Almost everybody had heard about a local Rotary Club in their community, but a lot of people still believe Rotary is just a business club — even an old boys’ club — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Rotary Club of Peterborough Kawartha (Ontario, Canada – RID 7010), for example, is a group of around 40 women and men who are passionate about making a lasting difference in the community.
It’s true that Rotary began as a social organisation for business professionals. Way back in 1905.
Chicago lawyer Paul Harris brought together a small group of businessmen in his nondescript office in the 17-storey Unity Building and they decided to rotate subsequent meetings between each other’s offices, eventually leading to the club being named Rotary.
As it happened, membership grew so dramatically that a permanent meeting place was soon sought and acquired. But the name stuck.
In a small office at Stoneguide Realty Limited on Stewart Street in Peterborough — a workspace in many ways not unlike the one which Harris et al gathered all those years ago — Tom Bennett speaks one undeniable truth: “I couldn’t fathom my life without Rotary.”
Bennett, who unabashedly wears his membership in the Rotary Club of Peterborough Kawartha like a revered medal of honour, is not alone.
In all corners of the globe and everywhere in between, 1.2 million men and women come together weekly in 33,000 club settings with the goal of making their communities better places to live for all, while enjoying the fellowship that is an inevitable by-product of their efforts.
Some famous Rotarians include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Bill Gates, and Angela Merkel.
Since 1922, the formal name of the service organisation has been Rotary International but in terms of what Harris envisioned all those years ago, little if anything has changed. That’s perfect in Bennett’s world.
“It was just a couple of days before my 30th birthday when I joined and there were a fair amount of members in their 30s and 40s,” he recalls.
“It was a hands-on, let’s-get-at-it club. Our club was chartered in 1989. In 1995, it was only six years old. We didn’t have the funds in the war chest, so it was more about the service work, rolling up our sleeves and doing projects side by side — a lot of camaraderie, a lot of fellowship, a lot of fun. That’s held on throughout the years.”
The Peterborough area is home to three Rotary clubs.
Besides the Rotary Club of Peterborough Kawartha, which meets early each Thursday morning at the Peterborough Golf and Country Club, there’s also the Peterborough Rotary Club, which meets Mondays for lunch at the Holiday Inn, and the Rotary Club of Bridgenorth-Ennismore-Lakefield, which convenes Monday evenings at Chemong Lodge in Bridgenorth.
For Bennett, a realtor and Broker of Record with Stoneguide, the breakfast club “was a better fit” for him based on his work schedule. Now in his 25th year as a Rotarian, he served as club president in 2000/01 and seven years later was district governor, responsible for the governance of 44 Rotary clubs.
Service work on behalf of Rotary has brought him to St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras, and to every province across Canada.
“What drove my joining Rotary was my grandfather was a Rotarian for close to 50 years … I also had an uncle who was a Rotarian,” says Bennett, a native of Scarborough and a Trent University grad who lived in Kingston for three years prior to returning to Peterborough.
“When I got started in business here in Peterborough, I was looking for some way to get involved. I thought a good place to check out would be Rotary because it was something that was in our family blood.”
What was true then is true now, notes Bennett.
“Rotary is a great place, whether at the club level or at the district level, to learn skills. Business skills, presentation skills … there are a lot training opportunities for those that want to get involved in leadership.
“We have leadership training sessions every April and a big district conference every fall. That training has always been something that has helped me professionally; getting used to speaking in front of people, learning different management skills.”
With a current roster of more than 40 members, the Rotary Club of Peterborough Kawartha has seen membership numbers trend higher and lower over the years.
“There’s always room for more members,” says Bennett, noting Rotary isn’t all just fun and games.
While fellowship is at the centre of all club activities, there remains a grander purpose: the raising of funds to support community initiatives and hands-on projects that see members bring their particular expertise and skills to the mix.
“The neat thing is we’re not a single focus club,” says Bennett.
“We don’t have just one thing that we’re all working on. We’ve got so many different facets,” he explains.
“For people that like doing international work, we have a group of people involved in international projects. If you like community work, there are community projects.”
“If you like working with youth, we have those opportunities too. There are so many different projects on the go all the time. Members choose to be as involved as they want to be.”