‘You get to know a lot of people’: The Darlington Rotary Club marks 50 years

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Rotary International’s mission: “Provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional and community leaders.”

In March 1969, the Darlington Rotary Club was founded with 25 members. Its presidents over the years have included the late News & Press publisher Morrell Thomas, Judge Lee Chandler, Dr. Joe Matthews, Tony DiLeo and other notable Pee Dee names.

On Jan. 31, the group will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a dinner at the Darlington Country Club honoring some of the local organization’s charter members, including Dr. Hubert Baker, 76, Charles Howard, 80, Alvin DeWitt, 87, and Olin Bennett Sansbury Jr.

We sat down with past Rotary presidents Baker and Howard for a joint interview about their Rotary years. (In photo, Baker is at left, Howard at right.) We spoke by phone with past Rotary president DeWitt, who was unable to be present for the interview session.

Excerpts from the joint interview follow:

Q. How did you first decide to get involved with Rotary?

HOWARD: As far as my concern, I thought there needed to be more versatility. … Another local club (the Kiwanis Club) had a great following and a large attendance, and I felt like we should broaden the scope in Darlington and have more than one service club.

BAKER: I grew up in Timmonsville. The Rotary Club in Timmonsville sent me to Boys State, which got me interested in Rotary. And I was impressed with the number of people they had joining (the Darlington club). … We ended up having two state Supreme Court justices in the club; we had some very prominent people in this club.

HOWARD: We got some people who didn’t normally do things like this. … Good businesspeople, professionals, they didn’t (join) the clubs and we were able to persuade them. … They must have seen what I saw, that maybe there ought to be more activity (with service clubs in the area). Of course, one of the most significant people was Sen. (J.P. “Spot”) Mozingo – what a busy man he was. … (People) saw a need for it and they joined. … When we began to meet, (we met) in the back of the Darlington Restaurant.

Q. In the time that you have been in the Rotary Club, Darlington has been through a lot of changes. What stands out in your mind the most?

HOWARD: Losing the tobacco market. … It was before our Rotary started, but losing the cotton mill here (the Milliken Co. mill) was a devastating event. … Losing the tobacco market was very significant. Tobacco has gone away, basically. (The) money coming in and being spent here – it’s gone.

Q. What is your best memory of Darlington, in the time you have lived here?
BAKER: The close community. You get to know a lot of people. … It’s a quiet little community. You don’t have a lot of hustle and bustle and traffic. It’s a very pleasant place to live.

HOWARD: Basically the same thing. … I’ve just known some fine people all my life, fine families. … As a boy, I remember when Darlington was thriving, and you could come to town on Saturday and couldn’t find a parking place. … You had the tobacco market, the cotton market, the (Milliken) mill was fully employed – it was just gangbusters.

Q. (In terms of Darlington’s future), how do you feel personally about the Courthouse? There was a big debate – do we tear it down and build a new one or just leave it alone? (The November referendum on building a new county courthouse was voted down.)

HOWARD: It needs SOMETHING. We need to upgrade this one or build a new one. We just haven’t had the right person selling the idea. And it’s got to happen. It is tremendously important for Darlington. … So many people didn’t understand (the referendum question on the ballots). And consequently they weren’t dedicated to doing (a yes vote). If they make another attempt, they need to be sure people understand what they are talking about.

BAKER: We really need a rock-solid plan – this is what it’s going to do, this is how much it’s going to cost, this is what it’s going to look like.

(Following are excerpts from a phone interview with charter Darlington Rotary member Alvin DeWitt.)

Q. How did you first decide to get involved with Rotary?

DeWITT: I’m the only charter member who is still active (in the club). I guess, to give you a short answer, I was asked (to join). I had returned home from the services (after World War II), got married and had two children. … Morrell Thomas called me up and asked if I would like to join the Rotary Club.

Q. What means the most to you about your involvement with Rotary?

DeWITT: It would be the people you come into contact with. You have a cross-section – preachers, newspaper editors. … (And it was important) when we started giving scholarships to students in high school – whatever (money) we could raise. … It’s been a very good organization to belong to.

Q. In the time that you have been in the Rotary Club, Darlington has been through a lot of changes. What stands out in your mind the most?

DeWITT: Everything has changed since 1969. Everything has changed in 50 years. (But we still have) the community, the spirit and the people I’ve associated with.

Author: Rachel Howell

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