A Brief History of The Will Rogers 645 Club

The Will Rogers Toastmaster Club was chartered on August 20, 1948. The charter was presented to the club by the late Mr. Bruce Norman, a former member of the Board of Directors and a long-term and respected Toastmaster in Tulsa. Mr. Norman indicated that the charter originally had our name spelled as “Will Rodgers”, but was corrected. The Progressive 264 Club claims credit for the formation of Will Rogers. In a publication of the Progressive Club in 1952, it was indicated that the employees of Beatrice Foods were invited to be guests at one of their meetings. A total of fifty guests attended, and all wanted to join. As Toastmasters were limited to 30 members at that time, the guests were divided into two groups. These groups were organized into the Will Rogers 645 Club and the Magic Empire 652 Club. The first president of Will Rogers was Mr. Art Grillot.

The club was about to disband in 1952. Mr. Bruce Norman visited the club and told the members that he knew of someone who could help their club. He suggested to Mr. Don Mattocks, a member of the Progressive Club, that he was needed at Will Rogers. Don Mattocks joined our club in 1952. Through his efforts, the club built up to a membership of 30 and became one of the top clubs in the area. He became an International Director from 1953-55. Mr. Mattocks was a retired Secretary of Warren Petroleum Company.

The club remained strong through most of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Membership was usually between 20 and 30. The club met at several locations, including Wynns Restaurant, Ambassador Hotel, Parkeys, Ricsha, Bordens at Utica Square, Brook Plaza, and Southland Mall. The club met on Thursday nights at one time. Special activities included “ladies night”, interclub meetings, meetings with the “Toastmistress” organization, and meetings in Claremore on the birthday of Will Rogers. In the 1960’s, the club was dominated by attorneys. Membership declined to a low level at the end of 1969.

Prominent members during the early years included Mr. Wayne Swearington, a Tulsa petroleum executive, and Mr. Don Paape, who later became President of Toastmasters. On one occasion, I asked Mr. Paape why he joined Will Rogers. He indicated that his practice had always been to join the “weakest club in town”.

Dwight Dauben joined the club in October 1970 when the club had only 8 members. He was asked to become the Educational Vice President within two weeks of joining, which says something about the state of the club at the time. A club debate was held on the subject of “Should women be allowed to join the Will Rogers Club?” The members voted it down. We still have a copy of the Will Rogers bylaws written in 1958 which indicates that membership is open to “any man of good moral character who is at least twenty-one years of age”. Thankfully, Toastmasters changed the rules which permitted women to join the organization. The bylaws today state that membership is open to all persons regardless of age (with a minimum age requirement of 18), race, color, creed, sex, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability, so long as the individual is able to participate in the program.

Ralph Joslin visited the Will Rogers Club and the Oil Capital Club in 1973. Although he liked both clubs, he decided to join Will Rogers shortly before Oil Capital merged with the club. As we all know, Ralph has had a major influence over the years by his leadership in the club, his skill as a public speaker, and by his participation in Area, District, Region, and international activities. Ralph has served on the International Board of Directors. A long-time Toastmaster, Bill Borders, joined our club through the merger with the Oil Capital club.

The club remained strong during the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the usual up-and-down cycles. The stability is credited to the dedication of its long-term members. Also, the Will Rogers club routinely sponsors Speechcraft courses as a means of achieving new members. Some of our most dedicated members have come through the Speechcraft program. The club is also proud to have ten members with the Distinguished Toastmasters Award: Andy Craig, Ben Cox, Dan Murtha, Chandra Nandikolla, Deb Olejownik, Dwight Dauben, Jon Danh, Joe Charleston, Michelle Craig, Suzanne Brodner. Historically, Will Rogers members have also served in leadership positions in the Area, Division, and District. Will Rogers members have also strongly supported speech contests, and have had a number of contestants who have reached the District level.

The Will Rogers club looks back with pride on its accomplishments over the past 72 years. Our club has consistently remained in the top 10% of all Toastmaster clubs based upon the membership and activity level of the club. The past accomplishments have been due to the dedication and hard work of its members.