Rotary Club #1 was formed in 1905 under the inspiration of Chicago Attorney Paul Harris, 37. San Francisco formed Club #2 in 1908, and Oakland #3 in 1909. The movement went international in 1910 when Winnipeg Rotary Club was formed.

The name “Rotary” came from the idea that meetings would rotate among members’ places of business, but soon it was decided that meetings should be over lunch at different restaurants. However, as the Club grew it became burdensome to notify everybody where we “meet to eat,” hence meeting places became fixed, but by then the name “Rotary” was firm.

San Diego Rotary Beginnings

The “seed” for Rotary came to downtown San Diego with Ernie Shields, a builder who met with ten other leading young San Diegans in September 1911 at the downtown Bivouac Grill (U.S. Grant Hotel) to elect Carl Heilbron as our first President. In November we adopted our Constitution and By-Laws, filed Articles of Incorporation in March 1912, and received our Rotary Charter dated 2 June 1913 making us Club #33 among the nearly 30,000 now active globally.

The motto “He Profits Most Who Serves Best” came in 1911, and 1912 brought the slogan “Service Above Self.” The gear wheel in 1924 was voted in convention to be the official emblem for all Rotary Clubs.

The Objects of Rotary, first enunciated in 1905, evolved until 1951 when the “Object” as we know it today was promulgated. The Rotary 4-Way Test came into being in 1955.

Club #33 welcomed Kiwanis to San Diego in 1920 and Lions in 1921, the year we sponsored our own first new Rotary Club at El Centro which, in turn, sponsored Brawley and Calexico to give us our first two “grandchildren.” The family tree has grown ever since with most Rotary Clubs south of Los Angeles having direct lineage to Club #33, including several in Mexico.

Community Service

Our Rotary Bell now used to toll the opening/closing of downtown luncheon meetings first went into use in 1923, and our lectern designed, built, and equipped by Club 33ers came into use in 1964.

Club 33’s first public service project was the contribution of materials for the downtown Broadway pier in 1912. Our first youth program was Big Brothers in 1913, and in 1914 we participated for the first time as a unit in the annual Straw Hat Day Parade, a city-wide promotional event held each February in those days.

Thereafter, our youth work extended to aiding orphans, needy families, and crippled children, and in 1917 we sponsored creation of the San Diego Area Boy Scout Council. In ensuing decades our work expanded to support of Girl Scouts, creation of Boys Clubs, Little League Baseball teams, the Visiting International Students Ass’n, the Coordinating Council for Youth, our own Student Loan Fund, and special projects for minority groups.

From the start our youth programs have emphasized career counseling, vocational guidance, job assistance, interracial and international goodwill, wholesome recreation, and clear understanding of free enterprise. We also consistently have given human, material, and financial support to youth camps.

Club 33 received international recognition for its Family Week Program in the ‘60s, and Camp Enterprise is a current program that won a Freedoms Foundation Award in the ‘70s.

Club 33 completely renovated Alcazar Gardens in downtown’s Balboa Park, made a major contribution toward creation of the Burn Center at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, and we have supported cultural, educational, charity, and historic preservation projects, and special area attractions such as the Zoo, Wild Animal Park, Sea World, plus being stalwart rooters in all our major and minor league athletic and sports events.

In ’86 we celebrated our 75th birthday by presenting to the city a nautical clock installed at “B” Street pier, and 1987 brought our first women members.

In 1989 we completed a new school building in Tijuana in a joint project with Tijuana Rotary Club, in 1991 dedicated Presidents Grove in downtown San Diego. Club 33 is a prime participant in the Mercy Outreach Surgical Team (MOST) program operating in Mexico, and our Monarch High School Program is now one of our prime ongoing commitments.

Individual Club members have been leaders over the decades in bringing water to our region, improving national and State highways and county roads, developing our harbor, expanding air transport facilities, and creating hospitals, colleges, and civic installations.

100 years and counting

For more than one hundred years, Club 33 has been a community resource producing mayors, councilmen, county supervisors, State and National legislators, judges, and commissioners, plus heads of most community-oriented organizations, professional societies, and business associations at local level, and some at State and National levels as well.

The basic motivation of Rotary Club 33 remains as it was from “day one”; Community Service.

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