When a 1905 group of Chicago businessmen envisioned a service club that would function like the driving force of a machine’s rotary wheel they did not know just how far that vision would take Rotary International.
Rotary has grown to 24,282 clubs, 1.22 million members in over 200 countries, $1.2 billion in assets and annual revenues approaching $500 million.
Plant City’s Noon Rotary Club has been part of Rotary International since May 12, 1955, and 58-year club member Alvin Futch has recently documented the club’s story in the book, “60 Years of History.”
Implementing Rotary’s slogan of “Service Above Self,” all the club’s 84 members participate in raising over $150,000 per year. Most is given away to worthy, local organizations or to fund service projects.
The club’s first major fundraising project, Rotary Rodeo, came out of the chute on April 4, 1957 and was an annual event for 16 years. With a Rodeo Queen and her court named each year, the event was produced each year by Futch and his brother, Raymond.
In 1974, the Rotary Rodeo was replaced with the Wild Game Cookout. Serving venison, elk, barbecue pork, fried alligator tail, fried catfish and other delicacies, such as Florida swamp cabbage and Cajun gumbo, this annual event now generates well over $100,000 in revenues. Over 1,200 tickets are sold each year at $100 each, and the event has been led for many years by Rotarian James Surrency.
The Cookout, which raises so much money for community needs, has always had one negative: It is for men only. In 2008 the club recognized this shortcoming and started its popular Dancing with the Locals dance contest. Generating over $40,000 in revenues annually and led by active club member Jodi Stevens, the event provides a completely different venue in which all community members can participate.
Another service project with long-lasting impact was the creation of Rotary Forest in Hillsborough County’s 12,000-acre Cone Ranch water well field. From 1992 to 1995, the club created Rotary Forest by planting 1.2 million pine saplings, with donations from Noon Rotary, the Florida Agricultural Commission, W. S. Badcock, Weyerhaeuser, Tampa Electric, Georgia-Pacific and Container Corporation. Since the fast-growing pines have matured enough for harvesting to begin, Hillsborough County has generated annual sales of $888,564, which has funded the plantings, maintenance, and a regional park for Hillsborough County.
Under youth service, for many years the club has sponsored an Interact Club at Plant City High School. Other youth service projects, led by Tod Pukas, Amity Kokochak and Mike Arndt, include an annual speech contest, a regional Seminar for Tomorrow’s Leaders and a World Affairs Conference. The club has also operated a college scholarship program. The club’s scholarship program, led by Raiford “Shorty” Brown, Charles Deusner, Tim Kip, and Billy and Maida Pou, has awarded between five and 10 scholarships per year of $1,000 to $1,500 each to local youths.
Noon Rotary has made donations to Rotary International for Rotary’s Polio-Plus program. Rotary International started this major international project in the mid 1980’s when it declared war on a worldwide killer, the disease of poliomyelitis. Rotary has largely brought this scourge under control, with fewer than 100 new cases of polio per year worldwide.
Noon Rotary has also participated in the Polio-Plus program by sending Rotarian Dr. Vic Kohlmeier to Panama and Guatemala for several years to inoculate children against the disease.
Other international service has included travel by Dr. Dennis Digamon to Russia twice and to his native Philippines eight times to provide free dental care to indigent patients.
The club has spread the benefits of Rotary to others by sponsoring two more clubs, the Tampa East Rotary Club and Plant City’s Daybreak Rotary Club, and by serving hot dogs to the entire community at Plant City’s annual Christmas Parade.
“60 Years of Rotary” is available for sale for $15 from the Plant City Noon Rotary Club, and all proceeds will go to increase funding for the club’s many service projects. Visit its Facebook at Facebook.com/PlantCityRotary.