History of the Ballston Spa Rotary Club


The First Quarter Century 1922-1947

John (Jack) Knickerbacker, a member of the Troy Rotary Club, was married to Kathleen Hayes of Ballston Spa. Jack ran Eddy Valve in Troy, but lived in his wife’ hometown at 30 Pleasant Street.

It was natural that he should become the apostle of Rotary in Ballston Spa. In early April of 1922, he called a gathering of village leaders and proposed that they form a Rotary Club.

Two events made the meeting memorable. First, a consensus was formed to organize the Rotary Club of Ballston Spa. The second was a mishap caused when one of the more portly gentlemen leaned back in the Empire Galusha saber-legged side chair on which he was sitting and crashed to the floor.

The news item that appeared in the Ballston Spa Daily Journal on Wednesday, April 26, 1922, reported on the formation and election of officers of the new club was written by a young reporter who attended the meeting; that reporter Charles (Charlie) H. Grose, Jr. joined Rotary in 1923, and was District Governor in 1967-68.

The club received its charter, May 1, 1922.

In turn, Ballston Spa Rotarians sponsored the creation of the Rotary Club of Saratoga Springs in 1923.

With the energy and enthusiasm of recent converts, they looked around for “big” projects to tackle in order to demonstrate their commitment to the ideals of Rotary. The upcoming 150th. Anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga, scheduled to take place in 1927, appealed to the   “live wires’ of the new club who quickly became a part of a movement which included citizens of Vermont and New England, whose ancestors fought at the Battle of Bennington and Saratoga…Two members of the club, William Andrews and Thomas Kerley, were members of the Battlefield Celebration Commission, while many other club members participated as reenactors in the pageant.

Most of the clubs’ resources in those early years went into youth projects, many of which are still carried on. Awards were given at high school graduation. Financial assistance were provided to boys and girls attending college. Students were sent to American Legion’s Boy State. Boy Scout and 4-H programs and projects were supported. The club also began sponsoring the New York Tribune’s fresh Air Fund in the Ballston Spa area.

The club prided itself in assisting families of four village children with crippling deformities. Through member efforts, these children were provided treatment and cured. The project was part of a Rotary District cause which culminated in state legislation providing money to the care and treatment of crippled children.

For the first twelve year, the club met at the Knickerbocker residence. In 1934 meetings were moved up and across the street to the former Beach mansion which was then the Knights of Columbus Hall.

The club engaged a pianist for its meetings. Mrs. William H. “Ma” Mann, first took the job in 1922 and lead the Rotarians in song for over 25 years. A lady was also hired to cook the noon luncheon. The most noted of the cooks was Margaret Wiswall, who developed an enviable reputation for preparing delicious meals and baking mouth-watering pies. She reigned over the kitchen from 1933 to the late 1950’s.

The 25th anniversary of the Club was celebrated on May 12, 1947 at Newman’s Lake House.

The Second Quarter Century 1947-1972

During this period, Ballston Spa Rotary carried on many of the projects of past years. Annually, 4-H boys were given a bushel of seed potatoes, and at the end of the growing season they attended a meal, at which they watched a bushel of potatoes they grew auctioned off among the members.

Senior boys from the high school were invited to meetings and asked to write short essays on their impressions of Rotary. The best efforts were read by the students.

The availability of inexpensive air travel made rotary international’s message of “Peace through Understanding” a meaningful motto for Ballston Spa. Rotary was a community force which achieved a liaison between American Field Service and the high school in 1957. Rotarian Carl King’s son, Jim, was the first local student to go overseas.

When District Governor Gus Hampeter (1965-66) sough members for a committee to develop an exchange program for District 719, he taped Charlie Gross, whose club had eight years experience in student exchange.

Through Charlie’s leadership, Ballston Spa became one of the first clubs in the district to participate in the year long exchange of high school students. Ballston Spa Rotary is one of the few clubs to have had a continuous involvement in that program since its inception.

Charlie’s involvement in District affairs culminated in his election as the club’s first District Governor. He served during the 1967-68 year.

In the mid 1960’s, George Osterwise, Superintend of Schools and Lou Gagne, a professional musician, came up with the idea that the club needed a signature song. Borrowing the tune from “76 Trombones”, Lou put together the words of the club’s welcome song. Ever since, this little ditty has been song to bemused guests. Few leave our club meetings believing that Ballston Spa Rotarians take themselves too seriously.

In the early 60’s, Ballston Rotarians started doing some serious fund raising. For about 15 years, the club’s major money maker was an annual Rotary Ball, which became the village’s social event of the season. With the extra money, the club made greater contributions to the community groups. In 1972, Rotarians could boast that they had given, during the last ten years, $22,000 to scouting.

One of the Club’s few hands-on projects was accomplished in 1971. Under the direction of Bob Zullo, the club purchased a 16 foot trailer and converted it into a refreshment stand. It was then given to the High School Student Council so student groups could use it to sell food during sporting events.

After Margaret Wiswall retired as cook and it became apparent the K of C would no longer be available, the club moved its meeting to the Masonic Lodge in 1959. It stayed there for three years, after which the meetings were held at the Tam-O-Shanter (Ecobelli’s). In 1970, the club moved to the Hayner House. At that time, members engaged in a brief trail of holding evening meetings.

The Third Quarter Century 1972-1997

The year 1972-73 year witnessed two important events. The first was the installation of George Reynolds as the club’s second Governor of District 719. The second was a sale of a few Christmas trees on the lot of the former Methodist manse, north of the library. The fund raising effort was the brain child of Carl King. Trees sold for $3 to $6. Wreaths and artwork of Olivia Grose were also sold. Being a smashing success, the sale was held again the next year. It soon supplanted the Rotary Ball and provided the club with a comfortable source of income. Rotary Christmas trees have become a local tradition and have been sold throughout this quarter century under the tutelage of Carl. By 1985, chairmanship of the sale became the responsibility of the President elect, as sort of a baptism by fire.

The selection of Rodger Reese as District Governor-elect in 1988 led to two major achievements. The first was inspired by Vicky Cromie’s observation that Eleanor Reese should be more than the District governor’s “Lovely Wife”, she should be his fellow Rotarian.  By the end of summer 1988, Ballston Spa Rotary had three women Rotarians: Eleanor (El) Reese, Patricia (Patty) Rutland and Nancy Sausville. El became the club’s first woman president in 1994 Patty also served as Club President and then as the Club Secretary for many years.

The club fell into line to support Rodger during his term as District Governor. Knowing that the easiest way of boosting membership is to form a new club, Rodger led Ballston Spa in sponsoring the creation of the Malta Sunrise Club. The connection between the two clubs remains close.

In April, 1990, Ballston Spa Rotary, because of its reputation of working with the student exchange program, was approached by a teacher from Lille, France who wanted to establish an exchange for the 13-14 year old students of College Carnot (a junior high school). The result has been a collective effort among the Ballston Spa and Saratoga School Districts, College Carnot and the Rotary Clubs of Lille-Sud, Saratoga and Ballston Spa. To date, 165 American student have gone to France, and 252 French students have come here. As part of the program, numerous Rotarians and spouses have traveled with the students and have been guests of the hosting Rotary Club. This program has had a tremendously positive affect on the education of our children.

As President-elect in 1996, Mike Palma, High School Principal, conceived of forming an Interact Club. A group of students had formed a year earlier and engaged in community and school service projects. By the end of 1996, this group became the District’s second Interact Club and the Ballston Rotary Club and the Interact held their first joint meeting and plans were underway for the two clubs to cooperate on common projects.

1996 also saw a series changes in meeting place for the club. The Hayner House was sold, so we returned to Ecobelli’s. However, a fire forced us to move to the White House Restaurant and then on to the Elk’s Lodge.

The Fourth Quarter Century 1997-2022

Rotary Christmas trees have continued to be a local institution since 1972 with families returning year after year. When the Grand Union closed their store, we were welcomed by the Curtis family at their site on Rt. 67 where the ownership and staff continue to extend us support and cooperation. Each year we sell over 800 trees and raise over $10,000 to support local charities, civic groups and International Rotary causes. We have been able to support the Bottle Museum, Brookside Museum, the Guardian House for Homeless Veterans, senior citizens causes, Ballston Spa Area Community Center, Junior Baseball, Maplewood Manor, and many other local efforts. The Club has also continued the tradition, started back in 1922, of giving awards at the high school graduation, supporting the 4-H program and sending young people to Boys and Girls State. Clean water projects, tsunami relief efforts, literacy development in Third World countries have received our strong support through the work of the Rotary Foundation.

Throughout its history, the Ballston Spa Rotary Club has strongly supported the work of the Rotary Foundation, particularly in the effort to eradicate polio. For the past 25 years PolioPlus has made tremendous progress so that currently this tenacious disease is limited to only three countries and we will not rest until that number is zero. To date 31 Club members have attained the status of Paul Harris Fellows by contributing $1,000 to the Foundation with total Club donation of over $59,000 to the Foundation.

The Club has long supported International Student Exchange. Since 1966, students from the Ballston Spa School District have spent a year in such countries as Germany, England, Spain and Brazil while young people from Brazil. Sweden, England, Argentina, Spain, Japan, Bolivia, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Thailand and Venezuela have been welcomed into homes in our community. During the 2006-2007 Rotary Year, Natalie Melo from Brazil followed in her father’s footsteps to Ballston Spa. Her father, Marci, had spent the 1971-72 year in our community. From 1990 until 2001, the Club under John Cromie’s leadership coordinated an exchange that sent Ballston Spa middle school students to Lille, France while their peers from Lille spent two week in our community. Unfortunately, the international situation has made this no longer possible. However, the Club has hosted groups off students from France and Spain who were visiting the high school. We also continue to support and cooperate with the high school Interact Club.

In March, 2011, the Ballston Spa Club became one of only 123 throughout the world accepted into a pilot program allowing us to operate both a morning and a mid-day meeting. Members may either attend the noon meeting on Tuesday at the Factory or the Wednesday morning gathering at 7:15 a.m. at the D-Line. The convenience has already attracted five new members.

In recent years we have lost two pioneers who were an inspiration to our Club. Ellie Reese and Patty Rutland were invited to join our Club in 1988 just as the bylaws of Rotary were changing to reflect the role that woman were playing in society. Reluctant members of the “old boys club” were soon won over by their talents, personality and commitment to “Service Above Self”. In 1994, Ellie was elected Club President and Patty was selected as Secretary in 1998, a position she held until her death in 2011. She was also elected Club President in 2005. Both ladies are dearly missed.

In the last ten years our Club has made a major commitment to feeding the hungry in our area. Monthly, we pick up food from the Regional Food Bank and deliver it to the Christ church food pantry. Since 2013, we have conducted an annual community food drive each February which has allowed us to share thousands of items among the four church associated food banks. We have supported the summer lunch program at the Baptists Church, both in person and financially.  We supported a “backpack” program at the Gordon Creek School that provided week end meals for needy students. This program has since become district wide and still enjoys our enthusiastic support.

In addition to providing annual graduation awards, we support the local school district by awarding mini grants to individual teachers and donate books to the Ballston Spa Public Library in the name of our invited speakers.

In 2018, Louise Rourke, a retired social worker with the Ballston Spa School District who has lived with polio since her infancy, approached District 7190 with the offer of raising money for Polio Plus by swimming the length of Lake George. Our Club jumped at the opportunity to support this dynamic women and on July 30, 2018 her successful effort raised over $120,000 with a matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The selection of Jason Armer as president in 2016, continued a family tradition, as his father Harry was president in 1989 and his grandfather, Robert in 1981.

The last two years have been difficult for the Ballston Spa Rotary Club. COVID -19 has limited our ability to gather together, a problem with our major fund raiser may limit our ability to support the community and most importantly, our Club President’s health crises have caused great disruption. However, those Rotarians who came before us fought in two world wars, survived the Depression and the Cold War and helped to build a great community and a great Club.

Paul Perreault

Member of the Ballston Spa Rotary Club