According to J.B. Jemison, the first club president, the beginning of the Thomasville Rotary Club can be attributed to brothers and Thomasvillians Crawford and Rhydon Mays. Crawford had lived in Thomasville but had moved to Albany where he joined Rotary. His interest caught the attention of his brother, and it grew from there.
J.B. Jemison was soon appointed chairman of the club organization committee. He was given good advice and help in his task by no less than the president of Rotary International himself, President Estes Snedecor. On May 1, 1921, with twenty members, the Thomasville Rotary Club was chartered therefore making it one of the oldest Rotary clubs in the state of Georgia.
According to the Thomasville Times-Enterprise, "Men were brought into the Thomasville Rotary Club on the basis of classification, only representative and useful business being included. Only one man in any one classification was permitted in any club, and no city had more than one club. The restriction and curtailment of membership made Rotary at once exclusive, and yet an all-inclusive organization."
After receiving responses to inquiries from the Albany and Valdosta clubs, the Thomasville application fee to Rotary International was $25 and the installation fee per member was set at $15 with the annual dues being set at $24. Membership continued to grow and within the first year, the club's membership grew from twenty to thirty. A 50% increase in less than a year. In this first year, the Thomasville Rotary Club attended the District Conference in Savannah with 100% of its membership. It was among the youngest clubs in the District, which included all of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
The club began immediately to serve the community by offering prizes for the best Christmas decorations and financing and manning a live nativity scene which was featured in the Rotarian Magazine. The club also sponsored a float in the next Armistice Day parade. The Club also obtained property for camp Rotary for use by the Boy Scouts, 4H, and the YMCA. Rotarians also contributed the materials and hands-on labor to construct the buildings for the camp.
Individually, Thomasville Rotarians have provided leadership for most of the civic endeavors which make Thomasville an exceptional place in which to live. These include the scouting movements, the YMCA, the Red Cross, the Annual Rose festival, the Salvation Army, Archbold Hospital, the Historical Society, the Cultural Center, Landmarks, and most of the other community betterment endeavors.
Member Jack Archbold personally gave the community Archbold Memorial Medical Center as an outright gift in memory of his father John D. Archbold, treasurer of Standard Oil. It is an interesting note that Rotarian Jack Archbold's classification was "Capitalist".
Rotarian Will Watt, who was Mayor of Thomasville at the end of World War II in 1945, responded to the call of General Eisenhower to adopt a German town of comparable size-to share our food and clothing with fellow human beings who were struggling to survive one of the coldest winters on record in a war-torn country. Under Mayor Will's direction, the United States Army flew a planeload of supplies and relief goods to Luneberg in northern Germany. In 1946, Will Watt gave the Thomasville Rotary Club the distinction of having founded the Georgia Rotary Student Program. GRSP sponsors students from around the world for academic studies at Georgia colleges and universities. The Thomasville Rotary Club has participated in GRSP every year since its inception.
In his lifetime, Will Watt was singled out for his brave leadership and for his tireless service. He was eventually made an honorary citizen of Luneberg (one of only two people so honored in 1,200 years), and he was decorated and knighted by the King of Norway.
In 1959, Thomasville had won the Will Watt trophy for outstanding work in International Service so often, the District Conference voted to once again award it to Thomasville, and this time to leave it in Thomasville's permanent possession.
In 1970, while serving as a Rotary International Director, Thomasville Rotarian Pratt Secrest instituted the Family Friendship Exchange which has since been one of the most popular means for promoting good will and understanding among the nations of the Rotary world.
In 1976, C.W. McIver, a noted community leader, was inducted as the first black member of the Thomasville Rotary Club, one of only two blacks in the state to hold the position. In 1993, Marta Turner was inducted as the first female member of the Rotary Club of Thomasville.
Thomasville is poised to build on our illustrious past. J.B. Jemison and "the boys" would be proud of the work that their legacy of leadership has launched. From the visions of twenty has come the labor of thousands-in our community, the district, the state, the nation, and the world.
As is true for most of life’s truly worthy pursuits, Rotary’s success is directly correlated with the effort and commitment of people who call themselves Rotarians. That success is often fueled by a sense of duty, honor, and tradition instilled in us by the memory of those who have gone before us and who practiced service above self as a way of life.