After 75 years, Rotary clubs in Greenport and Southold continue to make the North Fork a better place

Back in 1981, Walter Krupski was working at a Bank of New York branch in Greenport and wanted to find the best way to help the community. 

He chose Rotary. 

“I’ve always had the feeling of wanting to give back, to help those less fortunate than myself, and I thought Rotary was the best way to do that,” he said.

In those days, the 35 or so members of Greenport Rotary met for their regular weekly meetings in Mitchell’s restaurant on the village’s iconic harbor. Later, after fire destroyed the restaurant, the group met at the Mill Creek Inn, which once sat on the bay where the Peconic Bay Yacht Club is now, across the street from Southold Fish Market.

A decade or so later, Mr. Krupski transferred his membership to Southold Rotary. Today, Mr. Krupski remains active with Rotary, and he cites a long list of the group’s work — from funding scholarships for graduating high school seniors, to support for Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches, which serves special needs individuals — as sources of pride for himself and other members.

“We do all the good we can,” he said.

Rotary International began in 1905 when a Chicago attorney, Paul Harris, brought together professionals from diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas and also to form friendships. In later years, Rotary spread across the country and around the world with humanitarian work in local communities.

This month, and later this spring, both the Southold Rotary and Greenport Rotary are celebrating a milestone — their 75th anniversaries serving their North Fork communities. Southold was formed in February 1948, Greenport Rotary in May of that year. Interviews with members show the wide breadth of support both organizations have done in their communities over the past seven and a half decades.

Both clubs will come together May 6 for a joint celebration for members, their families and friends, plus local public figures who will hand out 75th anniversary proclamations. For members of both clubs, there is much to look back on — and see underway today — to celebrate.

Colin Van Tuyl was born and raised in Greenport, in a historic Front Street home built in the early 19th century. His grandfather Otto and his father, Roderick, were both members of Greenport Rotary, which had its weekly meetings at many local spots, most of which no longer exist.

“When I joined in 1981 — Dave Kapell (former Greenport mayor) sponsored me — I was the third generation in my family to join Rotary,” Mr. Van Tuyl said.

The year the club was formed it had 19 charter members. Twenty-five years later there were 82 members. The year Mr. Van Tuyl joined there were 60. This year, he said, there are 36. Like many organizations and clubs — and many area fire departments — finding new members who have the time to attend regular meetings and do the work involved has become difficult.

“My grandfather joined on the day I was born in 1951,” Mr. Van Tuyl said. “The club was then just three years old. I think Fred Corwin, who was a charter member, sponsored by grandfather, and my grandfather sponsored my father later in the 1960s.

“I had been a few times with my dad when the club was still meeting at Mitchell’s,” he added. “It was natural I would join, and I wanted to help out this community as much as my father and grandfather wanted to. One of the many things I love about the club are the friends I have made, and all the incredible activities we do — from fundraisers, to sending 500 wheelchairs to Sierra Leone in Africa, to, of course, the Greenport Express.”

The revival of the Greenport Express miniature railroad in Moore’s Woods is Greenport Rotary’s major fundraising effort and one of its biggest accomplishments. The railroad had operated for years on private property but shut down around 2012. The Rotary has raised — through donations and in-kind contributions — around $1 million to bring it back. It is expected to open later this spring.

Another source of pride: the addition of women to the club. Rotary worldwide did not allow women members until 1986. (Some foreign clubs still don’t). “This is a really great thing,” Mr. Van Tuyl said. “We are roughly half and half now.”

Rudolph Bruer, a Southold financial advisor, joined in 1994. “We had about 28 members then, and we still have about the same,” he said. The club meets every Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. at Touch of Venice in Cutchogue.

“I wanted to be a part of Rotary,” Mr. Bruer said. “That’s what my dad told me to do. He was a member of [the Lions Club]. Ray Terry was a member at the time and he invited me to join. I felt it was a great way to participate in the community. I knew I wanted to be involved and it was a great way to give back.”

Mr. Bruer is proud of Southold Rotary’s many accomplishments — from support of Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, to local scholarships for graduating high school seniors (the club handed out $10,000 worth of scholarships last year) — to the long-running financial support of Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches.

“By having a child go to this camp,” he said, “the camper has a good time and the parents or the caregiver gets a break as well. We send money to them. We cook dinner for them. We’ve helped them do clean-ups.

“I feel very good about our club right now,” he added. “We weathered the COVID pandemic. Our challenge now is to get the next generation to want to join.”

For Mr. Krupski, the good work goes on. He says getting new members is challenging “because everyone is working so hard to make ends meet. But this applies to all organizations. What we do in the community is all good things. We try to attract new members. They say, ‘I’d love to help, but I can’t because of my job.’

Why keep doing this after 75 years? 

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing things for people less fortunate,” Mr. Krupski said. “The things we do, like helping Maureen’s Haven to feed homeless people and provide shelter during the winter. We support local scouts like Troop 6 in Southold. We sponsor Rotary Youth Leadership Awards that teach kids skills like communicating and leadership.

“We are doing many things all the time,” he said. “I had this in my head many years ago. I had a young family then, but I felt I needed to help out and do good for the community.”