Untapped Rewards of Rotary Fellowships

By John A. Bernaden, Past President 2014-15


Did you know that Rotary Fellowships can provide a great way to make new friends around the world and enhance your Rotary experience?  Fellowships are international, independently organized groups of Rotarians and sometimes their spouses who share a common recreational interest or vocation.


The first fellowship began in 1947 when a group of Rotarians who love sailing began flying the Rotary flag from their boats, calling themselves the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians. Today, more than 3,300 Rotarians sail together in one of 109 Rotary fleets in 37 countries.  (http://www.iyfr.net/new/about)


More than 60 other fellowship groups similarly unite Rotarians in friendship and expand opportunities to enjoy your favorite recreational activities, hobbies, sports, and most recently your vocation. These groups range from cycling to skiing, golfing and even wine-tasting. Here’s the link to see the complete list:  (https://www.rotary.org/myrotary/en/rotary-fellowships)


I recently joined the RV fellowship and rallied this February for a week in Tucson with a dozen couples who came from Rotary clubs in Canada, California, Colorado, Texas and Arizona. We toured local attractions together, shared meals and enjoyed the comradery of like-minded leaders including two past district governors. My wife Kathleen and I also hope to someday join over a thousand Rotarians in the United Kingdom who caravan together in recreational vehicles across Europe every summer. 


The Wine Appreciation Fellowship is a learning tool for those who are interested in expanding their knowledge and sharing ideas regarding all aspects of wine appreciation.Like most fellowships, the group has an email newsletter and members are encouraged to visit an interactive wine website (www.rotarywine.net) frequently for updates, features, articles and information on wine events and trips.


While most day-to-day fellowship activities may take place online or through correspondence, the most successful fellowships facilitate regular opportunities for members to interact in person. For example, sporting fellowships hold regional matches and world tournaments, fellowships related to travel or excursions plan destination trips, and vocational fellowships often plan get-togethers at professional conferences and seminars.


A growing number of vocational fellowships have also formed during the past decade.  For example, Rotarians who are doctors, lawyers, educators and other professions have begun sharing their expertise and experiences with fellow Rotarians in the same profession from other clubs around. My hope in establishing our club’s Global Milwaukee Committee is to encourage international relationship-building not only with manufacturers in other Rotary clubs, but other professions too. This is a way to make that happen. For example, the 63 lawyers in our club could significantly steer and help lead the 600 global members of the fledgling Rotary Fellowship of Lawyers. 


Many fellowships also use their special interests to serve others. For example, the Fellowship of Canoeing Rotarians has organized cleanups of polluted rivers; members of the International Computer Users Fellowship of Rotarians had conducted training sessions for Rotarians and others in their community; and members of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Scuba Divers join local Rotary clubs to undertake service projects on each of their diving trips.


Lastly, developing acquaintances and even friendships by participating in one of the international Rotary Fellowships can help improve your understanding of the world.  "The best way to cultivate international understanding is through business and social intercourse,” said Paul Harris at the Pacific Rotary Conference in Tokyo, 1928