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Guest book preserves stories of early Rotary friendships

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George W. Clark, 10 October 1923. Clark was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, Florida, USA, and a longtime friend of Harris. Clark briefly employed Harris as a salesman in Florida after Harris graduated from law school and before he settled in Chicago. “This visit to my good old friend Paul and his dear wife is one of the happiest events of my life.”

A guest book signed by many visitors to Rotary founder Paul Harris’ home shares the words that some of Rotary’s early members used to express their friendship. The book is preserved in Rotary’s archives in Evanston, Illinois.

Harris and his wife, Jean, bought their home in Morgan Park, which was then a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912. There they entertained friends from Chicago and around the world, hosting meetings and reunions of the Rotary Club of Chicago.

Guests signed the book over many years. It includes a 1915 calendar, along with entries dated from 1919 onward. Although some guests simply signed their names and perhaps noted the dates of their visits, others left longer messages. The pages offer reflections on friendship, lasting connections, and what members loved about Rotary.

The dates printed on the pages don’t match the actual dates of most of the visits. Instead, it appears that many visitors signed the page with their birthday. Harris himself, a lawyer, used the book to take notes on a few meetings with his clients.