company; a veterinarian; a jeweler, insurance agent; owner of a commercial bakery and catering business; a home builder; owner of a music studio; a banker; a commercial florist; owner of a tool and die company. One sees a picture of the rich business fabric of this town in the early 20th century.
It was the age of the Flapper; prohibition reigned; Sinclair Lewis’s novel. Babbitt was a literary rage. Prohibition was in full swing. Speakeasies flourished.
Benjamin Disraeli, one of England’s’ famous nineteenth century prime ministers, said in a speech in Edinburgh in 1869, “Change is inevitable.”
But, like the English language, there are exceptions for the Rotary Club of Natick. One family has maintained constant membership for 85 years through three generations: Arthur Fair Sr. Arthur Fair Jr. and his son, current member Arthur Fair III, Congratulations to that family are well deserved (Presidents—37, 58, 02) As I noted a moment ago, Past President Bryant Hill’s grandfather, John Hill, was one of the founders of this Club back in 1926. His effort still finds life in the third generation of Rotary connected family business.
Rotary International was founded in 1905. In the year prior to our Club’s founding, the Rotary Movement had spread to six continents. It was comprised of some 220 clubs with an estimated membership of 108,000. I should note that throughout those years and well into the twentieth century it remained a bastion exclusively for the male of the specie.
Between the founding of Rotary International and this Club, America experienced its involvement in the Great War. Scores of Natick men served in France and several lost their lives during this conflict. Their names are engraved on the brass panels in the foyer of the Morse institute Library’s 1873 building containing among them the names of two founders of this Club. Colonel John D. Murphy and Lawrence Willard.
National Prohibition became the law of the land in 1918 and women finally were granted the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of two amendments to the nation’s constitution.
Natick center in 1926 was the place to be. It was the commercial hub of the community and the center of government offices albeit the location of the latter necessitated visiting several buildings on and off Main Street.
Natick’s airport was located on the site of the present Cognex Company on the north side of the Worcester Turnpike, as Route 9 was then known. The US Government closed it in early 1942 fearful of its possible use by our enemies. The site of todays Natick Mall was the filter bed where a natural process for the decay of sewage took place
Rotary International struggled with the issue of allowing women to be members commencing in 1950. A US Supreme Court decision in 1987
ruled that the organization had to admit women as full-fledged members.
Judith D’Antonio, current member, became the first women to be enrolled in our Club. Seven women now participate in our Club as members; seven women have served as president since 1996: Sue Kerrisey, Angela Matzilivich, the late Paula Polk, Tobe Gerard, Jillian Vorce, Judy Shea and current president Trish Kelley.
Over the years, the Club has created a variety of fund raising activities: the Business-Industrial Show, the Penny Sale, the innumerable car raffles at the old Natick Mall, art auctions, casino nights, the July 4th circuses with the crowd-attracting tent raising by the elephants, carnivals, golf tournaments and our most recent venture the Tour de Natick. Can you imagine the fun we had selling circus tickets to families in the weeks before the 4th and watching the faces of the children glow with anticipation.
Every dollar raised has gone to sponsor a host of community efforts: scholarships for Natick high School students commencing in 1945, the Natick Service Council, Camp Arrowhead, VNA, caring for families in need, youths in need, international programs in Uganda and polio eradication in the Middle East and on and. We have existed as an organization to SERVE.
There are many initiatives that the leadership of this Club has supported over the last several years. As examples: The Embrace A Family Program, the INTERACT CLUBS AT KENNEDY MIDDLE SCHOOL AND NHS; the involvement with food pantries in town; the Open Door; Visitations to town located nursing homes; the Friends of Rotary program; Make a Difference Program for students at middle and high school to name a few. THIS CLUB MAY BE CELEBRATING ITS NINETIETH BIRTHDAY BUT IT IS NOT SUFFERING FROM ANY AFFLICTION OF OLD AGE. Its ever-increasing youthfulness prevents its arteries from becoming sclerotic.
AND WE HAVE BEEN ALWAYS ON THE MOVE: Explorers of sorts
Across the decades, the Club has moved its meeting sites to a variety of locations. Early on the Club met in Bailey’s Inn in South Natick Square. It had three other meeting sites including the now Debsan Building during the twenties and thirties. A photo taken in the forties indicates the Walnut Hill School was a site. In the 1960s, Ken’s Steak House accommodated the Club. The Natick Congregational Church, the Hampton Inn on Route Nine, the auditorium of the Leonard Morse Hospital, and the Dolphin Restaurant, followed that location.
We celebrated our anniversaries as follows:
25th year at the Maridor Restaurant in Framingham, now gone
40th year at the Walnut Hill School in Natick thriving after 123 years
50th year at the Chateau de Ville in Framingham, now gone.
75th year at the Crowne Plaza in Natick, now the Verve.
The next decade for Rotary International and the Rotary Club of Natick will be one continuous period of change. There will be contention and conflict within the organization as it faces new challenges. These changes will be driven by changes in the larger societies and cultures of the world.
This Club has weathered well the many societal changes. It will continue to do so and in 2026 celebrate its 100th birthday.
Consider this epigram as a simple but sincere salute to the past and recognition of the internal strength of the Rotary Club of Natick.
Membership like sea’s tide ebbs and flows,
Club’s roots in contrast stronger grow.