"Service Above Self."
That's the motto of Rotary International, which brings together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world.
It's a tall order, and one that has been carried out in Del Norte since 1953 by the Rotary Club of Crescent City. Its members celebrated its first 60 years Thursday with a pizza lunch at its normal noon gathering spot at the Elks Lodge, then an anniversary dinner at Elk Valley Rancheria.
"The idea that, together, individuals can make a difference in the lives of others is the true spirit of Rotary," said Rotary member Teri McCune Oostra. "In fact, a key factor to becoming a member in Rotary is that he or she believes in Rotary's motto of 'Service Above Self.'"
So what has this organization done for Del Norte? So much that every member I asked answered with different examples.
"'Shop with a Hero' has been a great addition," said current Rotary President and five-year veteran Katherine Taylor, referring to the program that pairs needy kids with law officers, firefighters and service members for a Christmastime shopping trip that helps them get the idea of how fun it is to give as well as get.
Katherine was just getting started: Rotary members help maintain Kid Town in Beachfront Park and donated street lamps for the playground. They award $10,000 a year in scholarships. They sponsor the Del Norte High School Interact Club, Rotaract Club and the Student Exchange program. They give 1,500andndash;2,000 coats a year to Coats for Kids. They give to the Junior Miss program, Harrington House, the Del Norte Senior Center, the annual 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C., and they hold an annual Bowl-A-Rama Relay for Life fundraiser.
She noted that in international charity work, Teri goes to Belize once a year and Dave Zuber to Ethiopia. Club members donated an ambulance and X-ray machine to a small town in Mexico.
Robyn Holt, president in 2007, notes that one of the early projects taken on by the club in 1961 involved something most of us pass through frequently and take for granted: the traffic light at Northcrest Boulevard and Highway 101.
On the Fourth of July that same year, Rotarians, in cooperation with the Historical Society and other local service clubs, dedicated the newly renovated Brother Jonathan cemetery. Rotary contributed $5,000 to that project.
"We all enjoy the sight of Battery Point Lighthouse," said Teri. "We see it clearly against the night sky because Rotary purchased both the north and south lighting. We have painted, renovated seating, power-washed, and worked to help maintain Battery Point Lighthouse to this day."
The tetrapod on Front Street? "Another weighty Rotary service project," said Teri. To honor the victims of the 1964 tsunami, members donated the fountain and statuary located in Tsunami Landing. In 1972, Rotarians donated about $350,000 to help build the Cultural Center.
According to Teri, the list of projects goes on: picnic tables for Crescent Hill; assistance with building the Fred Endert Municipal Pool; painting the interior of Harrington House and providing food for victims of domestic violence and their children; instant alert buttons for seniors; lunches for veterans; covered bus stops; cleaning and painting the high school bleachers; chartering both the Interact club at the high school and the Rotoract Club - the first one on the North Coast.
"We are proud that many of our more recent projects have been accomplished in cooperation with the Del Norte Sunrise Rotary Club," said Teri, paying homage to the sister organization of early-risers that meets weekly over breakfast.
It's an achievement list that doesn't often get tallied up because "Rotary is usually a behind-the-scenes group and rarely acknowledges its work," said Robyn. "Because of this, most people do not know the impact Rotary has had on our community."
And I haven't even mentioned Rotary International's No. 1 global mission, of which the locals play a role: wiping out polio. When this monumental effort started in 1971, 125 countries were considered as polio endemic. Today, only three countries are still dispensing polio vaccinations, while the rest are free of the crippling childhood disease.
"While the focus on polio had been our main international focus," said Teri, "there are many others that as a local club we have accomplished. We have donated $3,500 to build a library in Uganda, we have sponsored clean water for villages, brought computers and school supplies. In cooperation with the Rotary Club of Dangriga, Belize, we built an air-conditioning unit for their school computer lab as well as helping to renovate the lab. And through the continued efforts of past president Dave Zuber, and a local Rotary Club in Ethiopia, we work to help support a school in Ethiopia."
For all they accomplish, the Rotarians know how to have a good time, as anyone who has attended one of the lunchtime meetings can attest to.
"It's so important, just the friendships we've built," said John Pritchett, a member since 1992. "If I need help, I have all these friends who would drop everything to come help, and vice versa."
Their jokes are often at the expense of fellow members. For instance, John noted Tom Cochran is one of the longest-serving members: "I don't want to say he's old, but his Social Security number is 3.
"I love looking forward to growing old with these people," said John. "They're my friends. We're helping our community. And we're going to break open the champagne when polio is wiped from this planet."
Rotary hasn't always been co-ed. "It wasn't until 1989 that women were admitted to Rotary," Teri said. "Rose Wilson was the first woman admitted to the Crescent City club, followed by Boots Parker and Charlotte Plunkett.
"Charlotte, currently a member of the Del Norte Sunrise Rotary, is the longest-surviving female member in Rotary in Del Norte County," said Teri. There are currently eight female members in the Crescent City Rotary Club who make up 24 percent of the membership.
"There haven't been too many of us," said Katherine, the sixth female president and one of the youngest at 31. The first was Debby Stover, owner of Del Norte Office Supply.
"It's still very much a gentleman's club, but with a female twist," said Katherine. "It's not only for those who have the heart and passion, but who really want to help and care. We reach a lot of people."