During an era when the buzz in Rotary circles across the world is getting in more young members and decreasing Rotarians’ mean age, RI District 3131 DG Pankaj Shah thought of a novel programme to crystalise his immense respect for silver-haired Rotarians who had long served their community through Rotary, and continue to do so.
“I discussed with my district team the idea of identifying and honouring those Rotarians from our district who have completed 25 years in Rotary, and honouring each of them and thanking them for the service they have rendered this organisation, at a special event in Pune,” says DG Shah.
The process began to find out how many such persons were there in the district with help from RI and the club leaders, and to the pleasant surprise of the district team, it was found that there are 500 such Rotarians in RID 3131. “I have always had great respect for the senior Rotarians, who are still serving humanity through their Rotary clubs, and have been nurturing the district tirelessly for so many years. They still continue to guide and mentor the incoming Rotarians in our district,” he says.
The day to hold this unique event was chosen as Feb 27, 2022, just after Rotary celebrated its 117th birthday. The project was aptly titled Baghban (gardener); “I thought of this title because it is the gardener who carefully nurtures the beautiful garden by pulling out all the weeds and lovingly tending the soil so that beautiful and vibrant-coloured flowers can bloom in the area,” says Shah.
While over 400 of the senior Rotarians had completed 25 or more years in a single club, “we also found many Rotarians in our district, who had been Rotarians for this period, but not in a single club due to some reason or the other. We decided to felicitate them too, because they too have nurtured the organisation for long years and inspired other Rotarians.”
10 women Rotarians
But the most interesting discovery during this drive to identify senior Rotarians was that the team found there were 10 women Rotarians in the district who had completed 25 years in Rotary. “This was really heartening because 25 years ago, the percentage of women joining Rotary was very small.”
Once all the 500 were identified, invitation letters by snail mail and e-mail were sent out to all of them inviting them and their partners for the event.
Organised with a lot of care to make it a very special event, the district leaders, beginning with Shah and his wife, Priya, dressed up in traditional Maharashtrian clothes and the invitees were also asked to dress thus. This added a lot of colour and vibrancy to the venue, where the décor was traditional and the guests were greeted with live traditional music playing in the background. Each one was taken to a special backdrop for a photograph, and copies of their pictures were given to them before they left.
Addressing the meeting Shah said, “It is such a delight to welcome and recognise you because Rotary is the organisation that you have built over the years that inspired me to join it in 2009. It was your commitment to social causes that inspired me to make my personal contribution too. Today, I am standing here as the governor because you inspired me to make a contribution and become a district leader.”
Today, I am standing here as the governor because you inspired me to make a contribution and become a district leader.
— Pankaj Shah, District Governor
Giving them credit for building “a strong foundation that we find RID 3131 standing on today, when it comes to so many avenues of service, it was made possible only because of the groundwork done by senior Rotarians like you,” he said.
It was thanks to their effort that the district has become ISO 9001 compliant; it is No 2 in India in TRF contribution, and among the top 5 districts in the world when it comes to membership, he added.
Events chair Suresh Natu, who completed 25 years in Rotary this year, became emotional while expressing his gratitude. Several of the seniors are PDGs, who were also recognised, and recorded their appreciation. The feedback was excellent; overwhelmed, the participants said that they felt very special being singled out for such an honour. One Rotarian said he was overjoyed to participate in an event which he was “sure has never been celebrated in this manner in the entire history of Rotary.”
Another one “urged governors all over the Rotary world to organise such an event which will help not only increase the membership of Rotary but also improve the retention rate.”
The senior Rotarians returned home, with a glow on their faces and joy in their hearts, happy at the respect and recognition they had got from the district leadership.
About 370 persons participated in the colourful evening, which ended with a delicious, traditional Maharashtrian dinner.
RI President Shekhar Mehta and RI Director Mahesh Kotbagi sent video clips congratulating the DG for this “wonderful initiative”. Kotbagi is from the same district and has also completed over 25 years in Rotary. RIPN Gordan McInally also sent his greetings through a video clip. All the video clips were screened during the programme. DGE Anil Parmar, DGN Manjoo Phadke and DGND Shital Shah also participated.
At the end of the day, the programme provided an excellent opportunity for many of the super seniors, who are not able to attend regular Rotary meetings due to advanced age or health conditions, to come out, meet and interact with their old friends. “They returned home, with a glow on their faces and joy in their hearts, happy at the respect and recognition they had got from the district leadership,” added DG Shah.