ALBANY -- The Rotary Club of Albany is celebrating its 85th anniversary this month. A private celebration for club members and invited guests was held last week and the chapter was also honored with a proclamation by the City Council.

Longtime member and former secretary Mike Skinner said the number of members in the club has varied over the years from 20 to 60. Right now, membership is about 25.

"Usually they were small business owners or they were local government people," Skinner said. "We've had the postmaster, the city manager, the school superintendent. Fire and police chiefs. The police chief is currently part of our club."

Skinner said the celebration was set to include items from the local club's archives. He said he found a program from its 25th anniversary. He also dug up a story from the 1930s when two club members got into a fight at a meeting. One of them pulled out a gun and shot the other.

"It turned out it was a hoax," Skinner said. "He shot him with a blank."

The first chapter of what is now Rotary International was started in Chicago in 1905. Paul P. Harris was looking to create a service club where professionals from diverse backgrounds could meet as well as network. The name came from the initial practice of rotating the meetings between the offices of various members.

Albany's club has helped raise money and supplied volunteer labor for various projects both around town and around the world. A big deal on the local front is the annual Villa scholarships, awarded to students at Albany, St. Mary's and MacGregor high schools. The scholarships were started by longtime member Joe Villa, a second generation immigrant who wanted to assist students who had overcome adversity.

As for the other projects, "We put up an athletic course underneath the BART tracks," Skinner said. "We painted the flagpoles at two of the school sites. We reworked the benches at Solano."

Another project was club participation in "Christmas in April," which involved rebuilding houses.

"We also do international projects," Skinner said. "We've built bathrooms in a rural school in Mexico, helped fund putting in sanitary water systems. Either through the grapevine or whatever means, we'll find a Rotary club in the country looking for a partner. We had a member go to New Orleans to help rebuild a school that was damaged by the hurricane."

One of the causes all Rotary clubs have supported is the eradication of polio. Currently, there are only three countries in the world believed to still have the disease -- down from 125 in 1988. Skinner said computer software tycoon Bill Gates recently announced he would match the money that Rotary clubs raise in the fight.

The Rotary Club of Albany meets at 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Solano Grill and Bar, 1133 Solano Ave., and welcomes those interested in learning more to attend a meeting. The club is open to anybody who lives or works in Albany. Meetings typically include introductions, lunch and a speaker.

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