"Rotarians like us started the United Nations," District Gov. Kathleen Tosco said in Dowagiac Thursday. "We still have our own ambassador to the UN." (The Daily News/John Eby)
"Rotarians like us started the United Nations," District Gov. Kathleen Tosco said in Dowagiac Thursday. "We still have our own ambassador to the UN." (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Rotary district governor visits Dowagiac

Published 9:06am Friday, August 14, 2009

Dowagiac Daily News

“This is a perfect job for a theater person,” Rotary District 6360 Gov. Kathleen Tosco said upon being greeted with a standing ovation Thursday by Dowagiac Rotary Club.
“A standing ovation and you don’t even have to do anything.”

Tosco and her husband, Bob Small, operate Shenandoah International Playwrights Inc.
“We bring writers in from all over the world,” she said, “and do work on their plays, and we go to other countries. It’s 31 years old. We were co-founders.”

As 2009-2010 governor for District 6360, Tosco leads 58 clubs in 13 countries with 3,000 members.

Her husband is president-elect of the Portage Rotary Club.

Kathleen has been a Rotarian for 19 years. Bob joined when they moved to this area in 2004. She is a past president of the Stanton, Va., club and a Group Study Exchange team leader to the Philippines.

She’s “a little over half way” in visiting all 58 clubs. “Oct. 14 is my last, God willing, before the snow flies.”

In January, she and her husband went to San Diego for training the 531 district governors from across the globe receive from international instructors.

There, she met Bill Gates and President John Kenny of Scotland, whose 2009-2010 slogan, “The Future Rotary is in Your Hands,” is embossed on buttons she directed members to pin on their table neighbors.

The Microsoft founder in California wore a cap befitting an honorary Rotarian as he announced a $250 million challenge grant – $50 million a gift outright.

“That works out to about $38 per person per year for three years,” Tosco said, even though that sum represents a month’s wages in some countries.

“We know we cannot contain polio,” she said, “It has got to be eradicated if you think of how fast the flu virus moved around this planet. When we finish (polio), what else can we take on? TB, malaria, cholera? Maybe multiple sclerosis, which has attacked my family. Or cancer. Where Rotarians are concerned, anything would be possible.”

Gates “told us why he’s doing this challenge,” she recalled. “He told us what it was like for him to hold a little baby, administer polio vaccine and look into the eyes of that father and hear the man say to him, ‘Thank you for saving my child’s life.’ I wish you could have been with me in Birmingham at the peace conference when Bishop Tutu talked about the impact we are having with our peace centers. Or to be in Grand Rapids at the Thirsting to Serve conference and hear the woman about the water filters, ‘Thank you. The children have stopped dying.’ ”

International emphasis is being put on water and sanitation, health and hunger and literacy.

“When we work for these goals, we are also working for lasting peace,” Tosco said.
Her favorite trainer, a past governor from Ghana, Africa, recalled his visit to a remote club in his district. Mistaking him for merely a visiting Rotarian, he was informed, “We have a fine club, wonderful meals and, usually, really good programs, but today we’re expecting the district governor.’ ”

“The real strength of Rotary is right here at the club level,” Tosco said. “The future of Rotary is our hands? When (Kenny) said this to us in San Diego, you could hear the collective intake of breath from all the people in the room as we all thought, ‘What if we blow it?’ As we listened, we realized he was not abdicating responsibility” for the oldest service organization in the world with 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs in 200 countries or “throwing down a gauntlet.”

“John means he’s asking us to go back to basics,” she said. “He wants us to remember why Paul Harris and his friends started Rotary 104 years ago. What is it that draws us together and holds us together in good times and in bad, in peace and in war, in feasts and in famines? Why do we give our time, our resources and our loyalty and even our blood to something that will never put a buck in our pocket? Even the highest-ranking officer in the whole Rotary world does not receive a salary for what amounts to seven fulltime years of service above self.”

Tosco continued, “How is it that an organization that changes its leadership every year can have such an amazing footprint on the world?”

“Rotarians like us started the United Nations,” she said. “We still have our own ambassador to the UN. Rotarians like us have almost eradicated polio – and we will finish what we started in 1985. Rotarians like us even negotiated a truce with the Taliban long enough to administer polio vaccine on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Rotarians like us have started peace centers in five areas of the world, where people are being trained in conflict resolution to be sent out into the conflict zones around the world, often at risk to their personal lives. Because of our district’s support of these peace centers, we have been designated a peace-builder district. Every year our fellow Rotarians – you – have provided safe water and sanitation, food and education, health services, safety for abused women, shelter boxes for disaster victims here and abroad.

“We don’t just talk about making a difference,” Tosco said, “we do it. And we do it in companionship with other Rotarians, which can only strengthen the bonds of peace and understanding. By example, we prove that peace is possible where people are safe and respected, healthy and educated and have a brighter future to look forward to. You might say we peddle hope.”

Tosco said, “Because we are Rotarians, we hold each other to a higher standard of ethical behavior. Our Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say and Do is how we expect ourselves to conduct our business. It’s a blueprint that was developed by Herbert Taylor during the Great Depression. It was his company’s motto. It turned his company around and saved it. In the midst of another economic crisis, it seems appropriate for our commitment to the Four-Way Test to continue. Even today, how often have you heard someone say, ‘I will give my business to a fellow Rotarian because I know I will be treated fairly.’ When times are hard, we come together and we pull together. We all know people who have lost their jobs as a result of this recession. But I’ve been around this district and seen incredible acts of kindness. I’ve seen Rotarians give encouragement, referrals, job training, networking opportunities – even credit for their dues. More and more, we are keeping our business in the ‘family.’ You reach your hands across borders, but you also join hands with your community to put books in the hands of children, you put food in their stomachs and shelter over their heads and you put hope in their futures. You support scholarships, your involvement in RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), giving blood, you’ve done youth exchange. All of these activities and programs in the community lead me to believe that if there’s a problem in Dowagiac, you’ll be on the short list of places that people will look for help.”

Running like threads through the fabric of community near and far is the “connectedness we experience with one another,” she said. “Where else can you go unannounced, unexpected, for breakfast, lunch and dinner and know that’ll be welcome? You don’t even have to bring a bouquet of flowers or a hostess gift,” Tosco said. “This is true whether you find yourself in Hong Kong or Delton, in Ireland or Vicksburg, in Jordan or Lansing or Italy or right here in Dowagiac.

“We call each other by our first names, whether we’re club members, Rotary International board of directors or the president himself. He’s just President John. I look out here and see some of the most influential people in this community sharing a meal and conversation regardless of social standing, portfolio or pedigree. Every day we cross the boundaries that too often keep us divided in this great country. We eat together, we serve together and we discuss the issues of our times. Maybe we even argue occasionally, but we celebrate each other’s joy and we grieve each other’s losses. We get to know and come to understand people we would never otherwise spend time with.”

Tosco talked about the varying degrees of Rotary involvement, from RINOs (Rotarian in Name Only) to “lifers” and international-level “zealots.”

She was pleasantly surprised to shake the hand of Bert Gardner for 50 years of perfect attendance.

Graham Schadt, who divides his time between a summer home on Lake Michigan and Arlington, Texas, told Tosco about Sister Lakes’ connection to Rotary International’s founder.

“It started out here at Magician Lake when Paul Harris and his brother, Roy, came up to fish in the summertime. That’s where he got his inspiration to form Rotary,” Schadt said.
“I believe I met Paul Harris when my dad introduced me in the store in Dowagiac years and years ago,” added Herbert E. Phillipson Jr., who was Schadt’s neighbor growing up on Center Street.

School board member Mark Dobberstein, who ran in Steve’s Run July 25, called the 2009 race and walk “probably the most positive energy I think I have ever experienced in the nine or 10 years I’ve participated. It’s one of the most fantastic events we have in our community that brings us together” – though when the course passed his residence he admitted he was  tempted “to stop and go home.”

Rotary’s blood drive takes place Aug. 28 from noon to 5:45 p.m. at Calvary Bible Church on Marcellus Highway.
Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David M. Mathews announced to the club that he and his wife, Sarah, are expecting a baby – “another long-term enrollment strategy that I don’t think you’ve heard about.”

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