Tony Hearn, Founding Member of RCUI
  1. How did the idea of establishing Rotary Club Utrecht International come up?

In 2003 I was chairman of the International Neighbour Group (ING) in the university. We got €8,000 a year from the College van Bestuur to help organise social activities for foreign visitors, excluding bachelor students. One day I got an email from the administrator responsible for the money asking if I would get in touch with Gerard Rijntjes about starting an English speaking Rotary Club. They were both members of the same club. I knew nothing about Rotary. Friends told me it was something for old men. I did nothing. Some weeks later I got another email from him asking me as a personal favour to get in touch with Gerard. Since he controlled our €8,000, I could not afford to upset him and I went to talk to Gerard. With that visit, I became one of four key persons responsible for starting a new Rotary Club Utrecht International.

2. What were the primary concerns you had at the time?

Since the idea was to establish an English speaking club, Dutch members would be less than half the members. A couple of years earlier my wife had died and I had retired. I was looking for social contacts. Less than 10% of Rotary members in the Netherlands were women. Women were not allowed to join Rotary until 1987 when Rotary lost a case against discrimination in the US Supreme Court. I said that we should also strive for equal numbers of men and women in the club. This was strongly opposed. We needed 20 members before we could be chartered as a Rotary club and it would  be much more difficult to get 10 women as members. I insisted, and eventually the other three key persons agreed. Of course, it was more difficult.

3. What other barriers – apart from gender equality within the club – you broke with RCUI?

  • You had to be 40 before you could join a club. We made it 18. You must be an adult under Dutch law.
  • Membership was strictly by invitation. A possible new member was suggested. It was discussed and members voted in a secret ballot on whether he should be invited. Only then did someone ask if he would be interested in joining. We allow potential new members to come to a couple of meetings to see if they like us.
  • Other clubs offered us help to find members. But the people they suggested were like themselves, Dutch and over 40. To avoid the club becoming Dutch, I brought in the rule that new Dutch members should have worked abroad for at least two years.     

4. These happened, I believe, in 2003. How long did it take you to actualize the goals and found the club?

It was 2005 before we got 20 members and we were chartered. 

5. RCUI is a diverse and international club, unlike many other Rotary clubs in the area. How did you achieve that?

I think we have a really good club, but we are very different from the other Dutch clubs. We made a good club by thinking first about what we wanted rather than just following what other clubs do.

The Story of RCUI’s Foundation: An Interview with Tony Hearn