March 2009

Rotary: it’s not necessarily what you think!

Author: Penelope Peterman | Photographer: photography by anne

What is Rotary, anyway? A bunch of do-gooders? A place to meet business contacts? An old men’s fraternity? Perhaps Rotary is a bit of all three, depending on the club you join. We go in search of answers, and end up at an oyster roast in Bluffton.

My involvement with Rotary started about two months ago when a “wannabe” Rotarian asked CB2 to purchase tickets to an oyster roast at the Bluffton Oyster Co. Not one to turn down an oyster roast (or any social function, for that matter), I agreed to attend, and even better, cover it in the magazine.

Why? I would be lying if I said it was for any other reason than my own curiosity. I had heard of the organization, just never really bothered to dig any deeper to find out what they did, who they were, or why they existed. So now I had a reason.

A Brief History: A Hundred Years Ago in Chicago
Paul Harris was an attorney, and the man credited for starting the first Rotary club in Chicago, IL. The organization began as a social and networking opportunity for business professionals (and let’s be honest here, most likely a way for men to get out the house one evening a week). All clubs need a name, and this one was dubbed “Rotary” because members would “rotate” their meetings between the member’s offices. Creativity may not have been their strong suit then, but they were just getting started. Mr. Harris’s small social club in Chicago quickly morphed into over 200 clubs, formed on six continents, just 20 short years later.

With the popularity of Rotary came an expansion in focus. Although still an organization to make social and business connections, it was also becoming a benevolent force in communities around the world. It developed the motto “Service above Self” and developed this code of ethics in 1943:

The Four Way Test
Of the things we say and do…

1) Is it the truth?
2) Is it fair to all concerned?
3) Will it build good will and better friendships?
4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

In 1989 the organization voted to include women in the ranks, thereby eliminating “a night out of the house” as a reason to join.

There are now over 1.2 million Rotarians belonging to 32,000 clubs worldwide. Which brings us to the one in Bluffton, and back to the oyster roast.

Fast Forward: January 2009, Bluffton
As we pulled up to the Bluffton Oyster Co. the night before the oyster roast, the scene was much like that of a tailgate. AC/DC was blaring from a Ford F150 and about 14 men sat on the back of a flat bed trailer enjoying a cold one after setting up for the next day’s event.

We were greeted warmly and introduced to the current president of the Bluffton Rotary, Barry Connor, along with former President Chris Corkren, and president-elect Wil Saleeby. Over a Bud Light we got down to the business of finding out all we wanted to know about Rotary.

The following day’s oyster roast was to raise money for the Bluffton Rotary’s operating funds. Every other event/ fundraiser held throughout the year goes to charity, either local or worldwide. “About 70 percent of the money raised by our (Bluffton) club goes to local charities,” explained Barry. “The rest goes to global initiatives like ridding the world of polio through vaccinations.” Rotary organizations everywhere are currently teaming up with Bill and Melinda Gates in a final push to raise $200 million dollars, the funds needed to get vaccinations to the four remaining countries still burdened with the disease.

Locally, the club donates to several worthy causes. The Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Red Cross, and the Episcopal School have all received help in some form from the Bluffton Rotary.

“We also built and donated the Community Center in Bluffton,” added Chris. “That was our big focus for awhile.” The Rotary Community Center at Oscar Frazier Park seats about 100 people and can be rented by anyone in the community. The proceeds go to maintaining the facility through the Town of Bluffton. “After we finished building it, we donated it to the Town and Beaufort County,” said Chris. “Our only stipulation was that the Rotary could continue to use it for our weekly meetings,” added Barry with a smile.

And speaking of weekly meetings, the Bluffton Rotary has theirs at 7:30 every Wednesday morning. That’s 7:30 a.m. Like, before the sun comes up, a few months out of the year anyway.

“That’s so we can determine your level of dedication,” laughed Donna Huffman, owner of the Bluffton Breeze and fellow Bluffton Rotarian. “If you get up that early you are really putting service above self.”

The Roast
Despite the weather’s failure to cooperate with the Rotary, the Oyster Roast fundraiser was well attended by over 400 Blufftonians and Hilton Head Islanders who weren’t afraid of a little rain. Shuckers smiled and kids danced to the strains of the bluegrass band Lowcountry Boil, while a thick fog enveloped the crowd gathered on the May River. A bonfire blazed to the delight of all dampened by the drizzle.

For a good cause? Of course. But the Bluffton Rotary also throws one hell of a party.

I have to be honest. As I downed another beer in front of the fire, surveying the rustic scene in front of me, I wasn’t really thinking about eradicating polio. Or what monies were going to be donated to the Red Cross because of the tickets purchased. Perhaps that is the key to the Rotary’s success. They make altruism fun.

The Festival will include upwards of 95 different vendors lining Calhoun Street selling everything from jewelry and arts and crafts to tasty treats and spirits. For more information, contact Karen Lavery with the Bluffton Rotary at 843.384.1442

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