This is file 57. This is jean McMillen and I am interviewing Mr. William Fox charter member of the Salisbury Rotary Club. He is going to talk about the history of Rotary. Today’s date is Sept. 5th, 2013.
JM:What is your name?
JM:What is your birthdate?
BF:March 27, 1918
JM:Where were you born?
BF:Auburn, New York
JM:What were your parents’ names?
BF:William and Marjorie Fox
JM:What business were you in?
BF:I had 40 years as an insurance agent in a small agency that I owned.
JM:Why did you think it was important to start a Rotary club?
BF:I got 3 or 4 guys that knew it and talked about it one evening. I think that that was the beginning.
JM:I know that you told me about Roger Newkirk.
BF:Right Roger Newkirk was really the firebrand of starting the club. He’d been a member of the East Hartford Rotary Club. When he came over to go into business in Canaan and Salisbury, he brought us a person who talked about Rotary to us at a little session. (Roger Newkirk was a mortician.) I would say that he promoted the idea.
JM:Who were some of the other early members?
BF:Some of the ones on the board were Roger Newkirk, Rod Aller, and me. There was also Dean Brown, Matt Chamberlain, Hank Belter, Copeland Robinson, Harry Bellini, Dwight Cowles- Community Service, Walter Barr, Jack Briscoe, and Ken Athoe.
JM:What is the motto of Rotary?
BF:Service above self.
JM:What year did you start with Rotary? I am assuming it is about 1949?2.
BF:A little sooner than that.
JM:You had the organizational meetings before that, but from the notes that I have the first formal meeting was in 1949.
BF:Yeah, that would be a meeting held at the church.
BF:A little church in Lakeville
JM:That’s the Methodist church. You got the right church. It seems to me to start the club you were given gifts from some of the other rotary clubs.
JM:What were some of those things that were given?
BF:Yes, we were given a banner, the gavel, the bell, and the flag, an American flag. One of the giving clubs was East Hartford. The Torrington Club donated the gavel and the bell. Gt. Barrington Rotary Club gave us another gift of a flag. That’s about it.
JM:That was a good start.
BF:Well, we had nothing and no money at all, but a lot of enthusiasm. The charter members totaled 40 members; everybody was very interested and very excited about having something like the Rotary Club.
JM:What were some of the fund raisers?
BF:One of the things we organized at the very beginning to go around the area and collect as many things that others were willing to throw away. We picked it up with a couple of trucks; then we would gather all of it together and restored it all. We put it into one spot, hired an auctioneer, and raised about $300 for the club. It was great. That was a lot of money in those days.
JM:What else did you do early on? Were there canoe races?
BF:Oh yes, Rod Aller was keen on that. That was quite a money raiser; we had people who would go down the Housatonic and go through trails and stuff. We served a little lunch when they got through. That was fun, and we made some money.
JM:Did you do horse shows?
BF:Oh yes out at Lucy Drummond’s stables. She was thrilled to death to have something like that.
JM:The reason that I asked you about horse shows is because I got a Rotary Scholarship from the Gt. Barrington Horse Show.
BF:I’ll be darned, really? Oh good.
JM:Then as fundraisers there were a couple of sporting events like…
BF:Oh yeah, we challenged Torrington group for a four some or even more if the guys were involved in golf. We had a golf tournament. That was pretty early in the organization. Also we played with the Gt. Barrington Club.
JM:I know that you used to play at Wyantenuck in Gt. Barrington.
BF:We played soft ball.
JM:How about bowling? Did you do any bowling?
BF:Oh gosh yeah that was a real money raiser. We worked as I recall with different teams. We organized it and did all the totaling and stuff like that to make sure everything was..,
JM:ship shape and Bristol fashioned?
JM:The one that I remember was the silent food auction. Tell me about that.
BF:Well, this was around Thanksgiving and we held a silent auction for anybody that brought something that they had made. They had to make it themselves.
JM:I remember this because Foster paid $23 for some of Father Joseph Forte’s sausage, and it was too hot for us to eat. Foster made a mince pie; that was his contribution. Those were fun. What do you do at the Lime Rock Track?
BF:That’s great. We started off selling all the tickets for people that were interested in seeing the track and watching the races. That was a good one.
JM:That was a big fund raiser.
BF:Unfortunately things changed a little bit, and some other service club wanted to do the same thing that we had been doing. Naturally we split the money.
JM:You were gracious about splitting. Now you do something on the 4th of July that is pretty spectacular. (They put on a fireworks display at the Lime Rock Race Track. Ed.)
BF:Yes, that is still going. That was a money raiser established for quite a few years.
JM:But the fireworks were quite expensive; that was an expensive one to do because if you got rained out, you lost your money. That happened a couple of years.
BF:Yeah, that’s right.
JM:That is a wonderful fund raiser.
BF:It sure was, and we are still doing it.
JM:Now that you have this money raised, what do you do with it? What are the gifts that you give to the community?
BF: The first thing we do is set up is the money for education for the Housatonic High School students. It has been a wonderful thing all these years. It was accepted by young people who were going to college eventually. We started out with a moderate amount and that amount has been increased through the years. We have given out thousands and thousands of dollars. It was great to have the kids write letters and thanking the Rotary Club for the money.
JM:I think you have recently added to that a scholarship for adults to either be retrained to come back into the community for nurses or …
BF:Yes it was started by John Neufeld; that was very successful.
JM:Yes, and very much appreciated.
BF:Oh yes, absolutely. He did a wonderful job.
JM:Do you also give money to the local organizations?
BF:Oh yes all of them, firemen, fire houses, visiting nurses, and the library.
JM:Recently you have given a contribution to the Berkshire Taconic Community Fund?
JM:That’s for mutual aid for the community whenever they need it. That was a big contribution, a very big one. I know that you gave to Geer a piano.
BF:Oh really, I had forgotten all about that.
JM:Sharon Hospital got that circular burn bed; so your people have done a lot of very good things.
JM:What is the Paul Harris Award?
BF:Paul Harris Awards are given out with $1,000 for the individual that is chosen by their Rotary Club for participation.
JM:Probably above and beyond the ordinary.
BF:The recipient was very proud of it.
JM:He would be very proud that he was honored by his compatriots.
BF:You got it.
JM:I try, I really try. I believe that you received the Paul Harris Award.
BF:Yeah, I did.
JM:I was at one of those ceremonies, and I think it was Cal McCormick that won a Paul Harris but I am not sure. Maybe it was Doug Tyler that got that award. I think it was he. Can you tell me what the Rotary Foundation is? Is this more international?
BF:Yes, and also it is set up to be able to…
JM:Was this set up for scholarships for foreign students?
BF:Yeah, that is what it is for.
JM:And also major global projects like Polio Plus and things like that?
JM:I think if I remember correctly Laura Hawks took a study group to Brazil.
BF:I think that is right, too.
JM:That is all part of this Rotary foundation. They pay the transportation expenses and that sort of thing.
JM:Tell me about when women came in. Can you give me a rough year when the women came in? Would that be in the 1970’s?
BF:It could be.
JM:I think it was in the ‘70’s because when I married Foster in 1982, he was in Rotary and there were women in then. I think the first woman that came in was Kathryn Boughton.
BF:That’s right. I was thinking about that.
JM:The second woman who came in was Inge Dunham, and she’s had a lot to do with the Interact Club.
BF:Oh boy, she is a work horse. Anything that she offers to do will be done right. She has done a heck of a good job on that working with children.
JM:What is the Interact Club? Are they students from other countries?
BF:No, I don’t think so; they organize activities to learn about Rotary and other cultures. Inge ran that whole thing.
JM:She would bring maybe one or two students to a Rotary Club and they would get up and would talk about themselves.
JM:Why do you have different business categories? You have beef farming and you have dairy farming.
BF:Originally Rotary did it to get a person in a profession or one making bread to get a variety but not to have two of the same thing.
JM:It is kind of hard to come up with different titles now.
JM:The Purple Bull what was the significance of the Purple Bull?
BF:The Purple Bull was given to somebody who talked a lot and really didn’t say anything.
JM:Like a gas bag or a BS artist?
JM:What did the statue look like?
BF:It was a beautiful thing; it started out with a statue of a Purple Bull. I have been thinking about this.
JM:It was given once a year.
BF:Yes, and it sat on your mantel so that everybody could see it.
JM:so all could see that you were a good talker.
BF:It was all done with humor and good will. The recipient’s name was engraved and the year that they won it. You kept it for a year and then it was passed on.
JM:Speaking of humor, tell me about Paul Rebillard’s birthday poems. Do you remember that?
JM:He used to write a little bit of a poem with a sting in the tail for people’s birthdays.
BF:That’s right, and he was good at getting that sting.
JM:He had a wonderful way with words.
BF:He sure had.
JM:At one time wasn’t the golf tournament named for him?
BF:We put it on as a real money raiser using the Rotary Club in Torrington; we worked like crazy and somehow Torrington got most of the money.
JM:Yeah, you did the work and they got the money. Somehow they didn’t think that was quite fair.
BF:That wasn’t fair. That didn’t happen again.
JM:I believe that I have read that your membership fluctuates; sometimes it is up and sometimes it is down.
BF:We were talking about this last Tuesday. The membership is really sad right now; as I recall a member should make at least 60% of the meetings per year. That has gone by the wayside.
JM:Foster hated that; he hated the mandatory attendance. He was so glad when he was a member for 15 years, and he no longer had to conform to mandatory attendance. Oh he hated that.
BF:Membership is tough; the atmosphere today has changed. Everything has changed, and you are getting little more of selfishness from an individual I think. Nobody really is putting in the effort that they used to, unfortunately.
JM:I don’t know as I only go to the widow’s invitational dinners; I know fewer Rotarians now than I used to, but the comradery doesn’t seem to be quite the same level.
JM:Perhaps the dedication is not quite the same as it was; although you have wonderful members that do wonderful things, but it has changed. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about Rotary that you would like to add to this interview?
BF:I am now an Honorary Rotarian.
JM:The service projects have changed.
BF:We seem to be very concerned about money; we have more than enough sitting in a bank and it should be working for people, not sitting in a bank.
JM:At the end of the 50 year tape that I listened to Hank Belter thought that the community service projects should be or most importance, Rod Aller wanted to have more local service projects rather than just giving money to the International, and I believe you also felt that home grown needs were more important that either the district or the international. I don’t think you have changed on that opinion. You really want the local people to get the benefit of the funds that you have raised.
JM:That is why there was some discussion about giving a large amount to the Berkshire Taconic Fund because that was sort of anonymous.
JM:Some of the Rotary members felt that they wanted their name in be known as a service club for the community and that’s what is important. That is why the club was started, right?
BF:That’s right, service for the community; service above self.
JM:Thank you so much Mr. Fox. This has been a wonderful experience for me.