Returning to in-person meetings has gotten me thinking about why I am a Rotarian.
My first Rotary membership was in Hickory, North Carolina in 1976. I was 27 years old and in my first management position with the Boy Scouts of America. We met at Mom and Pop’s Ham House (that’s a big deal in that part of the world.) We would go through the cafeteria line, selecting the items we wanted, and carry them to a table where we would join other men. Yes, men, it was 1976. The only other member under age 40 was a third generation legacy Rotarian. They decided I should be appointed the Sergeant at Arms, I think because I was younger and faster than most. That was important because one of my tasks was cornering someone and convincing them to do the invocation. I was amazed at how many men from my Sunday School class told me they could not pray out loud in public. Why was I a Hickory Rotarian? Because my predecessor, an older guy who’d been promoted out said I should.
The next Rotary Club I joined was the downtown club in Charlotte. I was the new CEO for the Boy Scouts in that area and there was no question that Rotary was where I was expected to be. (Some friendly folks also told me what church we should join, but we ignored that instruction.) Our godfathers in Scouting, Tom and John Belk of Belk Department Stores, were Rotarians as were many of my other Board members. During my time there, I recruited other Rotarians to the BSA Board. Why was I a Charlotte Rotarian? Because it was good for business.
We moved to Oklahoma City in 1992 and I was encouraged to join Club 29, as most of my predecessors had done. But one of those predecessors, Brantly Hudson, told me not to join unless I would be a regular attender. Another member explained that I did not want to have a lower attendance percentage than a certain high-profile member as it was published in the newsletter. In those days, women were just starting to join Rotary, and I thought it was a great idea. Brantly was not quite sure, as his wife had been very involved with the local Rotary Anns. In 11 years as a Club 29 Rotarian, I finally got the bigger picture of Rotary. Our club leadership did a great job of telling the story of Rotary’s impact on the world and I became a believer. Why was I an OKC Rotarian? It had become a habit.
Next, work took us to Salt Lake City, with the largest membership in the BSA, in 2004 and I eagerly joined the downtown Rotary Club. Once again, many of my key Board members were active in the club. One thing that stands out was suddenly hosting the RI Convention when New Orleans was unable to do so. A good friend of mine took the lead on the event and I enjoyed seeing a convention up close and personal. We did a great job on short notice! Salt Lake City was a wonderful experience for me. Why was I a Salt Lake City Rotarian? It was expected, just as going to LDS General Conference and sitting near the front.
My final promotion with BSA involved a move to Los Angeles. My office was on the edge of downtown LA and we served everything from Watts to Palos Verdes. Rotary met at the California Club and it was fascinating to see people I considered to be celebrities every week. The first time I sat at a table with Judge Lance Ito, I was pretty much speechless. (Eventually we became good friends.) My mission was to extend Scouting to more Black and Hispanic youth, and Rotarians were very helpful in those efforts. After four years, my health reached crisis, with 7 doctors at USC and one at Massachusetts General Hospital tending to me. We decided to call it a career, and to move back to a place we loved, closer to our kids and our first grandson who had just been born. I will admit, I was an LA5 Rotarian partly because the meeting venue, members, and programs were eye-popping to this small-town guy.
So we packed it up and packed it in, reversing a migratory pattern of many during the hard years of the Dust Bowl and moving from Los Angeles to Oklahoma. Once my health challenges resolved with chemo, and we had built our “forever home” I found myself missing Rotary! Club 29 was kind enough to welcome me back. For the first time, my employer was not paying my dues, but they are an important part of our personal budget. I’m one of those old Prior Service guys, and I have the leisure to arrive early and linger a bit afterward. What struck me when we returned, after a ten year absence, was how many familiar faces were among the club, and yet how many new, younger, more diverse members we have. During this past year, President David has done a great job of keeping us feeling connected, and redirecting funds to help our fellow residents during times of adversity. Getting to know Mary Jane Calvey, I’ve finally gotten a true picture of Rotary as a worldwide service organization. And as a speaker for the Midtown Club, I have a renewed sense of optimism that Rotary can matter to yet another generation. With a total tenure of 36 years, I am proud and grateful to be a Rotarian! I’m a Club 29 Rotarian because it is a great place to serve.