Recently, I sat down with Ellen Fleming to talk about her 2017-2018 year as president of our Oklahoma City Rotary Club. I know you will enjoy her responses to my questions as much as I did.
What was your favorite Rotary moment? When I became president-elect in 2016, I had no idea that the International Convention would be held in Seoul, South Korea. Some of our Rotarians may know that my husband and I adopted our son, Thomas Fleming, from Seoul 21 years ago. Thomas is now a senior at OSU and majoring in Sports Media. Since I had never been to Seoul, I was quite excited that that’s where I was going for the International Convention. Fifty thousand people were attending, and we were scattered at 1,000 hotels. I was the only one there from Oklahoma City, and when I went down to the lobby of my hotel to go on the Rotary-sponsored Peace Walk, I saw two couples from the United States at a nearby table. Since I was by myself, I asked if I could join them. Once we were in the cab, we introduced ourselves. In my introduction, I told them my husband and I had adopted our son from Seoul and I had never been here until this trip! Incredibly, the other two couples, who did not know each other either, had also adopted a child from Seoul, and it was their first time to be in Seoul as well! My goodness! What a coincidence! Later, I took the opportunity to visit the orphanage where Thomas lived before he came to the U.S. It was a most memorable experience and one I’ll never forget.
What was your first memory of Rotary? One day, one of my co-workers came back from Rotary and told me that the Club was now opening up to women and he would like for me to be a Rotarian. Burns Hargis was the president and, with International changing its policy to now include women, he wanted Oklahoma City to be quick to respond. To get the practice started, our Club brought in our executive administrator, Shirley Kirschner, as our first female member of Club 29.
Looking back over your year as president, do you have a favorite Rotary activity? Tuesday meetings themselves! I wish everyone could view the room from the podium. Sometimes I’m slow to start the meetings since I can see what fun everyone is having—mingling with each other. I’ve also been amazed at the number of Rotarians who come early and stay afterwards to socialize. People who dash in and out miss that!
What was the hardest thing in adjusting to being president? I was not really aware of the breadth of activities, all the things our Club does. We have over 50 committees—lots of moving parts! People choose to be involved in what works best for them. Some people who do not attend many Tuesday meetings are very involved in committee activities. I am so grateful to our members who say “yes” to serving on a committee.
From your involvement in earlier Rotary activities/committee positions or community involvement, what do you think prepared you the most for your year as president? The ability to make decisions—decisiveness—is something I learned through the years, which is an enormous help. Serving in several major roles in Rotary—Program Chair, on the Board a couple of times and serving as Treasurer—helped me to understand the inner workings of Rotary.
Did you learn something about Rotary this year that you didn’t know? In addition to our breadth of activities, our international service is unmatched by almost any other club. The number of international service projects we do is amazing!
When our members look back to this year, most will remember it as the year we changed locations. Was that a difficult decision? How did it evolve? There were challenges on several fronts, but I like resolution. The Board put together a task force to research the situation. Many places could not handle our weekly meetings because of our size. Change can sometimes be good, and I am comfortable with our change.
How did you happen to implement that we start each meeting by saying the Four-Way Test? We had several new members who had been members of other clubs, as well as visitors from other clubs, who commented that we were the first club they had attended that didn’t recite it. I think it sets a nice tone for the beginning of each meeting.
Do you have a favorite Rotary service project? I love our Salvation Army bell ringing and volunteer every year.
If you were encouraging someone to join Club 29, what would you tell them is the value of membership? Meeting new people and sharing Rotary with your fellow members. I would encourage our members not to always sit at the same table each week. Try to sit with someone new every week!
When you look back at your Rotary year—say 10 years from now—what do you think you’ll remember the most? How special everyone made me feel. It’s very humbling. I feel honored to have been elected President. Everyone is so genuinely nice and respectful to the president.
Do you have any advice for Tom Phillips as he begins his year as president? To relax and enjoy the experience! Sometimes it’s easy to get stressed about a meeting or project. You have to remember that Rotary is a club and everything will work out!
As President Ellen completes her year this week, we give her a resounding “hurrah” for a great job! Congratulations, Ellen, for an outstanding Rotary year!