Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor

A Rotary Club consists of professionals, community leaders and philanthropists who come together to serve their community and our world. Members of the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor meet weekly for lunch on Mondays – both in person and virtually. In addition, Action Committees meet separately to set and accomplish goals. Rotary Membership appeals to people interested in connecting with community leaders, learning about local needs and global efforts, and collaborating on community and international service projects.


A Club History from a Historian’s Perspective

 by Dr. Stuart Boekeloo

Perhaps one of the greatest assignments one can have in a longstanding organization is that of compiling history. The Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor is unique in that its history is intertwined with a community rich in local and national events that have shaped modern daily life. Since our Rotary Club’s beginning in 1918, our membership has been representative of diverse leadership in local business, agriculture, finance, healthcare, law, marketing and medicine and the many men and women involved that have worked hard to improve quality of life in our community and in our world. South- west Michigan is unique in that it can make some very profound claims. It is home of the first powered air flight. It is home to the fabrication of America’s first automobile. Our area can also boast as being home to the world’s largest appliance manufacturer, Whirlpool Corporation.

It all began on a cold January day in 1918, with a luncheon between Rotary International Founder Paul Harris and two young men from St. Joseph – Mitchell Willis and Guy Weaver. It was World War I and in spite of everything going on, the young men were anxious to start a Rotary Club with the aspiration of improving communication and commerce among business professionals. After the meeting, Willis and Weaver gathered a group of nine men to meet for lunch at The Whitcomb Hotel, overlooking the St. Joseph River. Setting up a second meeting, the idea of forming a Rotary Club was introduced to Ralph Truax, a Principal at St. Joseph High School. By February 20, 1918, the group had grown to 16 men, who came together to charter a club. The charter application was dated March 1, 1918 and while prior to 1914, Rotary Inter- national had refused to recognize clubs in cities of less than 25,000 people, the charter was granted on June 1, 1918. The first Officers of the club were President Ray Davis, Vice President Ralph Smith, Secretary Guy Weaver and Treasurer Burton Starke. Membership fee was $10.00, annual dues were $5.20 and the cost of dinner was $0.75. Membership grew to 26 and for the first year, the average meeting attendance was twenty members.

Since that time, the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor has grown to become one of the largest and most active Rotary Clubs in the world, ranging between 130 and 215 members. Supporting southwest Michigan in service, the club provides over $50,000 in grants annually in support of area organizations in need and provides leadership and mentoring opportunities for young people. The club has sponsored two Rotarians who have traveled as far as India and Chile in Group Study Exchange and have sponsored a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar who became a Rotary Peace Scholar. Joining with the Rotary Club of Lakeshore and the Rotary Club of Benton Harbor Sunrise, we have made a big impact with international service projects around clean water and for the past five years have sent several Interact Club members to the Dominican Republic. Our club started a now global mentoring initiative, sending speakers to 3 Rotarian International Conventions and secured approval to join the greatest cities in the world, displaying an international END POLIO NOW illumination in our community.

Our Club Banner

Our Rotary Club banner was created to feature what we do, where we live and what we care most about – safe water, polio, youth and our beautiful location near one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Rotarian Charles Jespersen created a sketch and worked with JohnsonRauhoff Founder, Don Johnson, to create the final design.

View Who’s Who at SJBH Rotary

Discover the tapestry of neighbors and professionals that support and serve our local St. Joseph-Benton Harbor communities through Rotary by clicking a link below.

2023-24 SJBH Board

Past Presidents

Current Members

eWheel Newsletter

After every weekly meeting, a Rotary eWheel is created. The eWheel features the speaker, announcements, Happy Bucks and Committees. Click here to view this year’s eWheels.