‘Service above self’: Rotary Club of La Jolla celebrates 75 years

Rotary Club of La Jolla members celebrate the club's 75th anniversary with members of the Tijuana Rotary Club.
(Carol Uribe)

The group looks back on a changing membership, including admitting women, as well as its many community programs as it embarks on new projects.


The story of the Rotary Club of La Jolla has taken many turns since it began in 1947, and a celebration last month of its 75th anniversary featured a look back at the club’s resumé of service projects and philanthropic reach that extends far beyond La Jolla.

The Rotary Club of La Jolla began at a time when “the general rule was that there could only be one Rotary Club in a community,” according to Chuck Dick, a Rotary member since 1982.

San Diego had Rotary Club 33, often referred to as the “downtown Rotary,” but member Gordon Gray wanted a club in La Jolla, where he lived.

Gray was a key figure in convincing Club 33 that it should relinquish its proprietary right to be the only Rotary Club in San Diego, Dick said. That resulted in two new clubs in Mission Valley and La Jolla.

Gray became the first president of the Rotary Club of La Jolla, and as “a man of considerable influence, he succeeded in … attracting many of the luminaries in La Jolla” to the club, Dick said.

The club has met at the La Valencia Hotel since its inception, except when it was limited to Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turns over time

Since the early days, the Rotary Club of La Jolla has gone through some major shifts while maintaining its motto of “service above self.”

In 1987, Barbara Brown joined as the first female member of the La Jolla club, two years before Rotary International officially allowed women. Brown is now the Rotary Club of La Jolla’s president-elect and acting president while David Shaw is on a leave of absence.

“It was exciting to be the first woman,” Brown said. “And slightly daunting. At the time, there wasn’t a universal enthusiasm for the admission [of women].”

Brown was nonetheless welcomed into the club, she said, and over her first year as a member “the concept of women in Rotary had changed and become widely accepted.”

She said she has always enjoyed philanthropy and Rotary’s focus on benefiting the community. “It’s a wonderful organization. It’s done so much worldwide.”

About half of the 70 current members of the La Jolla club are women, Dick said.

Laurnie Durisoe, Russell King and Edna Pines of the Rotary Club of La Jolla gather at its 75th-anniversary celebration.
Laurnie Durisoe, Russell King and Edna Pines of the Rotary Club of La Jolla gather at its 75th-anniversary celebration March 5 at a home in Rancho Santa Fe.
(Carol Uribe)

There also has been a transition over the decades in members’ career makeup.

“When I joined Rotary, as a condition of eligibility … you needed to be either the owner of a business or … at least a general manager,” Dick said. “That is no longer the case.”

Rotary clubs now accept members regardless of professional accomplishments or stature, he said. “We’re interested in people who want to serve, who want to make a difference and who want to invest some time trying to effect improvements.”

As such, Rotary’s membership has become younger, he said, and its traditional method of philanthropy has been joined by a more hands-on approach.

Originally, Rotarians were known as “the people who wrote the checks and got things done,” Dick said. But “in recent years, [we have] taken on projects where more of our members can get their hands dirty themselves,” such as with park cleanups and beautification and construction projects.

“We try to have a project each year, and we’re pretty successful in doing that,” Dick said.

Financial contributions

The Rotary Club of La Jolla has several successful programs in its historical portfolio.

In 1985, Rotary International embarked on a program called “Polio Plus,” which aims to eliminate polio globally. Each Rotary district had a financial goal for the program. The San Diego district — composed of all the Rotary clubs in San Diego and Imperial counties and one club in Riverside County — was challenged to raise $250,000.

The La Jolla club donated almost $179,000 of the district’s goal, Dick said.

Rotary Club of La Jolla President David Shaw sorts clothes at a recent club project for the Armed Services YMCA.
Rotary Club of La Jolla President David Shaw sorts clothes at a recent club project for the Armed Services YMCA.
(Cindy Goodman)

The Rotary Club of La Jolla also helped establish a school in Tijuana with the Tijuana Rotary Club.

“The crown jewel of the club’s operation today,” Dick said, is its awarding of “well over a quarter of a million dollars worth of scholarships” to high school graduates in La Jolla and others throughout San Diego.

The club also runs the John A. Vaughan Tijuana Rotary Scholars Lab, begun in 1998 to benefit students in Tijuana. Members currently are working to build a permanent facility for the program.

Why Rotary?

Rotarians Kathleen Wahab and Greg and Tina Deroache celebrate the La Jolla club's 75 years of service.
(Carol Uribe)

Dick said his membership in the La Jolla club is the “perfect way for me to be involved in La Jolla … while at the same time embracing the wider scope of Rotary service, particularly internationally.”

Citing the club’s project to build chicken coops in Haiti after a hurricane and its current partnerships with clubs in Japan and Uganda, Dick said he’s proud of “what Rotary has done around the world and what we’re trying to do here in this community.”

Rotary is now fundraising for a “Welcome to La Jolla” sign that would be placed at the median at the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Shores Drive.

For more information about the Rotary Club of La Jolla, visit