Rotary Club of Kelso History And Community Involvement
The Rotary Club of Kelso was chartered May 11, 1923 (#67) under the auspices of the Portland, Oregon Club and then District Governor Frank H. Lamb. Our first president was Dr. John Barton, a prominent local physician.

For years the club met at the Columbia Cafe which was part of the Columbia Hotel on Pacific Avenue, the site of today’s Columbia Apartments for Seniors. When the club outgrew the cafe, it made an interesting move. 

The ladies of the Kelso Presbyterian Church offered to cater our luncheon in the church hall. Again the club enjoyed marvelous food in comfortable surroundings. Volunteer groups are subject to “burnout,” and in 1960 the club relocated to Peter’s Gay 90’s Restaurant on South Pacific Avenue.  During this time, the club membership remained at about twenty-five. 

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Kelso Rotary underwent a major transformation. The engine for this change was the late Jerry Kivela, who is best described as a most accomplished promoter. From the start, he recruited new members. About a half-dozen of these new members are among the past presidents of the club. Jerry also encouraged the move to the Red Lion. This move enabled the club to continue its growth.

In 1996, the Kelso Rotary Foundation was established and registered with the Internal Revenue Service to insure that all donations would be deductible under the law. All fund raisers and disbursements are functions of the Foundation. The Foundation Board is composed of members of the Club Board and meets monthly. The focus of the Foundation is funding for youth and family services in our community.
Then again around 2007, the Club moved to the Elks Club for meetings and remains there today.

Kelso Rotary focuses on projects to benefit the youth of the community. We opened the Kelso Skate Park in 2009. For its Centennial Project in 2012, Kelso partnered with the two Longview Rotary Clubs to create a spray park to replace a failing pool in the area.
In 2018, Kelso Rotary celebrated it's 95th Anniversary with a Evening Gala attended by then Rotary District 5020 Governor Tom Carroll. 
At that juncture, Kelso Rotary wanted to take on the challenge of making a lasting difference in the community by tackling the drug addiction problem that ravishes our region.  Research revealed that on-time graduates are significantly less likely to be engaged in the criminal justice system and drug addiction.  The best strategy to assure on-time graduation is a student who arrives in Kindergarten ready to learn in order to be reading at grade-level by third grade. 
To address the need to prepare preschoolers for school, Kelso Rotary partnered with United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program to the two counties.  Eventually, all four Cowlitz County Rotary Clubs joined to become the initial Sponsoring Funders of the program, which was launched in May 2019.
In 2023, the club celebrated 100 years of service by aiming to complete 100 service projects in the Rotary year. A gala in June 2023 brought the community together to recognize the century of service provided by Kelso Rotary.
Where to next?  Join us for the journey!
Each year, Kelso Rotarians participate in projects which benefit the community.
Past projects include:
  • City of Kelso road cleanup - The members of Kelso Rotary clean the area in front of Huntington Middle School plus join in on any city wide clean up days.
  • The Catlin Spray Park - In partnership with the Longview Rotary clubs we clean and maintain the spray park. Have provided additions to the park in the past and are always looking for ways to add or improve that park for our community.
  • High School Scholarships encourage our youth to continue their education by recognizing distinguished scholars with annual scholarships. Awards are presented at Kelso High School and Castle Rock High School.
  • In partnership with the other Rotary Clubs in Cowlitz County, we support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in our county.
  • Student of the Month recognizes an outstanding high schooler from Kelso High School at our regular luncheon.