Research Triangle Park Rotary

CONTRIBUTED BY BILL DURHAM AND GEORGE PAULY (2005)

The Research Triangle Park (RTP) Rotary Club was chartered in 1967, sponsored by the Downtown Chapel Hill Club. Vic Huggins, a well-known member of the Chapel Hill/UNC community and member of the Downtown Chapel Hill Club, spearheaded the planning efforts that successfully launched the RTP Rotary Club, including contacting prospective members. Former North Carolina Governor, former Secretary of the Interior, and former Rotary International (1967-1968) President Luther Hodges took a keen interest in the club and was instrumental in its formation. An interesting Rotary fact is that the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club was chartered at the same time and at the same event as was the RTP Rotary Club.

The charter membership included about a dozen representatives from RTP busi­nesses and organizations. For example:

  • Art Becker, head of IBM activities in the RTP
  • Jay Fogelman, pastor of Lowes Grove Baptist Church
  • Ned Huffman, administrative head of the Research Triangle Foundation Tom Reiner, director of the Hercules facility in RTP
  • Herman Womeldorf, pastor of the Triangle Presbyterian Church
  • Dr. Joe Gainer, National Center for Environmental Health Sciences
  • J. Reid Auman, principal of Lowes Grove Elementary School and the club’s first Paul Harris Fellow (bestowed by the club)
  • Bill Perkins, retired treasurer of Research Triangle Institute and the club’s last active charter member

Over the years, the club’s meeting locations have changed. During the first few years, club meetings were held at the Lowes Grove Baptist Church. The ladies at the church catered our lunch until Goodwin’s Grill assumed that role. Some years later, the meetings were moved to the Radisson Governor’s Inn at the Research Triangle Park. This location has continued as our meeting place, except for a brief period at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel. We have been fortunate to have had past and present man­agers of the Governor’s Inn as club members, and they have been very considerate of our interests.

Notable first: An early non-member attendee at our meetings was local news­paperwoman Margaret Knox, who included news items about each club meeting in her paper, The Leader. Although in those years women were not invited to join Rotary, just as soon as Rotary International opened membership to women, we invited Margaret Knox to join our club. As a result, she was the first woman inducted into Rotary membership in the State of North Carolina.

The club has initiated and executed a number of significant community service projects over the years. Many of these projects capitalized on our members’ affilia­tions with renowned academic, business, and research organizations in and around the RTP area.

Early Projects: In 1971-1972, our club gave financial support for a breakfast fund for first and second graders at the Lowes Grove Elementary School. The fund provid­ed breakfast for needy kids at the school. Also, during the 1972-1973 year, the RTP Rotary Club successfully sponsored an Interact Club at Jordan High School, which was spearheaded by our member Berry Credle.

Intern Program: The Rotary Summer Intern Program was initiated by our club in the summer of 1974 and was launched by Bob Cullen. The project’s aim was to intro­duce high school youth, particularly those from rural areas, to the types of research that RTP companies conceptualized and accomplished. Each summer, the club brought six to eight selected rising high school seniors into the Park and into jobs that we arranged for them at RTP research facilities. In the first years, the students stayed at the homes of Rotarians. Later, housing was arranged at Granville Towers on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, which the students preferred. Rotarians furnished transportation for the stu­dents to and from the job site. This program was very successful and continued for sev­eral years. We often hear from former students who attested to the positive influence the experience had on their maturity and vocational choice. After several years, Frank Ayer marshaled support for the Intern Program as a District 7710-wide project that was led by the RTP Club.

Run in the Park: This project was one of our most successful and popular annual fund raising events. The course began at the Governor’s Inn, wound its way through the Park, and ended at the Governor’s Inn. Contestants could choose between 1-mile and 10-k courses. Sponsors contributing toward expenses and prizes were the Capital Broadcasting Company and The Leader. Each year, large numbers of runners turned out for the race.

Environmental Demonstration Project: The Research Triangle Foundation gener­ously allowed us to use a section of forested land with a beautiful, small stream run­ning through it. Our late and esteemed member Dr. David Coffin planned and direct­ed this project. Dr. Coffin was very knowledgeable about environmental matters in general and native North Carolina wildflowers in particular. His passion for wildflow­ers and all things environmental led him to bring together other RTP Club members and students from Lowes Grove Middle School to construct a nature trail that show­cased wildflowers. This nature trail, tucked away in the midst of an urban area, still gives everyone who visits it the opportunity to take time out to meditate, relax, reflect, and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Over the years, we have consistently provided financial support to the Apex Church of God and its pastor, Rev. James Scott. He and his wife are good friends of our club and are frequent honored guests at our annual Christmas party.

The club has participated very actively in a number of other Rotary projects, including PolioPlus and the Lake Waccamaw Boys and Girls Home. Current fund rais­ing projects include the collection of used inkjet and laser printer cartridges and cell phones for recycling.

Our late member Frank Ayer had a great love for Rotary and was always a ready source of Rotary facts and information. Frank was known within the club as “Mr. Rotary.” He served as District Governor. The club planted a memorial tree and placed a marker on the RTI grounds in special remembrance of Frank. Another former mem­ber of our club, Berry Credle, who transferred to the Downtown Chapel Hill Club, also served as District Governor.

Membership in the club increased over the years, reaching its highest level in the late 1980s and early 1990s at 50-plus members. Since that time membership has decreased, but our present members are a dedicated group committed to the future of the club. The club ranks near the top in the District each year in per capita giving to The Rotary Foundation. Annually, we award a Paul Harris Fellowship to a member of the local community who is selected because of his or her service to the community.

The Research Triangle area with its academic, governmental, and technical resources affords us a rich and diverse content for our programs. In the governmental and political area, we have had former governor Jim Hunt, Congressman David Price, and former U.S. senatorial and gubernatorial candidate Erskine Bowles. Also, former Durham Mayor Nick Tennyson spoke at our meetings a couple of times during his tenure as mayor. He was a member of our club for a number of years and served as club president. One of our most notable speakers was Nobel Prize Winner Dr. George Hitchings, who talked about his experiences at the Nobel presentation festivities in Stockholm.

The RTP Club Salutes Rotary International and District 7710 on a century of “Service above Self” to our communities, to our clubs, to our vocations, and to the international arena. We see even more new vistas of service opening up in the future, and we look forward to greater accomplishments.