Len Mulholland has been a member of Rotary for 50 years.

Len Mulholland has been a member of Rotary for 50 years.

Nelson trio part of an exclusive Rotary group

Walt Laurie, Yosh Tagami, and Len Mulholland are the elder statesmen of Nelson’s two Rotary clubs, with 143 years experience between them.

It’s the 100th anniversary of Rotary in BC. The Rotary Club of Nelson — chartered in 1922 and the Rotary Club of Nelson Daybreak, chartered in 1993 — will share the joy of Rotary Week in BC by hosting an open house on April 19 and a fun run on April 20. The following is a story that is included in a special print section of Wednesday’s Nelson Star.

Walt Laurie, Yosh Tagami, and Len Mulholland are the elder statesmen of Nelson’s two Rotary clubs, with 143 years experience between them.

Laurie, 90, joined in 1968 shortly after moving to Nelson where he had been transferred by the Canadian Pacific Railway to become district manager of marketing and sales for the Kootenays.

At his first meeting, he was nominated as sergeant-at-arms and had to levy fines on people he didn’t know.

Because he was the only railway type in the club at the time, he also bore the brunt of complaints about the elimination of passenger service a few years earlier.

He served as president in 1979-80, was a director several times, and chaired the committee that built the Rotary shelter at Lakeside Park.

“Rotary is very enlightening,” he says. “You’re meeting most of the business and professional people of Nelson. The top people of the community pretty much are in Rotary.”

Laurie is the noon club’s oldest member, but not its longest serving.

That distinction belongs to Yosh Tagami, who joined in 1965, having been proposed for membership by former mayor Joe Kary, his boss at Ellison’s.

He also boasts a 43-year perfect attendance record. If you miss a meeting, you’re allowed to make it up by attending a Rotary meeting in a different community, and Tagami has been to ones throughout the Kootenays and as far away as Toronto and Tokyo.

Since the Daybreak club was founded, he says it’s much easier to maintain his streak.

“I enjoy Rotary,” he says. “To me Friday is Rotary day.”

Tagami was president in 1969-70 and during his term, the club added heating to the Lakeside Park swimming pool at a cost of $4,000. However, the pool, which suffered cracks and other problems, was scrapped once the aquatic centre opened.

Mulholland, 92, has belonged to Rotary for 50 years, but is one of the Daybreak club’s newest members, having arrived in Nelson last August to be closer to family.

It’s his fifth Rotary club. An oil patch engineer, he originally joined in Edmonton, then moved to Vancouver Island in 1974 and served a term as president of the Sidney club. Later, he joined the Parksville club, then became part of the Sidney-by-the-Sea breakfast club.

Asked what Rotary means to him, he replies: “Pretty well everything. I really believe in Rotary and their principles. I’ve always enjoyed it, right from the start.”

His highlights include his involvement with PolioPlus and being a seven-time Paul Harris Fellow.

Mulholland, born in present-day Indonesia, published an autobiography in 2006 entitled Childhood, War and Peace that recounts his astonishing and harrowing exploits as a saboteur with the Dutch resistance during World War II.

The three men join a fairly exclusive group: Hank Coleman and past district governor Bill Ramsay spent over 50 years with Nelson Rotary, while a few others lasted 40 years plus, including Eric P. Dawson, Jack Coventry, Harry Harrison, Dr. N.E. Morrison, and David Fairbank.


1) The Nelson Rotary Club held its charter meeting on February 23, 1922. Sponsored by Lethbridge, it was one of 268 clubs admitted worldwide in 1921-22 but the first in southeastern BC. It was also the 35th club in Rotary District No. 1 (which then included BC, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon) and Club No. 1111 in Rotary International. (Today there are over 34,500 Rotary clubs in 166 countries.) Founding president Fred Boles was among 18 charter members in Nelson. A second Nelson club, Daybreak Rotary, was chartered May 1, 1993 with 34 members under president Don Lauder.

2) For nearly all of Rotary’s 90-plus years in Nelson, both clubs have met weekly at the Hume Hotel. Owner George Benwell was a charter member. When the Hume closed in 1979, the meetings became nomadic for a while, then settled at Peebles Motor Inn, owned by past district governor Harry Harrison. In 1981, after the Hume re-opened as the Heritage Inn, the club returned to its original location. During renovations to the Hume Room in 2010, both clubs met at the Best Western — the former Peebles site. The Hume is also home to the Rotary archives.

3) The noon club originally met on Mondays. That was changed to Tuesdays in 1957 but wasn’t popular, so reverted back to Mondays the following year. In 1960, members resolved to meet Fridays, and it remains so today. The Daybreak club meets Tuesdays at 7 a.m.

4) Membership grew from 18 in the beginning to 91 by 1972. But the tough times Nelson faced with the closure of its sawmill and university was reflected in Rotary with numbers dwindling to around 50 in the early 1980s. They have since rebounded: today membership stands at 75 in the noon club and 32 in Daybreak.

5) Nelson sponsored or helped several other local Rotary chapters get started, beginning with Trail in 1927. Will Harper, a Nelson charter member, moved there and was instrumental in organizing the club. Nelson also sponsored the Nakusp club, chartered in 1950, and helped Castlegar and Fruitvale (1953-54), Salmo (1955), and Creston (1967).

6) Nelson has produced four Rotary district governors: Harry Harrison 1950-51, Jack Coventry 1956-57, Bill Ramsay 1971-72, and Mike Berg 2001-02. It also hosted district conferences in 1948, 1951, 1957, 1965, 1972, and 2002.

7) For decades, Dr. Marcus Bach Night was a Nelson Rotary tradition. From 1946 until at least 1968, the prolific author and educator on contemporary religion addressed the club annually based on his books and globetrotting. He owned property at Destiny Bay, near Boswell, where they built a summer home. He was made an honourary Nelson Rotarian in 1961.

8) From its start, Rotary has been Lakeside Park’s primary benefactor. Shortly after the Nelson club was formed in 1922, members planted flower gardens and laid cinder paths. They also raised more than half the $25,000 required to build an outdoor swimming pool that opened in 1957 and remained in use until the mid-1970s. Rotary further built the picnic shelter, the boat ramp and wharf, and a series of playgrounds, including the $120,000 Rotary centennial playground. The efforts of both the morning and noon clubs were officially recognized in 2003 when the park was renamed Lakeside Rotary Park.

9) Nelson’s name is on a pumphouse in India thanks to one of the most unique international development projects the club ever undertook: in 1964, it teamed up with Rotary clubs in Nelson, England; Nelson, New Zealand; and Shimoga, India to provide a water supply for the flood-displaced village of Bedara Hosahalli. After many delays — including a pump and motor that got lost in transit — an official dedication took place in 1966.