A few months after The Woodlands was founded in October 1974, a community service-focused nonprofit followed suit when The Rotary Club of The Woodlands launched in May 1975. As it moves toward its 50-year milestone, members reflected on the contributions the organization has made since its inception.

Now boasting about 200 members, the group started with 22 people, said Tom Boak, who was the first elected president of the club. While it is named for The Woodlands community, it includes members through throughout the region, he said.

“We made very clear that we didn’t want to be exclusively The Woodlands,” Boak said. “We went out of our way to solicit members who were on the Oak Ridge [North] side of the highway, to the point where it was about half and half. It turned out in retrospect that ... those decisions made the club what it was, representative truly of South Montgomery County though it was called The Woodlands.”

The background

One of the cornerstones of the Rotary’s programs is providing scholarships for students as well as launching Interact groups in schools to promote service-minded projects. Interact programs at the high school level have had an enthusiastic response, Boak said.

“At one point ... we had a thousand kids show up [to an information session],” he said. “We had a good reputation as a good club to join.”

In its early days, members met at The Glass Menagerie, the restaurant that was located at The Woodlands Resort—the first restaurant in the community. It continued meeting at The Woodlands Resort until six years ago, when the meeting locations shifted to The Woodlands Country Club, members said.

Bill Leigh, a charter member and former president for the local Rotary chapter, said across the decades the focus of the Rotary has remained on community needs.

“The particulars have changed, but the goal of serving the community has stayed a constant,” Leigh said. “The needs within the community shaped the projects that we did to fulfill that goal.”

What else?

Another Rotary-related program having an impact on the community is Rotary House, which is a separate nonprofit, said Kay Boehm-Fannin, 2024 president of The Rotary Club of The Woodlands. The local Rotary club donates operating expenses for Rotary House, which provides a place for patients and their families to stay when being treated at local hospitals.

“They have a place to stay for almost nothing,” she said.

Denton Florian, who will take over as president of the club next year, said this need has increased as hospital care options in The Woodlands area have grown.

“The hospitals are so advanced here you hardly have to go to the [downtown Houston] medical center,” he said. “The Woodlands has become a medical destination.”

Other partnerships within the community include support for the Yes To Youth program, which focuses on crisis intervention and mental health for youth, as well as Angel Reach, which provides outreach for kids who have aged out of the foster care system. The Rotary has been involved in constructing homes for an Angel Reach program to provide transitional housing for youth.

The Rotary also regularly participates in blood drives, Salvation Army activities, and partnerships with organizations such as the Montgomery County Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and other projects serving seniors, youth and those in need.

It was recognized this year with a Hometown Heroes designation by Interfaith of The Woodlands, an annual honor awarded by the nonprofit which also celebrates 50 years in 2024.

What’s next?

With its membership now exceeding 200 individuals, the Rotary has added an additional meeting date, with lunchtime Thursday meetings joined by an after-hours meeting on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

“I would say a lot of younger adults who have a hard time making it to the lunch meetings make it to Rotary After Hours," Boehm-Fannin said.

One of the aims for Rotary International, the worldwide Rotary organization of more than 1.4 million members, is to eradicate polio. Florian said as this goal comes within sight, the organization will look to create new goals of a similar magnitude.

Locally, the group plans to evaluate where it has been and where it is going, he said.

“Fifty years is a long time, and we’re going to look back and celebrate some of the things we’ve done and use that to set goals in the future,” Florian said.