During the early 1920s, when Ed and Bess Rencher’s Café, at 115 W. Main St., was the favorite eating place of the town’s movers and shakers, businessmen gathered there to discuss politics, the economy and the welfare of Santa Maria.
Who introduced Rotary to these men might never be known, but in the fall of 1922 a group of men from Rencher’s went down to Santa Barbara to meet with members of that city’s Rotary Club.
As a result of that meeting, Rotary Club #1288 was born, and the first meeting took place Dec. 5 that same year, with Jesse Chambers serving as president and George Scott as secretary.
Thirty members of the Santa Barbara Rotary Club drove up Dec. 19 to Santa Maria to present the new club with a banner, a gavel and a bell in commemoration of Santa Maria’s first Rotary Club receiving its charter.
Within 45 days of its charter, Rotary Club #1288 had organized the Santa Maria Boy Scouts Council. Among the new Scouts was Curtis Tunnell, who would one day not only become a Rotarian president (1945/46), but a City Council member and mayor of the city of Santa Maria, as well as a member of Santa Barbara’s Board of Supervisors. Tunnell will be celebrating his 100th birthday Jan. 8.
Who were these charter members of Rotary Club #1288, and what were their accomplishments?
Edward Canatsy had an automobile business, which he sold in 1923 and moved to Santa Monica. Nothing more is known about the man.
Orla Cannon, born in 1873 in Michigan, was serving as the editor of the Santa Maria Times at the time that the Rotary was chartered. He passed away in 1952 in Los Angeles.
Jesse Chambers, born in 1885, served as first president of Rotary #1288, serving two terms (1922 to 1924). He was appointed full-time xecretary and manager of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as manager of the Santa Barbara County Fair, a position he held from 1927 to 1952. He died 23, 1955, and is buried in the Santa Maria Cemetery.
Arthur Church, born in 1893 in Paso Robles, came to Santa Maria in 1920 to manage Midland Counties Public Service Corporation. During Church’s term as president of Rotary #1288 (1925 to 26), Paul Harris, founder of Rotary International, visited on Nov. 13, 1925. Church died Sept. 4, 1966, in Sanger at the age of 72.
Lambert Coblentz, son of Santa Maria’s beloved merchant, Samuel Coblentz, was born in 1880 in Plymouth, Calif. He graduated from Santa Maria Union High School in 1897. After graduating from Cooper Medical College in 1904, he joined Dr. Lucas in his clinic on the corner of Chapel and Vine streets. He joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps in April 1918 as a commissioned lieutenant, and rose to the rank of major before he was honorably discharged the following December. He came back to Santa Maria to resume his medical practice. In addition to his regular practice, Coblentz served as company physician at the sugar factory in Betteravia. He moved to San Francisco in 1928, where he served on the staff at St. Luke’s Hospital. Coblentz passed away Jan. 28, 1949, in San Francisco at the age of 68.
Robert Easton, born in 1875 in Santa Cruz County, graduated from University of California at Berkeley in 1897 with a degree in civil engineering. He came to Santa Barbara in 1899, and in 1900 became superintendent-manager of the Sisquoc Ranch. Although a charter member of Rotary #1288, he resigned April 2, 1923, when he moved to Santa Barbara. During his lifetime, Easton wore many hats. In addition to being a civil engineer, he was a utilities executive, oil man, land developer, banker, conservationist, civil servant, corporation director and a pioneer in water development. When he died Dec. 3, 1968, the Santa Barbara News Press reported, “Few men lead lives of such breadth and depth. Few are able to make such a lasting contribution to their fellow men — Santa Barbara has lost one of its greatest citizens.” Easton is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery.
Arthur Fugler was born on the ranch home of his parents near Fugler’s Point in 1872. He graduated from valley schools and attended Heald’s Business College in San Francisco. He worked for a short time in the Bay Area, but returned to Santa Maria in 1889 to go into business with W.A. Haslam to form the Haslam & Company Mercantile. He sold out to Haslam in 1912 and opened a real estate and insurance office in the 100 block of South Broadway. He served as a deputy county assessor from 1918 to 1926, and also served on Santa Maria’s City Council for 16 years, eight of which were as the city’s mayor, becoming Santa Maria’s first legally designated “mayor.” After he retired as mayor he moved to Santa Barbara and then to Fresno, where he died April 12, 1944, at the age of 72. Fugler is buried in the Santa Maria Cemetery.
Kenneth Holeman, born in 1876 in Kansas, served as manager of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad. No other information is readily available regarding him.
Frank Johnson, born Aug. 29, 1881, in Colton, served as manager at the Union Sugar plant. He passed away April 7, 1962, in Alameda County at the age of 80, and is buried in the Santa Maria Cemetery.
Olin Marriott was born Oct. 14, 1887, in Ohio. He came to Santa Maria in 1907 to work as bookkeeper for the Santa Maria Planing Mill, but only stayed two years before moving to Oakland. He returned to Santa Maria but didn’t stay long before moving to Los Angeles. He returned to Santa Maria in 1917, when he went into the contracting business. He built the California and Grayson hotels in Santa Maria, the Union Sugar Company hotel, and the Central and Geneva hotels in Guadalupe. Marriott passed away April 10, 1944, at the age of 56 and is buried in the Santa Maria Cemetery.
Benton Marshall born in 1887 in Nipomo was educated in Lompoc. In 1913 he moved to Santa Maria and later set up his own bean broking business. He passed away on Jan. 8, 1968 at the age of 80.
Fred May was born in Santa Maria in 1894 and graduated from Santa Maria Union High School in 1914. He served with the U.S. Army during World War I, and married Elizabeth Oakley in 1917.
After the war ended, May went into the gas station business, buying and operating many different stations in town. He remained with petroleum distribution the greater part of his life, changing locations as the town grew and the demand warranted it. When World War II began, May retired from the petroleum business.
May served on the City Council from 1922 to 1926, served as a high school trustee for eleven years, was past commander of the American Legion, past president of the Pioneer Association, and served as chairman of the American Red Cross. He served as president of Rotary #1288 during the years 1924 to 25.