The club has a rich history and has been a vital force in the community since 1926.

Exchange Club of Newport Harbor - History

Club History

Exchange has a long and proud history. Each year the club holds new member educational meetings. Led by the club's active Past Presidents group, each meeting covers the history of Exchange, both nationally and locally.

A detailed summary of the contributions made by our club to the development and growth of the Newport Harbor area follows.


The Exchange Club of Newport Harbor was one of the important forces in building this beautiful city of Newport Beach. The Club supplied the men of vision, dedication and effort who created the city we enjoy today, a city built from the two small villages of Newport Beach and Balboa. A group of civic-minded men made up of volunteers from both communities agreed to form a club and ask for a charter from the National Exchange Club . Why the Exchange Club ? Well, Exchange was and is the only national service club and, also, the semantics might have had a strong influence, for certainly there is harmony in the very word “exchange.” That decision to use the Exchange Club as the means of civic improvement was the cornerstone for building one of the loveliest, most scenic and most desirable cities ever developed in America - the City of Newport Beach.

The members of this original Exchange Club , the forerunner of our present club, had a great deal of building confronting them. Today the community is filled with its beautiful yachts and stately homes lining the shore of beautiful Newport Harbor. The harbor we see today looking out our club’s dining room windows was, in 1926, little more than a deep mud puddle with dangerous sandbars and a treacherous harbor entrance. Summer visitors, though, found it a delightful place to visit and returned year after year, eventually building permanent homes to replace many of the original summer cottages.

The major projects facing the City and the Exchange Club in 1926 were improving the bay and making a safe harbor entrance. The task was Herculean and involved millions of dollars, persuasion of the voting majority to allocate funds and contacting the various federal bureaus in Washington, D.C. Men from the two original cities worked together using the Exchange Club Covenant of Service to inspire them. It took years to succeed, but succeed they did, through dogged determination and perseverance. As lovely as the bay is, the most valuable achievement of this group was the establishment of harmony between the cities of Newport Beach and Balboa. Members were also active in their eventual unification.

Also of high priority was a high school for Newport Beach. The city was then in the secondary school district of Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange County, some 10 miles away. There were no buses and it was up to each Newport family to take their children to school and bring them home again.  Former Newport Beach Mayor Norman Miller has told of his perilous adventures in acquiring his high school education; four or five of his fellow Santa Ana High School buddies chipped in $10 each and bought a Model T Ford to make the daily trip. The Exchange Club led the campaign for the release of the Newport area from Santa Ana and establishment of our own school district. The Newport-Mesa School District has since become one of the great leaders in the county educational system. There were five members on the new school board; three were Exchange Club members.  One of these was the late Joseph Beek, whose son, Seymour, is today an active member of the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor .

In 1926, there were 36 charter members of this, the first Exchange Club of Newport Harbor . By their accomplishments, we see these men as successful in winning goals; they were creative and constructive men of vision. Shortly after the formation of the club, four Exchangites were elected to the Newport Beach Board of Trustees, today called the City Council. Among the four was the late Sam A. Meyer, editor and publisher of the city’s first newspaper. Two others were Dr. Conrad Richter and Dr. Gordon Grundy, who together founded the first hospital in Newport Beach. Other charter members were the leading merchants, bankers, educators, manufacturers, developers and civic employees.

The Exchange Club is the father of Scouting in our community. Member A.J. Twist was the founding Scoutmaster of Newport’s first Boy Scout troop. Our club sponsored this troop at its formation. At that time, a boy had to be 12 years of age to be in scouting. Jack Twist took his scouting duties seriously and felt younger boys should have a chance to enjoy scouting. He started a new program that became highly successful. The venture attracted national attention and was adopted by the Boy Scouts of America. The little known fact is, The Exchange Club of Newport Harbor founded the Cub Scout program that now exists nationwide. Also, reflective of the club’s interest in community welfare is the fact that the very first Girl Scout troop in Newport Beach was formed by Exchangite Paul Ellsworth and was also sponsored by this Club.

Seventeen members of this Exchange Club have served on our City Council, including the present mayor of Newport Beach, Dennis O’Neill. Down through history our members have served on planning commissions, library boards, and other bodies contributing to good government. In fact, reading the history of Newport Beach is much like reading the history of the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor . The best of both are in the files of past issues of “ The News Press, ” an early Newport newspaper sold to a nationwide chain in the early 1960’s. At that time, one of our Exchange Club members, then serving on the Board of Library Trustees, knew the historical value of these files and prevailed upon the new owner of the newspaper to make a gift of them to the library where they reside today.

The book, “ A History of Newport Beach ,” by Lancey Sherman, has the following quote: “The Exchange Club of Newport Harbor contributed considerably to the welfare of the community. It is probable that this club, more than any other factor, helped to create a spirit of camaraderie and harmony between the two ends of the city. In many civic matters, notably the creation of the harbor and the high school district, yeoman service was rendered.”

From the Exchange Club’s very beginnings its roster has been a list of the “doers” in Newport Beach. The first interim president of the club was Lou Briggs, whose service on the city’s Planning Commission would be counted in decades, not just years. He was a successful local developer devoted to preserving all that was worthwhile in our community.

The club’s first charter president was Dick Whitson, who was Postmaster and the first Commander of the American Legion Post. From these first presidents there followed a list of honored names from the community. Among these, we find Theo Robins, and some 30 years later we find the name of his son, Bob Robins, also a past president of the Exchange Club . Today’s club, three times the size of the 1926 club, still meets weekly, enjoying a guest speaker at most meetings and continuing the warm camaraderie of earlier days.

Recently, the Exchange Club has taken on additional civic responsibilities. The most important of these tasks is raising funds for the Orange County Child Abuse Prevention Center founded by this and other Orange County Exchange Clubs . Over the last 10 years, the Newport Harbor Exchange Club has raised more than $1 million for the benefit of the center.  We are joined In this activity by other Orange County Exchange Clubs working together to support this worthy cause.

For 20 years, the Newport Harbor Club has held a unique annual benefit movie screening at Edward’s Lido Theater on Balboa Island. This activity boasts a first-run film and delicious food furnished by many of the city’s specialty gourmet restaurants. Funds raised by this delightful event are donated to the Child Abuse Prevention Center and to other deserving local charities and community projects.

The Exchange Club takes great pride in the purchase, installation and dedication of Freedom Shrines at local schools, libraries and other civic and community locations. A Freedom Shrine contains framed copies of the significant historical documents of our nation; the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, he Mayflower Compact, and 25 more letters, addresses and speeches held by all Americans to be the most important documents of our national history.

The club also recognizes, on a yearly basis, the outstanding public servants of the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa communities. Both fire and police officers receive recognition for their contributions. Additionally, the best of our local schoolteachers are invited to a special club gathering where they are recognized and cited for special service to the youth of our community. Also receiving special recognition are the youth going to school in the area via the “Youth of the Year” awards which are given annually for excellence and achievement to the five area high schools’ top students. We also award dictionaries to students in the 4 th , 5 th and 6 th grades for the “Young Citizenship” competition.

Exchange Clubs throughout our nation hold a “Search for Talent” program, giving talented kids ages 6-16 an opportunity to showcase their artistic abilities. Winners at the local level can then continue to the district and national levels to attain recognition as the top talent in the country. Other efforts that benefit the community include Clean Harbor Day, DARE programs and GIVEAKIDAFLAGTOWAVE.

The many members of the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor continue to give of their time, talent, and money to underwrite these and other important community services and programs. The Exchange Club of Newport Harbor has been and is presently represented in the operation of our banks, hospitals, realty boards, charity fund drives and in every worthwhile effort undertaken for the general well being of the community. The extraordinary efforts of these members to improve the communities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa would certainly satisfy and please the earlier club members who gave so much to make our cities good places to live and work. The tradition of leadership, dedication, and excellence continues.

Presidents of the
Exchange Club of Newport Harbor

1926      Louis W. Briggs

1927      E.P. Whitson

1927/28 Eugene Fenelon

1928      Lester Isbell

1929      Theo Robins

1929/30 Dr. G.M. Grundy

1930      R.R. Hodgkinson

1930/31 W.S. Smith

1950/51 T.E. Heffernan

1952      Milton Pritchard

1953      E.H. Thiele

1954      Paul t. Butler

1955      Lloyd C. Howard

1955      Robert W. Jones

1956      W.R. Collins

1956/57 Carl E. Stentz

1957      Joseph Steelman

1958      Fred W. Preston

1958      Al Harris

1958/59 Marlin Johnson

1959/60 T.E. Heffernan

1961      Robert E. Turner

1962      Dr. Sheldon Newcomer

1963      Albert Rottmann

1963/64 Matt Arko

1964      Theo (Bob) Robins

1965      Dr. Robert Washbon

1966      Calvin Stewart

1967      Dwight Gick

1968      George Doubledee

1969      Gerard Wooters

1970      R. Jack Dalbey, Jr

1970      William A. Wittman.

1971      Jack F. King

1972      William I. Loitz

1973      Charles E. Brown

1974      Richard P. Hodge

1975      Albert E. Dunlap

1976      Robert E. Meyer

1977      Fred L. Davis

1978      Michael Gertner

1979      Garrett TeWinkle

1980      Ed Kohlmeier

1981      Murray Fowler

1982      Dr. Norm Von Herzen

1983      Dwayne Mitchell

1984      Kent Bergstrom

1985      Paul Ryckoff

1986      Dr. Arnie Frankenberger

1987      Jack Kistler

1988      Paul Schmitt

1989      William DeMuelle

1990      Dick Brown

1991      W.C. Fox

1992      Robert Penewell

1993      George Lesley

1994      William Barrington

1995      Dave Brakesman

1996      Steve Rautus

1997      Jeff LaBarthe

1998      Richard Freeman

1999      Matt Arko

1999      W. C. Fox

2000      Thomas R. Norton

2001      Daniel Palmer

2002      Richard Harris

2003      John Kruse

2004      John Fornes

2005      Duncan Forgey

2006      Bill Bechtel

2007      Robert Jessen

2008      Nicholas Berger

2009      Jerry Nininger

2010      Gary Eckles

2011      Dr. Bob Wood

2012      Leo Fracalosy

2013      Bill Bechtel