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02.18.16 – Luncheon Notes and Photos

SPOKES Notes by Charlie Gallmeyer

President Derek Aten called the meeting to order and Matt Hylant introduced guests and visiting Rotarians.  Chelsea Dubey announced that the Community Engagement Committee has secured 50 volunteers for the Rotary Service Above Self Day.

As a Presidents’ Day observance, President Derek invited former Grand Rapids Rotary Presidents to describe some of their experiences in the first annual Past Presidents’ Day Meeting.  Members were treated to some reminiscing as well as some ideas to think over for our future.

Dave Custer (1986-87) described some of the soul-searching that went on during his tenure when the club decided to invite women to join.  It’s hard now for many of us to imagine, but 30 years ago it still seemed normal to a lot of people to have much more gender segregation.

Dave ran a campaign to promote awareness of Rotary, in part by urging members to wear their Rotary pins and talk about their experiences in Rotary.  He even went so far as to promise to donate another Paul Harris Fellowship if all club members showed up on a Thursday wearing a pin.  He was surprised one week to see everyone with a pin, including several dozen ones made of paper and liberally handed out to members as they entered the room.

Hugh Brenneman (1987-88) actually presided over the meeting that made the historic change admitting women.  He explained that the California club that first admitted women did so because of a legal decision that went all the way to the Supreme Court.  The same law didn’t apply here in Michigan at the time, however, so it was far from mandatory for the club to make the same move.  Our group was one of the very first in the state to admit women, showing it was willing to take a risk for what it considered the right thing to do.  Hugh offered a simple syllogism of unassailable logic: Rotary is a service club; women can serve the community as well as men; therefore Rotary needed to welcome women into its ranks.

Max Smith (1988-89) described a visit he made to our sister city of Omihachiman, Japan, and the gracious reception he received there from the local Rotary Club.  This was a good reminder to all of us about the opportunities for international understanding that Rotary almost uniquely offers, as well as the value of the diversity in the organization that many of us don’t find in our other volunteer activities.

Bruce Brown (1991-92) used his term to promote awareness of the “soft underbelly” of Grand Rapids, focusing on agencies and people who serve the disadvantaged in our community.  Once a month a representative of a not-for-profit was invited to address the club and describe what their organization did to serve those in need.  Bruce went so far as to schedule a meeting at God’s Kitchen, despite skepticism from some about the willingness of Rotarians to go there.  Over 150 members showed up.

Andy Devries (1996-97) was President when we made our commitment to the Strive Program.  He was active in developing ways to help fund the program, which included expanding the annual golf outing to its current size.  Being a guy who is willing to put his money where his mouth is, Andy announced he would take all comers in a golf challenge, in which the losing twosome would donate $100 each to the Foundation and the winning twosome would buy dinner.  Naturally Rotarians took up the challenge, and even expanded it to include things like bowling and fishing, all to benefit Strive.

Andy credited his membership in Rotary for helping him get through some of the tough times in his life, including a major motorcycle accident and the sale of the business he helped start.  The latter event occurred during his presidential year, which came as a surprise to the writer: Andy never missed a beat during his tenure, or showed any signs of strain.

Larry Bratschie (1999-2000) attended his first Rotary meeting on the day Chuck Stoddard was roasted as the outgoing President, and wondered if he really wanted to join such an organization.  Back then roasts were major events, starring such luminaries as Blake Forslund as Hermann Bindertwine, complete with props and costumes.  Larry described how he got the idea to start the New Year’s Eve Gala on a trip to Boston, where a Rotary member told him about a similar event featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra.  The first concert was held in 2000 and nearly filled the main floor of DeVos Hall.

Grace Shearer (2000-01) had a roast story of her own, recalling that she was played by Dick Young on her last day as President.  Grace also expressed her appreciation for the sense of vitality that is now so evident in our club, thanks to the addition of new and younger members.

Chuck Caldwell (2001-02) credits Rotarian Bill Sprague with inspiring him to volunteer for international medical service trips.  He has made a total of six trips to Central America and the Caribbean, both to provide basic dental services and to distribute household water filters.  Rotary also can be the source of opportunity for career advancement, he noted.  He was able to arrange an internship for his son in Germany via a Rotary connection.

Chuck remarked that the makeup of the club has changed considerably since he joined.  A lot of movers and shakers are spending so much time at work that the idea of agreeing to show up every week is out of the question.  Today’s club might not carry the prestige it once had, but it is showing a new willingness to serve that Chuck finds stimulating.

Jim Williams (2002-03) recalled how important some of Rotary’s leaders have been for him.  He mentioned George Trowbridge, who is currently working toward his 45th year of perfect attendance, and who made an extraordinary gift to the Polio Plus campaign during Jim’s tenure.  He also was inspired by Hal Child, who was active in Rotary well beyond the local club level.  Jim got to meet Past RI President Cliff Dochterman at a birthday party put on for Hal just before his passing.

Jeanne Englehart (2004-05) found herself leading the club a year earlier than planned, without having done the usual preparatory jobs.  At the same time she made a career move that also challenged her in new ways.  She learned quickly to rely on the goodwill of past Presidents, who were happy to support her efforts and make her term a success.

Ted Vecchio (2007-08) reminded members that Rotary conferences and assemblies aren’t just for the top brass, and that some of the greatest opportunities to form lasting friendships can be realized at those meetings.

Jackie Taylor (2008-09) served during the “Great Recession” but found that Rotarians were still intent on serving the community.  Her most fulfilling activity in Rotary has been working with Ambassadorial Scholars, students who are able to visit other Rotary clubs all over the world, building the future of Rotary International and making the future brighter for all in the process.

Peter Albertini (2009-10) described his experience with Rotary in spiritual terms.  He joined originally because he wanted to support the effort to eradicate polio, and also for the networking opportunities.  By becoming active in Strive he learned about the benefits of dedicating oneself to the welfare of others, which helped him grow as a person.

Nick Kroeze (2011-13) has the distinction of having served as President for the better part of two terms.  Given that the job requires major time and effort, many of us wondered how he could have been talked into a second term when his successor moved out of town.  Nick said he learned during his first term that there are many in the club who are willing to give their heart and soul to the organization, and knowing this made it fairly easy to say yes.

Ed Bujdos (2013-14) expressed gratitude to Rotary for giving him the opportunity to grow as a leader.  His experience with the club has been a lesson in the value of giving to others without expectation of anything in return.

Tom Mathison (2014-15) thanked veteran members of the club for their willingness to work on projects and help him in his role as President.  Tom has modeled this kind of willingness by agreeing to serve again on the Spokes Committee.

President Derek closed the meeting by taking the biggest selfie of his career, and accepting congratulations from members for putting together an outstanding program.


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