Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Chalk on the Walk is a Cambridge Rotary Club tradition at Oktoberfest in Harvard Square. (Photo: Rotary Club)

The Cambridge Rotary Club has a rich history, having recently celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022. To understand what Rotary is all about, we must go back to its founding father, Paul Harris. In 1905, Harris and three of his business colleagues held a meeting in Chicago. They wanted to establish a club based on fellowship, integrity, diversity, service and leadership. The club was called Rotary because meetings were held at different members’ premises in rotation, which led the group to establish the wheel as their symbol. Harris formed the Rotary Club of Chicago officially on Feb. 23, 1905, to allow professionals with diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas and form meaningful relationships. Over time, Rotary’s reach and vision extended to humanitarian service. Members have a long track record of addressing challenges in their communities and around the world.

Their motto was, and still is, “service above self.” As Rotarians, they also ask themselves the following four questions, called the Four-Way-Test: “Of the things we think, say or do:”

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

It is these principles that Rotarians pledge to abide by.

In time, these clubs founded by Harris spread around Chicago, the United States and eventually the world. There are more than 46,000 member clubs worldwide with more than 1.4 million individuals known as Rotarians.

Rotary members ready bags for distribution at a recent community service event. (Photo: Joseph Kobialka)

In April 1922, its founding year, professional men of Cambridge gathered at the Riverbank Court Hotel at Charles River Road and Massachusetts Avenue, where the Harvard Bridge reached the Charles River, for the first Rotary Club meeting in Cambridge. The club continued to meet there until 1935, when the meetings moved to The Commander Hotel (today known as the Sheraton Commander).

Today the Cambridge Rotary Club meets on the first and third Thursdays of the month at the community room on the second floor of the Cambridge Savings Bank at 1374 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square. Our meetings usually last an hour, beginning with the club president asking if there are visiting Rotarians in the room. Then we take care of some club business before introducing our speaker, who is usually an outside guest. The talks usually last 20 to 25 minutes, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. The meetings conclude after about an hour by saying the four-way test, but attendees can stay around longer and have further discussion with the speaker or each other if they so desire.

A winner from 2022’s Rotary-sponsored Chalk on the Walk. (Photo: Harvard)

The Cambridge Rotary Club is united worldwide to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

Cambridge Rotary Club membership represents a cross section of the community’s business and professional men and women; the club is nonpolitical, nonreligious and open to all cultures, races and creeds.

The main objective of Rotary is service – in the community, in the workplace and throughout the world. Rotarians develop community service projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as children at risk, poverty and hunger, the environment, illiteracy and violence. They also support programs for youth, educational opportunities and international exchanges for students, teachers and other professionals, and vocational and career development through our 501(c) nonprofit arm.

Our largest means of support comes from our annual fundraiser, Chalk on the Walk. This event is part of the annual Harvard Square Oktoberfest, which draws well over 100,000 people. The club is given space on Church Street for artists (or aspiring artists) to draw figures, portraits or landscapes and compete for cash prizes. It is a family event and there is a camaraderie among the artists who participate. We also get sponsorships from local businesses and individuals for the artists’ squares, which is where we derive most of our income to fund our many projects.

This year’s Chalk on the Walk is scheduled for Sunday. If you would like to participate as an artist or be a sponsor, or would like to be a guest at one of our meetings, visit cambridgerotary.org or email [email protected] for information.

See more Chalk on the Walk winners from 2022 on the Harvard Square Business Association website. 


About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name and a new mission. We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We recognize that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We listen to our community and we live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone. Throughout 2023, we are focusing on the history of Cambridgeport. Make history with us at historycambridge.org.

History Cambridge is a nonprofit organization. Our activities rely on your financial support. If you value articles like this one, give today.

Joseph Kobialka is Cambridge Rotary Club president.