Wilmette, Community

Local Rotary clubs turn 100 and will unite for a celebration on June 20

Two centuries of fellowship and service; the combined histories of the Rotary Clubs of Wilmette and Winnetka/Northfield are impressive. Now the two organizations, both of which were founded in 1924, plan to honor their past and look to future accomplishments with a Thursday, June 20 celebration set for the Winnetka Community House.

The event, during which both clubs will install their presidents and board members for the 2024-’25 year, will also provide those thinking of becoming part of Rotary’s service and fellowship traditions a chance to learn more about both clubs, and about Rotary itself, officials from both clubs said earlier this month.

“It’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but it’s apropos for me. People join Rotary for the opportunity to serve and they stay for the friendships they make,” said Rich Lalley, co-president elect of the Winnetka/Northfield club. 

Mariana Alfar, president of the newly unified Wilmette Rotary Club agreed, saying “This club has such a great group of people that want to do good, not only for Wilmette or the local area, but we also branch out internationally with global projects.”

That tradition of service naturally brings Rotarians together, Alfar said, so coming together to celebrate each other’s centenary made sense. 

Alfar, who became the Wilmette club’s president last year, presided this year over the unification of two Wilmette-based Rotary clubs. The original Wilmette Rotary Club, formed in 1924, merged with two branches of the Wilmette Harbor Club, which was founded in 1990 and expanded in 2019.

Winnetka-Northfield Rotarians prepare meals during a gathering.

She said members of all three groups started unification talks that became final this year, adding, “I really tried to bring an understanding that we’re all working for the same good causes, and supporting the same organizations. It became such an easy thing to think about.” 

Today, the Wilmette club has roughly 80 members, all of whom can attend morning, noon or evening meetings. 

Terry Porter, a former executive director of the Wilmette Park District, joined in 1988; although he joked recently that in some ways, “it feels like yesterday.” He recalled the journey each club took, including membership attrition and the challenges members faced with meeting attendance requirements that were stringent in the past.

Those requirements eventually ended, a move Porter approved of: “Attending a given percentage of meetings doesn’t necessarily make a good Rotarian.”

Service projects, on the other hand, illustrate the good that Rotarians can do.

Lalley said the Winnetka/Northfield Club, which currently includes about 40 members and meets at the Winnetka Community House, has worked hard over the years on local and international aid projects, from helping to provide coats to underserved children via partnership with the Operation Warm organization to providing meals to areas in Syria and Turkey affected by the February 2023 earthquake.

Lalley recalled one project several years ago that provided a library for a Vietnamese orphanage. After the library was built, the young son of one member visiting the orphanage brought a suitcase full of Beanie Baby stuffed toys for children there. Years later, a Vietnamese family living in the Chicago area attended a club fundraiser — and brought one of those toys to show club Rotarians, he said. 

He and Alfar both said Rotary’s motto, “Service Over Self,” allows members not just the chance to participate in existing service programs but to bring their own service ideas to their club.

“Come to the club with a little idea, and sometimes that little idea becomes bigger and bigger,” Alfar said. “That’s the strength of Rotary, and of our club.”

The two also look forward to welcoming potential new Rotarians.

“It’s a great way to make new friendships that will last a long time. Who doesn’t want a new friend? And it’s a great way to be part of something bigger than yourself that makes a difference in the world,” Lalley said.

People interested in the clubs can learn more at the respective websites of the Wilmette Rotary Club and Winnetka/Northfield club.

The June 20 celebration will feature a dinner catered by Froggy’s Restaurant, and guests will have the chance to network with Rotary International District and the two village’s leaders.

Tickets are $85 per person, and can be bought through each club’s website. Deadline for purchases is Friday, June 14. 

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Kathy Routliffe

Kathy Routliffe reported in Chicago's near and North Shore suburbs (including Wilmette) for more than 35 years, covering municipal and education beats. Her work, including feature writing, has won local and national awards. She is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada.

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