The New Milford Rotary Club has reason to celebrate.

The local branch of the international service organization is 50.

Club members marked the milestone Jan. 13 at the Holiday Restaurant during their regular meeting, 50 years and one day after the club had officially been admitted into Rotary International.

Two of the surviving 20 co-founders and original charter members, Jack Straub and Andy Armstrong, were in attendance.

"It's a tremendous achievement for the group," said club president Oscar Rasmussen of the occasion. "Rotary has meant a lot to the community."

Club members are "part of the community as best as [they] can be and, at the same time, enjoy the camaraderie and companionship," the president explained.

Mr. Straub said he has enjoyed being a member for 50 years because the club helps people.

"It gives you a good feeling to help people," he said.

Reaching out to people in need is at the core of the Rotary Club. Its motto is "Service Above Self."

The local club has a rich history of member service and financial support to small and big projects, in the community and beyond.

Approximately $70,000 was dispersed through the club in 2009, with much of the monies benefitting local programs and projects, according to Charlie Junz, the club's treasurer and a 20-year member.

Money also benefits Rotary International.

Each July, the Rotary Club presents half to one-third of its annual funds raised to community groups, programs and projects during a special award presentation.

The Program Interact Club at New Milford High School, the high school's Grad Party, Christmas stamps for seniors, the food pantry, the bike helmet program, the senior fishing derby, the fire detector program, a community volunteer recognition party for seniors, the Literacy Project and the homeless shelter, as well as numerous other organizations are among the benefactors of the club's funds.

"There are a lot of non-profits that wouldn't otherwise" get support if it weren't for Rotary, said Mr. Armstrong, an honorary member.

The club also supports the vocational shadow program at Schaghticoke Middle School, mentoring programs, college scholarships, and high school student of the month and employer recognitions.

The local club is also active in Rotary's student exchange program. Each year, District No. 7890, of which the New Milford club is a part, accepts applications from students interested in studying abroad.

Frequently, New Milford students are accepted into the program, and residents of New Milford often serve as host families to international students.

Mr. Junz said one of the positive aspects of Rotary is that the club has no expenses, so all money raised goes back into the community and Rotary International projects.

A good portion of the Rotary Club's funds come from major fundraisers such as Rotary's ShredFest document recycling project and the Great Housatonic Duck Race on the Housatonic River on Memorial Day, the club's fried dough sales during the Village Fair Days in July and its rose sales and the Rotary/Red Cross golf tournament in September.

Member dues fund the club's operating expenses such as the weekly lunches held at Holiday Restaurant.

Approximately 45 to 50 of the club's 65 members attend the meetings on a regular basis, according to Mr. Junz.

Member participation is much greater today than it was 50 years ago when the club got off the ground.

Mr. Straub and Mr. Armstrong recall the club conducting several cleanups, with only 20 members or so, on the Housatonic River near Lover's Leap and along River Road, back in the early days.

"We'd pull out water heaters and cars [from the water] and filled dumpsters," Mr. Straub.

In addition, members cleaned up the area around the railroad station in what is now known as Veterans Way and began a glass recycling campaign with support from the Torrington Rotary Club, Mr. Straub said.

Local Rotarians have also reached out to families in need during crisis.

Mr. Straub recalled the time and labor members put in to help rebuild the interior of a house on Bonnybrook Drive following a fire many years ago.

"We were [then and still are] involved all the time in something," Mr. Straub said.

Mr. Straub said the New Milford club is distinguished from others because it has what he believes to be the "rare" distinction of having two of its members -- including Frank Wargo -- become district governor.

Mr. Wargo, who is past district governor, is currently active in Rotary International and regularly travels abroad for a variety of projects.

"It's another feather in the hat," Mr. Straub.

On top of that, members have earned 65 Paul Harris Fellow awards, the Rotary's highest honor, since the club started.

Citing Rotary records, Mr. Junz said approximately 30 Paul Harris Fellow awards have been earned by the club's currently active members; Mr. Straub and Mr. Junz have each earned four.

When asked why Mr. Junz has remained active in Rotary, he referred to the club's service and the people involved.

"We do a lot of good and we have a lot of fun," he responded.

"I'm proud to be a member," Mr. Rasmussen said. "I appreciate everything it does for the town."