The president of the Rutland South chapter of Rotary International said he wasn’t especially keen at first about helping put a statute of the group’s founder up in Rutland.
Paul Harris, who founded the international service group in 1905, grew up in Wallingford, making him a candidate to join local personages such as skiing pioneer Andrea Mead Lawrence and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W. on the Rutland Sculpture Trail — the steadily growing collection of marble sculptures depicting different parts of local history downtown.
However, Rutland South President Ken Nelson said it felt a little too self-congratulatory, and that patting itself on the back isn’t the Rotary way. Then, he said, organizer Steve Costello explained to him the idea and value of the sculpture trail, and how a sculpture of Harris would fit in with the group’s recent focus on helping local youth.
“It builds pride in the community,” Nelson said. “If youth get the opportunity to see famous people who had a connection to the Rutland area — what better gift can we give our youth than to have pride in the place they come from.”
So, Harris was announced as the subject of the eighth sculpture in the trail. Two more — the aforementioned Bill W. and Martin Henry Freeman, the first African-American president of a U.S. college — are scheduled for unveilings later this year. Costello said Harris, with funding from three Rotary clubs, Rutland Blooms, former Rutland school Superintendent Mary Moran and an anonymous donor, should be in place next year.
Amanda Sisk created the model and artist Evan Morse will do the carving. The duo also worked together on the Ann Story sculpture.
Harris was born in 1868 in Wisconsin, but went to live with his grandparents in Wallingford at the age of three. He was expelled from Black River Academy — he had a reputation as a prankster in high school — and then later from University of Vermont.
“They thought he was in — he was in some sort of secret society long before his Rotary days,” Nelson said. “Who knows what he was working on.”
Harris fell upward, attending Princeton for a year but not returning to school after the death of his grandfather. He took up the study of law in Iowa and became a lawyer in Chicago. It was there that he founded the first Rotary Club.
“When he was in Chicago, he felt very alone in the big city and literally said the idea in creating Rotary was to create the sense of fellowship he felt when he lived here,” Costello said.
The idea caught on, and Rotary International had 200,000 members in 75 countries by the time Harris died in 1947. Nelson said the local area is already a destination for Rotarians.
“The school house where he went to school in Wallingford is kind of an international site for Rotary,” he said. “It’s called the Little Red Schoolhouse. The Wallingford Rotary meets there to this day. … There are Rotarians from around the world who make a pilgrimage to view that place.”