Cheers to a Rotary Club milestone

Members are brewing a special beer to celebrate the fact that the Port Washington organization will be one of only a handful in nation to mark its 90th anniversary
Ozaukee Press staff

Joe Dean and his brother-in-law Joe Hatchell spent Tuesday morning, May 7, engrossed in grain and water, creating the beginnings of a custom kölsch-style beer at Inventor’s Brewpub in Port Washington.

The beer, to be known as Rotary 90 Kölsch — R90K for short — will be a cross between a blonde ale and a pilsner, Brewmaster Adam Draeger said. 

“It’s a summertime favorite,” Draeger said. “It’s easy drinking.”

As its name implies, the beer is being brewed for a special reason. The Port Washington Rotary Club is celebrating its 90th anniversary on June 12 with a community picnic in where else but Rotary Park.

The beer that Dean, Hatchell and Draeger made Tuesday will make its debut that day, with half of it at the picnic and the rest being served at Inventor’s.

The Port Rotary Club, of which Draeger and Dean are members, is one of a handful of chapters in the country celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

“It’s a big deal,” President Doug McManus said. “We’re kind of excited about it. It shows the lasting impact of the club and gives us a chance to look back at the founders and history.”

If you spend any time in or around Port, Rotary’s impact on the community is obvious. 

“You can see it by going down to the lakefront,” said Don Sauer, whose 49-year membership in Rotary is exceeded only by the tenure of Ron Schowalter and Frank Metz. “There’s Rotary Park, the Rotary walkway around the harbor.

“You look at the nice signs coming into the city, ‘Welcome to Port Washington,’  that’s Rotary’s work too.

“We’re involved in so many different projects — you name it, we’ve supported it along the way.”

Rotary gives away roughly $25,000 annually to community organizations, and supports a number of scholarships awarded at Port Washington High School, McManus said.

“We’re really interested in youths, and we do a lot of work with the schools here,” he said.

This year, McManus said, Rotary donated copies of Dean’s book “My Dog Named Hope” and stuffed animals to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Next year, he said, it is looking to team up with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust on improvements to the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve in Port Washington, which the club helped fund when it was created.

Port’s Rotary Club has given away an estimated total of more than $2.5 million over its 90 years, McManus said.

“That’s probably on the low end,” he said. “We try to raise money and then we try to give it away.”

The club’s biggest fundraisers are its Fish Day stand, which typically nets around $15,000, and its Final Four party, which includes a raffle and silent auction, McManus noted.

In addition to local causes, the group also supports international initiatives led by Rotary International, such as efforts to eradicate polio throughout the world.

Rotary International was founded in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris, who got together with a group of fellow businessmen. They rotated where they met — hence the name Rotary, Sauer said.

The group started as a business networking group but grew into a service organization. 

Port Washington’s club was chartered on June 8, 1929, and its founding members included the scions of Port Washington — Clarence Hill, Walter Dunwiddie, John Gilson, who served as the first club president, William Niederkorn, Otto Moeser, Oliver Smith, Emil Biever, Harry Bolens, Roy Schuknecht, to name a few. 

“It was the movers and shakers of the community — kind of a who’s who of Port Washington,” McManus said. “It was a very august group. It became the club to be in.”

The club initially met at Roob’s Restaurant on Grand Avenue, later moving to such places as Friedens Church, Smith Bros. Restaurant, Port Hotel, Nisleit’s and, today, Twisted Willow, where members gather on Wednesdays for a business meeting, lunch and a short speaker’s program.

“What people are looking for in a service club now is not just getting together for lunch but to be relevant to the community,” McManus said.

Making that switch has been key to keeping the club vibrant, he said.

“In the last few years, we decided we had to get busy and make a push to become more relevant to younger people,” McManus said. 

The club has done more outreach and worked to become more visible to try and attract new members, and it seems to be working, he said, noting Rotary has picked up more than 10 new members in the last year.

The club numbered in the low 30s when it started the initiative, but today numbers in the mid 40s, McManus said.

That’s still down from the high of more than 80 members, Sauer said.

But in addition to the aging of members, the city’s loss of manufacturing businesses has also hurt Rotary, he said.

“Where are our businesses now?” Sauer said. “Simplicity is gone. Bolens is gone. Modern Equipment is gone. Harnishfeger is gone.

“What is really left in Port Washington are small businesses, and we’ve tried to get those people involved.”

The club has also evolved from one that included the heads of businesses to one that is more inclusive, McManus said.

“Rotary had the connotation of being the old white guys club, men sitting around smoking cigars,” he said. “Today, there are women and a more diverse group of people.”

Unlike most service clubs, potential members are invited to join Rotary, Sauer said, noting Ollie Kempf invited him.

“It’s an honor to be affiliated with a club that’s been in existence all these years,” Sauer said. 

For Dean, the best reason to join Rotary is embodied in its motto, Service Above Self.

“I love it,” he said. “That speaks to me.”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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