Rotary Club of Elizabeth to celebrate centennial anniversary

Members of the Rotary Club of Elizabeth gather with Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage to celebrate the 100th year of the organization.

ELIZABETH, NJ — The Rotary Club of Elizabeth is gearing up for its centennial celebration, as the club celebrates 100 years of “service before self” to the Greater Elizabeth community.

The gala event will be held on April 21 at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel.
Founded on April 1, 1917, the Elizabeth Rotary Club is part of Rotary International, an organization with 1.2 million members in 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries.

The Rotary Club of Elizabeth has initiated a number of youth-service clubs throughout the community, including the EarlyAct Club, a school-wide service club for elementary students from ages 5 to 13 operated out of Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy; an Interact Club at Elizabeth high schools throughout the district; and a RotarAct Club at Kean University.

Another club project is the initiative to provide free dictionaries to third-grade students in both Elizabeth and Hillside. To date, more than 20,000 dictionaries have been distributed.

The Elizabeth club, which boasts approximately 44 members, has raised funds for charitable endeavors both locally and worldwide. Currently, the club is fulfilling a three-year, $10,000 pledge to benefit the expansion of the emergency department at Elizabeth’s Trinitas Regional Medical Center. Another $10,000 gift was recently donated by the club to the “Where Angels Play” playground project.

The first Rotary Club was started in 1905 by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney who wanted professionals with diverse backgrounds to be able to exchange ideas, form friendships, and give back to their communities. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of its members.

Rotarian and chairman of the upcoming centennial celebration, Bill Neilia, told LocalSource that the Elizabeth club has been dedicated to supporting charities across the globe.

“We’ve been very involved with the eradication of polio,” Neilia said in a recent phone interview, noting that the number of polio cases has dropped dramatically in the last few decades.

Neilia, a Rotarian since 1973, said that all proceeds raised at the gala, outside of expenses, will go to the Albert and Louise Davis Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to students throughout Elizabeth. Since 1986, the fund has given a total of more than $500,000 in scholarships to more than 300 Elizabeth high school students.

“We try to do a lot of good things for our young people in our community,” Neilia said.

Kenneth Richuso, an Elizabeth Rotary member since 1988, said that he joined the club as part of his job.

“My boss called me into his office and told me to join Rotary because it was part of my job,” Richuso told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “Our company had a long-standing tradition of being part of the Rotary Club. I started going to meetings and started feeling a part of the club.”

One of the initiatives that caught Richuso’s eye was the club’s scholarship initiative.
“Kids get to go to college with a little help from us,” he said.

Richuso also spoke of the club’s centennial birthday.
“One hundred years is quite a milestone,” Richuso said, noting that the Elizabeth club is the fourth oldest Rotary club in the district.

According to Richuso, upcoming club fundraisers include a pancake breakfast and scholarship luncheon in May, as well as the Taste of Elizabeth, the club’s annual food-tasting event.

“We’re a busy club,” Richuso said. “We do a lot of good things in town.”
Neilia said that the club will be presenting the history of the club through displays and a slideshow at the upcoming gala. “The Historical Society, in conjunction with the public library in Elizabeth, has done a great job of tracing the history of the Rotary Club,” Neilia said.

Others who will be attending the event include Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen, and Rotary’s District Gov. Charlie Minton who is from another local club, the Rotary Club of Union. For more information about the Rotary Club of Elizabeth’s centennial celebration, contact Bill Neilia at or call 908-352-7300.