Utahn inducted into the National Exchange Club Hall of Fame

Published March 5, 2012 1:11 pm

'Inspirational' • Honor bestowed for decades of community service.
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Taylorsville • Ralph Carlson has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, run the Boston and New York marathons, owned and operated a string of radio stations and published a book of inspirational true stories. But his biggest accomplishment might be his work with the Exchange Club.

Since joining the service organization in 1968, Carlson has been tireless, helping with community projects and serving in local, regional and national leadership positions.

The Taylorsville resident's efforts were recognized recently with his induction into the National Exchange Club Hall of Fame in Toledo, Ohio. Exchange officials described Carlson, 82, as an invaluable asset.

Taylorsville Exchange Club President Jay Ziolkowski agrees.

"He's very inspirational," Ziolkowski said. "He's one of those workhorses. He never lets up and always does what's asked of him and always thinks outside of the box."

The National Exchange Club was founded in 1911 in Detroit by businessmen who wanted to "exchange" ideas on how to make their communities better. According to its website, the service organization has more than 21,000 members in the United States and Puerto Rico.

In Utah, Exchange clubs sponsor Americanism programs, which include passing out flags for kids to wave along parade routes; neighborhood clean-ups; crime and fire prevention events; and Youth of the Month recognitions at high schools. In addition, child abuse prevention is a major project of the Exchange organization nationwide.

Carlson was introduced to the group in April 1968 while looking for someone to give a stock market report for his Salt Lake City radio station. When stockbroker George Haymond came to his office to offer to do the broadcast, his Exchange Club lapel pin caught Carlson's eye.

Carlson asked Haymond about the group and accepted his invitation to join the Sugar House-Cottonwood Exchange Club. He jumped into the activities enthusiastically and became club president in 1971.

Over the years, Carlson helped build the Sandy, Timpanogos, Taylorsville and Herriman clubs. He served as president of the Rocky Mountain District clubs and several terms on the national board of the organization.

In the mid-1980s, while on the national board, Carlson supported a move to open Exchange Club membership to professional women, arguing in an article in The Exchangite magazine that they were "an important, untapped source of talent." A two-thirds vote was required to amend the organization's constitution to admit women. At the 1985 Exchange national convention, delegates approved, with just five votes to spare, changing the word "men" to "individuals" in reference to members.

Carlson's late wife, Catheryn, joined and served as the Sandy club's president a few years later. "We couldn't have survived without them," Carlson said of female members.

Joining a service organization used to be a tradition, he said, but membership in Exchange Club and others is dropping because younger people are less likely to get involved in the community through such groups.

Carlson was involved in myriad other activities in addition to his Exchange Club work. He lists among his accomplishments completing 37 marathons; skiing for 65 years; volunteering with the Boy Scouts and the Multiple Sclerosis Society; serving on the boards of broadcasters associations; and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro when he was 71.

And he wrote an inspirational book in 2003, Talent Unleashed: 101 Powerful Stories of Men and Women Whose Faith, Perseverance, Determination, Drive, Optimism, and Ingenuity Triumphed over All Obstacles.

"I'm always doing 10 projects at once," Carlson said.

He's grateful that Haymond, who died in October, extended an invitation for him to be a part of the Exchange Club.

"What if George had not worn his lapel pin that day?" Carlson once wrote in an Exchange Club publication. "What if he hadn't asked me to join Exchange? I would have missed out on being a member of the best service organization in America."

A member of the Taylorsville and Sandy clubs, Carlson no longer holds an elected position but isn't done serving with the organization.

"I've still got a lot to do," he said.


Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC —

National Exchange Club

Learn more about the service organization at http://bit.ly/un1OQo.