The Rotary Club of Houston was founded in August of 1912, soon after newspaper executive Robert Cornell returned from an advertising convention in Dallas, where he had met a member of the newly formed Minneapolis Rotary Club. The new The Rotary Club of Houston began meeting in the Mecca Cafe, where club president Cornell had to hear member’s complaints about the $1 initiation fee and $2 annual dues. A year later, club members and wives gathered for an evening banquet at the brand new Rice Hotel a day before its official opening. The club would meet there for the next seventy three years. The club's membership grew steadily until September, 1963, when it became the world's largest with 773 members, two more than the founding Chicago club's total. Meanwhile, RI credited The Rotary Club of Houston with bringing Rotary to numerous other Texas cities as far away as Amarillo. In 1985, when the Houston club reached its record membership with 941 members, there were 34 neighborhood Rotary clubs throughout Houston, 24 of which the Houston club had sponsored. Today the Rotary Club of Houston has sponsored over 30 Rotary Clubs of the nearly 60 Rotary Clubs in the Greater Houston Area.
The Rotary Club of Houston has a distinguished record of service to the community. The first service project of The Rotary Club of Houston began in 1919 when it first supported the young residents of the Burnett Bayland County Home with Christmas parties and summer picnics - support that has continued uninterrupted for 91 years and today involves workshops preparing the youth for entering the workforce successfully.
Following The Rotary Club of Houston luncheon in 1944, Goodwill Industries was launched in Houston, and is now among the largest in the world. Every Houston CEO of Goodwill Industries has been a member of the Houston Club.
In 1966, not long after The Rotary Club of Houston joined two other local clubs to save the area's Little League from bankruptcy, club members began counseling inmates about to be released from the Texas prison system, a program of the Fresh Start/Prison Entrepreneurship Committee that transforms inmates into entrepreneurs and also coordinates television conferencing to help female inmates improve their family, financial and health life skills.
In late 1970, five weeks after NFL Coach Vince Lombardi died of cancer, the first Rotary Lombardi Award dinner was held to recognize the outstanding college football lineman -- offense or defense -- who, in addition to outstanding performance and ability, best exemplifies the discipline of Vince Lombardi. The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers first made a name for himself as the smallest but toughest member of Fordham University's "Seven Blocks of Granite," renowned in their day (1934-37) for being the most unyielding line in college football. Appropriately, the trophy is a 40-pound block of granite atop a silver pedestal built over a foundation of discipline. The symbolic design was created by Houston Rotarian and professional artist Mark Storm.
A distinguished committee of nearly 400 of America's most prominent college football coaches, football writers, sports broadcasters and previous Rotary Lombardi Award winners, participate in a three-tiered balloting process. Each year the selection committee selects twelve semifinalists, four finalists and the ultimate winner in balloting conducted by the accounting firm of KPMG. All four finalists, their head coaches and sports information directors are brought to Houston for two days of hospital visits, media interviews and local hospitality. The climax of the trip is the annual Rotary Lombardi Award program, when a sellout crowd gathers to hear the announcement of the winner prior to its release to the national media. Many of the Rotary Lombardi Award finalists have gone on to outstanding NFL careers. To date, proceeds have raised millions of dollars for cancer research.
Since 1987, the Rotary Club of Houston has sponsored Camp Enterprise for the “best of the best” high school juniors in the Houston area. An extensive three-day camp offering students the opportunity to participate in leadership activities focusing on the Free Enterprise System with unique experiences in teambuilding, leadership, business principles, dealing with challenges of life & business and much more. The objective of the Camp Enterprise Program is to explore, expose, challenge and awaken interest and imagination on the whole concept of Business and Private Enterprise. The Leaders of Tomorrow are selected from more than 50 Houston Area High Schools.
In 1993, a thirty year dream of the Rotary Club of Houston, following upon its providing free apartments to Rotarians from other countries undergoing treated for cancer at the Texas Medical Center, became a successful fund raising reality with the completed construction of the $26 million Jesse H. Jones Rotary House International, the largest project by a single Rotary club in history. The Jesse H. Jones Rotary House International is a patient housing facility exclusively dedicated to serving the needs of M. D. Anderson cancer patients and their families. It was made possible by grants from the Rotary Club of Houston and The Houston Endowment. Managed by Marriott Conference Centers, this first class hotel is unique in the services and amenities it provides under one roof and in its seamless integration as a "partner in care" with M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, with easy access through an enclosed bridge over a major thoroughfare.