Just over 11 years ago, my friends Jim Dorman and Dick Hackl invited me to a Rotary meeting. I had heard of Rotary, of course, but I knew little about it. At my first meeting I was impressed by the presentation and the size of the audience. I attended a second meeting, where I learned more about the club’s commitment to making a difference in the community and around the globe. I decided that this was the place for me, and I submitted my application.
I am so glad I did. In fact, my only regret was that I did not join Rotary earlier in my career.
Since saying yes to the first invitation to attend a Rotary function, my fellow Rotarians have deepened my Rotary experience by asking me to work alongside them on various Rotary projects. For example, someone asked if I would be interested in joining the Reading is Fundamental book distribution program. What a joyful and eye-opening experience it was. Meeting students at MPS schools, distributing books, and handing out medals to Most Improved Readers, made me feel like I was making someone’s life a little more interesting (and educational).
Then I met fellow Rotarian Tom Plantenberg, who invited me to participate in the World Affairs Seminar as an Advisory Board Member. Eventually, that grew into a board position, and then I succeeded Bill Coleman as the Treasurer. The World Affairs Seminar, or “WAS”, is a long-time District 6270 program. It just finished its 43rd year. The Seminar promotes Peace Through Understanding and sponsors a week-long seminar for high school students from all over the US and the world. Clearly this is something I would have probably never heard of, except that someone asked.
I eventually got involved in tutoring students at Brown Street Academy under the watchful eye of Barbara Velez and her wonderful crew of volunteers. This experience has left a deep impact on me and my understanding of what it takes to help our young students learn how to read and cope in a challenging environment. I am absolutely convinced that I learned as much (probably more!) than my students did.
As a “tree-hugger”, I became interested in working on the Environmental and Ecology Committee, with one of the high points being the planting of one tree for every member of our Club at the Urban Ecology Center. Lots of volunteers, lots of fun, even in the cold, snowy Milwaukee spring, but we achieved our goal with the awesome help of Rotarian Leslie Hauser’s leadership and enthusiasm and the great staff at UEC. “We rest in the shade of trees planted by others”.
Then there were the Done in a Day projects at Feeding America, Tyrotarian tours of very interesting places around the City, Live at the Lakefront on Wednesday nights in the summer at the Rotary Amphitheater, home-hosted dinners, Rotary Night at the Symphony with Rick White, our Annual Scholarship Golf Outing, and the opportunity to act as a mentor to two young college students who had been awarded scholarships by our Club. Attending my first mentee’s graduation at Alverno College was definitely a feel good moment, and it made me very proud of being part of this great scholarship and mentoring program for the next generation of leaders.
In addition to the hands on work that makes Rotary so fulfilling, there have been many opportunities to contribute financially for great causes, such as Polio Eradication, scholarships for deserving but financially strapped students, the Urban Ecology Center, and much more. “Pay it forward”, as the saying goes.
So that is what Rotary means to me. Having recently attended the International Convention in Hamburg, the Large Club Conference in Long Beach, PETS training in Itasca, Illinois, and District Conference in Wisconsin Dells, I have a new appreciation of the strength of Rotary throughout the world, with over 36,000 clubs and over 1.2 million members. We have done, and will continue to do, great things, here in Milwaukee, in Guatemala and other places in the world, and within ourselves. Our Club is strong. Our Club has great members. Our Club has great programs. With everyone’s continued, or renewed engagement and participation, whether it be through volunteering, through financial gifts, through camaraderie and support of others, or through simply coming to lunch and enjoying our great speakers, we can all make Milwaukee and the world around us a better place.
There is one theme that keeps jumping out at me in all this. It is the fact that personal engagement makes Rotary more interesting, fulfilling, and fun. My hope is that everyone in our Club who is already engaged continues to do so, and that we don’t forget to make the “ask” of others in our Club to jump in with us. If we are engaged, others will notice, our Club will continue to do good work, and we will continue to attract new leaders from around our community. This will keep RCM strong and make a positive difference in ourselves, in our local community, and in the world.
Finally, I need to thank Ed Krishok and Mary McCormick for their leadership and mentoring. Ed and his predecessors are very tough acts to follow, and I am humbled by the very thought of it. With their continued support and that of our Board, officers, and members, we will go out and do what Rotary International President Mark Maloney has proclaimed to be his theme for this upcoming year: Rotary Connects the World.
Thanks to all of you!