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Happy Birthday, Paul

Before establishing Rotary, Paul Harris held a number of different jobs that exposed him to diverse settings and people from all walks of life. These early career experiences helped shape his vision for Rotary as a way to build professional and personal connections across vocations.

Born on April 19, 1868 in Racine, Wisconsin, Harris had a restless and eclectic career trajectory in his youth. His first job at age 11 was as a clerk at his uncle's Vermont marble and granite quarry company. He labored alongside immigrant workers from numerous countries, giving him an early window into diverse cultures.

After graduating from high school, Harris took a series of odd jobs including as a salesman, a file clerk, a ranch hand, a fruit picker, and a reporter. His restless nature had him constantly moving and meeting new people. His journalist stint in particular broadened his perspective as he interviewed individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum.

In his early 20s, Harris decided to study law and enrolled at the University of Vermont, continuing to work odd jobs to pay his tuition. After passing the bar, he moved to Chicago to practice law, drawn by the city's dynamic urban landscape and possibilities.

It was the loneliness and alienation Harris felt in big-city Chicago that motivated his founding of Rotary in 1905. He envisioned a club that would allow professionals from all vocations to come together, network, and form meaningful friendships like he'd experienced while working in small towns. From hosting a small initial meeting of fellow businessmen, Rotary quickly grew into an international phenomenon based on the ideals of service, ethics, world understanding, and goodwill.

Harris's varied job experiences in his formative years exposed him to diverse cultures and people. This helped cultivate in him a vision for using vocation as a basis for fostering understanding across all segments of society. Rotary allowed the ethical and civic-minded Harris to merge his professional calling with his desire to promote friendship and service - a truly pioneering concept over a century ago.

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I liked the article you sent about Paul Harris. He grew up in the small town of Wallingford, VT.  I grew up in Poultney, about 10 miles away and we played sports against Wallingford teams. My grandfather was born in Poultney in 1880 about the same time as Paul Harris but back then when people traveled by horse and wagon I doubt if he had much contact with Wallingford. 

What's surprising is that I didn't know anything about Paul Harris and Rotary until I moved to California and joined Rotary. Poultney and Wallingford both have a population of less than 2,000 but they each have very active clubs with about 20 members. I make up in Poultney every summer.


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