August 8, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 16

End of the line: Cheney Rotary Club comes to order for final time

After 50 years, local service club disbands

The day seemed appropriate for the final meeting in the 50-year run of Cheney’s Rotary Club last Friday, Aug. 2.

Paul Delaney
Steve Schwalbe briefed the members present at the final club meeting with a history of the club.

It was a steady downpour, as if there were tears coming from the skies, club president Steve Schwalbe said after he presided over the gathering at Gattos Pizza.

Like other service clubs in today’s busy, busy world, the Cheney Rotary club slowly saw the writing on the wall and it was just not worth it to have a small handful of people try to accomplish the big things the club had done over the years.

“I’m in a state of denial as the president,” Schwalbe said. “I would never thought of coming up with this solution on my own, never.”

However, a new member did see where things were headed. “We just looked at each other at a meeting and said, yea, yea,” Schwalbe, the president since 2008, said. “Service clubs cannot hold the middle of the middle class,” he said when asked why groups like his struggle for membership.

Membership of the club was under 10 from a high of more than 30 when the club was chartered. In Schwalbe’s reign, the high was 24 members.

Because Rotary’s fiscal years go from July to July, this was the time to pull the plug, Schwalbe admitted. “At our July meeting we just looked at each other and said we’re done.”

The Cheney club has provided almost too many gifts to count. Schwalbe rattled them off as he presided over the final meeting of the club that was technically just short of having celebrated its 50th birthday. The club was chartered Aug. 26, 1963.

Through the efforts of Rotarians the past half-century Cheney High School seniors have had help with college through scholarships.

The community has hosted Girls State through the efforts of Rotary.

Special Olympians have been fed lunch and golf balls have been hit in the name of charity.

The list is practically endless.

As the members gathered for the final time, the event attracted a slightly larger crowd, including Rotary’s Assistant Governor, Jim Schindler, who was just 18 when he first became a Rotarian. That was about the time the gavel fell on Cheney’s first meeting.

Cheney was Rotary’s 255th club. Club 21 from downtown Spokane was, as its name indicates, one of the first when chartered in 1912.

Schindler estimated that all added together, Cheney’s contribution to the community was equal to 1,000 people years. It’s a number hard to wrap one’s arms around.

Former Rotary governor, Sandy Wade, reminded the attendees that Rotary worldwide had been a huge player in the eradication of polio. When the organization first hoisted the banner to fight the crippling disease – once rampant across the world – there were 350,000 reported cases. Wade thinks Rotarians like her helped reduce that to just 225 in 2012.

The best takeaway, Wade said, is “We’ve made indelible memories and lifelong friendships.”

Schwalbe, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, joined Cheney Rotary in the summer of 2007, and for a very simple reason. “I wanted to do community service and they met at noon,” he said. “I’d love to be a Kiwanian, but they met at 7 (a.m.) and I was working at the university and that was too hard to do.”

Of the many undertakings he’s been involved in, Schwalbe said, is the car show that takes place at the Cheney Jubilee, and an event he took over.

While not a money maker for the club, the car show has helped attract a wider variety of people to Cheney during the Rodeo and Jubilee weekend.

As far as the club itself, being selected out of the dozen Rotary clubs in the Spokane area to host a delegation from Australia is a crowning achievement.

The ironic twist was that Clive Walker, the Aussie district governor, wrote Schwalbe the day of the club’s final meeting, to ask “How’s it going,” Schwalbe said. He had no idea it was the club’s final meeting.

While in Cheney, the Australian delegation assisted the local club in what may be the true lasting legacy for the Cheney Rotary club. They planted a tree at the entrance to the city, out on SR 904 near the welcome sign.

The Friendship Tree – or as Schwalbe referred to it, the Holiday Tree – is decorated after Thanksgiving each year. “It’s not strong enough to take lights yet, but someday it will,” Schwalbe said. “The Rotary sign will have to come down but the tree’s still there.”

Cheney’s club will still keep giving, for a while at least, as funds from the treasury are disbursed.

With some bills still coming in, the final distribution of club money is still undecided. There are plenty of good things on which the club will still be able to leave its mark. Cheney High School’s sign, the Cheney Museum and of course more scholarships are among the items on the list.

Joan Mamanakis of the Cheney Historical Society, and the director of the museum, received a number of items from Schwalbe, including the massively heavy bell and the club’s gavel.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

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