The Rotary Club of Lynchburg was organized on February 3, 1917 sponsored by the Roanoke Club. Lynchburg Rotary Club was the 280th club to be organized and was created by the following chain of events: Paul Harris’ Chicago Club sponsored the Minneapolis Club, which sponsored Washington DC Club, which sponsored Richmond. Richmond Club gave birth to Roanoke, which sponsored Lynchburg, the great, great, great grandson of the Chicago Club. The Lynchburg Club affiliated with the International Association of Rotary Clubs on March 3, 1917.

It was an unforgettable event on that March day as the 63 members of the sponsoring Roanoke Club arrived at the downtown train station. They were escorted to Oakwood Country Club for an evening of celebration, cheering, singing, and joking.

It was an auspicious beginning. An era and an age were ending with the United States entry into World War I coming less than two months after the Club's founding.

The Club's initial projects included victory gardens, War Bonds drives and other events to support the war effort. With peace in November 1918 and the increased use of the automobile, the growing need for an adequate highway construction program occupied the club's attention throughout the '20s and '30s.

One pioneer civic project occurred in December 1919, when the Club advanced $750 to underwrite a campaign to bring the Boy Scouts of America to the area. More that $18,000 was raised in a week and enabled the Boy Scouts to open a local office with a Scout Executive. The same Rotary spirit has continued in the Club's allocating funds through out the years for construction projects at Scouting and “Y” camps to make it possible for underprivileged boys and girls to attend.

Our Rotarians raised money to fund the Salvation Army in 1921 in Lynchburg. We have continued our support.

The programs, speakers and projects mirror the Rotary decades. The first years were flamboyant, the humor was slapstick, and at times boisterous.

The Depression Years, 1929-1939, stunned the Club's growth; even dues were cut 50% and still the membership dropped to less than 100. The nation's problems affecting domestic recovery and international problems brought forth an outstanding array of speakers and lectures from faculties of Randolph-Macon, Sweet Briar, Lynchburg Colleges as well as experts from other cities. In 1935, the German Ambassador, Dr. Hans Luther, addressed the Club and spoke eloquently of Hitler's peaceful intentions.

Twenty-one members of the Club served in World War II.

“Service Above Self,” the Rotary motto, did indeed exemplify the Club's first fifty years. An unheard $50,000 was spent for a Bedford County family of seven orphans, legally adopted by the Club and personally administrated by Rotarian John Bell Winfree. The Club's members ministered the children, saw them all graduate from high school and college, and unofficially supported them as they found professional careers.

A Student Loan Fund aided more than 100 young men and women students, including a few from foreign countries. Additional efforts included: financial assistance in organizing and maintaining the Babe Ruth League, Little League, and pre-high school football. The club from the beginning acknowledged superior scholarship achievements in their annual dinners for the National Honor Society of E C Glass High School. Furnishing shoes for indigent children has captured the hearts of many Rotarians and providing funds for exceptional college graduates has captured the imagination of others.

In 1949 a joint picnic with Kiwanians was begun, and continues today in a much-modified form.

Growth and expansion of Rotary ideas is revealed in Lynchburg Rotary’s sponsorship of six other clubs: Danville, Lexington, Bedford, Altavista, Fort Hill (now disbanded), and Lynchburg Morning Club during the first 75 years. Forest was our seventh sponsored club in 2002. The Lynchburg Rotary closed out the first half century with a membership approaching 170 and with a keen awareness that: “he profits most, who serves best.”

The next twenty-five years finds Rotary Club members involved in many different projects. They collaborated with the Lynchburg Junior League in founding the speech and hearing clinic. The Club continued to work at the Central Virginia Training Center carnival, began to assist 8th grade disadvantaged students in getting college educations as well as working with Keep Lynchburg Beautiful Committee.

Seventy-one years after the founding of the Club, the president of Randolph-Macon College, Linda Lorimer, became the first woman member in 1988. Eight years later Belle Wheelan, PhD, President of Central Virginia Community College became the first woman president. In early 2017, the Club's membership is 28% female. Marie Waller is now our tenth female president out of 100 presidents.

All during the Club's history the members have supported the Rotary International projects via Paul Harris memberships and donations to the Polio Plus campaign. Since 1917 the Club has donated $294,209 to Rotary International projects.

During the past twenty-five years the members of the Club have been more direct in having fundraisers for substantial community projects. In 2003 the challenge was made to the Club members to join with the Rotary Morning Club to raise $100,000 for a skateboard park to be owned by the Amazement Square Children's Museum, Lynchburg. After many brainstorming sessions, the Living Large with Leprechauns Saint Patrick's Day Event was born. In three years the Club's three-quarters' portion, $75,000, of the project cost, was completed. This was an amazing benchmark for an organization that for the past 86 years had few fund raising events.

For the next eleven years the members hosted the St Pat's fundraiser. With the addition of Rotary International and District grants, local grants, plus donations we contributed to the broader community a total of $324,698 and members’ labor. These funds supported: the Skate Park at Amazement Square, which is no longer open, the Academy Center of the Arts (known then as the Academy of Fine Arts), Lynchburg Rotary Club All Inclusive Playground at Riverside Park, the Lynchburg Dog Park, restoration of a certain portion of the Daily Bread Center, the Habitat for Humanity Anniversary House, and the Mercy Care Project in Africa.

In 2003 the Club developed a project between the Lynchburg Rotary Club and the Mzuzu Malawi (of Central Africa) Rotary Club. To assist with costs the Club employed its first Rotary International Matching Grant Project. The members of the work team designed, purchased, and installed an Electric Motor Driven Maize Grinding Mill in a newly constructed brick building on the edge of the Mzuzu, at the Malawi Children's Orphanage complex. The Maize Mill is self-sustaining. The on-going operational expenses are underwritten by providing milling services to near-by residents, for a competitive fee, in addition to milling grain for the Orphanage. At the formal Maize Mill Dedication Ceremony, Dr. Harold Riley, Robert Roberts, Biff Bowen, Dr. Joe Clark and Bill Perkins represented the Lynchburg Rotary Club.

Our world health projects have included the following: partnering with the Smith Mountain Lake Rotary to supply medical equipment for youth and elderly care facilities in Africa; partnering with our French sister city to provide clean safe water to a depressed area in Latin America; and contributing funds for a project which provided deep tube wells for 47 communities in Bangladesh.

In the past quarter century our Club has made additional, significant, contributions to our locality. For example:

  • Building the Rotary Championship Disc Golf Course at Peaksview Park;
  • Organizing downtown and city clean-up projects;
  • Training members to install smoke detectors;
  • Working on the Friday Cheers downtown, summer events;
  • Hanging Christmas lights downtown;
  • Making “Christmas in April”, now known as “Rebuilding Together” a major force to restore homes for 13 years;
  • Landscaping and building work on the Gateway; and
  • A Bone Marrow Donor project for six years.

Another long-standing project of the Club has been Café Bon Ami at the Lynchburg Art Festival. The profits from Café Bon Ami help support the Sister City of Lynchburg-Plus's programs and citizen exchanges. A number of our Rotarians have been hosted, as we have hosted, delegates from France and Germany. The first Sister City match was with RueilMalmaison, France, the second was with Glauchau, Germany.

For 12 years the Club hosted a Russian Educators Cultural Exchange that was sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center of the U.S. Library of Congress. Our Club members had an opportunity to host five to six educators from all over Russia. The purpose of the program was to increase understanding among the educational communities of the United States and Russia. The exchange was a great program. However, Mr. Putin terminated the program after 2013.

Since 1992 we have sent citizens on five Group Study Exchanges and have hosted four Group Study Exchange tours. We were delighted to sponsor high school students for a year’s study in Brazil and Italy, and to host students from Belgium and Germany.

For these past 25 years the Club has continued to recognize our youth. Each spring we enjoy meeting two Ethics Awards' seniors from each of the local public and private high schools. We have awarded to the honorees $50 savings bonds, or one $500 college books scholarship, or, most recently, Rotary Medallions. Each January we meet the two or three enthusiastic students whom we co-sponsored, with the Morning Club, to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards seminar.

For several years Club members hosted Randolph Macon Woman's College International students and arranged Job Shadowing for middle school students.

During these past 25 years Neville Rowland, Bill Goodman, Jim Martin and most recently, Shannon Watts have served as District 7570, Area 5 Assistant Governors.

District 7570 Meetings have always been a time of meeting and greeting, receiving awards, being recognized for a variety of Rotary accomplishments. We have been awarded six Governor's Gold Awards since 2012.

As a follow-up to our members' work in 2003 in Malawi, now in 2017, several of our members are initiating a project to supply solar powered lights in Mzuzu, Malawi. With light students can study at night, work and home can be a much safer place to be. Our members are working with a Rotary group in Colorado to make this next project happen.

All of the accomplishments that we have spoken of tonight happened because of the respect and honor the members of this Club had for each other and for those they served. The very special commitment that exists among people of dedication to a higher purpose, Service Above Self, will always promote individuals to the top of their leadership abilities.

In January 2015 the Club returned to the Oakwood Country Club for its meeting site. Oakwood was the first place the Rotary Club of Lynchburg met in 1917.