Our 1.2 million-member organization started with the vision of one man—Paul P. Harris. The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organizations, the Rotary Club of Chicago, on 23 February 1905 as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member.


Rotarians have not only been present for major events in history—we’ve been a part of them. From the beginning, three key traits have remained strong throughout Rotary:
We’re truly international. Only 16 years after being founded, Rotary had clubs on six continents. Today we’re working together from around the globe both digitally and in-person to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems.
We persevere in tough times. During WWII, Rotary clubs in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Japan were forced to disband. Despite the risks, many continued to meet informally, and following the war’s end, Rotary members joined together to rebuild their clubs and their countries.
Our commitment to service is ongoing. We began our fight against polio in 1979 with a project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. By 2012, only three countries remain polio-endemic—down from 125 in 1988.

Rotary Club of Dubuque

In November of 1915, Dubuque was a booming Midwestern city boasting a population of 38,000. At noon Tuesday, Nov. 23, a group of 23 local businessmen gathered for lunch at the Hotel Julien to establish a Rotary Club. Rotary was the vision of attorney, Paul Harris, who assembled the first club in 1905 in Chicago as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. The group’s motto — “Service above Self” — eventually caught on throughout the country.
Dubuque’s club was the newest addition to almost 200 new clubs nationwide.  That first meeting included familiar names from Dubuque’s history: Eugene Adams, John Chalmers, Andy Loetscher, E.B Lyons, Thomas Mulgrew, J.J.Roshek, Titus Schmid, and Fred Woodward – all well-known business leaders of our community. They chose as their first president, James McFadden, the owner of McFadden Coffee & Spice – a wholesale distributor.
Dubuque Rotary received its charter on February 1, 1916, as the 198th Rotary Club and the tenth in the state of Iowa. Within a year, the group grew to 83 members. They met every two weeks, and soon the enthusiasm bore abundant fruit in fellowship and achievement. In April 1921, Dubuque Rotary hosted the organization’s 16th District Convention, attended by 1,200 Rotarians from 56 clubs throughout the Midwest. The Dubuque Times-Journal reported, “the city has become a veritable Rotary camp” and “the entire city seems to be anxious to take a hand in welcoming the visitors with a feeling of civic pride.”
Dubuque would go on to host several other District conventions and grow to become the largest and most active service club in the city. Rotary is a grass-roots organization consisting of business professionals and community leaders who volunteer time, talent, and resources to support vital needs in our community and around the world. What each Rotarian gets out of belonging depends mainly on what they put into it. For more than 100 years, Dubuque Rotarians’ contributions have been significant.
We identify needs locally, nationally, and internationally and then leverage our resources to enable solutions. That’s why Rotary relies heavily on its members and the community to achieve our goals. New members bring new energy and resources.
Here are just a few of our projects within the past 20 years.
  • Dubuque Rotary funded and constructed the Fire Safety House used to instruct youngsters on fire safety.
  • Dubuque Rotary made one of the first significant contributions to America’s River Project — $50,000 to fund the popular “Swingfest” event held annually from 1999 to 2004. Our “Rock n Soul Reunion on the River” took over from there with another $50,000 going to the museum and other Dubuque non-profits.
  • The Rotary Gateway project raised funds to construct a Welcome to Dubuque “Home of America’s River Project” structure on Highway 61/151 at Technology Park. Since then, the City of Dubuque has used that original design to build two more such structures — on Highway 20 and at the busy Locust Street interchange.
  • Rotary provided more than $22,000 for a Dental Suite at the Crescent Community Health Center
  • Dubuque Rotary’s Santa Cash lottery has funded a wide variety of groups. This year's proceeds from Santa Cash, in conjunction with a Global Grant, will provide over $31,000 in needed equipment at Dubuque’s Crescent Community Health Center. 
  • Dubuque Rotary Scholarships have helped dozens of area high school graduates pay their college expenses, and also provided funding for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), which have impacted many young lives.
  • Dubuque Rotary beverage sales at The Grand Opera House and Area Residential Care (ARC) Games have made possible significant humanitarian grants for many Dubuque organizations.
  • Dubuque Rotary Roadside Cleanup works a section of Highway 52 several times each year, and we’ve participated in Salvation Army Bell Ringing on Christmas Eve for decades.