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Stephenville Rotary Club celebrates 50 years

Opening ceremonies for the celebration took place in the Stephenville town square. – Courtesy of the Stephenville Rotary Club

By JAYMIE L. WHITE

Special to The Appalachian

STEPEHNVILLE– Rotary Club International is a service organization dedicated to providing humanitarian service and advance goodwill in communities around the world. The Rotary Club of Stephenville has reached an incredible milestone, as it celebrates 50 years of service.

Formed in October 1971, the Rotary Club of Stephenville consisted of local businesspeople and professionals who made the commitment to assist through various projects and community service support. Currently there is a majority of female members, something that would have been unheard of when it first began.

In the early days of the club, it was men only, usually wealthy businessmen who had an excess of funds to donate to various organizations, and if women were involved, it was usually in a secondary role as the spouse of a member.

Aldonna O’Keefe, Club President, said that the club has come leaps and bounds since its early days.

“Our club is a little bit unique in that it is the flip-flop. We have more female members than male members and we’ve been like that for a number of years,” said O’Keefe. “Rotary is also very diverse and just in the last year, our district, the Atlantic district of Rotary, has formed a committee to deal with acceptance and diversification. So Rotary has come a long way since its beginnings, not just in terms of numbers.”

The club decided to celebrate their 50th anniversary a little differently thanks to the many limitations put on events and gatherings due to the pandemic.

“In the spring when we started talking about our 50th anniversary and how we were going to acknowledge it, we were unsure of what we were going to be able to do in terms of events around the COVID restrictions. So we came up with the plan to back up to 50 days before our charter date and call it ‘50 Days to 50’,” said O’Keefe. “We had many plans for some actual physical events, but many that were leaned toward the Facebook page and website so that we could educate people about our club, our organization, what we stand for and what we do.”

Some of the events that took place included a ‘live banner’ where two Rotarians would hold their banner on the corner of Main Street accompanied by at least one post per day on their Facebook page.

“We did things like bios of our Rotarians that were willing to share. We had an opening event in the Town Square on Main Street. We hired a live band and did a free concert for citizens,” said O’Keefe. “We were wildly surprised and pleased at the response. We had such a wonderful turnout, and it was great exposure for our club.”

The dinner closing the 50th anniversary celebrations took place on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Stephenville and was open to the public. O’Keefe said these events were a great way to stop and think about what has happened over the course of the club’s lifespan.

“Unless you really take something like this celebration to bring it to the forefront, you don’t always stop and think about our history – where did we start, what did we do 20 years ago,” said O’Keefe. “You just don’t stop to think about it until you are brought into a situation where you are asked to think about it. That’s one of the wonderful things that came out of our celebrating the 50 years. It was so informative for all of us as Rotarians as well.”

The Rotary Club of Stephenville has numerous organizations that they provide with financial assistance, and they always try to help groups that are as far-reaching as possible.

O’Keefe said organizations like the Hospital Foundation and Search and Rescue are two that assist large numbers of people in the community, but any community group looking for financial assistance can put in a submission to the club, which is then assessed to see how well it fits in terms of budget, etc..

“We have greatly helped Stephenville Emergency Food Services. We have always supported them financially. During COVID we probably gave the most of our support to that particular group because that seemed to be the group that had the biggest need during the pandemic.”

Because of COVID, the club had to get creative with their fundraising projects; however none of them could hold a candle to the annual dinner and auction, which hasn’t taken place since before the pandemic hit two years ago. The group has had to adjust their budget due to the decrease in fundraising capabilities; however, they continued to move forward and help community groups.

The annual dinner and auction will take place this year on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

“Our annual dinner and auction is always very well attended and well received,” said O’Keefe. “We get a lot of support from local businesses for that. It is a silent and live auction with several raffles throughout the evening.”

Another event that has been interrupted by the pandemic is the Rotary Music Festival, which first launched in 1975 and is estimated to have grown at its peak to between 2,000 to 3,000 participants. The hope is that an event, maybe smaller than the usual size, will be able to happen in the spring of 2022.

“We’re hoping that can happen. It’s a wonderful event for our young people,” said O’Keefe.

Anyone who is in interested is able to become a member.

“Rotary Clubs are made up of local citizens from all walks of life, there’s a bit of a misconception that Rotary is still very much a rich businessperson’s organization because that was how it started out more than 100 years ago,” said O’Keefe. “But we would really like people to know that Rotary has grown immensely since that time and now we are very open to any citizen in any walk of life who would like to join us and help us do what we do.”

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