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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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ROTARY CLUB OF DUBUQUE. The 1.2 million-member Rotary International started with the vision of one man—Paul P. Harris. The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organizations, the Rotary Club of Chicago, on February 23, 1905 as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member. (1)

In early 1915 Jack Gordon of Cedar Rapids came to Dubuque to discuss the formation of a Rotary Club in the city. He called a meeting at the WALES HOTEL on March 17, 1915 and invited Andrew Young MCDONALD, James Currie COLLIER, Glenn Brown, and Benjamin Franklin BLOCKLINGER. Soon afterwards, Charles Walton showed an interest in the organization and became the person contacted by the National Secretary. Discussions followed that Glenn Brown was the person to lead the organizational efforts. On September 15, 1915 he received a letter from John O. Knutson of Sioux City then the Governor of the 16th District asking him to initiate the organization of a club. (2)

At a meeting held on October 26, 1915 Rotary Governor Knutson met in Dubuque at the DUBUQUE COMMERCIAL CLUB with an expanded group of potential members. It was decided at this meeting to formally organize a club and a list of possible charter members was created. James McFadden was elected the temporary chairman and William Murphy the secretary. (3)

On November 18, 1915 Governor Knutson sent invitations to twenty-nine Dubuque residents asking them to attend a meeting at the HOTEL JULIEN DUBUQUE on November 23, 1915. At the luncheon, each person invited was told that it was his honor to represent his vocation in Rotary in this city. (4)

Invitations were sent to: (5)

               James McFadden, James McFadden, George McLean, Charles
               Walton, Fred Bissell, Glenn Brown, Charles Noyes,
               William Murphy, Frank Blocklinger, William Dennis, A. Y.
               McDonald, James Collier, Dr E. R. Lewis, John Walsh,
               Henry Wilberding, Theo. Buechele, George Myers, S H.
               Hazelton, Charles Beach, Frank Piekenbrock, George
               Smith, Walter Keehan, E. M. Walker, S. A. Munger, Edward
               Healey, J. H. Harris, Eugene Adams, C. M. Steffens, 
               Oliver P. Shiras, and J. H. Spencer.

The first officers of the Rotary Club were: (6)

                       James McFadden, President
                       Glenn Brown, Vice-President
                       William Murphy, Secretary
                       Frank Blocklinger, Secretary
                       S. A. Munger, Sergeant-at-Arms
                       George McLean, Director
                       Charles Noyes, Director
                       Fred Bissell, Director
                       Gene Lewis, Director
                       Charles Walton, Director

By July 1, 1916 the original list of twenty-three members had grown to eighty-three. From the start, the Rotary took part in all community betterment activities. (7) In 1998 the NATIONAL MISSISSIPPI RIVER MUSEUM AND AQUARIUM was preparing to launch a major fund drive in cooperation with the City of Dubuque to construct what became the "River Walk." (8)

Photo courtesy: Rotarian Magazine, July 1917, p. 64
One of the elements of this very expensive project was "The Pavilion at River's Edge." After many meetings, the board of directors of the Rotary Club voted to pledge $50,000 to this part of the project and to fund it with a series of events called "SwingFest" to be held at the site of the old DUBUQUE STAR BREWING COMPANY. The musical event with food and beverages featured a traditional swing orchestra playing music of the 40s plus a swing combo playing "jump swing" that was becoming very popular. (9)

"Swingfest" continued for 5 years and the $50,000 debt was paid off. As the popularity of swing and jump-swing subsided, the club changed the name to "Rotary's Rock 'n' Soul Reunion on the River" and moved back to the Port of Dubuque. Since that first concert an estimated $200,000 was raised for community projects. (10)

The Dubuque Rotary Club, under the project leadership of Gary OLSEN, saw an opportunity for a significant project that took place at the turn of the Millennium. The project called for "scenic gateways" to be created for those who entered the city from virtually all directions. The concept called for "welcoming graphical demarcations" located in "the most picturesque sites along major thoroughfares" into the city. (11)

Olsen, an artist and media designer, sketched some concepts of how exactly these could look: a large, impressive and permanent historical marker built of native limestone, red brick and wrought iron, common building materials found in many of Dubuque's historic structures. (12)

The Dubuque Rotary Club accepted the $25,000 project that established the first such marker on the southwest entrance to the city along Dubuque's Technology Park. Funds were raised and construction took place within a year of the project's launch. As a result, the City of Dubuque built other markers. (13)

Rotary Club of Dubuque in a continuing partnership with the DUBUQUE VISITING NURSE ASSOCIATION helped to provide immunizations to area youth kindergarten through high school age. (14) Each year well over 100 area children were seen for both immunizations and dental checks and over 300 vaccines were given to help prevent childhood diseases that if left untreated could lead to complications throughout adulthood. (15)

Under the leadership of Rotarian Frank Zahn, the club sponsored and built a Fire Safety house for Dubuque and the local area. All details including the design, construction and fund raising were done by Zahn with the assistance of other club members. (16) After two years the finished Fire Safety House was dedicated (in honor of the late Rotary President Dan Adams) at a cost of over $30,000. With the help of donations from several businesses and other fund raising efforts, the Rotary club only had to cover 10% of the total cost. (17)

The 100th Anniversary International Rotary Convention in Chicago in 2005 inspired the leaders of the Dubuque Rotary Club to partner with other Rotary Clubs around the world to make a difference in improving health and reducing poverty. Already involved in the Polio Plus movement, the Dubuque Rotary Club learned of the efforts of the Sisters of St. Francis's Sister Water Projects in Honduras and Tanzania. (18)

An initial partnership with the Sisters evolved into a partnership with the Salvatorian order from Milwaukee, the NGO (non-government entity) Safe Water for Life and Dignity and Rotary clubs in Sacramento, California, Syndey Australia and Morogoro Tanzania. The Dubuque Rotary Club wrote the joint international grant and submitted it in March 2008. From the local club's seed money of $12,500 the total amount raised through the Rotary Foundation Matching Grant Project was $61,080. (19)

Ring wells were constructed in the following villages: Mkundi, Newland, Kpera Mafuru, Shunleni, Lubungo Ngani, Lukonde, Mikesse-Magole, Makandika, Kisauke, Kingolwira, Sanga Sanga, King Wasa-Kinonko. (20) The wells brought both fresh water to these villages and the opportunity for expanded farming and education. Prior to fresh water coming to their villages, women and especially young girls would walk up to four hours in one day to carry water back from other villages. This daily task prevented young girls from being educated. (21)

The Rotary Club of Dubuque has also looked for families to host foreign exchange students. Families were asked to commit to hosting for 4-6 months as Rotary exchange students often live with multiple families during their exchange year. Exchange students were 15-18 years of age and attended a local high school. These students come from all over the world. (22)

The Rotary Club of Dubuque also looked for high school students who would like to spend an academic year in a foreign country. Students could select their destination from a list of 25 countries. (23)

Rotary Youth Exchange is a volunteer run program and costs less than other exchange programs. The program fee is approximately $5,000 and includes round trip airfare (open ended ticket valid for up to one year), health/life insurance, orientation sessions and materials, business cards, pins for trading, a T-shirt, visa/residency permits, and a Rotary blazer and patch. (24)

The host Rotary Club pays for the student’s school tuition and gives the student a monthly stipend of $75. (25)

In 2015, for the third straight year, the Dubuque club matched the Rotary International Foundation gifts at a 1:1 ratio. For every dollar a Rotarian from this club gave to the Foundation between October 1 and December 31, the club matched at 100%. This is possible due to the outstanding generosity of a few members of the club. (26)

In 2016 one of the newest programs supported by Rotary was the Ride 'n' Roll for Vets, a program which raised money for the Veterans Freedom Center. (27)



1. "History," Rotary. Online: https://www.rotary.org/en/about-rotary/history

2. "Dubuque Rotary is Six Years Old," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, April 14, 1921, p. 18

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "River's Edge Pavilion," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "The Welcome Sign Project," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Yager, Alicia. "Rotary Club of Dubuque Hits Centennial," Telegraph Herald, February 19, 2016, p. 1

15. "Super Shot Saturday," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

16. "Fire Safety House," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

17. Ibid.

18. "Sisters of St. Francis's Sister Water Projects," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. "Rotary Youth Exchange," Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. The Rotary Club of Dubuque. Online: http://www.dubuquerotary.org/

27. Yager, p. 27