For more than 80 years, local Rotarians have been working to make La Grande and surrounding Union County a better place to live. Dave Koza thinks he knows why volunteers keep coming back for more.
La Grande Rotarian Gordon Kohler, right, accepts the Outstanding Service Recognition award from Dennis Wickham, Rotary District 5100 governor. Kohler is one of 60 members in Rotary’s La Grande chapter. The local club hopes to enlist more members to help with projects. - Submitted photo
They see the results of their work. There is no doubt they are doing good.
“If there’s one secret to our success, it’s the hands-on nature of our projects,” said Koza, La Grande Rotary President. “Our members shepherd the projects through, from start to finish.”
Founded in Chicago in 1905, Rotary International has become one of the largest service organizations in the world. Its members — business people, professionals from the private and public sectors and active retirees — number about 1.2 million. Worldwide, there are 31,000 clubs in 165 countries.
La Grande Rotary was established in 1926 and currently boasts 60 members. Living up to the motto “Service above self,” the chapter participates in Rotary’s worldwide initiatives, and always has several local projects going at once.
With so much work to be done, the club hopes more people will step up and join.
“We have a number exciting projects going on, and we’ve noticed we’re going to need more members to fill all the slots,” said Koza, owner of D-Squared Development in La Grande.
At the head of the list of local Rotary projects stands the Drug Free Youth Program, a voluntary prevention and intervention support program for middle school youngsters who have made a decision to not use drugs and alcohol.
The program, led by Dr. Joe Grover, needs volunteers to work both on the front lines and behind the scenes, said Koza.
“It requires working with youth, but also publicity and fundraising, getting businesses to donate the prizes kids receive when they reach milestones,” he said.
A second Rotary project is the annual Seniors and Military Personnel Thanksgiving Day Breakfast.
Held each year at the local McDonald’s, the gathering provides seniors and military people with a fresh, hot and free Thanksgiving day breakfast.
Back in the late-1990s, then-McDonald’s owner Swend Willadsen hosted the first breakfast, donating the use of his facility and its equipment.
Since then, the Thanksgiving morning gathering has become a Rotary tradition. Current McDonald’s owner Bo Willadsen donates use of the restaurant. Rotary members provide rides to and from the event for people who need them.
“The Thanksgiving Day Breakfast really highlights the way Rotary and community members work together to make a project successful,” said Colby Marshall, a Rotarian who works as an aide to U.S. Congressman Greg Walden.
Rotarian Gordon Kohler is a leader in programs for seniors and the military. Recently, his work in that arena helped earn him Rotary’s Outstanding Service Recognition Award.
Kohler, the local chapter’s president-elect, was recognized for his participation in other projects as well. He said the chance to help others is reward enough for being a Rotarian.
“I am humbled,” he said about the award. “Service is something a person does willingly, without expectation of recognition.”
The local club also is helping out as the City of La Grande parks division looks to add improvements to the city-owned park at Morgan Lake.
Long-term building plans call for new campsites, rest rooms, fishing platforms, boat ramp improvements and more. The project is mostly in a conceptual stage now and will be built as money from grants and other sources becomes available.
The city will need both funding and volunteers to make the project a success. Rotary has pledged its support.
“Our contribution will be a combination of fundraising and physical labor,” Marshall said.
Rotary is also proud of its Ecuador Partnership Project. Periodically, local club members travel to Ecuador and work with Rotary groups there on projects providing clean water and sanitary facilities for children in economically distressed communities.
Member Michael Jaeger has made several trips. Recently, he took with him fellow Rotarians Dave Gassoway and Craig Nightingale. Among other things, they worked on marketing issues.
“We call them the Three Amigos,” Koza said with a laugh.
Yet another local project is the Young Leadership Award Program, a leadership development program for people ages 19-29. The program includes an intensive, week-long training session with other young people from across Oregon.
With so much happening, more dedicated volunteers are needed. The main requirement, Marshall said, is a desire to build a better community and world.
“If you’re interested in service to community, Rotary is something we want you to look into,” he said.
Rotary meets once a week. For information on becoming a member, contact Koza at 963-9151.