Circuit judges packed one of the round tables. Doctors, lawyers, government officials and business leaders mingled at the others as waiters delivered a salad, beef stroganoff and buttered carrots.
All in all, a pretty typical Wednesday noon hour at the Spartan Manor.
This, too, was typical: The director of a free health clinic gratefully accepted a $2,700 donation; a local Little League official thanked everyone for providing a new scoreboard; school officials presented information on an exciting new program designed to train teenagers for careers.
Welcome to the Rotary Club of New Port Richey.
For 50 years, this club has contributed millions of dollars to improve its community by boosting nonprofit agencies and providing education scholarships and endowments. Many of its 135 current members are well-known around Pasco County, but it is the collective power of the club that has made such a positive impact.
Walt Casson has devoted 49 years to the club, but he's not the longest serving active member. Retired lawyer Richard C. Williams Sr. has that distinction. "He recommended me for Rotary in April 1960,'' said Casson, 75, a retired engineer whose family ties with New Port Richey go back to 1917. His grandpa, Asher C. Casson, was a protege of Henry Ford in Detroit and moved here after retiring from the Ford Motor Co.
To prepare for the big 50th birthday party this weekend, Casson spent countless hours researching old Rotary bulletins. He grew emotional recalling the many good deeds, going back to that first year when wives of the members collected shoes for needy elementary children.
Casson lists several pages of milestones and accomplishments, from sponsoring foreign exchange students to providing channel markers in the Pithlachascotee River. The most recent entry proudly recounts how the club raised $25,000 for "Rotary Santa.'' They delivered Christmas gifts to 90 poor children.
So far this year, the club has disbursed $85,000 locally, said president Scott McPherson, who also happens to be New Port Richey's mayor. It also contributed several thousand dollars to Rotary International projects, including $2,500 to provide emergency malaria kits in Guyana.
The club began in 1959 under sponsorship of the Tarpon Springs Rotary. Since then, as western Pasco has grown, several other Rotary Clubs have been chartered. They all share the motto, "Service above Self.''
Rotary International has 33,000 clubs and 1.2 million members. It began in 1905 in Chicago and got its name from the practice of rotating meetings to a different member's home each week. More than 200,000 high school students practice the same selfless community service under the Rotary umbrella in Interact Clubs.
Rotary's global project is to eradicate polio. Since beginning the project in 1985, Rotarians have contributed $600 million and thousands of volunteer hours, according to its Web site.
The New Port Richey club is but a tiny peg in all this, but over 50 years, it has made a tremendous difference in its community. On this anniversary, its members — past and present — are justifiably proud.
They deserve our applause.