Jean Runyon's Living Legacy Series


The Rotary Club of Sacramento (RCS), founded in 1913-1914, is one of this area’s most prestigious organizations in which a large, diverse group of businesspeople, activists and friends join forces to strengthen their community through service, the exchange of ideas and fellowship.

At its start – like many similar groups across the land – RCS welcomed only male members. But the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that in 1987 and RCS began its search for the “best, most prominent, most successful women in our community,” said David Murphy, who at the time was president of the club.

“Jean Runyon was the unanimous first choice,”

he recalled, “and she said ‘yes’ without hesitation,” becoming the first female member of Rotary Club of Sacramento Sept. 29, 1987.

Jean, who died in 2009 at the age of 82, was a widely known local-area public relations, marketing, advertising, communications specialist and activist who started her business in 1960 and gave tirelessly to this community while leading one of the most successful firms of its kind.

Fast forward now to 2018 when James L. Leet, a tax attorney and shareholder in BoutinJones, Inc., a well-known Sacramento-area law firm, was preparing for his role as the club’s 2018/2019 RCS president and wanted to shine the spotlight on the important role of women in an organization that had been a male bastion in the past.

He appointed a committee to get the job done, asking that club members be given the opportunity to annually recognize and honor men and women for the good work they do and have done through Rotary.

His only caveat was that Jean Runyon’s name be linked to the honor because of her prominence and reputation for high-level civic engagement. Rotarian Kathy Herrfeldt headed Jim’s committee that developed a framework for what is now called the Jean Runyon Community Service Award, given for the first time in 2020. Club members fill out nomination forms and submit them to the committee, which ultimately selects the winner.

Award criteria, modeled after traits and accomplishments indisputably attributable to Jean, include outstanding community service, generosity, leadership, influence and champion of women, to name just a few.