Local Rotarians celebrate centennial

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2005

AHOSKIE – Even the heavens paid tribute to Rotarians across the world on Wednesday.

With a celestial salute in the form of February’s full moon, Rotary Club International celebrated its 100th birthday on Wednesday. To commemorate its century of service, the organization’s 31,000 clubs worldwide gathered to sing happy birthday to themselves and pledge to continue to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in every corner of Earth.

The passing of the 100th birthday did not go quietly in Ahoskie. Locally, six clubs gathered Wednesday evening for a District 7720, Area 4 celebration that included a meal, special events, a keynote speaker and, yes, even a birthday cake at the Ahoskie Inn.

&uot;What a great night to be a Rotarian,&uot; said Richard Jernigan, president of the Ahoskie Rotary Club who played host to the event. &uot;We join tonight with our fellow 1.2 million Rotarians all over the world to celebrate our proud past and pin our hopes on a bright future.&uot;

Joining in on the Ahoskie celebration were Rotary members representing clubs from Windsor (the oldest of the local clubs, chartered on Dec. 21, 1936), Murfreesboro (Oct. 23, 1937), Roanoke Rapids (April 18, 1940 – the same date the Ahoskie club was organized), Northampton County (Jan. 1, 1951) and Gates County (June 8, 1998).

Dr. Randall Williams of Raleigh served as the keynote speaker. His topic centered on the freedoms enjoyed, and often taken for granted, by Americans. He based that on his trip to Iraq last year where he was among a team of 30 American and British doctors who volunteered their services to put healthcare back on track in war-torn Iraq.

&uot;There’s a lot of things going on over there that you can’t fully understand in the short sound bites that the mainstream media here in the United States are televising,&uot; Dr. Williams stressed. &uot;For one, the majority of Iraqi citizens are very appreciative of the allied efforts to free them from the grip of a dictatorship.&uot;

Dr. Williams pointed out that Iraq had the world’s highest infant morality rate for a non-African nation.

&uot;Why, because Saddam Hussein spent all of his nation’s riches in building the world’s fourth largest military,&uot; he said. &uot;And those riches are coming from a nation that sits on top of 11 percent of all the world’s oil.&uot;

He went on to show a photo of a young female who was maimed during a suicide bombing attack.

&uot;Why, because she was going to school…there are some factions in Iraq who believe that women should not receive an education,&uot; he stated.

Another photo revealed two Iraqi citizens dead as the result of another car bombing.

&uot;Why, because they believed in Democracy…they believed in freedom,&uot; Dr. Williams noted.

&uot;The kind of terrorism facing our soldiers and the Iraqi people every day is hard to deal with,&uot; he stated. &uot;Those terrorists don’t want any sympathy for their cause. They don’t care about anything other than forcing out anyone that is against their cause.&uot;

With that said, Dr. Williams asked the same question that seems to be on everyone’s lips – &uot;why can’t we let their newly elected government officials deal with the problems in Iraq and send the American troops and support teams home?&uot;

&uot;Look at it this way,&uot; said Dr. Williams. &uot;For more than 25 years, the Iraqi people lived under the tyranny of a dictator. He ruled their lives. His form of government ruled their lives. Now that Saddam is out, changing that way of life will take time.&uot;

Dr. Williams closed by saying, &uot;If you let a caged bird fly, he’ll go back to the cage because that’s all he knows. What you have to do to show that bird the path to freedom is to teach him how to fly free. The Iraqi people are not a lot different than you or me. All they want is to raise their children in a safe environment, have them educated and hope for them a better life than what they, the parents, experienced.&uot;

Others taking part in Wednesday’s centennial celebration at the Ahoskie Inn were Mary Davis of Windsor, who led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, Cynthia Brown of Northampton County (led in the singing of &uot;America&uot;), Al Stroud of Roanoke Rapids who gave the invocation, Joyce Brown of Gates County who paid tribute to Rotary’s 100 years of service and Craig Dennis of Murfreesboro who led the group in reciting Rotary’s &uot;Four Way Test.&uot;

District 7720 Governor Bill Rogister of Northampton County made several presentations.

Paul P. Harris, a Chicago attorney, founded Rotary on the evening of Feb. 23, 1905. The club’s blue-and-gold banner now proudly flies in 166 countries around the globe.

As one of the world’s largest volunteer service organizations, Rotary’s top priority is to stop the spread of polio worldwide during its centennial year. Rotary is the major private-sector partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The initiative’s other spearheading partners are the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 1985, Rotary has contributed more than $500 million and thousands of volunteers to the polio eradication effort, and the results are impressive. More than two billion children in 122 countries have been immunized, and the number of polio cases has been slashed by 99 percent. In the 1980s, polio infected about 1,000 children every day. Last year, fewer than 1,500 cases were reported worldwide.

&uot;Eradicating polio will be Rotary’s birthday gift to the children of the world,&uot; says Rotary International’s president, Glenn E. Estess Sr., of Birmingham, Ala.