Rotary began back in 1905 in Chicago by attorney Paul Harris as a fellowship club so professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. It then evolved into a service club. More clubs came to fruition throughout the country, and Rotary is now worldwide with more than 1.2 million members. A quote from the founder perfectly portrays the organizations’ purpose, “Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.“ Locally, The Rotary Club of Houma prides itself on “service above self” and has been making an impact in local communities for a centennial.
100 years ago, seventeen Houma local businessmen were charter members of The Rotary Club of Houma. The club was organized on October 20, 1921, and was admitted to membership in Rotary International on November 1, 1921. The original charter members included President L.H. Jastremski, Vice President Calvin Wurzlow, Secretary Tris B. Easton, Treasurer Charles A. Ledet, and Sergeant-at-Arms D. M. Kilpatrick. Other members included S. P. Achee, H. L. Bourgeois, William Cenac, J. E. Clayton, Herman A. Cook, T. Baker Smith, Hugh Paul St Martin, M.D., Xavier St. Martin, J.H. Thatcher, Wiley E. Thibodaux, Julius Dupont, and Ernest Dupont.
The Rotary Club of Houma has service milestones that have been a staple in the Houma community. In 1928, the Rotary Club had sponsored the formation and leadership for the Boy Scout program. Rotarians were active in fundraising campaigns for both Boy and Girl scouts. In that same year, Gibson Autin reorganized the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce along with Rotarians which provided leadership throughout the organization’s history.
The Rotary Club of Houma also had a hand in assisting the formation and sponsorships of other Rotary Clubs, which extended a helping hand to other communities. In 1936, the club co-sponsored with the Rotary Club of Plaquemine and helped form the Rotary Club of Thibodaux. The Rotary Club of Houma has also sponsored the chartering of the Rotary Club of Morgan City in 1936. They also sponsored the formation and chartering of the Rotary Club of Lockport in 1942.
There have been three members to represent District 6200 Governor in the Rotary Club’s history. The position represents the South Louisiana region which includes parishes: Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, Evangeline, Grand Isle in Jefferson, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston west of the Tickfaw River, Pointe Coupee, Si. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana.
During the year of the club’s 50th anniversary in 1971-1972, member George Arceneaux served as District 6200 Governor. William R. Foster served as District 6200 Governor in 1997-1998, and now during the 100th anniversary, Mark H. Lee is the District 6200 Governor for 2021-2022. Lee said, “The rotary world is a unique place. And there’s a lot of good that has occurred over the years, and we just want to continue that effort to try and help others who, for whatever reason, are less fortunate and are in some situations where they can use help. We want to continue the effort of making the world a better place because I do believe that we’re making a difference, and it starts with you.”
The Rotary Club of Houma is one of 30,000 chartered clubs in Rotary International and their impacts can be found across the community. The club sponsored the organization and chartering of the Rotary Club of Houma-Terrebonne in 1979. In that same year, a luncheon for the YMCA Organizing Committee was sponsored and the Houma-Terrebonne Family YMCA became a Houma Rotary Club project. The groundbreaking ceremony for The Houma-Terrebonne Family YMCA was in 1983. Under the leadership of Billy Foster, the club also established The Doug Stire Memorial Fund which established survival courses for resident sportsmen. The fund was established to honor the memory of Rotarian Doug Stire who died of Hypothermia. The Club also assisted The Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence to bolster education in Terrebonne Parish Public Schools by contributing funding, established Leadership-Terrebonne in 1992 under the leadership of Rotarian James J. Bouquet III, built the first Habitat House for Terrebonne under the presidency of Dale C. Thompson, and brought EarlyAct and interact programs into Terrebonne Parish public schools. In 2003 under the leadership of Rotarian L.J. Folse and Travis Lavigne, a Community College for Houma became a reality. This brought 2-year programs to Houma which combined with programs that were being offered at the, then, newly named L.E. Fletcher Technical-Community College.
Jerry Ledet has been with the club for 12 years and was the president from 2020-2021. Stephanie Corso, who has been a member since 2013, is the newly inducted president for 2021-2022 making her the 100th president. The club is celebrating 100 years of service by giving back to the community with donations and acts of service in increments of 100 all done so by the members. So far, they have created a lending library in Downtown Houma and stocked it with 100 books to provide reading opportunities for both adults and children. They also donated 100 cases of corn to the Terrebonne Churches United Food Bank, and provided The Haven with 100 bus passes to help those utilizing their shelter services. For July, they provided 100 snacks to Hope Extreme to use during their afterschool program.
In conjunction with the 100th anniversary, The Rotary Club of Houma is working with the Houma Downtown Development District and Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government to create a pedestrian plaza along Belanger Street between Church and Grinage Streets. The Rotary Centennial Plaza will be a public space where the community can enjoy the outdoors and local cuisine, attend events such as live music, festivals, and other activities, and improve the overall quality of life in our community. Once complete, the Plaza will be gifted to the citizens of the Parish to be used for generations that follow.
Ledet said, “For 100 years, the Rotary Club of Houma has been a catalyst in making our community more vibrant and stronger. Numerous nonprofit entities, educational opportunities, and economic drivers came about because of the influence of Rotary such as the creation of the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce, Bayouland YMCA, Houma Intracoastal Waterway tunnel, Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence, and many more. It is our hope that this proactive approach can continue into our second century.”