Pictured above are the Janesville Noon Rotary Past Presidents. Front row, left to right: Gary Smith, Steve Servantez, Marcy Weber, Milly Babcock, Mary Holzhauer, Heather Longhenry, Dave Arndt, Hal Robb, Dennis Beggs, Larry Siker. Back row, left to right: John Wickhem, Mark Lorenz, Dan Drozdowicz, Dave Warren, Mick Gilbertson, Paul Romanelli, Aaron Thomas, Jim Cripe, Rick Mueller.
The RCHS Spotlight focuses on the story of a local business, service club, or nonprofit organization which partners with the Rock County Historical Society to support our various events and initiatives.
An Inspiring Celebration of 100 Years of Service!
By Teresa Nguyen, RCHS HistoryTeller
Excited to get to the Pontiac Convention Center, I arrive early, happy that I nab a good parking spot. It’s the Centennial Celebration of the Janesville Noon Rotary Club!
In 1918, Janesville had a population of 16,000. A small group of men got together at the Myers Hotel to start a club that would quietly and profoundly make history with its humanitarian projects, making a difference in our community and in our world.
Community pillar, Milly Babcock, has kindly invited me to the event to conduct a few RCHS interviews and to join her as a guest at her special table.
I am greeted by friendly faces and can feel the excitement in the air. After hanging up my coat, I find myself among members of other local Rotary clubs, such as Janesville Morning Rotary. In 2018, I wrote a Spotlight Feature on the Morning Rotary club. How fun to see so many familiar smiles! This year’s theme is “Be the Inspiration” and with so many truly amazing folks all under one roof, I can easily imagine how this theme will be realized.
The entrance room contains a long table with a display of Janesville Noon Rotary’s 100 years of history. The club’s history was thoroughly researched by John Wickhem with help of Kristin Arnold, Archives Manager at the Rock County Historical Society. The table showcases numerous projects which reflect the Rotary club’s motto, “Service Above Self,” exemplifying the humanitarian spirit of the organization.
The club’s intent is to make the community better, the world better, one person at a time. The club boasts many amazing accomplishments. Millions of meals have been served by the Janesville Noon Rotary, both for the city of Janesville and for countries around the globe. They have celebrated 35 years of the Corn Roast, have provided clean water to Haiti, helped create our beautiful Rotary Botanical Gardens and Camp Rotamer. The club has given community grants and scholarships, rewarded students for “making the grade” and the members have brought dozens of exchange students into their homes in Rock County.
Absorbing it all in, I enter the larger event room adorned with sparkling lights hung among elegant sheer curtains across the ceiling and notice the beautifully eye-catching table settings.
The VIP group is here early, mingling over cocktails. Milly quickly takes me around the room and introduces me to several people. Through smiles and handshakes, my mind quietly wonders if I might lose track of all the names and titles of those I am meeting!
In the end, it all flows together and each of these wonderful Rotarians I interview generously share their time, their personal experiences and especially their enthusiasm for Janesville Noon Rotary.
Former Rotary Exchange Student from Brazil
I’m from Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was a Janesville Noon Rotary exchange student here in 2002. I went to Parker, where I attended school and stayed first with John and Donna Hutchinson family, then I met Ruth, who was the best friend of my first host family’s daughter. So, then I stayed with Ruth’s family, the Ledgers, and my third host family was the Bauers.
The school year ends in December in Brazil, so I attended both spring and fall semesters. That winter was the first time I ever saw snow! I went sledding the second day here. It was so unique for me to experience such cold temperatures!
In 2005, I did a CNN internship in Atlanta, Georgia. Ruth came to visit me while I was doing that while her family was in Florida. When I returned to Brazil, I did CNN radio correspondence.
Ruth went to Brazil to visit me and I’ve been back here eight times! My family even came back for her wedding. We visit back and forth because now we are family.
Now, in Brazil, I run my own company, Brisa Albuquerque Communications. I’m a journalist in a public relations communications business in Sao Paulo city.
Some of my near future goals are to visit Jerusalem in Israel, to visit the communities where Muslims and Jews are working toward peace and getting along. A goal for 2023 is to go to New York City to talk to the UN about world peace.
I believe we can learn from different points of view. We are here to learn from each other.
The Janesville Noon Rotary is a family, they’re the best people ever! I’d like to thank Dave and Lori Warren for creating this opportunity for me and to the club for sponsoring my trip here. So, I really want to thank every single member of the Noon Rotary family.
And by the way, I’m a Rotarian myself now, so you have definitely made a difference!
Former Rotary Exchange Student from Venezuela
I was a Janesville Noon Rotary exchange student in 2016-‘17. I attended Milton High School. My dad is a Rotarian and he knew about the program. So, I decided to apply for the program and made it here! The school calendar year is similar in Venezuela, so that worked out.
During my stay, I had three host families. First, I lived with David and Lori Warren, then I lived with David’s parents, Jim and Mary Anne Warren, and my third family was the Fons, Kim and John.
At Milton High School I was involved in tennis, and I joined Interact Club and the Forensics Club.
After going back home to Venezuela, I stayed there for five months. After that, I attended college in Bogota, Colombia where I am currently studying Audiovisual and Multimedia.
I am happy to be back for this 100th Anniversary Celebration event and glad to be running the multimedia.
I love how the Rotary Club helps people around the globe. I’m really proud of the efforts to eliminate polio. It’s such important work for this organization!
Thank you to Janesville Noon Rotary for letting me be a part of something like this … something so big!
Janesville Noon Rotary Sergeant of Arms
I’ve been with the Janesville Noon Rotary since 1989. Larry Siker, who was my neighbor, got me involved. At the time, we were busy with the Corn Roast event.
The Youth Exchange is a special project to me. I enjoy seeing all these interesting students with different backgrounds coming in. I’ve been happy to help with the program.
We’ve added more projects over the years, but the Corn Roast has been our major fundraiser. The club was larger before the 2009 recession, but it’s coming back.
I’ve been Sergeant of Arms for 20 years. The function of the Sergeant of Arms is to help maintain an orderly, dignified, and effective Rotary club meeting. The Sergeant of Arms’ duty is to make the right kind of impression on club visitors and guests.
I enjoy my position and plan to stick with the club.
Past Janesville Noon Rotary President
I’m now retired, but was in the club for nine years. I was Janesville Noon Rotary President in 2013-’14. When I was president, the theme was “Engage Rotary, Change Lives.” One of the things we focused on was membership and I really wanted to focus on bringing in new members. We also wanted members to be engaged in the club and I wanted to be sure we were recognizing our club members for their service.
We did a lot of different things at that time, such as a Kentucky Derby party. The Corn Roast has always been the most prominent event.
My husband, Tim, and I travel so often now, so it’s hard to stay committed, but I’ve always had my heart in Rotary because the club does so many great things, eliminating polio and other impactful, global projects.
Historian and Past Janesville Noon Rotary President
It took us between 20 and 30 hours total research time to research the history of the Janesville Noon Rotary. This only scratches the surface. I got my son involved in it. He’s very excited because he is also a Rotarian. Paul Schumacher is going to help get things in chronological order.
We’ll keep the information at the Rock County Historical Society. Our ultimate goal is to get the history of the club and other information into digital form so we can provide that information on our website.
I’ve been in the club since 1981. My father had joined in 1951 and my son recently joined, so we have three generations of Rotarians from my family! It’s kind of neat.
I’ve held just about every position, was President in 1994-’95, Youth Exchange Officer for five years and Camp Chairman.
Camp Rotamer, which is soon going to be put to bed, has been one of my favorites and the theme project for this organization. We sold the property on November 1 because it was not addressing the mission. We got a very nice price for the property, but we’re going to let that to sit in an account, generate interest and then use that to help with other projects in the community.
With the loss of Camp Rotamer, we will be coming up with a new mission statement. We have committees on it and we will turn to Mick Gilbertson, our current President, to lead us through this transition.
I have been lucky enough to be involved in so many JNR projects. We used to have the Horse Show, and I found the actual program for the 1941 Horse Show, which happens to be the judge’s copy! When I was a kid, my job was to shovel a lot of the stuff that comes out of the other end of a horse, and did that for a while until the Horse Show ended in the 80’s.
I was in on the decision in 1984 that we needed to transition to something new and went from the Horse Show to the Corn Roast. We have really grown to where we are now … about 6,000 people in attendance at the Corn Roast!
Past Janesville Noon Rotary President
I joined in 1990 and was president from 2000 – ‘01. When I joined, the Rotary Gardens was just a kind of garbage dump. We scheduled work days for the Rotarians, collected all the trash and cleaned it up.
If you go there today, you can see the pictorial history of when the gardens were created. You can get an idea of the transformation from the dirt bike track that it was to the gorgeous tourist attraction it’s become today.
Bob Yahr was the one who got it going. I remember it was a lot of time and a lot of money to get it off the ground with the goal to give back to the city. It has grown so much and now has become quite the destination, with the Holiday Light Show and all the other activities there throughout the year. And they continue to add on to it as the years go.
It has been so fulfilling to be in the club. In 1995, we did a project in Kenya where we collected old computers from Janesville and set them up with the Rotary club in Nairobi in mission schools in the area.
In a district meeting in 2002 or so, I met a colleague from Michigan who had a little booth about polio. He said, “We’re sending a team next year in 2003 to India because there was a big outbreak there.” It was like 80% of the world’s cases were in this one area. So, I took my daughter, who was 14 at the time, and we went to do an International Vaccinations Day service in India, working with the Indian Rotarians.
Some people there might have asked, “Why would people from North America come help us?” The answer is, “Because we’re Rotarians!”
One night we were having a late meeting in some hotel bar with members of the Indian government, the World Health Organization and the team from the CDC in Atlanta had just flown in. We were plotting out what we would be doing for the next three days. It was like one of those Forest Gump moments. I thought, “What am I doing here? Am I really here?” It was incredible!
It was definitely an eye-opening experience. We were also able to visit one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages. What we think of as poverty in this country, it really is not true poverty, certainly not on that level.
Past Janesville Noon Rotary President
John Wickhem asked me to come to a meeting in April, 1992 and I joined the following month. Prior to that, I was invited as a guest to other civic organizations’ meetings. They were all great organizations. But, when I went to the Rotary meeting, it seemed like a really good fit.
At that time, we didn’t meet at the Rotary Gardens, rather we met at the Elks Club and then moved to Rotary Gardens around the early 2000’s.
We always have a weekly raffle at our Monday meeting where a third goes to the foundation, and a third goes to the jackpot. A deck of 52 cards is used and whoever draws the winning ticket wins the jackpot. It can be up to $500 or $600! Then, whoever wins, that person is responsible for selling the tickets the following week.
Years ago, it wasn’t that way. I remember being asked to sell the raffles every Monday and I did that for a long time.
Every June, everyone would be given their Rotary Corn Roast (mud volleyball) tickets to sell to area businesses and the public. I remember early on, Bob Kimball was sitting across from me and he challenged me with a competition saying, “Do you think you can sell $750 worth of tickets?” We were only expected to sell around $175 worth, either by purchasing or by getting corporate sponsors.
I answered, “Sure, I can do that!” I think I surpassed that amount and that’s when the friendly competition with selling Corn Roast tickets began!
In 1997, I was voted in as president. Most people who talk about my connection to Rotary, know that I have had a knack for bringing in new members.
I’ve been there so long; I’m now known as one of the pioneers. About a year ago, there was something said about “The Pioneers” that if you’ve been in long enough, you naturally join that club within the club.
Rotary is so wonderful because of its motto, “Service Above Self” and helping others in need.
I recently read that Rotary is the most financially sound, largest, most powerful service organization. Every minute of every day Rotary feeds someone, houses someone, vaccinates someone, performs surgery on someone, comforts someone and provides clean water to someone.
This is Rotary.
Past Janesville Noon Rotary President
I joined the Janesville Noon Rotary in 2002. It was Milly Babcock who had come to me. I was a new businessman and she had a reputation for asking people to join the club. She was rather persistent, so I came to a meeting just to get her to stop asking me!
It turns out I felt so welcomed at the club and joining was the best decision I ever made!
In 2008, when I was incoming president, I attended a Rotary International convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. I came across a display for Kids Against Hunger and the incoming president of the Beloit club was there. We discussed it and I thought this could be a project for two or three clubs. We had never done that. My goal was to make it a project for Janesville Morning Rotary, Noon Rotary plus the clubs in Beloit and Edgerton. We started meetings and became a 501(c)(3), founded in 2008.
We helped to package six million meals, first delivering as many meals for Rock County as needed and then we would send meals to other places. At that time, we sent 7,000 meals each month to Rock County food pantries. We sent 290,000 per shipment to Uganda, Cameroon, the Philippines, Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua. I am most proud of and most intimately involved with this program.
In 2014, I became District Governor, which covers Central and Western Wisconsin and 64 clubs. During that year, I had to visit each of those clubs and put on a program for their meetings. I also organized a conference that year, so it was very busy.
My wife and I have hosted seven exchange students over the years, five of them through Janesville Noon Rotary. The students stay with three families over the course of the year so they don’t have just one impression of what an American family is like. We’ve had students from the Netherlands, France, Germany, Denmark, Thailand and Venezuela.
We have such good people in the club. It was originally founded to provide fellowship and promote businesses, but it’s changed over time to one that provides service for our community.
I plan to stay in it until I die, no question! I have found my home with this organization.
Inspiration from Ed Futa
Past General Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation
Ed Futa, placing himself up close and center on the stage, gives a speech to help motivate the audience. In his speech he enthusiastically states, “This is the 100th Anniversary of the Noon Rotary Club, which represents the opportunity to change a life.”
Futa explains that the “big picture” in Rotary is really the “small picture.” For example, the idea to end polio came from a club in the Philippines.
He encourages the fellow Rotarians to not wait for the club to bless them with ideas, “YOU have to be the ones to initiate ideas!”
He talks about the issue of polio and noted that this year so far, there are 28 cases of polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Access, political support and advocacy are needed. He reminds everyone that “We are close, but need to commit ourselves so that eradicating polio can be done.”
Ed speaks with emphasis to the audience, “The United Nations and the Bill Gates Foundation see us as the leaders in achieving this goal.”
Finally, Mr. Futa shares this beautiful poem:
The Old Violin: The Touch of the Masters Hand
By Myra Brooks Welch
‘Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its’ bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?”
Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”
“And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand.
Ed’s final message gives the audience a challenge, “This, my fellow Rotarians, is your commission. You are commissioned to convey the ‘touch of the Master’s hand’ and to deliver hope to our community. You’ve done it for 100 years and now you will do it for a second hundred years of service!”
Current Janesville Noon Rotary President
Mick sums up the meaning of this event so beautifully in his speech to the club:
“Let the actions of those who came before us inspire us for the next 100 years. Janesville Rotary has its avenues of service. It is what founded us, it is who we are, and it is who we will be. We will continue with these avenues of service to help our youth, to help our community, to help our world.
“And I ask this of you; look at where you came from, find your avenue of service. Let that avenue of service carry you forward for the next 100 years.
“Even just by helping one, you can make the world better for all.”