Hackettstown Rotary Club Celebrates 75 Years Of Serving the Community
By Elsie Walker
There aren’t many who can say that they’ve been helping their community, and beyond, for 75 years. However, the Hackettstown Rotary Club can lay claim to just that.
Having received its charter from Rotary International in Feb.1940, this year marks the club’s diamond anniversary.
Its treasurer, Joan Westby of Westby Marketing Services, Inc in Allamuchy, said, “The Hackettstown Rotary is made up of many local business owners and representatives of organizations with a common, inspired mindset to give back to the community and help those in need.”
Past President Kevin Guyette of the ARC of Warren County added, “Our mission extends beyond our local programs to support those Rotary International programs that fight polio, bring clean water to villages in faraway places, bring sick children to the US for medical care, and so much more.”
The organization’s best known event, and biggest fundraiser of the year, is its annual Memorial Motor Madness which is held the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Westby noted that this year marked the 21st year for the car show which was attended by approximately 3,500 people. It raised $32,000 for The Joan Knechel Cancer Center at Hackettstown Regional Medical Center and Rotary projects benefitting area individuals and nonprofits.
“Other efforts may raise some additional money for the club and its programs, but the car show and the food drive for the Norwescap Food Bank bring in the most donations of all programs,” said Guyette.
Rotary member, Norman Worth, president of WRNJ, Inc, said, “One of the milestones of the club was raising over $200,000 over 10 years (1985- 1995) with an annual Holiday Food Drive for the Norwescap Food Bank. The club continues to hold an annual Holiday Food Drive, but by collecting actual food donations each Saturday before Thanksgiving.”
The club has touched many throughout the area, reaching out when help was desperately needed.
Guyette said, “The club has helped get families burned out of their homes back on their feet, assisted parents dealing with a child’s terminal illness with meals and financial aid, lent aid to a family of four children who lost their parents, helped make the journey through chemo and other cancer care easier on our neighbors via the financial rewards of the car show, and so much more.”
Westby has only been with the club for four years, but she’s had the opportunity to participate in what she describes “great gestures of service: “ Collecting turkeys for those in need, helping college students with their funds through the scholarship program, putting smiles on third graders when we give a dictionary to each every year through the Dictionary Project, as well as, shipping beds to the hospital in St. Kitts, and raising funds for a needed piece of equipment for Hackettstown Regional Medical Center.”
Even with all it’s done, Guyette said the club’s greatest impact is what its actions say about “Rotary,” that it’s there to make the world better and that it offers others the chance to do the same through community service.
One of the Hackettstown Rotary Club’s fun events, is co- sponsored by the Washington Rotary and reflects a longtime rivalry. The event is the Beater Board. Worth explained, “Hackettstown High vs. Washington High (which eventually became Warren Hills Regional High) is a football rivalry that goes back nearly 90 years. The Beater Board was an implement used to compress hay into bales and is a symbol of a bygone era of two former farming communities competing against one another. The rivalry endures and our luncheon each year honors the coaches, players, and parents [of the rival high school football teams].” Guyette said the beater board is inscribed each year with the winning team and year, going back to 1948.
While it is clear that the Hackettstown Rotary is active in the local area, it also reaches out beyond those borders, far beyond them. The club has a relationship with St. Kitts, in the West Indies, and a program called Optimum Chance, which helps children with developmental disabilities.
Guyette explained , “Many years ago, the club made a major commitment to a program called Optimum Chance, a team of early intervention professionals from The ARC’s Project First Step, who volunteered their time and resources to bring early intervention to the island of St Kitts. The late Barbara Salamy [a special needs nurse] headed up that effort after learning about the nonexistence of early intervention services on the island. Many families, fearing the stigma associated with disabilities, locked their children up and many were unaware those children, some of them now adults, even existed. Through Optimum Chance, families were offered evaluations of their children and welcomed the help with open arms, many of them traveling miles barefoot to meet with the team. The island’s Minister of Health and other officials welcomed the team and gave them every resource they could. St Kitts has a Rotary Club, as well, and those members offered their homes and vehicles to the team to make them comfortable. It was an amazing coordination of efforts that has changed lives immeasurably.”
Out of that effort, Guyette said the Hackettstown Rotary Club discovered the lack of medical supplies and equipment at the island’s hospital. This resulted in a partnership between Hackettstown Regional Medical Center and St. Kitts’ hospital as well as the hospitals on its sister islands, the Nevis. Gently used, but still state of the art, equipment from the medical center is donated to the facilities on the islands and the Rotary ships it.
Guyette said, “MARS Chocolate also has stepped up with donations of candy with these shipments, and the cries of joy when the candy is distributed is incredible. Patients, staff, and volunteers are so very grateful for everything we have helped secure for them, particularly the M&Ms!”
In May, the Hackettstown Rotary Club marked its anniversary as part of the Paul Harris Fellowship Awards dinner, recognizing Mark Elbaum, Nancy Paffendorf and Elliott Koppel for their outstanding service to the community at Rutherfurd Hall in Allamuchy.
Reflecting on the anniversary and the club’s history, Worth said, “For 75 years, this club has been a slow, steady rainfall of nourishment for both charitable and community organizations, as well as individuals in need.”
He added, “It’s ‘worth’ mentioning that in 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (7-0) that Rotary Clubs were not ‘exclusive’ and could no longer deny women membership. As you can imagine, Rotary hasn’t been the same since. It’s been much better.”
One of those women, Guyette, closed with what the rotary means to her. “There are no words. To say it’s an honor and a privilege seems trite and over-used. But I can tell you, I get teary sometimes when I look up in the middle of something so wild and crazy as the car show to see nearly three dozen Rotarians and their family members working closely together – and loving it – to make a success of an event that has such far-reaching implications for our community. I love these people.”