Historic Moments: Sergeants-at-arms
Chief sergeant-at-arms H. Tucker Gratz raises the symbol of his office at the 1969 convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. With Tucker are some of his assistants: Ray Faisst, of El Paso, Texas; Paul Heckenlively, of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Jack Ma, of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada; and John Young, John King, and Edward Armstrong, of Honolulu.
A nyone who has attended a Rotary convention is familiar with the sergeants-at-arms. Since the first convention in 1910, these men and women in yellow vests have guided Rotarians and their families.
During this year’s convention, 21-25 May, the sergeants-at-arms -- this year known as Rotary guides -- will sport a new look, designed to keep them cool in the often-steamy weather of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Instead of the usual yellow vests, the guides will be wearing yellow sashes. The hundreds of volunteers who assist them will sport red ones, in a nod to the red vests they’ve traditionally worn.
Sergeants-at-arms have a long and distinguished history in Rotary. The organization’s first constitution established the position as an elected officer of the association. Werner Hencke, of St. Louis, Missouri, was the first to serve in the role. He was charged with maintaining order at meetings, including the convention, which functioned as Rotary’s legislative body in its early years.
At the 1921 convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, when delegates elected George Harris sergeant-at-arms for the upcoming year, General Secretary Chesley Perry presented him with a shillelagh that had been given to Rotary by the Rotary Club of Belfast. Harris (no relation to Paul) quipped: “I only want to say one thing. I am a little fellow, but I promise you now that I will use that mace to keep people straight, and I am going to have a great big fellow to assist me so that I will keep straight.”
Each year, the wooden club was passed down, and for several decades, the chief sergeant-at-arms carried it at conventions as a ceremonial symbol of the position. There is no record, however, that it was ever used for “keeping people straight.” The shillelagh is now part of the Rotary History and Archives collection.
As the result of changes to the constitution passed at the 1922 convention, sergeants-at-arms now serve as officers of the convention, appointed by the president rather than elected.
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