Seneca Falls Rotary Club Historic Highlights

"The Seneca Falls Rotary Club was formed on May 1, 1922. The charter was presented on June 29 of that same year, when 300 Rotarians from various parts of the State filled the old pavilion at what is now Cayuga Lake State Park. To honor the newly formed Seneca Falls Rotary Club and its 28 Charter Members, Hart Seeley of Elmira, then District Governor, presented the Charter from Rotary International, along with our sponsor, the Auburn Rotary Club. The Auburn club sent 100 of its members, together with the Salem Town Commandry Band, to see that the local club got off to a flying start. Caleb Smith, the first president of the Seneca Falls Rotary Club, was presented with a rosewood gavel by Walter Tower of Penn Yan.

Throughout the years, Seneca Falls Rotarians learned that serving a large organization such as Rotary international has its obligations as well as its benefits. One of the most successful programs ever instituted by Rotary International was POLIO PLUS. To wipe out polio from the face of the earth, it was originally estimated would take $120 million. The Seneca Falls club's first quota was $14,000. It seemed like an impossible task, but under the leadership of John Webb, we came up with four times our goal.

The highest honor Rotary bestows is the Paul Harris Fellowship, named after the founder of Rotary. A Paul Harris Fellow is nominated when a club contributes $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation. To date, our club has named over 100 Paul Harris Fellows, who are outstanding community members as well as Rotarians. Don Merriam was our first member to be honored as a Paul Harris Fellow and is the only member of our club to serve as a Rotary 7120 District Governor. In 1990, the club had the honor, and the work of hosting over 400 Rotarians when the District Assembly was held In Seneca Falls.

Through the efforts of Don Allen and other members, young people in the area have become aware of and received Rotary Foundation Scholarships (now called Ambassadorial Scholarships) to study in foreign lands. Many club members, when traveling abroad, have enjoyed the fellowship of Rotary meetings and the hospitality of Rotarians in the areas visited. We have also enjoyed meeting and hosting fellow Rotarians from a variety of countries.

Over time, some things change and some things remain the same. The Gould Hotel was the meeting place of the Seneca Falls Rotary Club for over sixty years. In 1980, redecoration was in order for the Gould, so the meeting moved to nearby Abigail's Restaurant. In 1981, it was moved back to the Gould. In the early 1990's, when the Gould restaurant closed, the weekly meeting was moved to its present location at the Holiday Inn.

Extending an invitation to women to join the club might have seemed like a radical change to the charter members. Even so, in 1987 Eileen Piscitelli became the club's first woman member. In 1994-95, the club elected its first woman president, Pam Ruschak. Women, whether members' wives or Honorary Rotarians, have always been active in club activities, and have played an Integral role in our success.

The club has seen growth and challenges. The growth we have experienced is not only in membership, but also in the areas and concerns which Rotary serves. One challenge remains the same: raising funds for the club's projects.

A major fund-raiser was the annual Minstrel Show which began in 1933. The show was first started as entertainment for the members' wives. As the years went by, it became more difficult to produce with Rotary manpower alone. The Minstrel Show finally 'died of old age' having worn out thespian Rotarians after its 31st annual showing. Paul Harris, founder of Rotary, saw the show in 1941.

Radio Day, another fund-raiser, lasted for over 30 years. For many years, business supporters subscribed to ads that were read over WSFW by club members. Rev. Charlie Bollinger kept radio listeners in stitches with his frequent synthetic 'boo-boos' as he read the ads. Over the years, the format evolved into an on-the-air auction of goods and services, with bids called-in to the radio station by phone. The names of sponsors and donors were read in acknowledgment of their continued support.

In 2007, Rotary started the Annual Wine and Music Festival. This annual event is held on the 2nd Sunday of Sept at Goose Watch Winery, 5480 State Route 89, Romulus, NY 14541. The prime motivator behind the Seneca Falls Rotary Music Fest has always been out water projects for the Malawi Children’s Village. This project has now grown to serve 16 villages around Lake Malawi and we even have our own employee on the ground in that African country to oversee the project. Each year, Seneca Falls Rotarian David Markel travels to Malawi to support the project. David works throughout the year communicating with our employee in Malawi, supporting fund raisers within our club and raising funds from other clubs, working closely with Xylem (the maker of the pumps used in the villages) and keeps the club informed and updated on the project.

In 2013, the club started the annual Seneca Falls Rotary Chocolate Extravaganza. This event features tastings of chocolate, wine & spirits, a chocolate cuisine contest and competition for Chocolate King & Queen. This fundraising event helps support many of the clubs local projects, sponsorships and donations.

At the weekly meetings, the club president increases the club’s treasury by fining members. The activity that can be 'fined' seems to be limited only by the president's imagination; having a trip, having a birthday, having an anniversary, buying a car, wearing another member's badge, not working on a fund-raiser. In recent years, the happy/sad dollars has become another way to increase the treasury. Members donate a dollar or more for something they feel happy/sad about.

Our club newsletter has undergone many changes over the years. Our current newsletter, titled The Spokes is sent out weekly by Karen Beals. Karen takes notes at each weekly meeting, highlighting club activity and events, fines and happy dollars as well as information regarding that week’s program.

Through the years, it has not been all work and no play for members of the Seneca Falls Rotary Club. However, they did work and their list of accomplishments is long. In 1922 the club began raising funds to purchase a fire truck and pumper for the village. In the years following, the club provided Christmas baskets; aided the Fresh Air Children's project; helped in crippled children's work; aided a Japanese Hiroshima orphan; and supported the Boy Scouts. The club invested in the John Fraser Memorial Room at Mynderse Library, the Mynderse Academy Memorial flag pole, and supported the Seneca Falls Historical Museum. Numerous other youth activities included 4H Student trips to Albany, a Mynderse Academy Band trip to New York City, annual school awards, the Easter Seal drive, Seneca County Children's Committee, and Junior Football League.

Many of our projects have been supported by the club for a long time. The list includes our support of the two week summer camp for handicapped children, Camp On-Se-Ya-Wa, with its specially designed swimming pool. Not only financial resources, but time and labor go into this project. Members help set up the camp and volunteer at the camp. Other projects that have been supported yearly include Boys State, Literacy Volunteers, Pre-School Reading Program, Model UN, Project Graduation, United Way of Seneca County, Seneca County House of Concern, Seneca Falls Backpack Program, The American Red Cross in the Finger Lakes, educational achievement awards at Mynderse Academy, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and college scholarships.

Over the years, the Seneca Falls Rotary Club has led and participated in many community projects. Some of these projects continue today, some of the projects have been taken on by other groups and some of them were one time donations. Some examples of our projects over the years include The Fire-Safety Trailer which was purchased, at a cost of $20,000, to aid the Seneca Falls Fire Department in educating the youth of the area schools in fire safety. Trees along East Bayard St. and Cayuga St. were planted during the 1970's by Rotarians, with the help of a backhoe borrowed from the village (now that is a project that has shown growth). Each year we participate in the Salvation Army Kettle Drive, when a number of our hardy members brave the cold to ring a bell while standing by the red kettle. We participate in community events, such as Empire Farm Days, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Women’s Right to Run, Relay for Life and the Seneca Falls Farmer’s Market.

For many years, we have enjoyed the junior Rotarian program, where each week a number of Mynderse students attend the Rotary meeting. To expand on this idea and introduce more high school students to Rotary, we established an Interact Club at Mynderse Academy. Interact carries out activities of its own, as well as helping in the activities of the Rotary Club.

We have endeavored to recount highlights of the club's history, but neither space, time, or memory allow a full account. We are proud that members have lent their time, talents, and resources to the club's many important activities. It is a comment made years ago that best summarizes the significance of these efforts. Someone asked, 'What tracks have we left to prove that we were there?'

'Many tracks,' we can answer, from providing a small infant with life-saving, special formula to helping in the effort to wipe out polio from the face of the earth. These are great deeds - that may never have been accomplished had Seneca Falls Rotary Club members not been inspired to put “Service Above Self”.

As Rotarians, we live each day by the rules of the Four-Way Test

  • Is it the Truth?

  • Is it Fair to All Concerned?

  • Will it Build Good-Will and Better Friendships?

  • Will it Be Beneficial to All Concerned

The Seneca Falls Rotary Club meets at noon every Tuesday at the Quality Inn, 2468 Mound Rd. Waterloo NY 13165. If you would like to learn more about our club, click on the contact us link or email Jolene Steele at

2018/2019 Board Of Directors

Club Officers

  • President-David Markel
  • President-Elect-Rhonda Jasper
  • Vice President-Linda Knight
  • Secretary-Kathy Jans-Duffy
  • Club Treasurer-Rich Fredendburg
  • Foundation Treasurer-Dana Allen
  • Past President-Eric Johnson

Board Members

  • Liz Becht
  • Wendy Friedman-Kolsin
  • Dr. Timothy Ryan
  • Jolene Steele