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About Our Club

The Rotary Club of Peekskill — 97 Years of Service to the Community

World War I had been over less than a year.  Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.  Bill MacKellar, who spearheaded the formation of the local club, was making charcoal on Central Ave.  Everett T. Young was producing fire brick on Water St.  The Union Stove Works and Southard Robertson Company were exporting their stoves around the world.  The Peekskill Hat Factory was booming.  Standard Oil Cloth was busy, and Fleischmann’s main product was yeast.  Two daily newspapers and a weekly were recording the events of an industrial village.  Veterans of the First World War had just returned to civilian life and memories of the big Welcome Home Parade on July 4th were beginning to fade.

Rotary International, then 14 years old, was a growing organization.  Only one club, Mount Vernon, was organized in Westchester County before the end of 1918.  White Plains, New Rochelle and Peekskill began in 1919, with Peekskill being the 547th club charged by Rotary International.  The Hudson Valley seemed fertile ground for Rotary growth and it attracted the missionary zeal of nine members of the New York Club who traveled to Peekskill on Thursday, Aug. 14, 1919, and met that evening “in rooms of the Board of Commerce” with 11 prominent members of the Peekskill community.

The first meeting was held Aug. 21, 1919 and the new club’s charter was issued by Rotary International on Oct. 1 that year.  There were 22 charter members with William H.H. MacKellar becoming the first club president.  Ambitious plans were made for the future of the club, which was to become highly respected and influential in the life of our community.  Since that first meeting, the Peekskill Rotary Club has met without interruption for 97 years.

The 22 charter members of the club included William H.H. MacKellar, charcoal manufacturer; Dr. Robert H. McIntyre, dentist; J.F. Hogan, manager of Woolworth’s; Arthur G. Lord, undertaker; Harry W. Cortiss, New York Telephone Company; J.A. LeFevre, advertising; Robert S. Doubleday, newspaper publisher; Eben A. Wood, attorney; Edward J. Wilson, lawyer; Reverend R.H. Tobin, Church of the Assumption; Lyman A. Manser, manager of Armstrong Coal Company; S. Allen Mead, public office; Harry A. Smith, floor covering; Dr. M. Scuccimarra, physician; Alexander Woodell, retail store; William D. Moore, Jr., real estate and insurance; Charles E. Tweedy, groceries retailing; H. Field Horne, automobile retailing; J.W. Gotwalls, oil cloth manufacturing; Winfrield B. Pugsley, storage and transfer; and Everett T. Young, fire brick manufacturer.

Much has happened since Bill MacKellar took over the gavel as the first Rotary Club president.  Peekskill was a village within the Town of Cortlandt until 1940 when it seceded to become a city.  Peekskill’s two school districts, consolidated before the Civil War, separated.  The “face” of the city changed with the advent of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, and is changing again with restoration of many of the city’s Victorian-era homes in its older neighborhoods, revitalization of the Hudson waterfront and continuing construction of new homes in outlying areas.  However, the club in 2005 continues to attract members and serve organizations throughout the Peekskill and Cortlandt communities.

From the days of its infancy, Peekskill Rotary made itself known throughout the Rotary district.  The Peekskill Club was barely a year old when it was invited to attend an inter-city meet in Poughkeepsie.  The club decided to attend, in force and with gusto, with all members sporting “Peekskill” shirts inscribed with blue letters.  A flowing yellow tie added to the ensemble, which included black or blue pants with white coats.  All cars were decorated with a large sign bearing the words, “Peekskill Rotary Club”.

Garbed in flowing red caps, this same group of Rotarians definitely placed Peekskill on the Rotary map when it attended a Rotary conference in the Bronx a few years later.  After the meeting, every club in the district knew that Peekskill had a spirited club.  This reputation has been maintained through the years, as has its fine record of attendance.

Throughout its years of service to the community, the club has maintained a commitment to literacy.  Decades ago, it backed the purchase of a former church on South Street as the location for the Field Library, permitting its enlargement and better library services for both young and old.  In 1978, club members assumed the task of moving of thousands of books and of equipment to the present “new” library building at Main St. and Nelson Ave.  Recently, the club pledged to help the library in its expansion of the children’s section.   The club also brought the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) program to Peekskill in 1971, not only by being the major source of funds, but by supplying a bus and converting it to a miniature library to distribute books, with two Rotarians driving the bus.  Now, 34 years later, Peekskill Rotary still supports the RIF program, giving the gift of literacy to the children of our community.

Involvement with young people locally has included donations to the Salvation Army, Little League Baseball, 4-H horse projects, Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, and the Keon Center.  Lapolla athletic awards have been given to students of Peekskill, Hendrick Hudson and Walter Panas High Schools.  Scholastic awards are also given to two students at each of these three high schools.  The Fontana Memorial Scholarship is given to one student, chosen from the three schools, planning to major in music.

Peekskill Rotary ranks high among the district’s clubs in contributions to the Rotary Foundation, which provides funds for overseas study (Group Study Exchange teams) and for youth exchange programs.  Among the important events in the life of the club was the organization of new clubs in Croton in 1929, Mahopac-Carmel in 1932, Yorktown in 1950 and Putnam Valley in 1970. 

The Peekskill Club’s weekly publication, “The Peeps” made its first appearance on Jan. 2, 1930.  Today at its helm is Roger Prahl, who uses his talent weekly to keep Rotarians informed of all information that transpires at each meeting, as well as of upcoming events.

In keeping with the times, the club introduced its new website in January, 2005.  The site – www.peekskillrotary.com – offers a comprehensive view of club membership, activities, contributions and news.  It is considered the most attractive and informative Rotary website in the metropolitan area.

Our local members, as always, are in the forefront of community activities, giving of their time and talents to make Peekskill a better place in which to live.  We find them giving valuable service on boards directing the local hospital, the Field Library, the Peekskill Museum, the Paramount Center for the Arts, the Lincoln Society, churches, fire companies, ambulance corps, Chamber of Commerce, Salvation Army and other organizations.

Rotary Knoll, a picnic area in Depew Park, became a major project for the club in 1941.  Now, more than 50 years later, it is still in use by the public, a tribute to Rotary and its members.  Rotary Knoll was refurbished and rededicated in September 2002.

Since the club’s founding at the end of World War I, many servicemen and women from the Peekskill area have served in wars and conflicts around the globe.  These include World War II (1941-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam conflict (1961-1974), the Gulf Conflict, and currently in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Communism is defunct throughout most of the world and new nations have emerged in its demise.  New Rotary Clubs have been established in these new nations, and Rotary continues to be relevant internationally as well as locally.

The Rotary Club, as part of an international organization, is accustomed to responding to disasters around the globe.  When disaster hit home in perhaps the most horrific act of terrorism ever -- the destruction of the World Trade Center in our own Rotary district -- the Rotary Club of Peekskill responded in several ways.  Immediately, members of our club assisted the Salvation Army in coordinating the delivery of supplies to workers at Ground Zero.  In following months, the club donated funds to the families of the four people from our communities who died in the WTC disaster.  On July 4, 2002, the club dedicated a memorial monument and tree to these four individuals in a poignant ceremony at Riverfront Green Park.

Until 1987, all Rotary Clubs in the United States were fraternal organizations, but in 1986 the United States Supreme Court ruled that women must be admitted to membership.  Reverend Betty Beach, became the first female member of the Peekskill Rotary Club, which now boasts 18 female members.  In June 1999, the first female president, Deborah Lee Milone, took the gavel to lead us into the new millennium and in 2001, our second female president, Nancy Bocassi, took leadership of the club.

One of the greatest challenges to an organization such as Rotary is to raise money with which to fund various projects.  In the early days of the Peekskill Club, money was raised by having minstrel shows, boy bands and card parties.  As the community grew, the need to help more grew, so the club sought new ways to raise more money.  On Oct. 9 and 10, 1971, the club hosted its first Horse Show on Torpy Field, formerly the grounds of the Peekskill Military Academy and now part of Peekskill High School.  The club described the event thus: “This first inner-city Horse Show…a wholesome competitive activity for the area’s youth…and a means for Rotary to raise funds for student scholarships and for many volunteer community services the club supports.”

Attendance at the event now exceeds 12,000 people annually.  Peekskill Rotarians turn a beautiful Westchester County park, Blue Mountain Reservation, into a country fair featuring both Western and English riding competitions, pony and hay rides for the children, home-cooked foods, a “Kountry Kitchen” featuring baked goods donated by Rotary families and many other activities.  This continues to be a wonderful event for the community to attend and enjoy, as well as the main fundraiser of the club.

 

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