Lloyd H. Ellis, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.
A history of The Rowfant Club of Cleveland, with its two million dollar endowment, its quarter of a million dollar budget, its seven thousand volume library, its historic building, its ambitious series of weekly programs, and its gregarious alcohol-fueled two hundred “old boy” Members, drawn from that part of the male Cleveland establishment that can read, would seem like an exercise in inevitability. In fact it is the result of a series of happy accidents. At many times, over the last 120 years, the Club, like the candle of a deceased member, could have been snuffed out and capped.
What probably insured the survival of The Rowfant Club was its character of unquestioned egalitarianism. The Rowfant Club, from its beginning, was never a club of rich clubbable guys. It has always been a group of clubbable guys interested in books and this distinction has been crucial for its survival. After 120 years, the Rowfant Club is still just a bunch of men who like to talk about books over a meal.
There have been many other fortuitous incidents. In 1933 the Club dissolved as a corporation and became a not-for-profit entity, which evolved into a 401(c)(3) organization. This allowed the Club, relieved of taxes on itself, its books, its real estate, and its investments, to keep its financial footing. Crucial for survival during the period covered by this book was the destruction, with the blessing of the FBI Cleveland Strike Force and the State Fire Marshall, of the Sterling Hotel next door, headquarters for the Cleveland Mafia. It was replaced with a fenced in Club-owned parking lot.
There have also been more intangible, but very important, fortuities. There has been no fire. There have been no major financial irregularities. The Club has been blessed with an almost unending series of wise, prudent, imaginative, and dedicated volunteer officers and committee chairmen. In the second half of the twentieth century, although it cost a lot, American men miraculously became more healthy. As television, suburbs, and different family values eroded club life, there appeared, in large numbers, a jolly corps of guys, recently retired, still ticking, and looking for something to do. Finally, The Rowfant Club benefited from its location, in a peaceful and prosperous country.
In the twenty-first century, The Rowfant Club of Cleveland remains what it has always been, an ordinary bunch of guys who have “been in the Service,” worked hard, and kept on reading.