Friday, April 20, 2012
A Club That Took Me As a Member
Twenty three years ago this week I joined the Rotary Club of Watsonville. It wasn’t something I wanted to do; it was something I had to do. When I was interviewing to be editor of the newspaper, one of the questions was whether I would join. The owners felt it was an important part of community outreach, and because I wanted the job, I said yes.
Even after I got the job, I put off joining for several months before finally taking a deep breath and going for it. Once in, I found to my surprise that it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, I kind of liked it.
Watsonville had more than a hundred members at the time, many of them guys from the Greatest Generation, who joined in the Fifties and Sixties. The Supreme Court had ruled, just two years earlier, that Rotary had to admit women, and in 1989 the distaff side was represented solely by Charlene Shaffer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. Now the female membership is about a third of the total.
Part of what drew me in to the club was the fellowship and good cheer. Ours has always been a club that laughs a lot, and going to a meeting almost always makes me feel better. In the early years, I got a lot from the older men in the club, nearly all of whom seemed to have aged gracefully and become comfortable in their own skin. Now I’m getting close to the age they were then and feeling as if I’m coming up short.
Rotarians share the common trait of being successful professionals. The age range in the club goes from about 30 to 90, and over the years the overall membership, though still primarily Anglo, has become considerably more diverse. In 1989, you could make a joke about being the token Democrat in the club, but now we have a respectable number of those as well.
Rotary is about using fellowship as an avenue for giving service. Our club made a decision around the turn of the century to focus its work on youth, given that Watsonville has a relatively young population. Among the things I’ve volunteered to do through the club are being a “reading buddy” to a student at the middle school the club adopted; coordinating a regional high school speech contest; presenting scholarships at awards ceremonies; and having students shadow me through the day to get a sense of my profession.
The Rotary experience, if you throw yourself into it, eventually takes you beyond your own community. It’s one of the largest international organizations in the world and has taken a leading role in the amelioration of polio and in the development of water projects in Third World countries. When I became club president, I got to travel to the international convention, held that year in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve been to meetings in England, Bermuda, New York City, the Florida Keys, and many other places.
When I underwent the new-member briefing, I was told that I should attend our club meeting each week, or, if I couldn’t, do a makeup by visiting another club or participating in a Rotary activity. I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I turned out to be wrong. I now have perfect attendance since I joined, and in my year as club president, I believe I racked up 67 unused makeups. Because of my age and years of service, I am now exempt from attending meetings, but will still be going nearly every week. I think I belong.