(SAVANNAH, GA) The Rotary Club of Savannah unveiled a historical marker in honor of their founder, John Sherer Banks, in Bonaventure Cemetery (Section A Lot 5). The dedication date was timed to recognize the 100th anniversary of Banks’ untimely death on November 21, 1915.
Banks first became aware of the new and growing organization as a young businessman and Chatham County Road Commissioner in 1913. President of the Banks Music Company, a piano store, he was intrigued by the idea of an organization that valued “service above self.” On January 5 and 12, 1914, Banks, Henry Ludeman and several business partners organized the Rotary Club of Savannah at the historic DeSoto Hotel, where the group continued to meet for 92 of its 100-year history.
The club was originally chartered with 42 members and, not surprisingly, Banks was elected its first president. Under Banks’ leadership, the club quickly became active in the community, taking on several major service projects. These included assistance with building the road to Tybee and an ongoing partnership with Bethesda Home for Boys. Banks was instrumental in organizing the Rotary Club of Augusta later the same year.
In the same spirit of Banks’ early service projects, the club later provided lighting for downtown squares, erected the Rotary Street Clock in City Market and more recently funded an all-accessible children’s playground in Forsyth Park. In addition to his Rotary legacy, Banks was known as a gifted vocalist, active in the choir at First Presbyterian Church and a popular soloist at local events. He was also prominent in the Masons, the Savannah Board of Trade and the Piano Dealers’ Association.
In 1915, Banks’ productive life was cut short by an infection of the heart lining. His obituary in the November 22, 1915 Savannah Morning News stated, in part:
“He was public spirited, was always ready and glad to do what he could for the interest of Savannah and his passing removes a man of whom it may be said that he was a good citizen. He will be remembered specially for the part he played in the organization of the Rotary Club of which he was the first president, an office for which on account of his personality, he was unusually fitted.”
His widow, Mamie Payne Banks, survived until 1966. She is interred beside her husband in Bonaventure Cemetery. The couple had no children.
The Rotary Club’s 100th anniversary serving presidents assisted with the unveiling at the gravesite. This leadership team includes Michael Traynor, Holden Hayes and Rick Monroe. The Bonaventure Historical Society published a biography of John Banks in their August newsletter, and participated in the unveiling. In addition, several relatives of the Banks family attended the dedication.
The Rotary Club of Savannah is now comprised of 225 community leaders and volunteers. Over the past 100 years, The Savannah Club has championed local and regional developments including: completing the road to Tybee Island, improving the Savannah River for commercial traffic, enhancing the Dixie Highway system in southeast Georgia, and building bridges over the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers. The Rotary Club of Savannah also sponsored the organization of new Rotary clubs in Augusta, Brunswick, Statesboro, Blackshear, and Savannah West. Furthering the goals of Rotary International, the club has also supported wartime relief efforts, student scholarships, polio eradication and other global health initiatives.
Meetings are held most Mondays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., at the DeSoto Hilton Hotel, 15 E. Liberty Street. For more information, visit http://www.savrotary.org
Rotary Club of Savannah
P.O. Box 11105
Savannah, GA 31412
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