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Poulsbo Rotarians celebrate past, future of club

POULSBO — Is it the TRUTH?

Is it FAIR to all concerned?

Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?

Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

For 100 years, Rotarians around the world have been living and working by this four-way test. Today marks the international service organization’s diamond jubilee and more than four million people in nearly 8,500 clubs throughout the world will help celebrate.

One of those is the Poulsbo/North Kitsap Club, which has made Rotary a tradition in Little Norway since 1976 when 25 local men agreed to charter a club.

Among the famous first names in Poulsbo Rotary are Dan and Joyce Cooper. The couple is credited with coming up with the idea for a Rotary chapter for Poulsbo and also recruiting most of its first members. The mission of Rotary appealed to the community-minded Coopers, whose efforts included raising the money for the famous Poulsbo boardwalk.

But while Dan became a charter member and the first club president, Joyce would not be able to join until 1987 — the first year women we admitted.

“But she was a very active Rotarian that whole time — just not in name,” charter member Tom O’Hare commented.

Fridays with Rotary

The Poulsbo Rotary has always met on Friday mornings. Meetings include elements similar to those at any Rotary club in the world including, guest speakers, business items and the fine-masters sections, where members are fined for reasons both real and concocted. The money raised is usually designated to a special project.

But more than anything, Rotarians say the meetings are a chance for fellowship, networking and to have a laugh. Current president Jim Sund, a member since 1997, was a Port Orchard resident until last year but seldom missed the 7 a.m. bell.

“I really enjoyed it and made a lot of friends there,” he commented. “It really got me connected with this community.”

The first nine years, the breakfast meetings were at the old Olympic Inn. Since the inn didn’t really serve breakfast, the Friday gatherings were an ordeal for each new owner of the establishment. One morning in 1985, the new owner came in and asked to address the club. Members expected an announcement about the price or menu that had been prearranged with new president Jack Webb. Instead, he informed them that they had just had their last meeting at the establishment.

“Seven days notice is probably not the smartest thing for a restaurant owner to do but the look on Jack Webb’s face was priceless,” O’Hare said with a laugh.

Members scrambled to find a new spot and eventually landed at Pizza Harbor on Viking Avenue. Though it, too, wasn’t a breakfast haunt, the owner did his best to accommodate as best he could, including running eggs through his pizza cooker.

In 1987, the club struck a deal with the Sons of Norway, where it has met ever since.

Working hands

across Poulsbo

Rotarians are known throughout the world for their hands-on attitude when it comes to their communities. Gracing community areas with benches, a couple of which are still around, was among the first efforts.

“Our first service consisted of how many picnic tables could we build?” charter member Steve Shaw said with a smile. “We started small and our service grew with the club.”

Rotarians were the major driving force behind Oyster Plant Park. Work began in 2002 turning an old oyster processing plant into a community park and will conclude this year. All Rotary clubs were asked to designate a “Centennial Project” for the 100th anniversary year and Poulsbo has chosen the Fjord Drive park space. Charter member Dolph Jaeger said he believes all 100-some members of the group have added some labor to the endeavor and it sticks out as one of his favorites.

“Working hands-on — that’s a lot of fun,” he commented.

Other efforts have included helping build the dugouts at Snider Field, working for Habitat for Humanity and the long-time participation in building houses through North Kitsap High School carpentry classes. The club would buy the piece of property, which was no small feat in earlier years, and members would help students build the house and then would sell it. Sale profits benefited future building projects as well as scholarships.

“I think that really helped a lot of kids,” Shaw commented. “That was a really great project and at the end, it really became self-sustaining.”

The program was recently discontinued but gave birth to 18 homes across North Kitsap. The last is located in Forest Rock Hills and sale is pending.

Another labor of love was creating the first transitional housing in North Kitsap for the YWCA Alternatives to Living in a Violent Environment (ALIVE) program. Ardis Morrow, a Rotarian since 1996 and a tireless advocate for domestic violence victims, first brought up the idea.

“I stood up at one of the meetings and said, ‘Why don’t we do something about domestic violence?’” She recalled. “And they said, ‘Go ahead. Help yourself.’ And they’ve never let me sit down since.”

At first, the club was interested in building a shelter but ALIVE staff told them the real need was for transitional housing, which is a safe home for those who have abusive environments. With the help of the Kitsap Housing Authority, the club procured a dilapidated home and completely renovated it. The first occupants moved in just before Christmas in 2003.

“It was very rewarding for me because when we first started getting involved in domestic violence causes, there wasn’t much help in North Kitsap, or anywhere for that matter,” Morrow said. “I think we were a big help in getting increased awareness out there.”

Putting their money where their mouth is

Fund-raising projects are also a cornerstone of the Rotary tradition. When club members can’t help with their hands, they open their pocketbooks.

“We find a lot of things that don’t have funding or otherwise wouldn’t be done,” Sund explained. “We’re always open to community requests but we’re careful about making sure the help goes for the good of the community as a whole.”

In early years, club members sold Orange Uliuses (a knock-off of the mall treat) at Viking Fest. But since weather is unpredictable, the frosty beverages were eventually scrapped. Today, some of the club’s bigger fund-raisers include its annual auction, rose sale and play house raffle.

“Their willingness to give is just amazing to me,” Shaw said of his fellow Rotarians. “They really do dig deep.”

The biggest monetary commitment for the club was a pledge made in 1993 to donate $100,000 to the Olympic College Poulsbo campus. Kitsap County Treasurer Barbara Stephenson, a Rotarian since 1987, was a member of the OC Board of Trustees at the time. She relayed that the campus was dangerously close to being scrapped due to litigation and funding cuts when Webb suggested the gift.

“That was so important — Rotary and other local people stepping forward and demonstrating to our legislators that this is important. This is an important project for us and we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Stephenson said.

An international connection

Being part of an international organization has also afforded local Rotarians the opportunity to contribute to the world community. Projects spearheaded by Poulsbo are currently taking place in nine countries. Past initiatives have included sending food, medical supplies and other assistance to communities in areas like Vietnam, Guatemala and rural Canada and members recently pledged more than $7,000 to efforts helping tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.

Eradicating Polio is a worldwide project Rotary International adopted in 1985 and is a cornerstone of the work done by all chapters. O’Hare recalled that it is the only project for which Rotary has ever levied its membership — for a period of about three years, all Rotarians paid $100 each minimum toward the eradication of polio. He added that the project holds a special place in his heart because of his own childhood memories.

“(Polio) was a very real terror for a whole generation that went away here and to be able to eliminate that in the rest of the world is amazing,” O’Hare said.

Jaeger said he has found a great deal of enjoyment out of the international aspect of Rotary through his own travels. Rotarians are required to make-up missed meetings and Jaeger has visited Rotary clubs as far North as Lapland and as far south as the tip of South America.

Visiting Rotarians traditionally exchange club banners with their hosts and Jaeger always takes Poulsbo Viking ship flags along on trips. His favorite receipts include a tiny pair of overalls from Osh Kosh, Wis., a tartan from Scotland and a reindeer hoof-festooned banner from Finland.

“I’ve made-up all over the world,” he said. “That’s been half the fun of it.”

Jaeger added that he has also enjoyed meeting and sharing adventures with the club’s exchange students over the years and has stayed in contact with many of them.

The next 100 years

While a celebration like a 100th anniversary is a great time to think about past endeavors, Rotarians said the milestone also points to the future. O’Hare said he’s proud of the original 25 members who had the vision but he’s especially proud of some of the club’s newest members.

“It’s fun to know the history of how various things came to be but frankly, the kind of thing that’s amazing to me is to see the things that are being done right now and as it grows and changes,” O’Hare commented. “I think its work just gets better.”

And when it comes to birthdays, Rotarians said another hundred years or more are not hard to imagine.

“I see a great future for Rotary, especially for our club,” said Barbara Webb, a member since 1987. “We have a lot of young members coming in with all that enthusiasm.”

“As long as Rotary continues to evolve and still be credible and be willing to change and be flexible to reflect what’s going on in our culture, I think it’s going to be alive and vibrant,” Stephenson added.

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