Rotary in Junction City

by GayLynn Childs, Club Historian

It was on a Sunday morning in August of 1917 that an organizational meeting was held at the home of telephone entrepreneur R.B. Fegan on North Jefferson Street. Present was Fegan and four other local businessmen. Rotary HQ decided that the unprecentated build up of troops at Ft. Riley for WWI gave them an opportunity to expand Rotary and install two new clubs- Junction City and Manhattan to their list. Fegan & others, along with Rotary District representatives who were directing the organization's work at Camp Funston, laid the ground work for the formation of Junction City's first Rotary club and applied for a charter.

On September 5th the group was officially organized and some 20 Junction City men were taken as charter members. The list of these charter members reads like a ''Who's Who'' of Junction City for that era. Within weeks of the granting of the charter,a number of additional members were added.

During the club's first year, a project was designed to help alleviate the housing shortage caused by the massive influx of workers, soldiers and dependants during World War I. 25 members donated $1,000 each toward the cost of erecting the apartment building at the comer of 4th and Washington that was later known as the Schwartz apartments.  However it was the ''Community Building,''(now the Eagles Lodge,) at 10th & Franklin Streets  that was the greatest monument to the efforts of Rotary in the city during World War 1. Built at a cost of $40,000, this substantial stone structure was funded and built by the Rotary Clubs of the district as a recreation center for soldiers and citizens and it functioned as the main ''community center'' here until the Municipal Building was erected in 1938.

The 1920s saw Junction City's Rotary Club continue to grow and serve the community. At the same time the members were enjoying the "roaring 20s" with wonderful social gatherings and ''snappy'' events. According to a newspaper account of the era, ''The Junction City Rotarians have staged many interesting meetings since their organization, but their luncheon for General ''Jack'' Pershing will always stand out as their biggest affair.''

The J.C Rotary Club celebrated its 25 anniversary in 1942 when the nation was, once again  in the throes of World War II. Observance of that milestone, founder Ben Fegan recounted the circumstances that led to the organization of the club and charter member C.H. Manley was recognized for his 20 years of attending weekly meetings  without an absence.

For their first 50 years of existence the club met in the elegant dining room of the Bartell Hotel except for a period of time when they gathered across the street at the Good Eats Cafe when the hotel dining room was damaged by a fire. The meetings were still being held at the Bartell in 1967 when the club marked their 50th anniversary. Soon after this the club met at the Knights of Columbus building on West 7th (then Tony's Pizza) for several years. Then they gathered at a series of motel dining rooms in JC and Grandview Plaza and  at the Junction City Country Club till it closed. The club currently meets at Washington Street Grille in, of all places, the same building where the club started- the old Bartell Hotel. 

Over the years many Rotary service projects have improved life in Junction City. These have ranged from the very practical human care projects during the Depression to such life saving endeavors as the the construction of the helipad at Geary Community Hospital in recent years. In 1951 Rotary took on the task of moving a large part of the homes located in the flood plain east of the tracks to higher locations along Eisenhower Street.

It should also be noted that the JC Rotary Club has always helped to maintain a friendly and cooperative relationship between Junction City and Fort Riley. Over the years the club's membership rolls have included such impressive military personalities as Generals Patton, Pershing, Wainwright and more recently former Army Chief of Staff Gordon Sullivan and others. Today the club continues that military tradition by inviting each Commanding General of the Fort to be a member. The club regularly ''sponsors'' a platoon of Fort Riley troops serving overseas in critical areas.

In 1998 Junction City Rotarians marked 80 years of community service with the organization of a second club- The Flint Hills Rotary Club, which meets in the early morning each Wednesday.