When Joe Hren III first joined East Hampton Rotary (New York, District 7980) eight years ago, it was an eye-opener. He had signed on, he said, because he was compelled by a desire to do good in his community.But just how much the community relied on the club came as somewhat of a surprise.
That realisation was driven home on a winter night, when one member, Heather Dunn-Kostura, convinced the club to work with Maureen’s Haven, a local nonprofit, to bring homeless East Hampton residents off the street and into the Methodist Church to give them overnight shelter and food.
“It was amazing to see how many homeless people there were, being that it’s such a wealthy community,” Hren said. “I think, once you join the club, you realise what the needs are in the community.”
The club, which is celebrating 50 years of service in East Hampton this year, contributes to the community in a variety of ways, from helping the homeless to funding the purchase of a new scoreboard for East Hampton High School.
While it has seen members come and go over its half century in existence, the spirit has remained the same: “Service above self,” which is the international Rotary motto.
Hren is currently finishing up his second one-year term as president of East Hampton Rotary.
Its members—once only men were allowed to join—today include professionals from many walks of life, including teachers and administrators, a physician, a library director, a retired police officer, a CPA, and any number of people who run their own businesses, or someone else’s, in real estate, the trades and construction, insurance, and hospitality.
Paul Harris, an attorney, founded the first Rotary club in Chicago in 1905, aiming to bring together professionals with diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas, form lifelong friendships and give back to their communities, according to Rotary’s website.
The name of the organisation came from the club’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of its members.
Over the course of more than 100 years, Rotary has grown to include more than 1.2 million members worldwide, but it maintains a spirit of grassroots organisation.
Gordon Taylor, who was the manager of the Maidstone Golf Club, founded the East Hampton Rotary Club in 1967, and the club began its legacy of supporting and raising money for local nonprofit organisations that needed extra support.
In the past 50 years, the club has made meaningful contributions to organisations such as Meals on Wheels, and the organisation played a crucial role 30 years ago in providing seed money to help establish The Retreat, a domestic violence service agency in East Hampton.
East Hampton Rotary also helps local high school students through its scholarship fund, and for the first time this year is also offering a scholarship to a high school graduate looking to attend a trade school.
Students in East Hampton Rotary’s Interact Club embark on fundraising efforts of their own, similar to those of the club, and the two groups work in conjunction with one another.
The club also devotes funds and energy to one international project annually — several years ago, it helped provide solar lights for a school in Nigeria, for example, and another year it partnered with a Rotary club at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro to replant trees that had been taken down for firewood.
The club raises money every year through several annual events, such as its 5K and 10K in Amagansett in the summer, a trivia night at the Neighborhood House in the spring, and a spaghetti dinner at the Harbor Grill in the winter.
The organisation also honours an important community member every year with its “Person of the Year” award, given annually to someone who goes out of his or her way to volunteer and help those in need in the community—Fran Ecker, known for her work on behalf of the Montauk Food Pantry, will be this year’s recipient.
Rotary members express similar sentiments when asked why they joined.
Rotary vice president Shawn Miller, who owns East Hampton Poolshark and is set to take over as president of the club in July, said he joined the club four years ago after being invited by the current president, Mr. Hren.
“I’m in the fire department and I’ve helped out with Boy Scouts and have coached multiple Little League teams, so I just like to keep busy and do things in the community,” Miller said. “I find I’m happier when I do that.”
Montauk resident Pat Gilchrest has 27 years of experience in Rotary, 15 of them in Goshen, New York.
When she retired 12 years ago and moved to Montauk, she explained, she still had the desire to be part of the club, so she joined the East Hampton chapter.
“When I first started in Rotary, it was for business and networking,” she said. “Now I’m retired, but I believe everyone should give back. I’ve been blessed and I feel like it’s my responsibility to give back to the community.”
Bruce Siska, a longtime East Hampton Rotarian whose wife, Mary Siska, also is a member, expressed the same simple driving force behind his desire to be part of the group.
“I have made my life as a businessman from the community, and my wife was a middle school librarian, so it’s just a matter of giving back what the community has given me,” he said.
Laraine Creegan, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, is the newest Rotary member, having joined in April.
She was motivated to join after being asked to speak at a Rotary function last year, and felt her contacts in the Montauk community would be helpful to the club.
“I’ve always admired the Rotary and I feel that they’re a very strong organisation with a lot of good ideas,” she said. “They have good bonds and a good cross-section of people.”
Compared to other Rotary clubs, East Hampton Rotary is small, with 30 current members. But the club’s longevity in the community and the impact it makes have always been more important than the number of members.
“There are a lot of clubs that do good, and we’re really a determined group,” Hren said. “We meet every Monday, all year long, and I feel it’s very important that we do meet that much.
“We’re sort of like a family,” he continued. “By meeting so much, we get a lot done. It’s a huge commitment, but it really makes a difference.”