Then & Now | Celebrating a Century – or More

On Monday, December 7, the Western Reserve Historical Society will host the induction ceremony of the 100 Year Club of the Western Reserve.   Although virtual this year, the ceremony honors those organizations – businesses, educational institutions, and social service agencies that have served the Northeastern Ohio area for a century or more

Interestingly, the 100 Year Club is, itself, sixty-seven years old.  It was established in 1953 by William Ganson Rose, a publicist and author, and Curtis Lee Smith, the head of the Chamber of Commerce (now the Greater Cleveland Partnership).  Two events played a role in its establishment.  One was the long history of business and industry in the city, and its extraordinary growth during the Second World War.  The second was William Ganson Rose’s new book (published in 1950), Cleveland: The Making of a City.   So, it was a propitious time to focus on those organizations that had served the community for a century or more, and a task made easier by Rose’s book which served almost as a catalog of annual events in the city’s history.   If anyone in the city at that time knew what agencies were a century old, it was certainly William Ganson Rose.

Initially, the Club was very “clubby” holding multiple meetings each year for centenary organizations, and charging dues for the members.  Over the years it held larger induction ceremonies.  By the 1970s and up to 1988 its meetings were at the Western Reserve Historical Society.   However, as the industrial and economic climate of the city changed, the club became less active and then it ceased to hold annual meetings.

Its revival occurred in 1999 when the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University undertook its sponsorship.  It was no coincidence that this occurred as, at this point in time, the promotion of entrepreneurship and education focused on entrepreneurship had become prominent in the area.   Linking the past to the present was an ideal way to help students understand those factors that made for successful enterprises – whether they were for profit or not-for-profit.

In 2011, history repeated itself as the Muldoon Center began working collaboratively with the Western Reserve Historical Society in the creation of the annual induction program and, in 2012 that program was moved to Western Reserve Historical Society.   Again, it was a propitious move, as WRHS was beginning programs to teach entrepreneurial skills to school children – a perfect fit if you will.   And WRHS also broadened the scope for potential “inductees” from Cleveland to what was the Western Reserve.   That too fit as Northeastern Ohio (the former Western Reserve) is a contiguous economic area.

The induction ceremony this year will add ten new members to the Club’s roster, five of which were created or led by women.    Overall, the Club now numbers well over two hundred organizations that have been inducted or recognized for a century or more of business or service to the community.

It is a diverse list and, overall, it represents organizations that have been flexible and able to shift with changing markets and needs in order to survive and thrive.  These range from smaller family-owned businesses such as Orban’s Flowers and E. F. Boyd and Sons Funeral Home in Cleveland, and Thumm’s Bike Shop in Warren, Ohio, to major enterprises such as Sherwin Williams and University Hospital.    Importantly, the 100 year list also highlights the symbiotic relationship between what might be termed social and economic entrepreneurship.     Importantly, the list of inductees includes numerous social service and not-for-profit agencies whose founders were equally entrepreneurial in creating agencies that provide art, music and education, and also care for the ill, homeless, and needy. For example, this year’s inductees include the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Three Arts Club of Lakewood, and the Council of Jewish Women Cleveland.

One might expect that the founders of the Club in 1953 recognized these important connections, albeit in a city still economically based on heavy industry.   But one wonders if they had any inkling that the organization they began, would survive for over six decades and thrive in a community that had changed in ways they, perhaps, could never have imagined.  That question aside, we can be certain that they would be delighted that the 100 Year Club has endured and serves to inspire not only an interest in the past, but also the future of the community and region.