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Column: Scrapbook tells history of Rotary during war years
Johnny Vardeman

Garry Hutchinson was doing some work recently on Ridgewood Avenue in Gainesville when he came across a trash pile at the curb.

Atop was a scrapbook for Gainesville Rotary Club for the years 1941 through 1944.

It’s significant not only because it provides a history of the club during that time, but those were the peak years of World War II. The scrapbook reflects how the club and the community carried on during the war. Local leaders at the time were prominent Rotarians.

Whoever kept the scrapbook entered handwritten accounts of every Rotary meeting, sometimes accompanied by newspaper clippings of the club’s activities.

Prominent speakers were common for Rotary’s programs. They included movie actor Melvyn Douglas and Ruth Bryan Rohde, daughter of Williams Jennings Bryant, a candidate for president of the United States. She was a former congresswoman and envoy to Denmark. Former Georgia Gov. John M. Slaton also spoke to the club, as did John Drewry, legendary dean of the University of Georgia journalism school.

Local speakers also provided programs. Pinckney Whelchel, a U.S. Navy lieutenant from Gainesville, told about his World War II experiences. Another local military speaker was Austin Dean, also a Navy lieutenant and publisher of the Gainesville Eagle newspaper. Others included Herbert Edmondson, Jack Rogers, Clarence Allen, Major Frank DeLong Jr. and Clarence Fields.

At the time, Gainesville’s airport was used as a Naval air training facility. Rotary programs featured speakers from the base several times. One included Lt. F.C. Drury, who flew missions over Guadalcanal when about 100 Japanese airplanes and two warships were destroyed.

Eighty-two draftees from Hall County were honored at a send-off in the Gainesville High School gymnasium, later known as the Gym of ‘36. Eleven Black people were among those invited, but in that segregated era they had to make reservations in the balcony section.

“Rotaryannes,” as wives of Rotary members were called, often were engaged in the club’s activities. Those whose husbands were called into military service were honored at one meeting.

Speakers’ topics during the war years included rationing, the draft, how the military was faring and local efforts, such as volunteering with organizations like the Red Cross.

Whenever prizes were handed out, they often included war bonds, a fund-raising project to help finance the military during World War II. During a meeting, Rotarian Charles Thurmond auctioned a box of apples for $115,000 in war bonds.

Gainesville Rotary emphasized local education. It annually held a Cadet Day, during which it would honor Riverside Military Academy students and staff. RMA President Sandy Beaver was an active Rotarian at the time. Speakers from the military school and Brenau College often were guests at the club, and a special day for Brenau was also held.

Gainesville High teachers were honored during a program on Nov. 30, 1942. Longtime Hall County residents might remember some of those, including Bertha Turner, “Miss Sue” Johnson, Laura Sue Hawkins, Grace Speer, Venia Chamleee, Ruth Goudelock and Lucy Finger. Ruth Hanie was the school’s secretary. The club also had the Gainesville High football team as guests once a year.

C.J. “Jud” Cheves was Gainesville city school superintendent at the time and was a prominent member of Rotary, having been named Man of the Year for 1943. H. Earl Terrell was named 1944 Man of the Year.

Gainesville Rotary helped in soil conservation efforts and recognized 4-H Club activities and other farm-related activities. Rotary often held joint meetings with other local civic clubs, like Lions and Kiwanis, to cooperate on projects or to hear special speakers.

Prominent Rotarians at the time included Hugh Hosch, Lester Hosch, Jim Platt, Harry Purvis, Conrad Romberg, Hubert Burns, John Hosch, Clarence Nalley, Walton Jackson, Haywood Pearce, Cleve Whelchel, Bill Mealor, Sidney O. Smith Sr., George W. Moore, Ed Dunlap and Julian Bloodworth. Leslie Quinlan of Owen-Osborne hosiery mill served a term as president. Quinlan Art Center is named in his honor.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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