Giving Back

From Rudy Habesch, Sales Representative, CENTURY 21 Miller Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage

Many of us believe that it is important to give back to the community in which we live. However, it is very difficult to determine how! For me, it has always been easy. I have been a Rotarian since 1996, and have found that I have been able to give back much more to my community through the Rotary club than having to do things on my own. The Rotary Club of Oakville has been serving the community in this amazing town since 1924. Following is a brief history of how it all started:

The Rotary Club of Toronto undertook the task of establishing a Club in Oakville towards the end of 1924 and with that in mind the following Rotarians were assigned to this project: George Stronach, Sid McMichel, John Gibson and Frank Stapleford. After several preliminary discussions an organizational meeting was held on April 8, 1925 at the Murray House and the Rotary Club of Oakville was formed under the guidance of a number of local businessmen; those elected to office being Alec Chisholm, President; Arthur Forster, Vice-President; James Grout, Secretary and Tom Jarvis, Treasurer. John Byers and Charlie Heddle were added as Directors. The Charter was actually received on April 22, 1925.

Charter Night followed in the Masonic Hall, Oakville on Monday evening May 11, 1925, on which occasion Charter No. 1998 was presented by District Governor John Symes of Lockport, N.Y. Many Rotarians from various Clubs attended this function including fifty from Toronto, thirty from Hamilton and several from St. Catharines, Guelph and other centers.

There were twenty-one Charter members but only one now survives. This is J. Grant Ryrie who, now at an advanced age, still lives in the Bronte-Oakville area. Dean C. E. Riley, one of the last, died in 1972.

From the original enrollment the membership rose slowly reaching thirty in 1928. Unfortunately the Depression took its toll and ten years later the numbers were reduced to a low point of sixteen. Had the Club been dependent upon the number working in Oakville it would not likely have survived those grim years. However, under improving conditions the membership gradually increased to forty by 1944 and to seventy-three by 1949. It reached one hundred for a very short time in 1955 and then dropped again, standing at a total of 87 in September 1970. That year was marked by the introduction of the Club's new banner.

The Murray House. Courtesy of the Oakville Beaver.
The Murray House. Courtesy of the Oakville Beaver. Details

The Rotary Club of Oakville continued its meetings at the Murray House before moving on to the Gibson House, which now goes under the name of the Halton Inn. For a period it even met in the Boy Scout Hut on Randall Street and from there moved over in 1940 to Riverside Lodge where it was to remain for seven years. Then another change was made to Victoria Hall (now demolished in favour of a parking lot next to the Oakville Curling Club), which was rented from the Town for a nominal sum and in return for its maintenance and management. It was during this time that the Club inaugurated and sponsored the operation of what is now known as "Teen Town" at Victoria Hall. At the beginning of 1952 the Club was compelled to find yet another location and arrangements were made with the Oakville Club on Navy Street, where it still meets on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. That Club, of course, has been in existence since 1908 when Grangers' Warehouse was remodeled for the purpose. Originally built thirty years earlier, it had a capacity of 25,000 bushels of grain. Weigh scales once stood in the area where Rotarians now meet.

For many years now it has been the practice, during the summer months, to conduct the meetings outdoors and have a caterer provide the meal. weather permitting, in the gardens of various members. Other such evenings have been enjoyed in the grounds of Appleby College, at the Hendershot Farm, the Oakville Golf Club and the Shell Research Centre - the latter in a joint meeting with the Burlington Rotary Club.

John Black

John Black. Courtesy of June Hitchcox
John Black. Courtesy of June Hitchcox Details

The connection of the Rotary Club of Oakville with John Black dates back some twenty-five years or more to the time when Jim Black was Mayor of Oakville and also a member of the Club. John was his son and a promising student at the Oakville-Trafalgar High School at the time. The younger Black was an ardent football fan and a player himself, holding a position on the school team, when a most unfortunate accident happened in a game that changed his whole way of life, leaving him a paraplegic confined for mobility to a wheel chair and dependent upon others for his everyday requirements.

It was a shattering blow to a young fellow and many would have given up and resigned themselves to what appeared the inevitable, but not John Black, who was made of different material and determined to succeed in spite of everything. It meant an uphill struggle and many disappointments and set-backs but he overcame them and people marveled at his spirit.

Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Oakville
Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Oakville Details

As a result, perhaps everyone rallied around - the doctors placed their facilities at his disposal; he was provided with a room and service in the Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital and much was done by the community to smooth his path.

The Rotary Club of Oakville, too, did what it could in transportation and entertainment - even in later years assisting John to get to football play-offs and Grey Cup games in faraway places like Vancouver. At various times John was provided, by the Rotary Club, with his own conveyance suitably converted with a ramp to take his wheel chair and this arrangement continues in what is now termed the Rotary Crippled Handicapped Vehicle, purchased in February 1972. It was found possible also to provide John with office space on Colborne Street so that he could run his own business. That gave him another interest and a new lease on life.

John was first made an Honorary Member of the Rotary Club of Oakville and then subsequently invited to join as an Active Member with special attendance privileges as necessary. Thus he became a third generation Rotarian since his grandfather was a Charter Member of the local Club also. John is an important part of Rotary in Oakville - he is a very familiar figure and an example to all. Evidently he proves that no handicap is too great to be conquered if one is determined.

Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Oakville



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