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Rotary Club of Akron looking back on century of service

3/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The Akron Rotary Camp, shown above, was established in 1924 for children who were afflicted with polio. Today, the camp still serves children and adults with developmental disabilities and gives them the chance to enjoy an outdoor camping experience. For a look at major improvements recently made to the camp, see “Akron Rotary Camp newly refurbished,” which appeared in the Oct. 10, 2013, edition at www.akron.com.
Children at the Akron Rotary Camp are shown in this Rotary Club of Akron photo dated 1924.
Photos courtesy of Rotary Club of Akron
WEST AKRON — From helping special needs children in the Akron area to making a difference in the war against polio worldwide, Rotary Club of Akron members work to get the job done.

As the club marks 100 years of existence this year, members like Jack Harig, of Portage Lakes, said it’s the can-do attitude of its members that has allowed it to accomplish much through the years.

“The first thing is the integrity of the people who belong,” said Harig, an Akron Rotary member since 1994 who has been involved in Rotary for 52 years. “You can count on them. When they make a commitment to do something, they do it.”

He noted the organization’s efforts to end polio as an example. According to the national Rotary website, the effort began in 1979 and has resulted in a 99 percent reduction in polio cases internationally.

Locally, the club has been involved in the Akron Rotary Camp for most of its years — since 1924. The camp in New Franklin was dedicated to helping children afflicted with polio and other physical disabilities. Today, children and adults with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders make up more than half of the campers served, according to Akron Rotary officials.

“We work with youth because they are the future of the community,” Harig said. “The camp has been a 90-year commitment and it is an example of the thing that really makes Rotary work. One or two people can have a good idea they could not accomplish by themselves. We’ve got a camp capable of supporting more than 1,500 kids a year and a year-round program for kids with special needs. Kids have the opportunity to not just go camping, but they can reach the potential that is well beyond what they ever dreamed of.”

According to Rotary officials, the Rotary Club of Chicago was the first Rotary group when it was founded in 1905. In Ohio, clubs were founded in Toledo and Cleveland, then Akron, followed by Barberton.

Local officials said Akron architect Milton Harpster and B.F. Goodrich executive Harry Bauman had attended Rotary meetings in other cities. Both saw the value that an organization like Rotary would bring to Akron and began taking steps toward initiating the Akron club. At that time, like today, members met weekly over lunch and worked toward the common interest of “Service Above Self.”

Members today meet at Portage Country Club on Tuesdays at noon for a luncheon program. Harig said membership is by invitation, but those who are interested can contact the club at 330-644-4512.

Currently, there are about 130 members, who either live or work in the Akron area, Harig said.

The club’s biggest fundraiser is the Chili Open, which took place this year Feb. 1 at Hale Farm & Village. The winter golf event attracted more than 500 participants and raised more than $165,000, Harig said.

As part of the 100th anniversary this year, the Rotary Club of Akron is planning a celebration April 5 at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn, 3180 W. Market St. Harig, who is co-chair of the event with Cheryl Warren, said former Akron deputy mayor Dave Lieberth will be the master of ceremonies and present a film that parallels the history of Akron with the club.

“We’re expecting up to 500 people at the Hilton,” Harig said. “We’re attempting to locate families of past presidents from way back. We’re also looking for alumni of the Rotary Camp, both people who attended the camp as children and people who worked at the camp as counselors.”

Anyone who falls into those categories can call the club, Harig said.

Tickets for the event are $100 per person, which includes appetizers, dinner, champagne toast, dinner wine and dessert. Reservations are due by tomorrow, March 21. Additional information on attending or sponsorship opportunities is available at www.akronrotary.org or from Megan Moncrief at 330-806-8489.

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