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Roswell Rotary Club: 100 years of ‘service above self’

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Roswell Rotary Club members Bianca Cheney, Richard Madison and Cindy Torrez prepare items for a time capsule the club buried during a gathering at Enchanted Lands Park last week. This time capsule, commemorating the club’s 100th anniversary, was buried next to a capsule the club buried 25 years ago on its 75th anniversary. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Local club commemorating century of service with slate of events

A city can be defined by any number of features that set it apart from other places. Its history. Its population. Business and industry. The land and the people from which it grew. All those things can be easily identified and listed. Most cities and towns publish brochures or magazines and maintain websites for just that purpose.

Members of the Roswell Rotary Club gathered last week at Enchanted Lands Park to kick off a series of events commemorating the organization’s 100-year anniversary in 2020. (Alison Penn Photo)

But harder to define are the things that go into building a city’s character. At what point does a city become a community? At that intersection of people and place, in Roswell, are many groups of civic-minded individuals who come together in an effort to improve the world around them.

The Roswell Rotary Club is one such group, and club members are in the process of commemorating a century of working on behalf of the community and its people.

Project by project, individual by individual — the work that’s been performed by Rotarians and other civic groups over the years can be seen and felt around Roswell.

“I think all of the quality of life things that we have here in Roswell, like our museums, our zoo, are because of community-minded people that made it possible,” said Cindy Torrez, the club’s current president. “There’s only so much that taxes and the government can do. I think volunteers and individual donations are what make Roswell as special as Roswell is.

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“I know the Roswell museum, without community donations,” would offer far less to visitors, she said. The Robert H. Goddard exhibit at the museum, not coincidentally, was a project driven by the Roswell Rotary Club.

Rotarian Gordon Patton christens the club’s most recent time capsule during a ceremony at Enchanted Lands Park on Thursday. The “time capsule party” kicked off a slate of events scheduled to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Roswell Rotary Club in 2020. (Alison Penn Photo)

Torrez serves on a 16-person committee of Rotarians who’ve been organizing efforts and events related to the organization’s 100-year anniversary in 2020. Among those are the continued donation of hours (100 of them) to Habitat for Humanity; installation of Rotary signs along area roads; recognition of World Polio Day (eradicating polio is one of Rotary International’s chief goals); a planned visit from the organization’s district governor; a Luau fundraiser; and finally, a 100th Anniversary Gala in May.

Last week, the club, which has 85 members, kicked things off with a time capsule party at Enchanted Lands Park — during which a time capsule was buried next to one deposited during the club’s 75th anniversary year — and on Monday, they’ll present a float in the annual Eastern New Mexico State Fair Parade.

Another committee member, past club president Steve Henderson, echoed the idea of benefiting the community through donations of time and effort — the mission, in a nutshell, of Rotarians and other civic servants.

“I think it’s vital that communities are blessed with organizations that help meet the extra needs in the community, and kind of put the frosting on the cake in several areas — such as education, youth programs, opportunities of service, trying to better the community,” he said.

“I think it shows the real character of a community if they have organizations that help meet the needs of the citizens.”

Rotarian Carolyn Mitchell, who chairs the 100th Anniversary Committee, added, “I don’t think individually people can accomplish very much, but as a group, they can.”

Any listing of the local club’s accomplishments must include its Backpack Program, which helps provide meals to local elementary-school children who may face food-insecure situations. The club purchases backpacks, works with the school district to identify kids who need help, then fills the backpacks with canned goods and other items for the children to take home on weekends. The kids bring them back the next week and the assistance continues.

Helping kids doesn’t end there. The club has, throughout its existence, made the awarding of scholarships a priority, and has, over the past 100 years or so, donated an estimated $1 million-plus, according to club members. And one of the Roswell Rotary Club’s most visible and far-reaching projects is its sponsorship, annually, of both inbound and outbound foreign exchange students through Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program, an international effort.

The club also sponsors a Four-Way Test essay contest at local middle schools. The Four-Way Test is “a nonpartisan and nonsectarian ethical guide for Rotarians to use for their personal and professional relationships,” according to the organization’s website. It asks: 1) Is it the truth? 2) Is it fair to all concerned? 3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Kids write an essay using the test as a framework, and cash prizes are awarded to the winners. The first-place essay is entered to compete at the district level.

Many local charities have benefited from Rotarians’ donations of time and effort — four that receive annual financial assistance from the club are Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Boy Scouts, United Way and the Salvation Army. Each year, manning a post at the Post Office, club members can be seen ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.

Rotary’s influence is seen in other areas: The annual Rotary Sun Classic Golf Tournament is a fixture of the local sporting landscape, and Rotarians support a Fun Shoot event for youth.

Another of the club’s commitments that’s sometimes forgotten: Twice each year, members gather to clean up a 1-mile stretch of local highway as part of a program sponsored by Keep New Mexico Beautiful and the Department of Transportation. “If there’s a dozen or so of us, we’ll clean that mile in about an hour,” Henderson said.

Rotarians too numerous to list have served in positions of leadership, locally and beyond, throughout the local club’s history. Rotarians’ impact collectively and individually can be seen throughout Roswell, around New Mexico and elsewhere.

The organization’s reach is global, with clubs worldwide. As Mitchell points out, “Wherever you go, you’re invited to attend a Rotary meeting.”

Rotary’s website provides this overview: “Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves. Solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. For more than 110 years, Rotary’s people of action have used their passion, energy and intelligence to take action on sustainable projects. From literacy and peace to water and health, we are always working to better our world, and we stay committed to the end.”

Rotarians here and elsewhere are guided by the club’s motto, “Service above self” — as well as the above-mentioned Four-Way Test.

During its weekly meetings, the local club often adds a fifth consideration to the end of each recitation: “Is it fun?” A little fun and an opportunity for camaraderie with fellow Rotarians were behind last week’s time capsule party, along with a nod to the club’s place in local history.

“I think the history of the club is so important,” Torrez said. “To me, if you know your history, you’re more likely to be successful in the future.”

Editor John Dilmore can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or editor@rdrnews.com.