July 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Hillyard Rotary club reaches 50 years

Decades of helping out remembered
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Long before “global community” became a catchphrase, Rotary International exemplified the ideal. Formed 105 years ago, the world’s first service club now boasts 1.2 million members around the globe.

Recently, a local club achieved a milestone of its own. In June, Hillyard Rotary celebrated its 50th anniversary. In its own quiet way this group has been making a difference both in North Spokane and in the world.

Merrill Bruneau was the second youngest member when Hillyard Rotary received its charter in 1959. Now, at 83, he said, “I’m the only charter member left out of 21.” Bruneau has seen the organization evolve over the years. He said the biggest change was the admission of women in 1989. “They used to call us the old men’s club,” he said with a laugh.

“We were the first club in Spokane to have a woman president,” he continued. “I welcomed them because I felt like we’d get more things done with women in the club, and that proved to be true.”

Dave Coburn, a member since 1973, agreed the addition of women to the organization has “really benefited Rotary.” And in turn, Hillyard Rotary has benefited the community.

Scrapbooks filled with yellowing pages, black-and-white photos and newspaper clippings reveal the club’s impact in North Spokane. One of their most significant undertakings was the development and beautification of Harmon Park in the late 1960s. The club raised funds to build a picnic structure and rest rooms.

In 1970, Hillyard Rotary along with several North Side organizations launched Jim Hill Days. The celebration has since has since evolved into the annual August Hillyard Festival. “We used to set up a salmon barbecue during Jim Hill Days,” recalled Bruneau. “We fed upwards of 500 people.”

Fellow member Rod Sprague has been a Rotarian for 34 years. He’s most proud of the group’s investment in the children of the community. “We built an entire playground set at Regal Elementary,” he said. “We rebuilt picnic tables and benches at the YMCA camp at Fan Lake in the late 1970s. We’re very focused on the youth.”

That focus has global impact as well. “It’s a great organization, doing great things,” Coburn said. “I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve been able to do for our local community as well as the community around the world.”

The eradication of polio has been Rotary International’s top philanthropic goal since 1985. Worldwide the group has raised $90.7 million to ensure that every child under 5 is vaccinated against the disease. In addition to polio eradication, funds raised by local Rotaries go to international projects like building wells in African villages.

But incoming Hillyard Rotary president Chris Lynch stressed, “Two-thirds of our money stays right in our neighborhood.” For example, one of the group’s most recent programs is the Literacy Project. At the end of each school year, Rotarians visit local elementary schools and hand out books to fourth- and fifth-graders, so the children will have something to read over the summer. The project has been gratifying for the school, children and club members.

Rotary members deliver the books to the schools and explain to the children what it means to be part of a service organization.

“You get to see the expression on the kids’ faces when they get that new book,” Sprague said.

Equally enjoyable is the camaraderie within the organization. No matter where members may travel, they can find a Rotary group and attend a weekly meeting. “Everywhere you go, you’re sure to find a welcome,” said Sprague. Being able to attend Rotary meetings around the world is why Merrill Bruneau had 43 years of perfect attendance. For Rotarians, social networking is more than just a Web site like Facebook.

Because the Hillyard Rotary has always been a smaller group, with an average of about 20 members, Chris Lynch said, “We really get to know each other.”

As for the future, Lynch said, “We’ll continue to work hard for the community. That’s what we’ll be doing for the next 50 years.”

For information about Hillyard Rotary, contact Jean Farmer at the Northeast Community Center, (509) 487-1603.


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