1931 – 1940



The Rotary Club of Birmingham, as a group, first made the trek to  Atlanta in our first year of 1913. They traveled by train as they would once again do in the 1930s. The expedition of Birmingham Rotarians in the 1930s happened under the Rotary presidency of George V. Klimes, president of Alabama Vinegar Company.

The trip to Atlanta was a special opportunity to demonstrate fun and camaraderie. It happened that Past President, Robert D. Johnston,  an  attorney, had been invited to address the Atlanta Rotary Club and he decided to take members of this club with him. The subject of his address was "La Fayette, we are here." On that day a special railroad car was attached to the usual morning Seaboard train and it was filled with Birmingham Rotarians. In those days the mood was set at our magnificent Alabama Theater by playing "The Mighty Wurlitzer" organ before the movie was shown. This has been a tradition that the Alabama Theater has continued through the years. To help set the mood for his talk, Johnston planned to use an ancient portable parlor organ which he took aboard the train, carrying with him a sign  "larger than  life" that read "The Mighty Wurlitzer." In a great, anticipatory mood, the Birmingham Rotarians were on their way.

Travel in those days was not as frequent and no one remembered that there would be a time change between Birmingham and Atlanta.  The train  was on schedule; it was the Birmingham Rotarians that were late, and as a result, the meeting in Atlanta was half over when the train steamed into the Atlanta station. It is remembered that the "game and hospitable Atlanta Rotarians" met the train and rushed the Birmingham group to the meeting. Inadvertently, the organ and the sign were left behind. Bob  Johnston’s address, a masterpiece of wit and fellowship, was uproariously received and acclaimed. However, his plan to use the small organ and sign would have take place on another day. On the return, a small but select group of Birmingham Rotary Club music lovers sat in the baggage car listening to their current President, George Klimes, play the "Wurlitzer" all the way back to Birmingham.



Our International Presidents

In the 1930s  our  club  gained  the  long-term  services  of  two  of  our  most distinguished members – distinguished both for their work with this club and with Rotary International.  Frank  E.  Spain  and  Roy  D.  Hickman  both became international presidents  for  the  Rotary Club.

Frank Spain’s life was marked by outstanding  service  in  a  variety  of  fields. He was a lawyer, scholar, church and civic leader, world traveler and humanitarian. He was born in Memphis on October 11, 1891 into a tradition of service. As the son of a minister he spent many of his  early  years  with  his parents living in various  parsonages  in  locations that stretched from this state  to Texas. At one point in his early life, he yearned to become a doctor and attended Barton Academy in Mobile, Alabama, majoring in premedical subjects. He was class valedictorian at Southern University in Greensboro where  he  earned an A.B. degree and  a  scholarship  medal.  Forgoing  his  dream  to  become a doctor, he attended law school at the University Of Alabama.  He  helped pay for his studies by marketing his photography skills, an interest that followed him throughout his life. He served as Birmingham’s assistant city  attorney in 1917; and after World War I, returned to our city to join a law firm  that would eventually become the prestigious Spain,  Gillion,  Grooms,  and  Young.

Frank Spain joined this club in 1937 and served as president in 1942-1943 as well as District Governor  in  the  following  year.  From  that  early  period  Frank Spain spent more and more of his time on Rotary projects, while continuing to handle many other civic and professional positions and responsibilities that he felt were important. In 1951, Mr. Spain was elected international president of Rotary - the first from this club - where he served  with  dedication  and  distinction visiting Rotary  clubs throughout  the  world.  Here  in  Birmingham,  the   Spain   Rehabilitation   Center  is  an  example  of  the  civic   responsibility   for which Frank Spain and his family became so well known. Frank Spain died on October 22, 1986.



Those Who Led Us In The 1930’s

As a result of the lasting and persistent effects of the depression, innovative presidents of this Rotary Club had to adjust to the economic times. During this period there was an accelerating exit of members from the club for economic reasons which laid a heavy burden on activities and projects. The leaders had to make adjustments in order to carry us through the turbulence.

The Great Depression had just taken hold when Darius A. Thomas, president of Montevallo Mining Company became the first president of our club in the decade of the 1930’s. Thomas helped the club forge ahead with community service and determined leadership.
B.B. Burton followed Thomas in 1930-1931. Burton was president of Cable, Burton Piano Company and added a musical touch to club meetings. His background was one of culture and music, and the membership benefitted from those interests. Club singing was practiced and enjoyed by all.
The vice-president of Continental Gin Company, Algernon L. Smith followed Burton as president of Birmingham’s Rotary Club. With ever- increasing financial pressures on the club and its members, the club leaned heavily on Algernon’s sound leadership and he carried it forward on an even keel and with a very conservative approach.

Rounding out the leadership of the first half of the 1930’s were Robert D. Johnston and James C. Smith. Robert Johnston was an attorney and he was known for his flashing wit. James Smith, president of Roberts and Son, was said to broaden the club’s community scope with special emphasis on stimulating the size of the membership, an especially difficult job in the middle of the depression.
These men were all special in regard to Rotary during this period, leading the club through very difficult times. More turbulent times were to come and Rotary leaders would again ‘step to the plate’.



Rotary In The Second Half Of The Decade Of 1930-1940

In 1934-1935 the leadership position of the Rotary Club of  Birmingham  was held by George V. Klimes, president of Alabama Vinegar Company. As president,  Klimes   could   claim   205   members   a   new   all-time   high   in Rotary  membership.  Klimes  subsequently  served   as   Rotary  Governor   for   our  district.  He  was  the  honored  guest  at  a  banquet  inaugurating  the  startup of the Fairhope Alabama Rotary Club  in  1938.

Karl Landgrebe served as president of this club in 1935-1936 just as the effects of The Great Depression were beginning to ease in this country. Landgrebe was vice-president   of  the   Tennessee  Coal,  Iron   and   Railroad Company.

The recession of 1937 interrupted the recovery from The  Great  Depression and Frank P. Samford led our club as president in  1936-1937.  Samford was president of Liberty National Life  Insurance  Company.  Samford later served as District Governor. Due to Samford’s active role in civic and community  affairs  and  his  enthusiastic  support  of  Howard  College,  the  school  was  renamed  “Samford  University”  in  his  honor.

After the term of Howard Richards, general  manager  of  the  Water  Works,  as  president,  the  Rotary year  1938-1939  saw  Dr.  James  S.  McLester,  a former president of the American Medical Association,  lead  this  club.  Rounding out the decade of the 1930’s as president of our Rotary Club was Leo Bashinsky. Leo Bashinsky was born in Troy, Alabama in 1892 and latter attended Princeton University. At the time of his presidency he was a partner with Bashinsky-Case Cotton Company. During  his  term  as  president,  charity  activities were continued with particular emphasis directed to Boys Club work. In 1946, Bashinsky and his brother-in law purchased Magic  City  Foods,  which  would later become Golden Flake Snake Foods.

The 1930’s had proven to be turbulent times for all; however those  who led  our  organization  led  us  ably  through  that turbulence.