The first Rotary Club was formed by attorney Paul P. Harris when he called together a meeting of three business acquaintances in downtown Chicago, at Harris’ friend Gustave E. Loehr’s office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street on Feb. 23, 1905. In addition to Harris and Loehr (a mining engineer and freemason, Silvester Schiele (a coal merchant), and Hiram E. Shorey (a tailor) were the other two who attended this first meeting. The members chose the name Rotary because initially they rotated subsequent weekly club meetings to each other’s offices, although within a year, the Chicago club became so large it became necessary to adopt the now-common practice of a regular meeting place.
The Rotary Club of East Peoria was chartered as club #3460 (3218) on Feb. 2, 1937, with the Pekin Rotary Club as a sponsor. The club consisted of 19 charter members with Nobel Dowell as president. The last charter member, Joe Rafool, died July 25, 1996. Joe’s induction to the club was unique to say the least. Rotary members have always been inducted according to their professions and Rotary at that time was very particular about what professions were eligible. Joe owning the Pair-a-Dice Club and being involved in gambling did not qualify. While sitting in Joe’s establishment one of the prospective members noted that Joe had a number of bottles behind his bar with contents produced from grapes, apricots, pears, and peaches and several others flavored with limes and lemons coupled with brews made from corn, wheat, and potatoes. Joe was inducted into the club as a charter member; his profession — “Fruit and Vegetable Peddler”.
It was originally a noon club and met in the Oddfellows Hall on East Washington Street, later moving across the street and meeting at the old Methodist Church where it changed to an evening meeting time. Following the church elders banning smoking, the club met at Brownfield’s Restaurant. Finding Brownfield’s too small, the club met in the basement of the library with the members bringing a covered dish and dining potluck. In 1946 to 1948 the club met in Roosevelt school with meals provided by the mothers club. They met next at the newly constructed St. Peter’s Church followed by the Beacon Buffet. Meetings moved to the Holiday Inn in the late 1950s and remained there until the Holiday closed except for one year during remodeling when they met at Quail Meadows. While at the Holiday Inn the club moved to breakfast meetings. Following Holiday Inn, the club met at Rosie Newell’s until Embassy Suites opened.
The club at its origin was restricted to men, and in December of 1987 Phyllis Montis, manager of the Holiday Inn became its first female member. It seems strange today, but several members resigned when women were accepted into the club. Later, in 1995, Stephanie Neiukirk Deiters served as the first woman president of the local club and is believed to be the first Rotarian club president, worldwide, to give birth during her presidency.
East Peoria Rotary has been involved in many projects over the years but the single most noteworthy has been its involvement with the Salvation Army. Under the tutelage of Carl “Bud” Schmitt they collected over a quarter of a million dollars through bell ringing, counter kettles and personal donations. Following Bud’s death on Nov. 27, 2015, the club still continues collections to honor his memory.
Compiled February 2017 by Frank Borror
The East Peoria Historical Society is located at 324-326 Pekin Avenue. It is dedicated to the collection and preservation of local history. If anyone has information or pictures regarding East Peoria they would share please contact Frank Borror at 696-9227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.