The evidence of their service is everywhere -- look at the daffodils planted all along the Centennial Trail, the Children's Fire Safety House making its rounds to area elementary schools all year, newly painted park benches in Riverfront Park and the current excavation for a fountain next to the carousel. Quietly, the Rotary Clubs of the Spokane area have been helping the Spokane community since 1911. Like many area services clubs such as Lions and Kiwanis, the Rotary Club's presence is often seen in the community even as the members choose to stay out of the limelight. This weekend, however, Rotarians from eastern and central Washington, North Idaho and British Columbia will converge on the Spokane Convention Center and the Ridpath Hotel for a conference put on by the Downtown Rotary Club (Club 21) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rotary International.
The centennial celebration marks the year that Chicago businessman Paul Harris invited a few professionals to a weekly social gathering, which he called the Rotary Club because the meetings rotated among the members' offices. Now with 1.2 million members in 167 countries, Rotary International has become a worldwide movement of business professionals and community leaders who, as Club 21 President Nancy Ross Kennedy says, "build friendships and high ethical standards in business based on a commitment of service to others."
In the Spokane area, each club spends about $100,000 a year assisting people with disabilities, assisting disadvantaged youth and beautifying and strengthening the community, according to Lucretia Auble, executive director of Club 21. This can mean providing air conditioners to multiple sclerosis patients suffering from complications in excessive temperatures, working with Staples to deliver school supplies to needy area schools or funding scholarships for area students who cannot afford to attend summer camps or even college. The scholarships are particularly important, says Kennedy, to help "kids who have abilities but don't have the resources."
For this year's Rotary District 5080 conference, which runs from June 2-5, about 400 Rotarians will come to Spokane not only to celebrate the club's centennial but also to "see, understand and celebrate what Rotary has been doing for the past year," says Linda Oein, co-chair of the Rotary Conference Committee. Oein says the theme of the conference is "Flowing Into the Future," and it focuses on water and the important role clean water plays in people's lives. Topics for discussion include the Newport-Priest River Rotary Club and its project of constructing wells in Kenya; Dr. Joseph Serra of Polio Plus will deliver a report on Rotary's international effort to eradicate polio, and Bill Robinson, president of Whitworth College, will speak on Rotary's unique opportunities to help humanity.
"The intent [of the conference] is to continue to educate Rotary members on additional ways to serve mankind and find ways to coordinate our efforts," says Kennedy.
The first Rotary club in Spokane was Club 21 (Downtown), which was chartered by the Seattle club, according to Auble. "Club 21 is one of the oldest clubs in the world," she says, adding that it was the 21st club out of more than 31,000 clubs worldwide. "It was the idea [of Rotary's service commitment] itself which spread from place to place," says Kennedy.
Now there are 14 Spokane area clubs, as well as an Interact club at Rogers High School for students interested being involved in Rotary community projects.
All the clubs have individual projects at both the local and national level, but one of the most prominent local projects is the construction of an interactive fountain next to the carousel in Riverfront Park. Club 21 spearheaded the financing of the project, and Rotary clubs around Spokane as well as community members are working together on the project. "We decided we wanted something the whole community could benefit from and will be around for generations," says Auble. The fountain will be 60 feet wide, ringed by columns and spewing water from jets to form changing liquid patterns for everyone to cool off in and enjoy, according to publicity and pubic relations chairman Paul Brandt. He says the fountain should be finished by Labor Day weekend.
Though projects like the fountain are important, Kennedy stresses the focus of Rotary is not individual projects as much as providing help continuously to those in need. "We try to find pockets of people who have a problem that no one else is addressing," she says. And even after 100 years, Rotarians are still committed to following their mission: service before self.
"It raises the bar for ethics in your personal life and business life," Kennedy says.