Meeting Notes: Our first meeting at Weber’s

Photos by Fred Beutler


Inaugurating its two-year sojourn at Weber’s Restaurant and Hotel while the Michigan Union undergoes its renovation, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor was called to order by President John’s familiar ringing of the bell. That bell, symbol of our club, was the subject of a memorable celebration last week in the Anderson Room. On that day, you recall, 31 Past Presidents joined John in ‘passing the bell’ from one to the other, all the way through the room. As the bell moved, so would we – not into the wilderness, but to Weber’s.

As members and guests maneuvered to the back of the hotel, picked parking spaces (no more hoping for a miraculous gap on Tappan), and sauntered to the entrance, they were met by a bevy of smiling Rotarians. John White had chosen his helpers well. Maggie Conger was there at the lobby crossroads greeting everyone and pointing to the hall on the right. Down the ramp, through the double door, the space suddenly widened. Skylights shed crosshatched beams across the foyer; at one table Rotarians urged the purchase of tree tags to commemorate loved ones. A grand idea, the tags correlate with the environmental platform of the District 6380 Conference taking place at Marriott Eagle Crest. Three steps farther and you arrived at the sign-in table, manned/womened by, you guessed it, smiling Rotarians. Having paid the $12, the new price, you passed to the dining room. On the left was arrayed a fabulous luncheon buffet of salads, sliced meats, catcher’s mitt-sized hunks of bread, and soup. The hospitality of the server presiding at table’s end was exceptional. At first glance the low-hung, paneled room looked like the dining saloon on a mid-sized steamer, light from above glittering on a necklace of linen tablecloths. Chatter resounded through the room as drinks were poured and people nestled into their chairs. The stage was set for a great meeting.

Roger Fraser

Roger Fraser appeared at the podium just as several Rotarians exclaimed, “Where’s the podium?” His inspiration was superb. Roger’s title, Turning Pages, was based on an article by Scott Westerman from May, 2012. “There is really one true certainty in life: Things change. The neighborhood we lived in, the friends we once knew, the jobs we used to have; some are gone forever, some are radically different, some are on the cusp of evolution. Nothing stands still.

“Here’s how Michael J. Fox put it in a conversation with Marlo Thomas: ‘I can honestly say there are no bad days – meaning, there is just the day that is. I’m not one to say, Oh, this sucks, but tomorrow will be better. I’m more like, It is what is right now and tomorrow will take care of itself.’

“Each of our lives are works in progress…And what is expected of us as we turn the pages of our lives? Most of us are not wired to be rock stars or rocket scientists. But each of us can make a difference. Find something that’s important to you and engage.”

Don Devine

Maestros Don Devine and Deanna Relyea led us in glorious renditions of “In the Good Old Summer Time,” George Evans and Ren Shields’ Tin Pan Alley hit, and 1899’s “My Wild Irish Rose,” Chauncey Olcott’s best known song. Perhaps channeling Olcott, Don reached the high note with everything he had. Bravo!

Bob Mull

President John opened the meeting with greetings all round, but indicated the packed proceedings “will unfortunately keep me from welcoming visiting Rotarians and guests individually.” He then asked Bob Mull to come up for a post-tax update. “Most of you will receive a tax refund [next year], so you can still make charitable donations. Bob explained expertly, and with charts, how we can maneuver around the myriad tax changes affecting charitable giving. Alas, too expertly for this dull reporter to report. The basic gist of Bob’s message is to open a Donor Advised Trust to shelter your funds earmarked for charity. Perhaps Bob can return to the podium soon to further explain the connection between the prospect of receiving a refund and the ability to make a charitable gift, presumably tax free.

Joyce Hunter

John then asked Joyce Hunter to come forward, “to receive a pin, which comes with her Distinguished Service Award.” This she did amidst rapturous applause. Congratulations, Joyce! Past President Ashish Sarkar, who spoke next, added his good wishes: “Congratulations on your DSA, Joyce Hunter!” Ashish then described the incredible “leveraging effects” available to our humanitarian projects by Rotarians making donations. “Fifty percent of you, as of today, have not given.” Ashish urged all members to consider RI’s directive – EREY, “which means, Every Rotarian, Every Year.” If we reach our target this year, Ashish explained, the leverage will be huge, resulting in usable funds of up to 10 times the amount given by members. No one can stir Rotarians to action like Ashish. Let’s do it!

Marcia Lane, a new Rotarian and an organizer of last year’s World Peace Conference in Ann Arbor, came to the podium. She announced the approval by the Board of a new Peace Committee. And she made a request – “When we were planning the Peace Conference, we didn’t want it to be a one-time thing. We want to raise the public profile of Rotary. [To accomplish this,] we’d like to increase our Committee membership.” Marcia read a list of current members, most of which had worked together on the Peace Conference. Sounds like a great group of serious-minded (and fun-loving) humanitarians. All those interested in joining, or getting more information, please contact Marcia.

President-elect Greg Stejskal, pinch-hitting for Todd Kephart, reported on results of the recent Food Drive. “Food Gatherers would like to thank you. Last year, Food Gatherers served over 62,000 meals at the Washtenaw County Farm Council Grounds. [This year’s] will take place June 12th.” Great work!

A warm Weber’s welcome

Michael Weber

Club Administrator John White introduced our speaker, Michel Weber. “We are now allying ourselves with another institution: Weber’s,” John began. “We had been meeting at the Union from the time it was built, a century ago. Michael Weber has spent a lifetime in the hospitality business…I am delighted to introduce Michael Weber.”

Mr. Weber was given a rousing ovation which he acknowledged by welcoming the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor to his family’s hotel and restaurant. He then launched into a brief history of Weber’s, how it was founded by his grandfather, Hermann, after having founded a hamburger & beer restaurant in a gas station. Eventually – and “with the sophistication of my grandmother” – the Weber’s Supper Club was established. This concept has continued to evolve ever since. “We have been at this location since 1962,” Michael noted. His audience was particularly interested to learn more about the remarkable business mix that has proved so popular and enduring: “The restaurant was built first, with a hotel built around it. This is very rare in the industry,” asserted Michael. Indeed, Rotarians had only to glance out the windows to see the expansive hotel, complete with pool, shimmering under the skylights.

“Being family-owned and independent is what sets us apart – Having your name over the door means it’s your reputation on the line.” And then Michael revealed the family secret: “The money saved in licensing fees – what most of our competitors have to pay – allows us to invest it in the business. We’ve invested in renovation: This can’t be done by franchised hotels.” Another thing his listeners learned was that Weber’s employees are valued highly. “We have a profit-sharing plan for our employees,” Michael observed, proudly. “This contributes to employee security and longevity, which is a positive for Weber’s.” Michael pointed out that over one million dollars has been contributed by the company to the employee profit-sharing plan over the last several years.

In regard to the management style of his father, Michael observed, “We’re fortunate that Dad has given us the freedom to make mistakes, but that he’s there to stop us if it goes too far. [Laughter] Mr. Weber could be seen at the table smiling warmly at his son. In conclusion, Michael noted the benefits of hard work in his career from day one: “So, your grandchildren can work here, as a dishwasher, as I did and as my brother did – and as my grandfather did when he started!” Laughter and clapping filled the room as Rotarians and friends reveled in a great family business success story. Welcome to Weber’s!

President John then returned to the podium. Before reminding us of JET – Join leaders, Exchange ideas; Take action – he regaled us with a story: “When my late wife and I were married, we had our dinner here. We were here again for our Fortieth Anniversary in 2012. I remember looking at the placemats and noticing that the names of all Weber’s employees were listed, with their years of service in parentheses. What a tribute!”

Rotarians took their time leaving. They milled around the foyer, walked slowly together to their cars, even sat awhile on the benches outside, talking happily; a fine spring day and the calls of birds providing the perfect adjournment to a perfect meeting.

Administrator’s Notes by John White

Weekly Meeting Statistics

We had another well-attended meeting with 138 Rotarians on hand to hear about the Weber’s Legacy from Michael Weber. We also had two familiar visiting Rotarians (Stephanie Baldwin-Ross of Parker CO and B. Yawson of Ann Arbor North). A special treat was the presence of former Ann Arbor Rotarian Mike James. In addition, we had three guests. Two committees, International Humanitarian Programs and Internal Financial Procedures met in conjunction with lunch. A total of 18 members participated. Also reported was the attendance of ten Rotarians at the Glacier Hills meeting on April 20.

Notes from John White on our First Meeting at Weber’s

I appreciate all the patience shown and assistance provided to help us make the transition to Weber’s. I have reviewed the red survey cards and found that we received lots of praise and a number of constructive comments. Members enjoyed the ease of parking, as expected, and also commented on favorably on the in-processing (greeters and attendance table). Weber’s on-site but rarely used piano was tuned and ready for us, addressing the many comments I received after we had to go “a capella” at our meeting there last August. The primary concern was for lack of seating. We were set for 140 and registered 146. Judging from the need to bring in more than six extra chairs, perhaps there were unnoticed empty seats at the dining tables or possibly some attendees slipped by the attendance table. I will work with Weber’s on enough seating but will continue to ask every attendee to check in at the attendance table. We recognize the lower ceiling may affect affect the view and are considering a rearrangement of the room or an additional projector and screen. There were just a few specific comments about the food. Suggestions for the whole grain bread were two. Our menu this week will be “Wrap ‘n’ Roll” Meats. Thanks to everyone who offered comments.

Makeup Cards for Roving Rotarians

Marcia Lane, Rosemarie Rowney and Ashish Sarkar attended the meeting of the Plymouth club on April 27.

Rotarians in the News

A bowling team made up of Rotarians Spaulding Clark, Chuck Olson, Peter Wright and Dick Elwell recently completed another championship run in the Old Timers’ League at Maple Lanes in Saline. Captain Dick reports it was their second championship in the last three years. If you are interested in bowling with Rotarians, Rotary also has a team in the Service Club League at Revel ‘n’ Roll in Ann Arbor. Contact Dick for more information.

More Rotary-related News in the May issue of the Ann Arbor Observer

On page 11, our club’s generosity is mentioned in a short article about Washtenaw Camp Placement. On page 13, member Christine Stead, President of the Ann Arbor School Board, is pictured and quoted about the renewal of the AAPS operating millage in voting on Tuesday, May 8.