History of the Rotary Club of Freeport

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(Updated August, 2012)

The Rotary Club of Freeport was chartered on December 21, 1983, and its parent Club is the Portland Rotary.  Freeport is a member of District 7780, a geographical area that in the past encompassed a huge area of the coast from Quebec to Massachusetts but which now covers only Southern New Hampshire and Maine.  Freeport Rotary is in Division C which includes clubs in Cumberland, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.  The year 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of this relatively small but dynamic club which serves the towns of Freeport and Pownal. 

The founding of the club was spearheaded by Russ Cox of the Brunswick Rotary Club.  Mr. Cox, a Flying Point resident and by all accounts a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, started the Freeport Club in an effort, at least in part, to become District Governor, a position he unfortunately never held.  To this day there has never been a District Governor from Freeport, although there have been two from Brunswick and one from Yarmouth.  The first meetings of Freeport Rotary, from the end of 1983 through 1988 took place at the Jameson Tavern at noontime, and for two years after that at Ocean Farms Restaurant (now the location of the China Rose restaurant).  The first President of the Club was Greg McCauley, then the manager of a local bank (see attached a list of the past Presidents of Freeport Rotary). 

Interestingly, the first four Freeport Rotary Presidents left the club soon after their term was over and never rejoined the club.  Rumor has it there may be a “Freeport Curse” at work, although the effect, like the Red Sox curse, seems to have lost its grip. 

The only charter member still active in the Freeport Rotary Club is the esteemed Edgar Leighton.  Other early members who were all former Club Presidents as well, and are still active today, are Thornton Ring, MacGregor Pierce, Ellie Carolan, and Henry and Bobbi Bird (formerly Freeport Rotarians, who are Rotarians elsewhere and visit often).  Other noteworthy members who are no longer active include Jean Chamberlain, the Bennett family of Bennett Engineering (Bill and his son Will), and Paul Bennett of the Bennett Gun Shop (now closed), and Dale Olmstead the former Town Manager. On average through these years the Club consisted of about 22 members.  In these early days, some of the Club’s projects included; scholarships for college, Christmas tree sales, a fried clam booth at the Cumberland Fair, an annual auction, and a hot dog stand, among others.  

Notable speakers in these early years included the then soon to be Maine Governor Angus King (now former), and Joe Richey of Scarborough Downs fame.  Mr. King apparently gave a well received talk, while Mr. Richey’s story is a bit different.  Allegedly, Mr. Richey came to speak to the Club when he was making a run for Maine Governor himself.  Someone happened to notify the press, who showed up at the meeting, which then, inexplicably sent Mr. Richey into a rage and he stomped out never to return!

Surprisingly, by today’s standards, it took a Supreme Court decision in May of 1987 to officially allow women into Rotary.  Early women members in Freeport Rotary included the aforementioned Ellie Carolan, Peg Bonnarigo, Jean Chamberlain, Bobbi Bird, Sue Ormsby, Sandy North, Anna Johnson and Nancy Gray.  Ellie became President of the Club in 1991 and was largely responsible for moving the meeting to the Haraseeket Inn and changing it to a breakfast meeting.   Although a few members were lost when the meeting time changed, this move, according to many members, has contributed greatly to the continued success of the club.  The first meeting in 1991 at the Haraseeket Inn was attended by Robert Patten, the District Governor at the time, who was supposed to address the group, but due to the overwhelming enthusiasm during the “happy dollars” phase of the meeting, never got to speak, an occurrence which he took in good humor. 

Other humorous Club stories include the time that Nancy Gray sold ice cream at the Cumberland Fair from the wrong booth using the wrong till, and the time that Thornton drove all the way to Nova Scotia in the famous ice storm of January, 1998, leaving his wife and daughter and a “bored” exchange student (Mia from Denmark) home for a week without electricity.  Thornton wondered why no one else was on the road!

Key moments in Club history include Rotary joining with the Freeport Fire Department in 2000 to sell Christmas trees at the location of the Fire and Rescue Museum, greatly increasing the sales and thus the revenue for both organizations.  Credit by all accounts goes to Chief Daryl Fournier and Edgar Leighton for organizing and running this effort for many years.  In October of 2005, the Freeport Town Council officially adopted the town of Santa Barbara, Honduras as a sister city, in support of the Clean Water Project run by the Portland and Freeport Rotary Clubs (among other clubs).  Credit for the success of this project rests largely with our members Bob Hanson, Gordon Glover, and Curt Combar.  In addition, a local entrepreneur, Jay Yilmaz, has been collecting an extra twenty-five cents per bottle of water at his food stands in Freeport for a number of years, generously donating the extra funds to Freeport Rotary for the Water Project.

Recent history includes a re-invigoration of the Interact Club (Rotary for high school age kids).  The new interact club started in the 2010-2011 school year with Barbara Soley and Colleen Williams as the officers of the group.  Justin Mendillo took over as President in 2011.  Interact Club selects two members of the club each week to eat breakfast with Rotarians at the Harraseeket Inn.  Interact also raises money for service trips such as the Dominican Republic and for organizations like Barbara Bush Foundation.  Everyone who is a member of the Interact club tries to get in at least 1-2 community service activities and there are some people that will do community service 3-4 times a week throughout the duration of the school year.  (Submitted by secretary of Interact for the 2011-2012 school year, Kayla Thurlow.)

The Freeport Rotary has grown steadily in membership over the years.  Today’s Club boasts around 40 members, and the Club has taken on many new projects. 

Projects that the Club has supported has supported over the years include: Sustainable Harvest International, Safe Passage in Guatemala, the Lakeville Academy in Kenya, Hurricane Katrina relief projects, Asian Tsunami house rebuilding in India, Friends of Kakamega Aids Orphanage in Kenya, Friends Forever, the Irish Student Exchange, the International Student Exchange, and the PolioPlus Worldwide Polio Eradication Campaign.

Present day projects that the Club has done most or all of the work on and groups that the Club actively supports on a continuing basis include: Freeport Community Services programs (Annual Appeal, Summer Camp Scholarships, Adults in Need, Holiday Help Line, Food Pantry), the students of Freeport High School (College Scholarships, Vocational Choices Day, Job Shadowing Day, Rotary Youth Leadership Training (RYLA), a new and very active Rotary Interact Club (see above), the Dictionary Project that supplies dictionaries to third graders' in Freeport, Pownal and Durham (September 2012 marks 5 years for this project), the Freeport Children's Library, the Freeport Historical Society, the Freeport Elders, the Tri-Town Little League Baseball Team, Habitat for Humanity builds, a large Literacy Grant Project (jointly with Freeport Community Services), our newest international project in LaRomana, Dominican Republic, and ongoing local projects to help our neighbors in need with small construction needs. 

Current club fundraisers include 17 years and counting of the Close to the Coast 5K and 10K Run (thanks largely to the efforts of our member and past President, Jimmy Hendricks), Christmas Tree sales in conjunction with Freeport Fire and Rescue, the Annual Spring Gala fundraiser at FCS, and the Rotary hot dog cart at the L.L.Bean flagship store.


In addition to these many projects and fundraisers, the club also enjoys fellowship events throughout the year, mainly at the homes of the members, with family and friends.  These include a club president changeover dinner at the end of June, a lobster bake in the fall, and a holiday gathering in December.


In 2012, the club took part in a visioning exercise to lay out a plan for club priorities over the next three years.  This club has a rich history and a tradition of service that we can all be proud of; we can only hope to do as well over the next 30 years!