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November 27, 2012 > The Rotary Club of Niles turns 75

The Rotary Club of Niles turns 75

Submitted By Sandi Pantages

Niles Rotary will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a grand party at the historic Central Chevrolet showroom in Fremont on Saturday, December 1. Niles Rotary, founded on December 9, 1937, was one of the first service clubs formed in what was to become the City of Fremont. In the past 75 years, Niles Rotary has been a significant presence in the community and world, participating in community projects as well as donations to organizations and services - at local and international levels.

Sponsored by the Hayward Rotary Club, Niles Rotary Club was the first in southern Alameda County, then a district of Washington Township. The charter night dinner was served at the Veterans Memorial Building in Niles. Charter president Charles (Chuck) Kraft was president and owner of Kraftile, a manufacturer of terra cotta tiles in Niles. The club had 16 charter members and soon grew to 60 members. According to Gladys Williamson, author of "They Helped to Build Three Cities," members of Niles Rotary initiated the Fremont incorporation process, and were represented in the three cities - Fremont, Newark and Union City - they helped create in the 1950's. Niles Rotarians served as mayors, council members, commissioners, other board members, and city staff.

Williamson notes that in Fremont's first six years as a city, members of Niles Rotary had filled nearly 100 positions on councils, commissions, boards or committees. Since its founding, Niles Rotary has founded several other Rotary clubs in the area, including Newark Rotary in 1961, Fremont Rotary in 1963, and Fremont Sunrise in the early 1990's. Niles Rotary has made an impact in Rotary International with Niles Rotarian Rick King serving as president of Rotary International in 2001-2002.

Club meetings were originally held at the historic Hotel Belvoir above Mission Boulevard in Niles, and in 1944 were moved to the Florence Restaurant in Niles. In 1947, the meeting place was moved to the International Kitchen on the Niles-Centerville Highway (later named Fremont Avenue, then Peralta Blvd.). On November 7, 1960 a fire at the International Kitchen destroyed the club files and banners; to this day, the club's bell is badly scorched on one side as a reminder of the fire. Niles Rotary continued to meet at the International Kitchen, after it was re-built in 1962, until 1972, when the meetings were moved to the Villa Del Greco on Mission Blvd. (now known as Papillon Restaurant). Niles Rotary now meets at Washington West (Anderson Room) on Mowry Avenue every Thursday at noon.

Among the club's first community service projects was construction of several Rotary model homes in the Niles area. Charter member John Kimber (of Kimber Farms) was credited with suggesting that the Oakland-San Jose freeway be named in honor of Admiral Chester Nimitz. Niles Rotarians were instrumental in the formation of the Washington Hospital District, proposing the district in 1947 and serving on the hospital staff and hospital boards over the years.

Since 1937, Niles Rotary has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to many community organizations and services, including the Fremont/Newark YMCA, Fremont/Newark Philharmonic (Fremont Symphony Orchestra), Tri-City Salvation Army, Fremont Education Foundation, Young Life, Fremont Cultural Arts Council, the Tri-City Homeless Coalition (Abode Services), Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE), StarStruck Theatre, Tri-City Health Center, youth activities and sports, scholarships, and the Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation.

Hands-on projects by Niles Rotary have resulted in community improvements in Fremont such as the Central Park par course, crabapple trees planted in Central Park, the boat dock and fishing pier at Lake Elizabeth, stock corrals at Ardenwood Farm, flagpoles at the City Government building and Tak Fudenna Stadium, landscaping at the City Government building and Niles School, a fence around the barbeque area at the Senior Center, benches at bus stops.

For many years, Niles Rotarians cleaned Vallejo Mills Historical Park, and in the 1990's, Niles Rotarians could been seen in Niles Canyon cleaning up the highway for CalTrans in their Adopt-a-Highway program. Niles Rotary sponsors Interact Clubs (youth service clubs) at Washington High School and Fremont Christian High School, and has just started a new Interact Club at Robertson Continuation High School.

Since 1988, a regular community service of Niles Rotary has been the "Feed the Hungry" program; Niles Rotarians prepare and serve dinner at the Centerville Free Dining Room whenever there is a fifth Thursday of the month. The club's Paint a House Program resulted in newly painted houses of elderly or poor residents. Niles Rotarians worked with other Rotarians to refurbish transitional housing for the Tri-City Homeless Coalition at Rotary BridgeWay Apartments in the Irvington district of Fremont and in Union City. In October 2011, Niles Rotary sponsored and assisted the City's Trick or Treat on Safety Street. Each December, Niles Rotarians, along with other area Rotarians, act as bell ringers for the Salvation Army.

A current ongoing community service project of Niles Rotary is the care of the Niles Community Park. Niles Rotarians have replaced and refurbished the fishing docks. In addition, the club cleans up the park on a regular basis, and is working on other projects to benefit the park. For Make a Difference Day, October 2012, Niles Rotarians replaced trees with native bushes and trees as part of the City's Sabercat Creek restoration project.

Annually in December, Niles Rotary sponsors a Pizza With Santa party for children and their families. Rotarians purchase gifts for each child and give them to the children at a special party for the families including horse rides, a jump house, crafts, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Niles Rotary leads planning efforts and work for the annual Chili Cook-Off. Proceeds benefit Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, Tri-City Rotary Clinic, Washington on Wheels, HOPE Project Mobile Clinic of Abode Services.

Niles Rotary has been active in projects of Rotary International as well as its own international projects. When Rotary International developed the PolioPlus program (raising over $755 million internationally to eradicate polio), Niles Rotarians donated heavily to the program, and continue to donate to the End Polio Now campaign. In connection to the Wheelchair Foundation in Danville, Niles Rotary collected $21,000 to send 280 wheelchairs overseas, providing the gift of mobility to hundreds of people.

Members of Niles Rotary have sponsored several specific international projects, such as refurbishing and donating buses to an orphanage in Colona Guerrero, Mexico; the buses were driven to Mexico by Niles Rotarians. Children in the orphanage had prayed for a blue bus, and were delighted when they arrived - the Rotarians coincidentally had painted the bus blue, not knowing about the children's prayers. Niles Rotary has worked with Fremont's sister city of Puerto Penasco on several projects, including providing x-ray machines, another refurbished bus, building a computer lab, and sending physicians to perform corrective surgery. For several years, Niles Rotarians traveled to Mexico two times a year to help with the Thousand Smiles Dental Program. A computer lab for a girl's school in Brazil was funded and donated by Niles Rotary. In the Azores, a breast screening program and mammography units were sponsored by Niles Rotary. Heart monitors were sent to two hospitals in Romania. A few years ago, the club donated two ambulances with the necessary equipment to Lebanon.

Niles Rotary sponsored Project Quest for Peace in 2003-2004, which resulted in 1,100 shoeboxes for Iraq; the shoeboxes were filled with toys and sundries and were delivered to Baghdad. Rotarians, their families, friends, and the community at large really got behind the effort to help the children in Iraq who had lost so much in the war. In spring 2005, a boy's orphanage in Bolivia was refurbished and repaired as a result of a cooperative Niles Rotary project with Rotary clubs in Morgan Hill and Bolivia. A Serbian relief project was the recipient of fund raising by Niles Rotary and Rotary International in 2006.

Current international service projects include refurbishing orphanages in Chile and Guatemala, and installing a water-well at the Segera Mission in Kenya. Such international projects typically involve collaboration with Rotary International, a local club here, the local Rotary district, and a Rotary club in the country of the project.

Of the current members of Niles Rotary, 25 members have served as club president; they reflect the civic and business leadership of our community: Don Amsbaugh; Harry Avila; Steve Barnett; Don Billings; Tony Boudames; Jim Brunelli; Rich Brunelli; Gene Cowell; Nancy Farber-Szekrenyi; Kimberly Hartz Foster; Otis Highbaugh; Rick Hood; John Kimber; Rick King (Rotary International President); Dick McKay; Sandi Pantages; Paul Parhiala; Gary Robinson; Jack Rogers; M.O. Sabraw; Rakesh Sharma; Dan Smith (Newark Rotary); Craig Steckler; Daren Young; Sandra Young.

Rotary "lifts our lives," and serves the local and global communities through acts of humanitarian service. The work of Niles Rotary fits the current slogan of Rotary International - "Peace through Service." Rotary can be briefly described as "humanity in motion."

Niles Rotary 75th birthday celebration
Saturday, Dec 1
5:30 p.m.
Central Chevrolet showroom
Thornton Avenue and San Pedro Drive, Fremont
(510) 745-6483 (Kimberly Hartz)

Tickets are $75 per person

For more information about the Rotary Club of Niles (Fremont) visit

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