When the Greeneville Noon Rotary Club came into being in 1920, Rotary clubs in Tennessee had existed only briefly, beginning in 1913 with the charter of Tennessee’s first Rotary group, the Rotary Club of Nashville.
Rotary Clubs in Memphis and Chattanooga came along in 1914 and the Knoxville Rotary Club was chartered in 1915. A Rotary Club in Roane County’s Harriman, chartered in 1919, was the fifth Rotary Club chartered in the state and the first outside Tennessee’s major cities.
The late Ken Hood, an active Rotarian and long-time editorial and administrative leader at The Greeneville Sun, wrote a sketch of Greeneville’s Rotary history in connection with the club’s 75th anniversary. Hood wrote that the local club was organized on Oct. 12, 1920.
Along with the famous “Service Above Self” motto cited above, the sentence “He profits most who serves best” also has been associated with Greeneville Rotary since the organization’s inception here. Hood stated in his historical sketch: “The work Rotarians have done to improve the community is evidence that the motto has been observed throughout the 75 years (now 100 years) of the club’s history.”
It all started off locally in the basement of Asbury Methodist Church, now Asbury United Methodist Church.
Later, the club begin holding its lunchtime meetings at various places around the community, including Greeneville High School in its location at that time, as well as in First Presbyterian Church, and a tea room that existed downtown, the Butterfly Tea Room.
Hood wrote, “As membership grew, the meeting place was changed to the much more spacious General Morgan Room of the Hotel Brumley,” now the General Morgan Inn and Conference Center.
Hood noted, “Rotary in Greeneville has been headed by individuals interested not only in Rotary but also in the community.”
That fact about Rotary has not changed in the 25 years since Hood wrote those words. Further, Greeneville Rotarians have joined in the work of Rotarians everywhere in doing good works all around the globe, with strong focus on such important goals with international benefit, such as bringing polio to an end.
George W. Doughty was the first Rotary president in Greeneville, serving in 1920 and 1922. Another early president, serving in 1925 and 1926, was charter member Ralph McCullough Phinney, whose long life allowed him to still be on hand to help Greeneville Rotary celebrate its 75th anniversary.
During his presidency of the early club, Phinney and other Rotarians sponsored a musical program that raised $700 (at that time a sizable sum) to help back a regional effort to employ a Boy Scouts of America district executive.
Phinney also led a Rotary project presenting a “Rotary ’Round the World’ exhibition of cultural items from 44 nations, showcasing the growth of Rotary in other lands.
Later Rotarians showed their esteem for Phinney by giving him an honorary Rotary membership he held until the end of his life. He was honored by Greeneville Rotarians with a birthday cake two days before his 100th birthday in 1995. Phinney lived until 1998, dying at age 103.