The Story of a Boy, a Vermont Community and Rotary


Paul Harris at Vermont Military Academy 1887

By Paul Harris – The Story of a Boy, a Vermont Community and Rotary
 
Two things seem to me important in my more than three score and ten years of life—my New England valley and the Rotary Club movement. Frequently have the words been heard: “You little thought that Rotary would become the world-wide power for good that it is today. You builded better than you knew.” Very true, my friend, and yet while in the very beginning the road was not all clear all the way ahead there was an objective which led me on. The genealogy of my contributions to the movement goes back to my Valley, the friendliness of its folks, their religious and political tolerance. In a way, the movement came out of the valley. So I propose to tell you something about my boyhood in my Valley in Vermont.

Nearly all that I know of New England folks and New England mountains and valleys is the result of observations made through the eyes of a boy. The boy, of course, is myself but so many years have passed since the period of the young boy that the old boy can think of him as a personality apart from himself. Naturally I know the little fellow very well. Yes, I well know of the dreams, mysticisms, impetuosities and rascalities of which he was made. They were peppered with impudence and sweetened with love of the beautiful world in which he found himself and with love for his aged grandparents who made for him a home.

Some folks go to the mountains for inspiration; some for rest. Learned men write of the mountains, poets sing of them and artists paint them. The boy takes them all in his stride. Why should he not? Were mountains made for his restless feet to climb? High though they may be, his spirit is still higher. They are his to triumph over. He is exuberant; he is exultant and his heart over flows with the ecstatic joy of living. The boy is king of all creation, but, however pitiable it may be, boys must grow to be men. It is sometimes said that the boy is father to the man; he leads the man along pathways which his feet have trod. The man can never get far away from the boy . What the boy loved, the man loves. Gleanings of the boy shape the course of the man. The writer of this book has a special reason to be grateful for what the boy taught him. Love of life in the country; the blessings of a well regulated New England home; the importance of education and devotion to high ideals.

The boy taught the man the necessity of being tolerant of all forms of religious and political faiths. He taught him not to be too critical of the views of others, whatever those views might be. The boy taught the man of the joys of neighborliness and friendliness and good will toward all. It took considerable time for these lessons to sink in—the grown-up boy was too busy having a good time—but I am glad to be able to say that eventually the man took the teachings of the boy seriously and tried to extend them to all men.

What is Rotary? Thousands have made answer each in his own way. It is easier to note what Rotary does than what it is. One recently has said, “If Rotary has encouraged us to take a more kindly outlook on life and men; if Rotary has taught us greater tolerance and the desire to see the best in others; if Rotary has brought us pleasant and helpful contacts with others who also are trying to capture and radiate the joy and beauty of life, then Rotary has brought us all that we can expect.”


More on the Early Life of Paul Harris – From the Rotary Global History Fellowship

Born in Racine, WI, USA 1868. At age 3, Paul Harris along with his 5 year old brother, were sent to Wallingford, VT to live with Grandma and Grandpa Harris, in 1871.
 
He was expelled from the Black River Academy (which was attended by Calvin Coolidge)
 
Expelled from the U of Vermont for forming an "Underground Society!"

1888 enters Princeton with help from a tutor. Grandpa Harris dies, Paul goes to work for a Vermont marble company.

1891 Paul earns his Law Degree! On to Chicago…………………….

But First, a five-year detour -- He was a newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, 1891; Then a manual laborer on a fruit ranch, then a raisin packing plant, 

A teacher at the L.A.Business College in 1892.

Denver, Colorado, 1892: Actor in a stock company,

Then, still in1892, A reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, a cowboy, then a reporter for The Republican.
 
Next in Jacksonville, Florida: Night Clerk at St. James Hotel, then a traveling granite/marble salesman 1892/93, next reporter on the Washington Star, and then a cattleman on a ship in 1893,
 
Then also in 1893, he was sub-foreman of a gang of cattlemen, an orange picker in Florida then, still in 1893, back to Jacksonville selling marble granite. His territory included the southern states, Cuba, the Bahamas and Europe.
 
When he announced that he was going to Chicago to practice law his employer said, "Whatever the advantages of settling in Chicago may be, I am satisfied you will make more money if you remain with me." To which, Paul replied: "I am sure you are
right but I am not going to Chicago for the purpose of making money; I am going to the purpose of living a life."
 
So it was on February 27, 1896, almost exactly nine years before the birth of Rotary, that Paul Percy Harris stepped from a train to the station platform in Chicago.

This was it. His five-year recess was at an end. He was now 28 and ready to go to work as an attorney-at-law.

In the early 1900's he took a walk with a friend, Bob Franks, also an attorney. Everyone in the neighborhood waved to Bob. In his recollection of the occasion Paul Harris tell us:

"I couldn't help but feel it would be pleasant if men of this caliber could get together often. Say one man from each business or profession, meeting socially."

"Paul and good friend Silvester Schiele would discuss this concept over dinner for the next five years. Often at Madame Galli's Restaurant. Then, one night after dinner, Silvester and Paul walked over to Gus Loehr's 7th Floor office in the Unity
Building. When they arrived at Room 711, Hiram Shorey was visiting with Gus. ... It was after dark, 23 February 1905. Paul Harris' life and the world would change forever, and his attention would never waiver from this passion for the next 42 years,
the remainder of his life.
 
He would see Rotarians literally form the United Nations. Could he have dreamed up wiping out a world-wide childhood disease. He did say,
 
"This is a changing world; we must be prepared to change with it. The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again!"