BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Waterville Rotary Club’s impact on the Anthony Wayne community is visible in the park benches, signs, roadside cleanups, scholarships and support of local organizations like the YMCA, Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, Bittersweet Farms, Let’s Build Beds and Nature’s Nursery.
Yet in its 95 years, Waterville Rotary has made an impact far beyond the AW area: immunizing children against polio, providing medical supplies to impoverished countries and supporting the victims of the war in Ukraine and natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes.
“Giving back to the community and giving back to the world is really what Rotary does,” said Jim Pease, who is Waterville Rotary’s longest serving member, having joined in 1971. “I’ve always been a public servant. I feel that you ought to give back to your community. The Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self’ has really meant more to me over the years as I’ve matured.”
On March 27, Mayor Tim Pedro stopped into the weekly Waterville Rotary meeting to read and sign a proclamation in honor of the club’s 95th anniversary. Rotary, with its 1.4 million members in 46,000 clubs, has far-reaching impact, he noted.
“There are so many things that Rotary does. They help us grow and stay connected,” Pedro said.
As the Rotarians enjoyed dinner, several shared similar stories on why they joined the organization.
“My business partner said, ‘You need to do this to make contacts,’” said Bob Keogh, who joined in the mid-1980s.
Paul Croy agreed. When he decided to open a law office in Waterville in 1995, his predecessor told him, “If you want to know everyone in Waterville, join Rotary.”
When Deb Cheney became principal of Water-ville Primary School in 2004, then-Superintendent Randy Hardy told her, “You will be joining Rotary,” she said. “It was the best thing ever.”
Cheney was the first in the club’s history to become governor of Rotary District 6600 in 2017, and that drew in more members to become involved regionally and internationally. Rotary District 6600 includes 62 clubs and over 3,000 members in Northern Ohio.
“That was a big thing for a club our size,” said member Brad Toft.
This summer, Cheney and her husband, Chris, are heading to Australia for the Rotary International convention, but it’s not their first. Chris notes that Rotary’s impact is known by world leaders. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to the Rotarians during their 2018 convention. During the 2017 convention in Atlanta, golfer Jack Nicklaus and then-Mayor Coleman Young were among the speakers.
Participating at a broader level helps members see the impact of their work, while meeting people and learning about projects around the world.
“Thanks to Rotary, polio is almost eradicated. It shows that at a grassroots level, Waterville can have an impact throughout the world,” Toft said.
Keogh remembers when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August 2005. Rotarians quickly sprang into action and set up six nonprofit organizations to gather donations to get funds into the hands of those who needed emergency shelter, food and resources for rebuilding.
When toxins from an algal bloom in Lake Erie impacted the drinking water in August 2014, Waterville Rotary’s Jim Page organized and chaired a team to sample water in the Maumee River for contaminants leading to algae in the river and Lake Erie.
“That project evolved into a major project to sample and analyze water throughout Northwest Ohio, Western Indiana, Southeastern Michigan and Ottawa, Canada,” Page said. “The project, in conjunction with Bowling Green State University, led to a method to test the water while in the field and report it in real time to a database. That database was then open to state, county and local officials to help identify areas of concern and further resolve some of the algae problems.”
That project has since evolved beyond Rotary and has become a model for other clubs – as well as a project focus for Rotary International.
Medical Equipment Supplies Abroad (MESA) was founded by Waterville Rotary members and has since become a model for other Rotary clubs, noted Ferd Seipel, who joined in 1973. The United States has a surplus of usable medical equipment and supplies that are no longer in service. Rotarians collect, store and ship millions of dollars of still-usable medical supplies and equipment to developing countries from a warehouse in Fostoria.
Waterville Rotarian Randy Box organized a five-day cycling tour through District 6600 to raise funds for the cause, and that is planned for June 24-28 this year.
Waterville Rotary may be small, but it’s mighty, Cheney said. Teaming up with smaller clubs, Water-ville has been able to move forward on larger projects and secure grants. As part of District 6600, Waterville Rotary raised funds to plant trees and create a new park near Napoleon along the Maumee River in a partnership with Black Swamp Conservancy. The space serves as a wildlife and picnic area and as a filter for the river.
It’s during events like the Blues, Brews and Brats Festival and the Fishing Derby that the community might first learn about Waterville Rotary.
The BBB Festival, as it’s now known, was the brainchild of Third Street Cigar owner John Henry and Croy.
“We were sitting around talking and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do a blues festival in Waterville?’ We went from zero to the single largest fundraiser – one that gives us the most exposure and funds to do local and international projects,” Croy said.
The first BBB drew in 800 guests in 2015. Last year’s event had a crowd of 2,500. Look for information on the 2023 lineup soon. The event takes place on Saturday, July 29 on Third Street in Waterville, and volunteers – even those who are not Rotarians – are needed.
The BBB is how Brian Neifert first got involved two years ago, when member Steve Letzring invited him to help out.
“I didn’t know what Rotary was before that,” he admitted.
Even when community members know about Rotary, they might not know what it stands for, added Pease, referring to the four-way test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Those tenets have been behind every project, agreed Jerry Peacock, who transferred into the club from Illinois in 2005. Over the years, he’s particularly enjoyed the projects that impact youth, such as donating dictionaries to all third-graders in Anthony Wayne and Otsego schools and hosting a youth fishing derby at Waterworks Park every fall. An Interact club – which is the youth branch of Rotary International – at the high school engages teen-agers in doing service in the community and partnering with Waterville Rotary on events.
Like many organizations, Waterville Rotary has changed as the city and society have changed. Women were admitted in the 1980s and what used to be a club of mostly older men has now morphed into one that’s a balance of women and men of all ages. While many Rotarians worked in Water-ville in 1928, now Waterville is more of a bedroom community, and some residents have opted instead to join larger clubs like Toledo Rotary.
But many, like Pease, say that it’s the club’s size that makes it more inviting and encourages members to roll up their sleeves and get things done.
“The camaraderie of Waterville Rotary is what makes the club,” Pease said. “We all work together.”
As Waterville Rotary now eyes its 100th anniversary, Peacock said he has a goal in mind: “To grow and leave a larger footprint, helping more people here and abroad.”
Waterville Rotary meets at 6:00 p.m. every Monday at Shawn’s Irish Tavern, 105 S. 3rd St. All are welcome to come check out a meeting to learn more.