Harpoon Notes for July 10, 2019: The Changing of the Guard

Once again, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor enjoyed the blessings of a bloodless transfer of power. President Greg, who presided over his final meeting last week, passed the gavel to Rosemarie Rowney, now the Club’s 109th — and 9th woman — president. The mood was set by a stirring rendition of “God Bless America,” with Joanie Knoertzer on piano. Real inspiration was generated by Joanne Pierson, now president-elect.: citing an article in the current Rotarian magazine, Joanne emphasized a Rotary mainstay — “from ordinary to extraordinary: together we’ll create an extraordinary year!”

Anne took a microphone. “Greetings from Rotary International, from President Mark Mallory and District 6380 Governor Sparky Leonard! Rotary gives us the chance to connect with people for a multitude of service projects. Our District goal is ambitious — to grow our membership from 1600 to 2,020 by the end of Rosemarie’s presidency. Go to the District newsletter if you’d like to help with a project at another club. Contact that club, or contact me. I’ll put you in touch

“President Greg,” Anne continued, turning to our Immediate PP (whose face verily glowed with youth and relief), “you did a great job…I never knew what you were going to say next! Thank you, Greg, and congratulations Rosemarie!”

Next, Norma Sarkar came up for a special announcement. “On behalf of the Membership Committee and Chair Dan Romanchik, I want to make an appeal to reverse the decline in [our Club’s] membership, from 322 in 2015 to 280 in 2019. New mwmbers are important — their new ideas, increased funding base, and more hands for projects [are crucial to our future].” Norma offered a couple of suggestions: “To recommend a new member, go to a2rotary.org. Also, wear your Rotary pin EVERYWHERE; sometimes we’re the best kept secret in town. And invite potential candidates to a Wednesday luncheon.”

New Member Initiative: Norma then announced the establishment of a RCAA satellite. “Lauren Heinonen, my partner-in-crime, come up here!” Applause for one of the Club’s youngest and most active members was intense. Upon her reaching the podium, Norma went into the details of the new club: “Will there be speakers? No, [although] we’re playing it as we go along.” Norma explained the meetings will take place in the evening, from 6:00-7:30 “after work, because we realize many people, particularly the young people we’re trying to attract, can’t make a luncheon meeting.” The first satellite meeting will occur next Tuesday at Arbor Brewing, on Washington Street downtown. At the conclusion of Norma’s remarks, Rosemarie exclaimed, “That’s great news. Innovative!”

Rosemarie introduced her husband, our beloved Don Deatrick, as “First Man” to great applause. Don, in turn, introduced his daughter, Michelle. Next, Rosemarie announced that Sparky Leonard “has tickets to the Tigers-Blue Jays game. Now, I know they’re both not very good teams [universal laughter], but if you’d like to go, let me or Sparky know.”

Greg came forward to highlight some achievements during his presidency. In characteristic fashion he presented each as independent of his input, as if it were an inevitability, the culmination of others’ work: “It was a great year, I was humbled and proud to be your president. I fully appreciated For Whom the Bell Tolls in the poem, for we lost members this year who gave so much. The Fourth of July parade — those carts Christie and I were cranking are giving people in Gambia their community, their world. That’s the kind of impact our club has around the world. Then there was the STRIVE banquet: We’re able to fund those students at WCC for two years, which makes a big difference in their lives and in their families’ lives. Remember the pineapple farms? We leveraged a few thousand dollars, and achieved that. It’s like the old saying — if you give someone a pineapple, they have a pineapple. But if you teach someone to grow pineapples, they have a lot of pineapples!”

He continued: “And the Fisher House, the first in Michigan, for our veterans. This project began under President Ashish, with PP Karen Kerry and Brad Chick being the driving force.” He then continued, scanning the ballroom: “And the Bowling Team! Captain Dick Elwell, will you be bringing your team to the White House?” To which PP Ashish declared from the media table, “He was asked, but refused!”

There were many other achievements, of course. Perhaps most noticeable, from a member’s perspective, was the increased emphasis on extra-luncheon meeting conviviality. The Session Room became a sort of RCAA annex, and every member event, whether the annual picnic or marching in the July 4th parade (thanks, also, Christie), became an opportunity to repoint the mortar joints of Club relationships. The fact that they also served to attract potential new members didn’t go unnoticed, either.

And First Lady Pat! The future will struggle hard to top that one.

Regaining the podium President Rosemarie declared: “Greg, on behalf of the Board and myself, I’d like to thank you for your leadership.” After a tremendous ovation, Rosemarie continued, thanking departing board members and committee chairs. In welcoming the incoming chairpersons, she noted that Sumedh Bahl “has been appointed to head environmental signage at the Universal Access Park.”

Next occurred a favorite feature of these hand-overs: the Procession of Presidents. Rosemarie noted “we have 25 [living] past presidents. Half, though, are on vacation. Past Presidents, please come forward!” Talk about inspiration! Gradually a phalanx of our most distinguished service-above-selfers formed at the head of the ballroom. They introduced themselves chronologically, according to their term of service: “Al Storey, ’73-74”; “Bob Kerry, ’75-76”; “Russ Reister, ’81-82”; “Elaine Didier, ’93-94 — We made a lot of innovations and increased social get-togethers” [Note: And first woman president]; “Downs Herold, ’94-95”; “Bob Buchanan, first president of the new millennium, 2000-2001”; “Patricia Garcia, 2002-2003 — We launched our website”; “Ingrid Sheldon, ’06-07”; “Jim Cook, ’08-09 — We paid off our first major grant from Bill Gates and for other clubs as well”; “Lou Calloway, ’09-10”; “Karen Kerry, 2013-14 — The veteran’s gala and the Universal Access Playground”; “Ashish Sarkar, 2015-16 — When I left, we had 326 members [huge laughs]”; “Collyer Smith, ’17-18 — I’m the guy who started the decline!”; Greg Stejskal, 2018-19.” After a stunning ovation, Rosemarie thanked the past presidents, then rang the bell. “I just love ringing the Rotary bell!” she declared.

Some of the Past Presidents of the RCAA.

Rosemarie then outlined some of her goals: 1) Monitor and grow our reputation for service — “We need more members to do this. The satellite club helps with this, with its emphasis on younger people of color. Also, to work for malaria eradication in Zambia and elsewhere, and, again, to improve our public image and reputation of service.” 2) Emphasis on supporting relationships with other community organizations: “We need to meet and collaborate with other service clubs — Kiwanis, Jaycees, Toastmasters.” 3) Complete the Environmental Education signs at UAP. [Note: With Sumedh on this, success is assured.] 4) Establish ourselves as Peace Builders, as a peace building club. “Oh, and yes, there’s a 5th goal — We’re going back to the Union!” The cheers were so tremendous at this news that your reporter pondered whether Napoleon’s decision to depart Elba had elicited such fervent assent. Really, though, was there any doubt?

The Shirt: “One more thing, Rosemarie…” Greg expressed playfully to our new president and to a room impassioned with thoughts of the future. “It’s a Rotary tradition — Downs, how long have we been doing this?” “Since 1983…It came from Hawaii [and bubonic plague came from the Crimea],” Downs shouted from the back. [Note: And it has remained unwashed since.] To everyone’s delight, the shirt fit. Later, Rosemarie was heard to say that she might even don the inelastic, pea green tunic — a phantasm of Dharma-like Rotary wheels — occasionally during meetings. And why not? This president could make a 1910 motoring duster and goggles look elegant.

Past President Greg passing on The Shirt to President Rosemarie.

And so began a new, exciting chapter in the history of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. At this point there would normally be a John Wayne quote. Our 108th President will, no doubt, formulate her own watchword in good time. Congratulations, Rosemarie!