The Rotary Club is an integral part of many communities across America.  They are a weekly gathering point for business and civic leaders to come together, break bread and engage in important fellowship and networking.  Their overarching goal is to serve the community and Rotary, along with other service clubs in the U.S., do an admirable job.

But their traditions, which includes a requirement to attend meetings weekly — or make up for an absence by visiting another club — sometimes makes them a target for good natured jest.

I experienced the latter several years ago when I was invited to a meeting of the West Bank Rotary Club near Waco, Texas.  I have attended Rotary meetings for years as a frequent guest speaker.  I have always enjoyed their fellowship, and hopefully I left behind some ideas or wisdom that benefited a community or its members.  So, when I was asked to attend this “club” I had no reasons to suspect anything out of the ordinary — until I started asking some basic questions: like the address of the meeting location and driving directions.  This was, after all, Central Texas, an area I have visited frequently, but I had never heard the name of the town before.

That is when things got interesting.  It seems as though this club was a little — no, a lot — different from any “real” Rotary Club I had ever attended.  There were time-honored rules that had to be followed.

1. The meeting location for non-members (and the wives of members) was secret.  I would be driven.  A blindfold was not necessary but I had to agree not to attend a lunch meeting uninvited.

2. I could not divulge the name of the establishment or that there was even such a group as the West Bank Rotary Club.

3. Members could only attend three meetings per month.  This limitation was based on a desire to not cause the members problems with local employers since meetings, from time to time, could be lengthy.  After attending three meetings in a row, members had to sit out three meetings unless they were self-employed and their wife was not threatening divorce.

4. The group only met at lunch, and only on Fridays; the day before a national holiday, excluding Christmas and Good Friday; or the day of a funeral of a current member.

5. Barbecue and assorted customary side dishes were the only things ever served at club meetings, except ice-cold beer.  The temperature of the beer was more important than the quality of the barbecue, which suited the proprietor of the meeting hall — a small country store located at a wide spot on an obscure Farm Road — just fine.

6. The club prohibited educational programs of any kind. 

7. Anyone who suggested that the club have a program was banned for life.

8.  Each week, a member who would be attending was required to bring at least one guest — with plenty of cash, the more the better.

9. Members paid for their lunches.  Guests were required to pay the beer tab. 

My tab was almost $200, plus tip.  I am glad bad weather and several telephone calls from anxious wives forced adjournment.  We were getting close to the point where recapitalization would have been required to keep the meeting in session.

When I asked the wife of one of the founding members what she thought of her husband’s disappearance on Friday afternoons for long meetings at an undisclosed place in the country, she replied,

“I do not say a word.  I go to a local garden club meeting once a week and we haven’t discussed gardening in 20 years.  It is just booze and news.”

There is fairness in life and love after all.

© 2012 John Gregory Self

To invite John Self to be a speaker at your meeting or function, contact Kathleen Sullivan of The Sullivan Group in Houston. John is an entertaining and informative speaker who talks about life’s ironies, humor and the challenges we face. He consistently receives high ratings for his presentations.