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The plan was simple. On a business trip to Illinois I would go to the Rotary International (RI) headquarters in Evanston and take a few pictures to put in a future blog. Simple. No big deal. At our District Conference in May I mentioned to District Governor Elect Steve Lewis that I was going to stop by RI HQ and take some pictures. “Call them first,” DGE Steve said, “they’ll give you a tour.” Okay. That might be nice. So I called the main RI number and set up an appointment. A quick look at RI could be interesting.
A little before 10 AM on a beautiful June day I walked into the main cog of the Rotary universe: One Rotary Center. I’m instructed to go up to the 16th floor where I was greeted by Delores and another staff member at the front reception area. I told them my name and my purpose and Delores repeated, “Oh, you’re here for the TOUR!” I expected the emphasis to be on the ‘Oooh’, as if to say, ‘here’s another Rotarian here for the dog and pony tour’. But Delores sounded excited, like it was great to have a Rotarian look over the home of 1.2 million members. She called my tour guide, Amanda Runge, who promptly greeted me in the waiting area.
I learned that Amanda is not just a tour guide. She is a Program Coordinator for the 41 new Rotary Coordinators (RCs) that will serve to assist Clubs as a resource for multiple areas such as Youth Programs. RI President Elect Ray Klinginsmith created the RC post in an effort to help clubs reach a level of excellence through close-in support by knowledgeable Rotarians who have proven skills and expertise in a wide range of Rotary programs. (For more information go to this link:)
As Program Coordinator, Amanda will be the hands-on RI support out of Evanston, so I was actually interfering in her day, but you would have never known it by the attention she gave to me for almost an hour. My simple, no big deal of a tour was rapidly becoming kind of a big deal. As it turns out Amanda is a product of Rotary. Her Mother is a Rotarian and she was a participant in a five-week Rotary Exchange program to France. I knew the outgoing, friendly demeanor seemed familiar…it’s the same we see with almost every Youth Exchange student after they return to her or his host country.
After seeing ‘Room 711’, the office where most of the Rotary meetings were held for the first several months of Rotary and a look at a room of memorabilia from the office of Paul Harris, Amanda took me up to the top floor of One Rotary Center. As in most office buildings, the ‘big cog’s’ offices are around the exterior of the top floor. The difference at Rotary is that there is a type of musical chairs (or offices) in this space. Each new year the President-Elect, the President Nominee, and the President Nominee Designate change offices. The Immediate Past RI President thanked for his service as he is also moved out of his corner office. Ouch!
It was on the 18th floor that we saw the RI PE Ray in his office talking on the phone. I asked Amanda if I could take a picture of him on the phone. His Executive Assistant Eileen Eckhouse and RI PE Ray’s Number One (his full-time Rotarian Aide) Duane Sterling were both just outside his office and Amanda consulted them. Duane said,”But don’t you want a picture with him? He’ll be off the phone in a minute.”
Before I know it RI PE Ray is standing beside me introducing himself…like that was necessary…and he suggests we go over in front of the Flags of Nations in the elevator lobby for the picture. There another gentleman joined us to talk to Ray (I’m pretending were on a first name basis) and Amanda introduced me to him. It was the General Secretary of Rotary International, Ed Futa.
In Rotary a President serves for one year, the General Secretary can serve for decades. The first General Secretary, Chez Perry, served for 32 years and I refer to him as the ‘Mother’ of Rotary as he did the work that helped establish and grow our organization. My instant impression of General Secretary Ed was that he performs his duties with the same passion as Chez Perry.
I am now standing next to two of the three men that occupy the corner offices on the top floor of RI and Amanda says, “Why don’t you have your picture with both of them?” At this point reality sort of fades away. It was not supposed to be a big deal, but by the time I walked out of the building it started to hit me what had occurred. It was a big deal…and I have the picture!
After the photo op, the three of us sat down and…wait-a-minute, that’s my fantasy world. What actually happened was the gentlemen went on to do real work and Amanda continued the tour of the top floor and the next floor down, which is the Rotary Foundation. Finally, the tour ended and I bought a few things at the Rotary store and then left.
It was sheer luck of timing that I found myself standing between the two people who have a great responsibility as leaders of our organization, but I will always remember the day I stood on the top floor of Rotary International flanked by RI’s President Elect and General Secretary.
One Rotary Center does not have the significance of a religious ‘Mecca’, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to all of us. It’s well worth the visit and I would recommend it for anyone visiting the Chicago area. After all, it’s the home…for 1.2 million of us.
Thank you Amanda…and the rest of the RI staff!
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