|GRSP: The Early Years
By: Randolph Holder
H. Randolph Holder has been a trustee since 1955 and was the first trustee elected Trustee-Emeritus. He is an accomplished public speaker and a member of the Rotary Club of Athens, GA. Randolph’s address to the students is an annual highlight of the Conclave.
The Georgia Rotary Student Program began in 1946, an idea of Past District Governor Will Watt of Thomasville, Georgia. Shortly after the end of World War II, Will visited Europe where he saw ravaged cities and universities and students eager for peace. Will Watt proposed that each Rotarian in the District donate one dollar a year so international students could study in Georgia colleges and universities, and learn about the American way of life.
Kendall Weisiger of the Atlanta Club joined in the project, which started with four students: Ivan Viest of Czechoslovakia, who went to Georgia Tech, Paul Deitrichson of Oslo Norway, Francois Cavois of Lyon France, and Sophie Papassinessiou of Athens, Greece, all at the University of Georgia.
The first chairman of GRSP was Theodore T. Molnar of Cuthbert, GA. Will Watt and Kendall Weisiger, who was personnel manager of Southern Bell, were trustees. Will Watt was the second chairman, followed by Charlie Randall of Griffin. In 1955, Hue Thomas of Savannah was elected chairman, and it was “love at first sight.” Hue remained in that key spot until ill health cut his activities, and Ronnie Waller of Gainesville moved to vice-chairman, then chairman while Hue was voted Chairman Emeritus. Dr. Hart Joiner of Gainesville was chairman during Hue Thomas’ stint as District Governor of District 692 in 1964-65. Now Greg Adams of Thomasville has moved into the chairman’s chair, and the program continues to grow from the legacy of Hue Thomas’ 35 year tenure.
For many years, GRSP was run from Hue and Alma Thomas’ home and office. They spent long hours each year checking and sorting scholarship applications, letters of recommendation and pictures. Alma, who is fluent in Spanish, was a delightful hostess and always hosted the trustees in a reception prior to our annual dinner at the Oglethorpe Club, just around the corner from the Thomas’ home. Their lovely home, an early Savannah row house on Gordon Street, which they had re-done from top to bottom, had walls covered with paintings, bookshelves, and artifacts gathered in their world travels, including the St. Olaf medal from the King of Norway in 1979, in recognition of Hue’s contribution to Norwegian students.
Under Hue’s leadership GRSP grew quickly, and soon necessitated a 50-50 arrangement with the Savannah Rotary Club’s office and secretary, Dorothea King, and finally an assistant secretary. At the beginning, the office had only one typewriter. Trustee Buster McBurney saw the need, and worked with the district governor to acquire a much-needed computer, as well as other office equipment. He was so good at it that Hue commented to Dorothea that “If you needed a truck, Buster would say, What color?” Hue was of a quiet and rather serious nature, but one day when some Rotarian was demanding something out of the ordinary, Hue smiled and said, “We don’t walk on water, you know.” He kept a daily schedule at the GRSP office.
As the program grew, the idea for an endowment fund was developed by Norman Shipley of Marietta and Marshall Weaver, of Atlanta. Today, managed by Frank Bentley, that endowment is more than four million dollars, and the interest goes to the Program, which recently allowed a one dollar a year reduction from each Rotarian.
The selection of students in the early days was detailed and laborious. Each folder was passed around among the trustees to check records, read letters, check grades, and look at pictures, before voting. It took hours! The current system is much better as clubs identify their students “of choice” ahead of time.
Hue was both a innovator and a traditionalist. His thirty-five year tenure managed to keep the good basics and still bend with the winds of change. He and Alma leave a strong legacy for the future of World Understanding.