What started in Chicago in 1905 as a group of business men wanting to get together has grown to be one of the world’s oldest service organizations. Over the years, the Rotary Club has grown from a handful of men sitting around a table to a world-wide organization with over a million members.
Some of those members happen to belong to the local chapter. The St. Francois County Rotary Club, which has its roots in Bonne Terre, Park Hills and Farmington dating back to 1934, is still very active and a champion of causes both local and international.
“The Rotary Club is a civic organization that started with a group of businessmen who wanted to have lunch with each other,” said Chris Morrison, the president of the local chapter. “From there, they started doing things to give back to the community.”
According to Morrison, the motivation to give back to the community is still the appeal for most Rotarians.
“We mostly see ourselves as a local organization,” Morrison said. “But the fact is we are an international group that supports causes all over the world. We can list the fight against polio as one of our goals. It is one of our biggest causes and fund raising activities.”
According to past president Jerry Weems, polio is still a big issue in some countries, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan
“We are very close to eradicating polio,” Weems said. “One of the problems is some of the areas where we think it has been eliminated get re-infected from people carrying the disease back into the area.”
Weems also stated in addition to the areas becoming re-infected, they also face other obstacles. Many of these areas are remote, so navigating the terrain makes it difficult to service. Additionally, organization like the Rotary Club, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization must face roadblocks from the local governments and cultural issues as well.
“We are on the tail end of this issue,” Morrison said. “I don’t think many people of my generation even know how important of an issue this is or how devastating polio was in the past, specifically here in the United States.”
The Rotary club is also active in other global health issues such as clean water for third world communities.
“The Rotary Club allows individuals to help out in third world countries without traveling,” Weems said. “For as little as $2,000, we can have a well dug. This will help medically. It will help them plant gardens and it will allow their children grow up healthy, so they can attend school.”
Although the Rotary Club has a strong presence internationally, they are still very active in St. Francois County as well.
“Most of the money we raise is spent locally,” Morrison said. “Our largest financial contribution is to our scholarship program. Last year we raised around $10,000 in scholarships. One student at each of the five county high schools received $2,000 for one year.”
Besides offering local seniors a one-year scholarship, the Rotary Club also contributed to the first Special Olympics held in St. Francois County this year.
“The event was hosted at Central High School this year, and we were a major sponsor of the event,” Morrison said “We not only sponsored the event, our members helped staff it as well.”
Although these two programs garner the most attention, the Rotary Club has many other community service projects that are very important to the organization and the community but go mostly unnoticed.
Over the last couple of years, the organization has put in a bathroom at the Parkland Pregnancy Center and has refurbished parks in the community.
“One of our largest community projects was installing a handicapped accessible swing at Columbia Park in Park Hills,” Weems said. “We also helped refurbish Sundale Park in Bismark. We remodeled the bathrooms, put a fresh coat of paint on the pavilion and cleaned up the playground so families in the area can enjoy their park.”
When asked why a person should join the Rotary Club, Morrison replied very quickly with “Why wouldn’t you?”
“I think a lot of times, people have an issue with not having enough time,” Morrison said. “But if you have a genuine passion to give back to the community, whether it is working with the scholarship, helping install a bathroom at the Parkland Pregnancy Center or just reaching out to community, then you should join. We are trying to make a difference in our community and in the world.”
Morrison suggest those who are considering joining his organization, should come to one of their meetings at noon on Mondays at Mineral Area College north campus and see what the organization is all about.
“We have lunch every Monday at the north campus,” Morrison said. “A person should just come on out. We do have an application process and you do have to be sponsored, but it is opportunity to meet a wide range of folks and to participate in giving back to the community.”
For more information, contact the local organization at 573-631-1672 or at www.sfcrotary.org.
“We are trying to make a difference in our community and in the world.” Chris Morrison on the St. Francois County Rotary Club
Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at email@example.com