One of our members brought his brother-in-law to one of our meetings. His brother-in-law, Clint Norrell, had never been to a Rotary meeting before and knew little about Rotary, although he did have some preconceived notions. After the meeting, he wrote an email to our member about his experience. This email was so thoughtful, enlightening and well-written that I thought you might like to publish it. 

Copied Below:

“I’ve got a Rotary meeting at noon.  Would you like to come as my guest?”

The invitation comes as a surprise.  My expression prompts a brief description of what I can expect.

            “Sure,” I say, but don’t feel sure at all.

            In the shower, I’m wondering what I’ll wear.  I haven’t had on anything but work clothes in months.  Oh well, how bad can it get.  I can stand on my head for the length of any lunch.

            “Ever been here?”

            “No,” I answer, as I scan the exterior of Madonna’s.  It’s an ornate restaurant/hotel south of San Luis Obispo where we’re visiting Kath’s sister & husband.  Brooks is a long time Rotary member.  I’m not.  I thought it was another “good ol’ boys” club, a rich guys club, or a business networking group.  Certainly the “silver Buick” set.

            Brooks leads me through Madonna’s.  Exaggerated carved wood and copper sheeting meet curved red velvet booths.  Some eccentric left his mark.  I’m glad to see it, despite it having bruised my senses.

            We’re greeted by people in red vests, pay, and I follow Brooks to a buffet table where we build salads and select desert.  We find seats at one of the round tables for nine.  The settings include china plates and a half-dozen utensils.  The water glasses are heavy red and blue goblets.  The walls are covered with brag photos.  The heavy beam architecture is somewhere between Snow White and The Hobbit.

            Gold letters on blue banners frame the podium.  They proclaim the club’s name and the equivalent of a mission statement about truth and service.

            A bell is rung.  Everyone stands for a prayer, a pledge, and a couple of patriotic songs.  The main course is served during announcements and the introduction of guests.  I’m one of many who stand in turn to polite applause.

            Someone speaks of a veteran activist project.  Vets are acknowledged.  Someone speaks of fighting polio in Africa.  Brooks frequently whispers explanations as others stand to present.

            In attendance are the mayor, councilmen, judges, professors, professionals, successful businessmen, and accomplished artisans.  40% are women.

            Various weekly meeting rituals are performed.  One acknowledges someone’s good deed, they rise to explain, and contribute a hundred dollars for the privilege.  I witness another as individuals rise to describe “Happy News”.  Each donates $20 to do so.

            The keynote is presented by a young councilman who describes his path to local politics.  He’s quite impressive, with a longer than expected history of organizing discourse between opposing views.  He ends his talk by explaining his greatest obstacle.  “Don’t send me an e-mail.  Bring you idea, problem, or complaint in person.  Eye to eye.  I’ll say, ‘How ‘bout I buy the coffee, and we’ll talk about it.’”

            Through the hour plus lunch a new and more accurate impression of Rotary form in my mind.  These are serious people as interested in service as any less accomplished idealist who criticizes from afar . . . like me.  These people do things.  They have earned their station and they’re using their positions to help others.  They raise thousands and it goes directly to good.  They get their hands dirty doing good.  They are humble and grateful and I feel like an ass for categorizing them wrongly.

            I had a good lunch in a room with down to Earth, do-gooders who pledge their resources to the betterment of man.  I confessed these lessons to my brother-in-law on the way home.  I tried to formulate a defensive explanation, but can’t, and admit that I was just flat wrong.  Class envy perhaps.  I don’t care what, but I assure you I will try to never again fault anyone, or question their sincerity, simply for being successful.