Columbus Rotary – Presidential Inaugural Speech – June 26, 2017
By: Paul E. Blevins, President 2017-18
(Without Introductions & Thanks)
  1. The Heart and Role of Rotary
It is quite remarkable that Columbus Rotary has conducted this presidential transition for over a century.  There aren’t many institutions that can say that and it stands as a testament to the value of Rotary that so many have worked to continue it this long.  Ralph Westfall knew of it when he was sworn in as our Club’s first president in 1912 and I know it today. 

Nevertheless, we stand in a changing world.  Some cultural commentators have questioned the value of civic groups when internet platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, can create and lead even larger groups of people to service.  Similarly, Rotary is challenged in a world where speed and efficiency reign supreme.  What will ensure that Columbus Rotary meets these challenges and thrives for another century? 

The future will require change, but let us not stray too far from what Rotary was founded for.  Let’s not forget Paul Harris’s hopes and aspirations when he founded Rotary in 1905, because I believe they are exactly what differentiates Rotary from other groups and what will take us into the next century.

I submit to you that “friendship” was at the core of the founding of Rotary and that its future is founded on the same thing.  Even in a 21st Century where a person can reach thousands, if not millions of people, with a post from their mobile phone, there is a need (an even greater need than in the past, I believe) for the personal and regular interaction of friends at a Rotary meeting or event.  
  1. Friendship Was At The Heart Of Rotary’s Founding
Rotary was not founded on a whim. Paul Harris only founded it after several years of thought on the matter. 

In 1945, during a visit the Tuskegee (AL) Rotary Club, Paul Harris described his mindset in starting up Rotary in an interview with radio reporter Leland Childs.  Paul described coming to Chicago in 1896, after several years travelling the world as a newspaper reporter, a teacher and a salesman.  He was quite the Renaissance Man.  He had successfully launched himself into a private law practice in Chicago, but felt something was still missing from his life.
 
“I first conceived of the idea which developed into the Rotary movement back in 1900, when after dinner in the Chicago home of a lawyer friend, I took a walk with him through the residential neighborhood. He stopped at the road stands along the way, and I was impressed by the fact that the proprietors were all friends of my lawyer acquaintance. I had come to Chicago four years prior to that time, but my clients were merely business friends, not social friends. This experience set me to wondering why I couldn't make social friends out of at least some of my business friends, and I resolved to organize the club.” 
 
Paul Harris then shared his idea for the Club with 3 clients who agreed to join him in the endeavor.  They too had felt something missing and jumped at the chance to recreate “the intimate acquaintanceship of their boyhood day.” 
 
  1. The Role of Friendship in Rotary And Our Lives Has Not Changed
So, friendship was at the heart of Rotary’s founding.  Has that role changed?  The question reminds me of an invocation given by Past President Carl Faehnle, not that long ago, where he shared that he counted the closest friends in his life among the people he met in Rotary and his Church.  Friends he gained and maintained over many years.  
 
I agree.  Friendship is still at the heart of Rotary.  From the friends you make through your engagement in the Club to the friend that you sponsor as a new member, our lives are deepened.  Our opportunities are expanded.  Our service becomes more meaningful. 
 
OK, then, friendship is still important in Rotary, but is it important in society?  In a 21st century, where a person might have hundreds of friends at their fingertips on Facebook or Twitter, does the face-to-face interaction of Rotary offer something unique and positive or just something old-fashioned?
 
Well, I believe that the value of Rotary’s special kind of friendship has not lessened.  In fact, Rotary’s offers a unique and ever more valuable platform for advancing friendship. 
 
The reason is that the human condition has not changed.  The tools for interacting have certainly changed in the past few years, as they have changed before, but the bottom line is we still need each other to be at our best.  We need each other to learn the things we don’t know.  We need each other to help when things are not so good and we just plain need each other.  Rotary has always been a unique and successful “tool” for achieving these ends and it is our challenge and duty to make sure that future generations do not miss out on these opportunities.
 
  1. Rotary Offers a Platform For Friendship That is Lacking in Society
Let me here make a plug for our Monday meetings.  It is a special part of Rotary.  On the one hand, it offers a unique opportunity for starting and growing lasting friendships.  Not the fleeting greetings of a teleconference or an internet website.   Yet, while our membership has held strong at 300, we have seen a significant drop in attendance. 
 
I have heard difficulties of making it to a lunch meeting on a workday.  Yes, I know it is not easy.  I drive here from Dublin.  But, who ever said that the things most valuable in life are easy.  Quite, the contrary, whether it is your fitness workout, your career or your marriage, it is going to take hard work and sacrifice. 
 
At this point, I was going to offer a quote from Alexis DeTouqueville, but in discussions with several of my younger colleagues and Rick Studer, I discovered that they didn’t know who DeTouqueville was.  The younger colleagues that is  - they didn’t know.  Rick knew DeTouqueville.  DeTouqueville tutored Rick in French. 
 
Anyways, Alexis de Toqueville is Frenchman famous for his observations on life in America in the early 1800s which were published in the book “Democracy in America”.  With regard to friendship in America, he observed the following:  "The love and respect of your neighbors must be gained by a long series of small services, hidden deeds of goodness, a persistent habit of kindness, and an established reputation of selflessness."
 
That sounds like a Rotary meeting to me.
 
Rotary doesn’t have hard attendance rules anymore and I am not suggesting a return.  Come when you can, but do make the effort, because there is nothing like the face-to-face interaction of our meetings for making and cementing friendships.  The handshakes, smiles and conversations of a Rotary meeting are not much duplicated in society anymore. 
 
Now I like Facebook and Twitter.  They are not the problem.  They are a symptom – a stop-gap measure to find social interaction in a society busily rushing from one email and teleconference conference to another.  The human condition demands social interaction and happiness thrives in the long term friendships that engaging yourself in Rotary provides. 
 
These type of relationships rarely happen overnight.  They take time.  They take consistency.  They take personal interaction.  And, our Rotary meeting is one of the last bastions of personal interaction.   You can find a friend and colleague for a good talk and a sharing of ideals every week.  Not every month.  Not every once in a while, if something else doesn’t come up.  Every week.
 
But, I am preaching to the choir here.  You are all here today.  Nevertheless, there is probably still room for you to increase your own engagement.  I ask you to share this great opportunity for friendship with others who could be new members.    
 
I also ask you to reach out to our retired members and invite them back into the fold.  Did you know we have 75 members of retired status and the vast majority of them are not attending our Monday meeting?
 
Let’s reach out to each other.  Let’s take the opportunity given to us each Monday.
 
  1. CLOSING
So, as I close, let me set out some challenges for the next year-
 
Challenge yourself to support the Clubs’ service projects with both time and treasure.  Your community will be better for it.
 
Challenge yourself to take on new responsibilities in the Club.  You’ll learn new things beneficial to home and career and the Club will better for it. 
 
Challenge yourself to reach out to that Rotarian you don’t know very well or who just joined the Club.  You’ll make a friend and he or she will be better for it.
 
Challenge yourself to Rotary – You’ll be better for it.