Sundial marks a century of Rotary
Area clubs celebrate 100 years of service
Springfield’s Rotary Clubs are bringing a human sundial to Southwind Park. Located between Erin’s Pavilion and the Great Lawn, the Rotary Sundial Garden will feature a solar module shaped like a giant sunflower. A sculpted bee, perched atop the flower, will cast a shadow that marks the date of the year each day at noon. Visitors who stand on a marked spot can tell the time based on where their shadow falls. The new attraction, scheduled for completion this summer, marks 100 years of Rotary in central Illinois.
Started in Chicago in 1905, Rotary came to Springfield eight years later. Today, its 1.2 million members through 34,000 clubs worldwide promote “peace through service.” Bill Smith, past president of the Rotary Club of Springfield, says the group is an outlet for “business leaders and citizens who come together to work in the community to make it a better place to live.”
Springfield has celebrated many Rotary milestones. In 1968, the city became the first in Illinois to support two clubs. In 1987, the clubs accepted women as members and later elected a female president. Today, five active clubs meet over breakfast, lunch or dinner to network, plan local initiatives, and get educated about civic matters. “We educate our members on what’s going on in the city,” says Smith, adding that the non-religious, apolitical organization invites speakers, public servants and political candidates to address the group in a public forum.
And then there’s the service aspect. Over its century in Springfield, the Rotary Club has raised more than $2,870,000 for local and national charities that address hunger, homelessness, poverty, youth development, disabilities and social service needs.
Most local chapters are focused on literacy and hunger. Since 1975, they’ve sold oranges, grapefruit, poinsettias and other items. “We try to raise money because the needs around us are great and the state keeps cutting back,” Smith says. “We’re doing the best we can to help out.” A member since 1997 (after a previous stint from 1975-1980), Smith has seen his fellow volunteers paint the exterior of a local senior center and the interior of a SPARC facility. With other Rotary members, he tutors at Ridgely Elementary. His family has hosted five international exchange students. Last year, at Rotary’s international convention in Bangkok, Smith was able to reconnect with the Thai woman he hosted as a young girl in 2001.
Rotary is making a big impact on a global scale where initiatives have included projects in underdeveloped countries. The group has helped provide arms for limbless individuals in Guatemala, funded a pediatric clinic in Macedonia and donated to a safe water program in India. Most notably, the Rotary International Foundation is working to eliminate polio worldwide. Today, the disease – which had 350,000 cases in 1985 – affects just 220 people in only three countries. In 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a partnership with Rotary International in the global effort to eradicate polio and later donated a total of $355 million to the cause – a figure that Rotary International matched with $200 million. In addition to eliminating the terrible and lifelong suffering of the children it affects, the World Health Organization estimates the eradication of polio to save more than $40 billion over the next two decades.
Springfield’s clubs are set to celebrate their centennial with a June 10 gala at Southwind Park. The evening will start with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rotary Sundial Garden followed by an address from Rotary International president-elect Ron D. Burton. The garden should be completed by the end of summer.
Zach Baliva is a media producer and filmmaker currently prepping a documentary on the student-loan debt crisis.
For more information, visit the international and local chapters of The Rotary Club via the following links:
The Rotary Club of Springfield
The Rotary Club of Springfield Midtown
The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise
The Rotary Club of Springfield South
Rotary District 6460