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Kitsap Rotarians share 100 years

BREMERTON — As co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates Sr. has overseen nearly $7.5 billion in charitable grants since 2000.

But the work of Rotarians around the world, he commented Wednesday night, really inspires him.

“You’ve set a whole new standard for what people think a volunteer organization can accomplish,” Gates told Kitsap-area Rotarians this week. “The idea used to be that volunteer organizations were there to solve a problem down the street — not across the world.”

Bremerton native and Seattle Rotarian, Gates was keynote speaker at a county wide event Feb. 23 marking the 100th anniversary of Rotary International. The Bremerton conference center’s banquet hall was packed with hundreds of Kitsap County Rotarians and distinguished guests from the larger District 5020, which stretches from Vancouver Island through Pierce County and the Kitsap Peninsula. Through a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday To You” and a toast to their parent organization, Rotarians marveled at the milestone.

“I’ve never celebrated an occasion like this before,” commented Brian Beagle, Assistant Governor of Rotary District 5020, a 25-year member of Silverdale Noon Rotary. “It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

District 5020 is one of the largest in the world both in square miles and membership, comprising 5,400 members in 85 clubs. Nine Kitsap County clubs make up the district’s Area 6 — Bremerton (chartered in 1931), Bainbridge Island (chartered in 1947), Silverdale (chartered in 1955), Port Orchard (chartered in 1973), East Bremerton and Poulsbo (both chartered in 1976), South Kitsap (chartered in 1996), Silverdale Sunrise (chartered in 2000) and Kingston (chartered in 2004).

This week’s Bremerton gathering was just one of thousands planned worldwide for Rotary’s birthday but was a chance for locals to celebrate their own accomplishments on behalf of the organization. Kitsap area Rotarians brought banners, signs, photos and other memorabilia from their clubs and shared their stories with one another.

“I’ve often said that every community has to have a Rotary club just to provide the energy that Rotary brings,” commented District 5020 Governor Dick Drew, a 27-year Rotarian from Duncan, British Columbia.

While local Rotarians admitted pride in individual club projects, they were quick to point out that it is the overriding Rotary International organization that strengthens each chapter. Clubs are bound together by things like the Four-Way Test, the motto of Service Above Self and the many international initiatives Rotary has taken on in the last 100 years.

“Being involved in an organization that does a lot with the community interested me,” Silverdale Sunrise president and charter member Bill Wright said of why he joined Rotary. “We’ve always wanted to be closely tied with our community and Rotary was an excellent example of that.”

One project that spans across Rotary’s 1.2 million members is its work toward eradicating polio worldwide, which began in 1979. Dubbed PolioPlus, the effort is participated in by all 1.2 million Rotary International members. Contributions have included more than $600 million, the efforts of volunteers who have traveled across the globe to immunize children and even private and public sector advocacy. The goal was to immunize all children in the world against the disease by its Centennial celebration and Drew said it will be announced at Rotary’s international convention June 20 that they have succeeded.

“That’s been a goal of Rotary’s for 25 years,” he explained. “While polio will never be totally gone, there will still be flare ups from time to time, we’ve basically beaten it.”

“We like to say, you’ve got polio cornered,” Gates added.

Global health is one of four main areas where the Gates Foundation contributes its money. Rotary International received the Gates Award for Global Health in 2002, which carried with it a $1 million award for the project. The foundation has also been a major partner with Rotary in PolioPlus. But Gates said the commitment of Rotarians deserves the credit for eradicating the threat.

“You stayed the course for more than 20 years and you did something else — you showed us how to be part of the world community,” Gates said.

While praising locals for their past work, Gates also commented that the organization’s 100th anniversary should be as much about looking forward as back. He urged Rotarians to consider adopting another worldwide project and stay at the forefront of the work of service organizations.

“There are many, many worthy causes and much to do in this world and I have no doubt Rotary will be a part of it,” Gates said.

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