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Oxford Rotarians celebrate 75th anniversary

by CJ Carnacchio

January 09, 2013

Service above self.

For members of the Rotary Club of Oxford, this isn't just some noble motto they pay lip service to during a weekly meeting it's a definite way of life.

This Friday, Oxford Rotarians will gather at the home of their current president, Bob Warnke, to celebrate 75 years of unselfishly volunteering their time and talents to help others in their community and around the globe.

"It's a totally benevolent organization, both locally and worldwide. That's the reason I became a Rotarian," said Warnke, who's been with the club for 14 years.

"It's distinguished from so many other local clubs in that we really are a bunch of business owners and community leaders who want to give back," explained Oxford attorney Greg Kudela, the club's president-elect and a 12-year member. "We're not there to do business-networking. We really are there to see what we can do to help out."

Although the Rotary Club of Oxford was officially chartered on Dec. 17, 1937, the club has always looked to Jan. 20, 1938 as its anniversary date because that's when it received its charter from the organization's district governor at an inaugural gala attended by some 350 Rotarians.

The club was founded by Dr. G.E. (Steve) Meads, a longtime local dentist and prominent citizen who served as the club's first president from 1937-39.

"It puts Oxford on the map," Warnke said. "Not every town has a Rotary Club. The ones that do have a club are generally better for it because of the service they do within the community and outside it."

The Oxford club, with its 28 members, is part of the much larger Rotary International, which was founded in 1905 and boasts more than 1.2 million members spread across more than 34,000 clubs worldwide. All of its members work to combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, provide education and job training, promote peace and eradicate polio.

"It's the world's largest service organization," said Kudela, who will take over as Oxford's president in July.

In its early years, the Oxford club devoted most of its efforts and dollars toward helping crippled children. During the 1950s, it was well-known for the popular minstrel shows it staged as fund-raisers.

Today, Oxford Rotarians serve the community in a variety of ways.

They help feed the hungry by sponsoring a shelf in the Oxford-Orion FISH pantry.

Every year, they donate to the Boys State and Girls State summer enrichment programs, which educate high school students about public service, good citizenship and leadership. They also provide scholarship dollars for students looking to further their education after high school.

Through its STRIVE program, Oxford Rotarians offer students facing academic difficulties the encouragement, motivation and mentorship needed to enable them to succeed in school.

Every December, the club throws a Christmas party for approximately 200 area senior citizens that includes a wonderful meal, musical entertainment and a visit from Santa.

Rotary constantly shows its unwavering community spirit by volunteering at the Christmas parade and coordinating the classic car show at Celebrate Oxford.

Oxford resident Joe Bullen, a Rotarian for 13 years, recalled how back when he was coaching the Oxford Christian Academy basketball team, the club bought his players new uniforms for a national tournament in 1981.

"That was a very impressive thing to me," he said. "It just came as a big surprise."

"Oxford has benefited greatly from Rotary," Warnke said.

But the club doesn't just limit its selfless activities to the local level.

"This club distinguishes itself, and always has, through its extraordinary international program," Kudela said. "Here's this little town in northern Oakland County, Michigan having an impact around the world."

For many years, the club supported the work of Oxford Rotarians Dr. Jaime Aragones, an ophthalmologist, and his wife, Lourdes, who travelled to Third World places like the Philippines, Mexico and Thailand on missions to help people regain their vision. Many were sightless or losing their vision due to highly-treatable problems like cataracts.

"He'd go into some place and he'd do like 400 eye surgeries in two weeks, restoring sight to many people, like a grandmother who's never seen her grandchildren," Kudela said.

Over the last few years, the club has supported the work of Oxford Rotarian Tim Fix, a local contractor who travels to Guatemala to help villagers "modernize" their lives.

For instance, Rotary helped Fix furnish the Guatemalans with portable filtration systems that allow them to have something many Americans take for granted clean drinking water.

"He's building a (medical) clinic down there and we're helping fund that; we're giving him supplies," Kudela noted. "He's now the tip of the spear of our international program."

Rotary has aided Aragones and Fix's efforts to improve the Third World with both funding and club members willing to travel to foreign lands to lend their hands and hearts to these worthwhile projects.

"It makes Oxford's world bigger to know its Rotary Club reaches out to the four corners of the Earth," Warnke said. "It makes Oxford not such a small community."

Beyond all the valuable service the Rotary Club of Oxford performs locally and internationally, Kudela sees the group as performing one more valuable function helping relative newcomers, like himself, "feel like you belong" by giving them the opportunity to connect with folks who have deep roots in the community.

"I grew up in a 1950s suburb that was built out in a farmer's field north of Detroit," he said. "There was no continuity. There was no downtown. There was no history."

"This is a small town that has a real history" and the Rotary Club is "just one more element in that very rich history" that "ties together all the different factors" past and present, according to Kudela.

For Bullen, one of the most "appealing" aspects of the Rotary Club is its Four Way Test, a set of questions that is supposed to help guide what the members think, say and do.

Rotarians constantly ask themselves Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

"If everyone could live (by) the Four Way Test, what a different world we would have," Bullen said.

The Rotary Club of Oxford meets at 12 noon every Tuesday at the Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club (300 E. Drahner Rd.). Meetings consist of lunch followed by a different guest speaker who informs the club on various topics ranging from governmental activities and history to education and helping folks in need.