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OPINION: Rotary is nonpolitical, nonreligious with no secret objectives

by LUKE RUSSELL/Guest Opinion
| April 19, 2023 1:00 AM

Some local political activists have made repeated attacks against members of our local Rotary clubs. They assert Rotarians are some sort of cabal with secretive and suspicious intentions. These assertions are blatant falsehoods because local Rotarians openly give back in so many ways to our community and our world. Please take a few moments to learn a bit about the history of Rotary and those who are alleged to be these so-called secretive and suspicious folks.

Rotary was formed in 1905 by Paul Harris and three other businessmen who sought to build connections between local businesses and service to their community. The Rotary Club of Coeur d’Alene was formed in 1922. By then, Rotary had spread to every continent and “International” was added to its name. Today, Rotary has over 44,000 clubs around the world with more than 1.4 million members. Rotary is a nonpolitical and nonreligious organization open to all people regardless of race, color, religion, gender, or political preference. It is a place where people with different worldviews can come together and put their differences aside for a common cause of “Service Above Self” to make our community stronger and a better place to live. Hardly any secret objective there.

The mission of Rotary International is to enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace. Guided by their 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? Rotary members believe in a shared responsibility to take action on our world’s most pressing issues. Around the world Rotary clubs work together to 1) promote peace, 2) fight disease, 3) provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, 4) save mothers and children, 5) support education, 6) grow local economies, and 7) protect the environment. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, Rotary members contribute nearly 47 million volunteer hours a year, worth an estimated $850 million to communities around the globe.

A major focus of Rotary International is to support peace initiatives worldwide. In fact, Rotary was instrumental in the formation of the United Nations and has a shared history of working toward peace and addressing humanitarian issues. Today, Rotary holds the highest consultative status offered to a nongovernmental organization by the UN Economic and Social Council. In these divisive times with tensions escalating around the world, we need more of the common sense offered by Rotarians.

Another major theme of Rotary has been the eradication of polio. Rotary members have contributed more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours in 122 countries to eliminate this paralyzing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts helped lead to decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort. Today, polio remains endemic in only Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since its formation, the Coeur d’Alene Rotary Club has grown to 180 members, from all walks of life. Members come together under the simple goal of doing good in the world and to demonstrate commitment to service, fellowship, integrity and leadership. Our club has included community and civic leaders including such outstanding contributors as Doctor Ted Fox, Richard Barkley, Ace Walden for whom the Walden House was named, Don Allen, Jon Hippler, Dr. Bill Wood, Dr. Mary Sanderson, former Lt Governor Jack Riggs, Dr. Heidi Rogers, Wanda Quinn, John McHugh, and the impressive list goes on.

But, together through partnerships, the local Rotary club has contributed its time, talent and treasures in making our community better through supporting numerous noteworthy projects, including the iconic Memorial Field, Camp Neewahlu on shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Sunset Park, CDA Rotary Band Shell, Shadduck Park Pavilion, CDA Public Library, the Coeur Sculpture, the Kroc Community Center, Fallen Heroes Plaza, NIC’s Meyer Health Building, the Boys and Girls Club, Union Gospel Meditation Garden, Heritage Health Mobile Clinic, the Harbor House and the newly constructed Rotary Centennial Park on Sherman Avenue — to name just a few. In addition, the club has presented hundreds of thousands of dollars to local civic organizations and to student scholars to pursue their academic studies in public or private institutions.

Some think of Rotary as a men’s group but this is not so. In 1987 Rotary was opened to women and the following year Barbara Strickfadden and Dana Wetzel broke the glass ceiling as the first women in our local Rotary club. Sandy Patano became the club’s first woman president a few years later and today women make up nearly half our membership and are key to its growth and success. Other women trailblazers included Berni Dami, Kathy Sims, Ellen Jaeger, Judy Drake, Sandi Bloem (former mayor), Sue Thilo, Lucinda Ade, Susan Crenshaw and others.

For over 100 years, the members of the Coeur d’Alene Rotary club have used their passion, energy, and drive to take action on projects in our community and across the globe. From roadside cleanups to funding essential programs for our community — and much more in between. We are constantly working to better Coeur d’Alene, our region, and the world around us. We are People of Action. Come join us and find out for yourself who and what we are about.

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Luke Russell is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Rotary Club and a member of North Idaho Republicans.