It might be surprising to discover that Eugene, for its size, has six Rotary Clubs.
Then again, Eugene is comprised of residents who like to feel they are doing something good. Joining in a focused effort allows even small groups to accomplish great things.
Jennifer Geller is president of the Rotary Club of Eugene, Lane County’s oldest Rotary Club and one of the oldest in Oregon. Eugene also has the Airport, Delta, Southtowne, Metropolitan and Emerald Valley Rotary clubs, with two in Springfield.
Clubs range in size from 26 to 160 members, meeting at various times and days, but there’s a common theme to support local and international projects.
The Rotary Club of Eugene has several projects, including April’s gala dinner event and auction called ArtSpark, which funds artists-in-residence at area schools. The program has been so successful that the club can now fund artists at all of Eugene’s elementary schools.
“About four years ago some of our members picked up on the need for art education in schools,” Geller says. “It tapped a nerve and, and very quickly they were able to provide for schools beyond just the schools which had less resources.”
Another April event is a Model United Nations program for high school students. Last year the club hosted its first Model UN event, which is a two-day seminar for high school students to experience problem-solving and a greater understanding of the complexities around international problems or issues.
“A lot of the Rotarians served as coaches for the team last year and will do that again,” she says.
Other activities include making over the River Play playground in Skinner Butte Park, a robust high school exchange program, packaging food at FOOD for Lane County one night each month, sponsoring the SMART Reading program at Bertha Holt Elementary, a yearly Skinner Butte Park cleanup, and facilitating a Rotary International grant of $60,000 that helped fund Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD).
Great Duck Race
Gellar says her club now wants to reimagine the Great Rotary Duck Race, an activity it was probably best known for and which netted more than $5 million for local charities. Participants bought raffle tickets to sponsor a rubber duck and, as part of the race, thousands of rubber ducks were dropped into the Willamette River out of a 40-yard Dumpster suspended by a crane.
Ducks that made it down the river and were first across the finish line netted some great prizes for their sponsors. However, hosting the event became problematic. Renting thousands of rubber ducks, as well as getting enough volunteers for such a large event, became more expensive and difficult. The annual tradition, which raised funds to reduce child abuse, ended in 2014 after 27 years.
Club members tried a digital “duck race” raffle but, Gellar says, it didn’t quite hold the same charm.
Geller joined a rotary club in Pullman, Washington, after graduating from law school. She lapsed her membership for a time, but has been involved in Eugene for the past seven years. New members must be sponsored by current members, but attendance requirements have changed.
“It used to be very strict that you had to attend every week,” Geller says, “but clearly work has changed and people’s lives have changed over time. And while we really encourage members to attend, there’s no attendance requirement anymore.”
Though attending every week means hearing from high-quality speakers, including those from the Oregon Community Foundation, the president of Lane Community College, and the UO women’s basketball coach.
“There’s also something to be said about the idea of going someplace like Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name’ and you’re meeting up with a group of people once a week,” Gellar says. “We encourage people to visit the clubs and see what it’s about. If it’s a good fit we’ll try to get to know you better. What I really enjoy are the connections with other people and also being able to participate in projects that I think really make a difference in our community.”
ArtSpark Eugene is a gala event and auction to celebrate art in our schools and to fundraise for ArtSpark arts education programming.