Rotarian attended Lisbon convention

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dowagiac Rotarian Wilber Breseman of Marcellus reports on the 104th RI convention in Portugal.

Dowagiac Rotarian Wilber Breseman of Marcellus reports on the 104th RI convention in Portugal.

A lifelong farmer, Wilber Breseman disliked the bull fights in Madrid, Spain.

“I’d never go to another,” Breseman said. “Spain and Mexico are the only two countries that kill the bulls. I try to treat animals well. Watching them slaughter these bulls was no fun to me. But 70,000 people in that stadium, hooting and hollering, thought it was great.”

Breseman also saw castles in Seville, a Lipizzan stallion horse show, a sherry brewery, the Royal Chapel of Granada and the ancient city of Toledo.

Breseman, a Dowagiac Rotarian from Marcellus, has attended eight Rotary International conventions, including the 104th in Lisbon, Portugal, June 23-26.

Conventions usually take place in June in one of 190 nations where the worldwide organization of business and professional services exist to provide humanitarian service and to help build goodwill and peace.

Rotary’s global membership is approximately 1.2 million men and women who belong to more than 34,000 clubs. Rotary’s top priority is eradicating polio.

“There are probably 50 breakout sessions for whatever piques your interest,” Breseman shared with fellow Rotarians Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “They have some of the top speakers in the world,” he said, “and I really enjoy the opening ceremonies where they march the flags to the podium. I’ve listened to Dolly Parton, Jane Goodall and Ted Turner. I’m signed up for Sydney, Australia, next year,” followed by Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2015.

Arrayed before him are commemorative totes from Montreal, New Orleans, Birmingham, England, and Los Angeles as well as Lisbon.

“I encourage everyone to go to at least one of these conventions,” Breseman said. “It’s kind of like sex. The first time is your most memorable.”

His first took him to Chicago in 2005 with 39,000 attending for Rotary’s centennial.

The former Cass County Board of Commissioners chairman, embarking next for Tanzania, made 15 trips to China, Africa, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

In Portugal he manned the Alliance for Smiles booth.

The San Francisco non-profit organization provides free reconstructive surgery for children born with cleft lips or palates. Alliance for Smiles created smiles for more than 2,000 children in five years Breseman has been involved.

“I enjoy going to the conventions to see people I know from all over the world,” Breseman said. “There are usually three to four of us in our booth. We try to go a day or two before. This year, we had almost a day left over after we set up our booth, so we went to Porto, which was a three-hour train ride” to Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon.

“Watching the country go by on the train was interesting,” he said. “I happened to stay in an upper-class hotel, where Rotary higher-ups stayed, too. I saw seven Rotary International past presidents. I had dinner with three of them and shared a taxi with Richard King (a California attorney who served in 2001-2002). Twice I was in an elevator with T.K. Lee (from South Korea).

“One day, chewing on something, my back molar disintegrated. I went to the first aid station and they called a dentist. Within two hours I was in an office and the young lady capped that tooth. She did a wonderful job, but there was so much water going in it was like being waterboarded. But I showed my dentist when I came home and he said it was fine.”

Breseman, one of more than 700 volunteers, two years ago was named Volunteer of the Year.

Before Alliance for Smiles, Breseman participated in 11 polio immunization missions to India and West Africa.

“I didn’t even know what a cleft lip or palate was at the time I agreed to go along,” paying his own way. “I went to China as assistant quartermaster. We hadn’t been there two hours and the chief sterilizer got sick and had to go home, so they gave me a two-hour crash course in running autoclaves to sterilize more than $100,000 worth of tools. Now I teach people how to be sterilizers for our organization,” which featured him in a 15-minute film in 2008.