The Camden Rotary Club met for the first time a century ago at the Hotel Ridgway.

That downtown establishment has been out of business for decades. But the Camden chapter of the venerable international service organization soldiers on.

"We just had our 100th anniversary party, and it was great," says club president Nancy V. Gulick of Haddonfield. "We'll probably be talking about it for another 100 years."

I drop by as 15 of the club's 25 active members gather for their weekly breakfast meeting at Cathedral Kitchen on Federal Street. The kitchen, which provides nutrition, job-training, and health-care programs, has hosted the Camden Rotary for several years.

"When the club first approached us, we were a little taken aback," says Karen Talarico, the kitchen's executive director. "They wanted to switch from a lunch to a breakfast meeting, and there aren't any restaurants besides fast food that serve breakfast in Camden. But we don't really think of ourselves as a restaurant.

"It's been a wonderful relationship," Talarico says, noting that Rotarians now volunteer in the kitchen's community programs.

"The need is in the city, and we're doing some good here," says club member Larry Lyford, 77, a retired computer programmer from Voorhees.

"We mainly focus on the children of Camden," he says. "We sponsor sports teams, and we give a dictionary to every public-school third grader in November - about 1,100 of them. It's a chance for us to see the kids face to face."

Lyford joined the city club in 1980. Back then, it met at Kenny's restaurant on Market Street and had about 70 members.

"As Camden businesses closed down and corporations merged, we got smaller," he says. "We lost our bankers and our utility [executives]. Most of our lawyers moved to Haddonfield and Cherry Hill."

Like Lyford and Gulick, the majority of the Rotarians live in the suburbs and work, or used to work, in Camden.

"This is exactly what I wanted after I retired - to do good things in Camden," says Cathy Gavin, a longtime administrator for Camden County who lives in Cherry Hill.

"I've always been involved in the community," says Pat Witcher, 65, a retired banker from Lindenwold. "I'm a people person."

Tom Francesconi, a member since 1973, agrees. "You make friends in Rotary," says the Pennsauken resident, 79. "Lifelong friends. It's a family."

"It's a way of life," says Beulah Gordon-Skinner, who's neither a retiree nor a suburbanite. She lives in Camden and runs a theatrical production company there.

"I got involved with Rotary after my granddaughter came home from Riletta Cream School with a dictionary," Gordon-Skinner says.

Like other traditional community organizations, Rotary - which was founded in 1905 and has 1.2 million members worldwide - works hard to attract younger people.

"That's where the future lies, and it's our biggest challenge," says Gulick, 62. She notes that her chapter sponsors a club called Interact at the Pennsauken campus of Camden County Technical School.

"There are a lot of clubs at school, but this one specifically interested me because it's all about community service," says Interact president Leah Minuche, 16, a junior from Camden.

Consider: When sports teams at the city's parochial schools didn't have money for uniforms, Camden Rotary stepped up.

"Seven years ago, we had nothing, and Camden Rotary was our first sponsor," says Judyann McCarthy, volunteer athletic program coordinator for the five Catholic Partnership schools in Camden and Pennsauken.

The $7,000 the club has donated has paid for uniforms, gym rentals, and other essentials for 100 boys and girls.

"Camden Rotary has been a lifesaver," McCarthy says. "Their slogan is 'Service above self,' and they really are all about that."

Kevin Riordan:

Meet Nancy V. Gulick, president of the 100-year old Camden Rotary club: