TAMPA — When the Rotary Club of Tampa celebrates its 100th birthday next month, it's a good bet that Jean Yadley will be on hand for the observance.
He hasn't missed a weekly meeting in 56 years.
"After a while, it becomes a religion,'' said Yadley, 93, who served as club president in 1976-77. "You become superstitious: I'm afraid to miss one.''
Actually, achieving perfect attendance for more than half the club's life is not as daunting a feat as you might imagine. As long as Yadley attends a Rotary meeting somewhere within 13 days before or after his regularly scheduled meeting, it counts. So he's attended the meetings in a number of states and in such foreign posts as Tokyo, Sydney and Athens. He has more than 33,000 clubs to choose from around the world.
"I enjoy it very much. We always had excellent speakers, which I think is the keynote of meetings of any service club.''
The Tampa club was the 117th Rotary club in the world, founded on April 7, 1914 by John A. Turner and 17 other Tampa leaders. Chicago businessman Paul P. Harris founded the first club in 1905.
With the motto "service above self,'' Rotary takes on charitable projects on the local and international level. One of the early projects in Tampa was to plant trees the length of Memorial Highway to honor World War I veterans. The Tampa Rotary also started the Tampa Boys Club, now the Boys & Girls Club.
Among its beneficiaries are Rotary Camp Florida, for special-needs kids; programs for low-income children at Glazer Children's Museum; Reading Is Fundamental; and the Child Abuse Council. Internationally, Rotary is likely best known for its help in the efforts to eradicate polio.
As with the nation's service clubs in general, Tampa Rotary saw its ranks thin over the last few decades. Yadley's tenure as president oversaw an organization of about 300 members. Now, membership hovers around 160, but the venerable club seems to be getting younger legs.
A recruitment campaign aimed at younger people has paid off in the last five years, said current president Wayne Critcher. The club threw more socials and new-member mixers to boost interest. It will celebrate its 100th birthday at the University Club April 12 with a banquet, cake and dancing.
"Now we are transitioning to a much younger, diverse club, which is a great thing for us,'' Critcher said. He noted that the next two members in line to be president are in their early 30s, and a man in his 20s joined within the last three weeks.
Adding women has helped boost the ranks over the years. But it took a U.S. Supreme Court decision to make that happen. The court ruled in 1987 that Rotary could no longer exclude women from membership.
When Winnie Magnon Marvel was growing up, she didn't realize that women were not allowed. Since her late father and grandfather — Alvin Lee Magnon and Alvin Magnon — both served as president, she practically grew up in Rotary.
"I guess I always was interested in it," she said. "I thought that was what you were supposed to do — if you went into business, you went into Rotary.''
By the time she was ready to join, the doors had been opened for her. Carrying on a tradition for a third generation, she is the immediate past president of the Rotary Club, which now has 17 women.
Though one of the fringe benefits of the club is to be able to network with other business people, Marvel said it is foremost a service club.
"If you think of it as a service club, if that's the way you look at it, you'll get the most out of it,'' she said. "If you get into it for the wrong reasons, you won't enjoy it.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.