By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
Rotary Club International has had a Gainesville presence for more than nine decades and, during that time, has continually been far more than a local social club.
It exists to produce results that considerably enrich the community beyond club walls.
“This is not a fun-and-games organization,” said member Earl Russell. “If you’ll notice on the national news, virtually every speaker — a major speaker when a major address is given to the public — has the Rotary Club emblem on the podium, or a Rotary Club person behind the speaker.
“This is the only social organization that exists whose primary purpose is service.” And Rotarians serve effectively because they’re generally business leaders who have familiarity with being in charge. This means experience with organization and with mobilizing activities that cost money. This comes into use when the Gainesville Rotary Club volunteers for DASH food delivery to people in need or donates money to agencies such as Volunteers In Service To Others (VISTO) and Cooke County United Way.
Club President and First State Bank Executive Vice-President Ryan Morris, whose great-grandfather Frank chartered the city’s first Rotary meeting in 1920, said the club supports many local causes as a matter of course. But the support regularly comes in more forms than one. “For some, we write a check,” he said. “But we also donate a lot of man hours.”
Examples include Gainesville ISD literacy programs plus the recent construction of playground additions in Gainesville’s Leonard Park, where Rotarians donated money for materials and spent time on site for some of the building shifts. The most pronounced example, Morris said, is the club’s annual flag program. Rotarians accept annual fees to visit residential and commercial addresses in Cooke County and raise American flags on these properties during national holidays.
“It’s a fundraiser that helps everyone show their patriotism locally,” Morris said. “And when you see all the flags, it’s deceptively simple; it’s both a fundraiser and a huge community service. It gives our community the ability to display its patriotism and fund scholarships and other programs sponsored by the Rotary Club.”
Rotary members insist the organization strives to create positive impact on local, national and even international levels, as per its directive. Retired Air Force officer Bill Burhans said he became a Gainesville Rotarian in 2003. He soon found himself using his military background in Russian translation to help host Rotary-sponsored group study exchange programs that included trips to western and eastern Siberia. He and program members exchanged information and cultural influence with Rotarian counterparts abroad.
“Those kinds of programs are very important,” he said. “Doing the Rotary thing: passing on experience and service to others. In that regard, I was very fortunate to do that.”
In extolling the virtues of Rotary, Morris cited the virtues of local weekly Rotary Club meetings. They create a venue for people to visit and discuss vital community issues in areas.
“We can allow people to come together and learn about things that are critical to our community and educate them on the issues that affect them on a daily basis,” he said. “We have a terrific membership of people who make a difference in Cooke County.”