Originally posted on WayneTimes.com
Rotary International is one of the world’s largest service organizations, and with 10 clubs in Wayne County alone, it has a large presence in the area. In the third part of our series that explores these longtime organizations further, we spoke with Mark Wyse, former District Governor for the region, to discuss the history of the group and what they are involved with.
Can you start out just by giving me some background info on Rotary International?
Wyse: “Rotary was started back in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, by a guy by the name of Paul Harris. It is one of the world’s largest and oldest service organizations. Rotary is 1.2 million people strong and is in about 200 countries.
One of the unique things in Rotary, is that every year there is a change of officers. In a lot of organizations, someone gets in there, they’re in there for years. Rotary has fresh faces in every role each year, in general, there are some clubs in the district that don’t.
Rotary leads by a Four-Way Test to evaluate things. The Rotary four-way test is: “For things we think, say or do – (1) is it the truth, (2) is it fair to all concerned, (3) will it build goodwill and better friendship (4) and is it beneficial to all concerned?”
What kind of service does Rotary provide?
“One of the biggest projects that Rotary International has been involved with, and always with the clubs in our district and in Wayne County, is eradicating the world of Polio. We’ve been working on it since 1985. We’re now thankful that Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have joined us in the fight. There used to be thousands of cases of Polio every year, we are now down to – so far this year – 19 cases in the world. We have eliminated, completely, one of the types of Polio. Polio has three types, and we’ve eliminated one, and we’re really close to eradicating the other two.
One of the advantages of Rotary Clubs is, Rotary clubs take part in the Rotary Foundation, which is the charitable arm of Rotary clubs. Rotary clubs in our district support the Rotary Foundation, and through that we can get international grants. We may be helping to build a school in Nicaragua – we’ve worked with a Malawi children’s village. A few years ago, we did a hearing aid project in Turkey where we sent hearing aids and raised money to buy hearing aids for Istanbul, Turkey, and several clubs were involved in that project.
We also do a lot of local projects. We have what are called district grants, and some examples of that – Ontario-Walworth rotary Club has built the pavilions at Casey Park in Ontario. The Sodus Rotary Club has worked at the Beechwood Park and done things there. We helped out with the earthquake in Haiti.
One of the best programs is the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We run both inbound and outbound students and short term students, and that allows high school students to spend a year studying abroad. It also brings us students from all around the globe to our area to live with families, which don’t have to be Rotarian families. They get a chance to live in the U.S. and go to U.S. schools to experience what life is really like in the U.S.
The clubs that are in Wayne County hold a Wayne County Spelling Bee, where the money raised goes to the Literacy Volunteers of Wayne County.
Rotary International is broken up into zones, then down into districts, and then districts down to clubs, coming from the top, down. Our district incorporates 70 clubs.
We are the only Rotary district in the world where every club in the district supports a special needs camp. Clubs in Wayne County support “Camp Onseyawa.” Children with special needs get to go to that camp absolutely free of charge. The full tab on the students going to that camp is picked up by Rotary.
The food pantries in the area are all supported by Rotary in one form or another.
Most of the clubs in our district support a district project, where Rotary provides third grade school children with dictionaries, and the dictionaries don’t cost the schools or the children anything. In some cases, we’re providing reading books or thesauruses for fifth graders.”
What kind of social gatherings do you host?
“The clubs meet weekly. It depends on the club whether they meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Most of the clubs are probably dinner clubs. Pal-Mac meets for lunch, Newark meets at lunch time and Wolcott meets at lunch time.
Every year, when we have a change of officers, each club does a changeover dinner. In October-November, the Rochester Rotary hosts what they call an Eastern Cities Dinner, where they usually get the worldwide president of Rotary to come to that dinner, so all of the local Rotarians have a chance to meet the worldwide president of Rotary.”
How many clubs are in Wayne County?
“Our Rotary District incorporates 11 counties. It has Red Creek in one corner, Hilton, Friendship and Elmira – those are the four corners of our district. I think there are 10 in Wayne County – Pal-Mac, Red Creek, Sodus, Clyde, Newark, Lyons, Gananda, Ontario-Walworth, Williamson and Wolcott.”
How have the membership numbers changed over the years?
“It’s interesting that you ask that because membership worldwide has been stagnant – we’ve been at 1.2 million Rotarians for probably 10 years. There has been a shift where the Northeast United States, our zone, has been losing members. This past year, however, our Rotary district actually gained almost 100 new members. We’re at a little over 2,500 members right now in the local district.”
What is your background with the organization?
“I’ve been in Rotary for just about 25 years. I am a past Rotary District Governor. I was District Governor in 2009-2010. In the whole county, there are three past district governors who are still with us, myself being one of them. To make District Governor is a huge honor. The Ontario Club has been around since 1965, and I’m the only person in our club’s history to make it to the district governor level.”
What do you personally find most rewarding about being involved with Rotary?
“The opportunity to give back to the community. The opportunity to help out on a bigger stage than just the local community. I have made friends all over the world. Through Rotary, I’ve gotten an opportunity, not only to help out but to get to see a fair amount of the world.
One of the best-hidden secrets of Rotary is what they call the Rotary Friendship Exchange, where you host somebody from another country in your home, and then you go and travel to another country and stay with Rotarians while you’re there. We usually do it in groups of 10 or 12 people at a time, split up with several host families. I’ve gotten to travel to Germany, Iceland, England, all with Rotary, and I’ve been to Alaska with Rotary. Going to the International Convention every year is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world.”
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
“I would just say that Rotary really is a great experience, and it’s a great opportunity for people to give back to, not only their local community, but to the world.” Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self”.