In the fall of 1900, Paul P. Harris met fellow attorney Bob Frank for dinner on the north side of Chicago. They walked around the area, stopping at shops along the way. Harris was impressed that Frank was friendly with many of the shopkeepers.
Harris had not seen this kind of camaraderie among businessmen since moving to Chicago in 1896. He wondered if there was a way to channel it because it reminded him of growing up in Wallingford, Vermont. Harris eventually persuaded local businessmen to join him in a club for community and fellowship. His vision laid the foundation for Rotary.
“The thought persisted that I was experiencing only what had happened to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others in the great city … I was sure that there must be many other young men who had come from farms and small villages to establish themselves in Chicago ... Why not bring them together? If others were longing for fellowship as I was, something would come of it.”
After setting up his law practice in Chicago, Harris gathered several business associates to discuss the idea of forming an organization for local professionals. On 23 February 1905 Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey gathered at Loehr’s office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago. This was the first Rotary club meeting.
In February 1907, Harris was elected the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, a position he held until the fall of 1908. During his presidency, he formed the Executive Committee, later called the Ways and Means Committee, which met during lunch and was open to any member. The noon meeting was the foundation for Rotary's tradition of club luncheon meetings.
Toward the end of his club presidency, Harris worked to expand Rotary beyond Chicago and, by 1910, Rotary had expanded to several other major U.S. cities. Harris then recognized the need to form an executive board of directors and a national association. In August, 1910, Rotarians held their first national convention in Chicago, where the 16 existing clubs unified as the National Association of Rotary Clubs. The new association unanimously elected Harris as its president.
At the end of his second term, Harris resigned, citing ill health and the demands of his professional practice and personal life. He was elected president emeritus by convention action, a title he held until his death.
What is a Paul Harris Fellow?
The Paul Harris Fellow recognition acknowledges individuals who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, of $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.
It was established in 1957 to show appreciation for and encourage substantial contributions to what was then the Foundation’s only program, Rotary Foundation Fellowships for Advanced Study, the precursor to Ambassadorial Scholarships.
The first Paul Harris Fellows include 1937-38 RI Director Allison G. Brush and longtime RI Treasurer Rufus F. Chapin, both for donations made in 1946. Mrs. Adan Vargas was the first woman to receive the recognition, for a gift made in 1953. Mrs. Harry L. Jones was the second, and one of only five people recognized for contributions made in 1957.
Early Paul Harris Fellows received a certificate of recognition. In 1969, the Foundation unveiled the first Paul Harris Fellow medallion at the RI Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Japanese metal artist Fiju Tsuda created the piece under the direction of then-past Foundation Trustee Kyozo Yuasa. Today, Paul Harris Fellows receive a certificate and pin. They are also eligible to purchase a Paul Harris Fellow medallion.
Rotarians have a tradition of supporting the Foundation by honoring others. Ida LeTulle Taylor became a Paul Harris Fellow in 1978 when her husband, then-District Governor Vann Taylor, made a donation in her name in honor of their 34th wedding anniversary. The gift also made her the 25,000th Paul Harris Fellow.
At the International Assembly in 1979, then-RI President-elect James Bomar challenged each Rotary club to make one non-Rotarian a Paul Harris Fellow. The Rotary Club of Pikesville, Maryland, USA, responded by making a donation in the name of Mother Teresa in 1980. The entertainer Pearl Bailey also became a Paul Harris Fellow through a joint effort of the Rotary clubs in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Many other notable figures have been named as Paul Harris Fellows, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, U.S. astronaut James Lovell, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and Jonas Salk.
The number of Paul Harris Fellows reached the one million mark in 2006.
How to Name a Paul Harris Fellow
Rotarians who contribute to the Rotary Foundation earn credits that can be used to name someone a Paul Harris Fellow. Once you have accumulated 1000 credits (your donations total at least $1,000), you can submit the Paul Harris Fellow Recognition Transfer form to the Foundation and receive the PHF.
The Paul Harris Fellow recognition was originally developed as a way to reward Rotarians for their contributions to the Rotary Fouandatiion. As time went on, situations arose where multiple club members contributed to the same donation, and decisions were required as to who would receive the recognition. Clubs then began using the opportunity to present a deserving member with the PHF.
You can designate anyone you choose to be named the Paul Harris Fellow. Many clubs and districts use the PHF to honor a member for significant service contribtutions to Rotary. Individuals often name a family member as the recipient.
No matter who is named, the designation of a person as a Paul Harris Fellow is an honor that should be bestowed thoughtfully and with appropriate ceremony. Sample ceremonies are included in this Paul Harris Fellow presentation document, courtesy of PDG Kevin Hilgers of District 5370 in western Canada.
If you would like to learn more about donating to the Rotary Foundation, visit the Annual Giving page.