The Bennington Rotary Club was established in 1951. The founding dinner was held at the Knights of Columbus building on Main Street. We were sponsored by the Manchester Club. In those days Rotarians were attorneys, downtown store owners and other businessmen. My, how times have changed. The first project was the Deer Park. The wire enclosure holding in the deer used to come all the way up to the driveway from Route 7. Rotary pushed it back to where it presently is and built picnic tables, outdoor grills and a bridge over the creek that comes down through the middle of the park. A few years ago our own Chuck Putney wrote a nice article in the Banner about the Rotary Deer Park project.
Also in the beginning was the project whereby we brought in foreign students who were going to study in America for a two week orientation course at Bennington College. There were about 100 students from all over the world. This project was spearheaded by Rotarians Bradford Smith and J. Duncan Campbell. It was the custom that the foreign students had to go to different peoples homes (often Rotarians) for meals in the community to learn American social customs. This project was so successful that it finally outgrew Bennington College and had to move to a larger facility down in New York's Westchester County.
Another project was the building of about 15 school bus shelters for the children to wait for the bus during inclement weather. They were put throughout the rural area at established school bus stops. They were built of wood siding and shingle roofs and were about 10 feet wide by six feet deep. They were built during the 1970-71 Rotary year, and you can still see a few of them around town. Gerry Butler was the lead Rotarian on this project and the fact that he was part of Morse and Butler Contracting helped with tools and knowledge.
The biggest project during the early 1970's was the first pavilion up at Willow Park. It was the first structure up there even before the playground equipment. When it was half finished we had a winter carnival up there to try to raise more funds for it. It was held in the middle of February and unfortunately there was no snow on the ground. Not a great success but we finally got it built and paid for. As is our custom, as soon as we got it built, we turned it over to the town.
During the 1950's and 60's our main source of income was the Rotary Auction. It was held in early December every year at the Bennington Armory and our auctioneer was Ron Siefert. We used to collect items from all over town. One year, George Hadwen, who just died last week, at that time had purchased the old Putnam Hotel building, and decided to give much of the room furniture from the third floor of the hotel to the auction. I remember helping lower chairs, dressers and beds with ropes from the back windows of the hotel down to the parking lot and then carrying them across the lot to the Armory to sell at the Auction. Then George had to leave for another business engagement, but his wife Marie showed up at the auction. When he got home that night Marie took George out to their garage to show him the bunch of old dressers, beds and chairs that she had bought at the Rotary Auction. Yes, she had bought some of the same pieces of furniture from the Hotel Putnam that her husband had donated to the auction.
Another project was the Rotary Ski Tow at the Mount Anthony Country Club. I forget what golf hole it was on but we hooked a motor at the top of the hill to a long rope which would pull the kids up the hill. When trying to fasten the rope to a pole, Rotarian Past President and Past District Governor Dick Jolivette fell and broke his neck. It was touch and go for a while but Dick finally made a full recovery. Dick was in town a few months ago for his brother's funeral and when we chatted his wished to extend his greetings to all of his Rotarian friends.
Just some memories of past Rotary projects and Rotarians that come to mind.
By: Ted Bird - Bennington Rotary Club Member