It was spring in 1955. Freddy Foxen grew prunes in an orchard on
Monterey Highway south of downtown Morgan Hill and also ran a fruit
It was spring in 1955. Freddy Foxen grew prunes in an orchard on Monterey Highway south of downtown Morgan Hill and also ran a fruit stand. His friend Bill Ruge supplied apricots for the stand from the orchard on his poultry and egg ranch off of Cochrane, east of where 101 is now. Freddy was pestering Bill to be one of the original, founding members of a new Rotary Club that was being established in Morgan Hill. Bill was extremely busy getting his ranching operations going and just did not feel that he had the time. So he reluctantly declined and was not part of the organizing effort for the new Morgan Hill Rotary Club.

Back in 1955, as is still the case today, it takes twenty prospective members for a new Rotary Club to be chartered. Morgan Hill had identified those twenty gentlemen (women weren’t allowed to join until the late 80s), but only twenty so there was no margin for error should one of them drop out. To make his friend Freddy happy, Bill finally agreed that he would be a “backup” so that in case one of the twenty dropped out, he would take that place so they could meet the minimum membership requirement.

Well, I think you’ve probably already guessed what happened – one of the original twenty did drop out, right at the last minute, literally the day before the new Club was to be chartered. And so Bill took his place. And Bill has attended Rotary meetings ever since, regularly and continuously. This month, Bill is being awarded a pin commemorating fifty (50!, five-oh!) years of perfect attendance of Rotary meetings.

Bill, who has moved to Gilroy and attends the majority of meetings down there as a “visiting Rotarian,” maintains his status as the last active Charter Member of Morgan Hill Rotary and maintains his incredible perfect attendance record. Bill says that he really thought at the beginning that he would be too busy and not have time for Rotary, but he honored his commitment and attended every week and really, really enjoyed going, getting away from the ranch for awhile and enjoying the fellowship of the meetings. So he kept going, regularly. And had perfect attendance so could not stop. He says the first 25 years were easy, but the second 25 have gotten harder and harder as he gets older. Having made fifty years, he is not sure he will continue perfect attendance, but it is really going to be a very hard habit for him to break! Bill recently celebrated his 90th birthday and is still anything but old in his exuberance and zest for life. I think we’ll be seeing him at Rotary meetings for a long time to come!

The Rotary Club of Morgan Hill was officially chartered on June 24, 1955 at a banquet held at the Almaden Golf Course in San Jose. The Charter was presented by District Governor George Bacon to the Club’s first president, Vince Le Clair, owner of the Southern Pacific Lumber Company. Each new Club has to have a sponsoring Club, and Gilroy Rotary (who is about to celebrate their 80th anniversary) was the sponsor for Morgan Hill. The 1955 Gilroy Rotary President Francis Basch hosted the Almaden Charter Dinner.

Of the seventeen additional Charter Members in addition to Fred Foxen, Bill Ruge and Club president Vince Le Clair, Bill Tykol is still an active Morgan Hill resident. Bill was also getting his business – a service station and garage – started about the same time as Rotary was starting. Like Bill Ruge, Bill Tykol found the weekly Rotary meetings to be a great “break” in the workday routine, and really enjoyed the fellowship of the early meetings. He doesn’t remember having programs at lunch or doing projects in those very early days, just a weekly luncheon where Club members socialized and had a good time. Bill became president of the Club that first year when Vince Le Clair was unable to finish his term.

Bill Tykol does remember one other Morgan Hill Charter member that he thought was a very large influence in the success of the Club. Harold Holden was a local attorney that was active in getting the club organized and making sure all members were engaged and involved. Harold later became a Santa Clara County judge and the Holden Boys Ranch off Malaguerra Avenue was named for him. When you go through the record of the Club in the early years, Bill Tykol’s name is very prevalent as an active member in charge of programs and projects and social events. Sounds to me like Bill is being a bit modest in giving Harold Holden credit, he was very involved himself for many years in the Club after serving as president. On the Club’s tenth anniversary, Bill Ruge and Bill Tykol, along with Mint Minton, were the only remaining Charter members of the original twenty.

Al Leonetti was not a Charter member, but he joined the Club when it was just over one year old, so has many fond memories of those early days of Rotary in Morgan Hill. In fact, Al’s memories are so fond that he has chosen not to share too many of them with me in order to protect his fellow Cub members from those days! Al did share that the Club did quite a few “mystery trips” to various destinations. A bus would show up in the late afternoon, and Club members and their spouses would board with no idea of their destination. Off they would go, maybe only to San Juan Bautista, or north to San Francisco, or maybe south to Monterey for an evening of food, fun and fellowship. Al started to tell me about a particularly pleasant trip to the Shadow Brook restaurant in Capitola, but thought better of it and just related that a “very” good time was had by all!

Al was quite a generous host in the early days, entertaining the Club at an annual barbecue at his ranch and also frequently opening his house for Club fellowship activities. As the number two veteran of Morgan Hill Rotary, Al remains a good friend and mentor to our membership as well as a generous supporter of Rotary causes.

The Club did work on many worthwhile community projects in the early years, including band uniforms, formation of a Cub Scout pack, fishing parties for crippled children, a “learn to swim” program, bicycle racks at the High School, the handball court at Galvan park, Christmas baskets and baseball field upgrades. The Club originally met at Mel Graham’s Drive-In, south of town on Monterey – it may have been where Snow White is now, or in that vicinity. Meetings moved from there to the Capri and later to Hill County (now the American Institute of Mathematics property on Foothill Ave.), and to Jack’s Steak House (now Sinaloa) before moving to the current Golden Oak location.

A huge Rotary thank you to Bill Ruge, Bill Tykol and Al Leonetti for all they’ve done and still do as Rotarians. They are a huge part of our heritage and it is really fantastic to have them still here with us! Happy 50th birthday to the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill!

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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