The Rotary Club of Lacey Washington
by Ken Balsley

            On March 13, 1969, the Rotary Club of Lacey held its first organizational meeting in a hallway of the Lacey Village Shopping Center. 

            District Governor L. Ev Landon of Tacoma attended that meeting along with his special representative Hal Socolofsky from the sponsoring Olympia club.  Also present were Olympia club president Dick Talcott and club secretary Hollis Fultz.  Olympia Rotarian Bill Guffey, also active in the organizational effort, was unable to attend.

            It had been a long process to get to this point.  The first Rotary club in the world was started in 1905 in Chicago.  The Chicago club sponsored the Seattle Club in 1909, which in turn sponsored the Tacoma club in 1910.  Tacoma sponsored Olympia in 1920 and 49 years later the Lacey club was born.

            Selected as president of the club that first year was Gordy Schultz, owner of the Lacey Leader newspaper. "We had 35 members, all that Rotary allowed a new club to have," Schultz said.  "They had never worked together and I was scared to death, but the club has exceeded all of my expectations."

            Members of the charter group still active members of the club include:  Pat Martin, Rex Comstock, Paul DeTray, and Mike Ostrander.  Almost charter members include:  Denis Curry, Jerry Pospisil and Bob Wark.

            Like all good service clubs, fund raising is a major effort.  The first project undertaken by the club was cutting up logs for firewood.  "We sold them for about $25 to $30 a cord," remembers Art Getchman club president 1973-74.  "I think we made about $150."

            The club also became interested and active in Rotary's Student Exchange Program.   Its first exchange student came to the club in January 1970.  She was Fiona Skahill from Australia.

            Since that time, through the work and effort of Rex Comstock, club president 1974-75 and his wife Julie, the Lacey Rotary Club has been extremely active in this program which finds as many as 7000 students around the world on a club to club student exchange program each year.  Lacey Rotary has hosted students from Switzerland, Thailand, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Belgium, Poland, Brazil, and India.  In 2004 the Comstocks stepped down as the club's student exchange coordinators and Roger and Mary Dean took on that role.

            Many of the students return and many of the host families journey overseas to see their former children. In 1996, Marly Rodriquez from Brazil, returned to visit her host family Paul and Phyllis DeTray.  "She brought her husband Beto and two friends with her," Phyllis recalled.  "We had a wonderful time shopping and sightseeing and we took them to Mt. Rainier so they could see snow.  We had a great time."

            The next year the DeTray's visited Brazil to meet with Marly's family.

            From the very beginning, the Lacey Rotary Club was active and involved with youngsters in the community.  One of its first expenditures of money in 1970 was for a $125 scholarship.

            With the encouragement of Ken Parsons, president in 1984-85, the club started its own foundation for the purpose of raising funds for student scholarships.  Over the years, members of the club have held special fund raisers and contributed money into the foundation.  Those who contribute $1000 or more become Creighton Hays Fellows, in honor of one of our former members who was a retired high school history teacher and exemplified the ideals of Rotary.

            In 1999, with the help and assistance of Mike Marohn, club president 1990-91, the estate of Charles and Helen Miller made a donation of $500,000 to the Lacey club to help fund scholarships for North Thurston Public School students. The club funds about $50,000 in scholarships yearly.

            In 1987, under the leadership of club president Ken Balsley, the Lacey Rotary Club started its first Interact Club.  Interact clubs are high school Rotary clubs designed to encourage service among students, teach leadership skills and encourage involvement in international activities.  Two club members who were extremely active in that effort were Sheryll Apte and Tony Barrett.  Sheryll is still active to this day.  Her daughter Erin was an out-going exchange student to Brazil in 2004-2005. The Lacey club currently sponsors an Interact Club at North Thurston High School.

            As with all Rotary clubs, fund raising continues to be a major project.  Lacey Rotary has had many such activities.  In addition to the firewood, for many years the club sold fireworks at various corners around the city. Chan Sogge, club president 1971-72, and an architect, designed the first structure.  "It had the best location and made the most money in the county," Sogge said.  "It was big and colorful with a red, white and blue canvas roof.  One day a whirlwind picked it up and moved it to a new location.  But with some design modifications, it lasted several years before somebody stole the roof."

            Over the years the club has sold roses, held a big rummage sale at the Thurston County Fair Grounds, had Las Vegas Nights and dinner auctions, but the most successful fund raiser continues to be the Great DesChutes Duck Dash and Bite of Olympia.  The idea came from Past President Mike Marohn and is  held every year in June, since the presidency of Bill Bergquist in 1989-90.  Depending on the weather, the event can make as much as $25,000.  During 2005, under the leadership of Bruce Stuwe, the club realized a profit of nearly $50,000.

Service to the community is one of the standards of any Rotary club. Larry Engel, club president 1988-89 recalls.  "Successful fund raising has enabled us to contribute to the community in many ways," he said.  "One of the first major projects, in 1974, was the landscaping of Pacific Avenue from Golf Club all the way to College Street.  Almost every member, we had 48 then, turned out."

"It was a great community project with great fellowship, but unfortunately the shrubs died, every last one of them," Engel said.

            But not all of the community service projects turn out the same way.  Bob Wark, club president 1982-83 was instrumental in helping create one of the city's major landmarks, the Lacey Civic Plaza, the "Welcome to Lacey" sign.

            "We launched the civic plaza in 1977 as Lacey's contribution to the U.S. Bicentennial," Wark said.  "It was a joint effort of our club along with the Lacey Sunrise Lions club and the Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce.  Many community volunteers donated money, labor and material and we were able to dedicate the flag plaza in 1978."

            Under President Rod Reining 2003-2004 and President Jim Durham 2004-2005, the Club committed to bringing a Boys and Girl's Club to the Lacey area.  With the fund-raising help of Dan and Mary Weiss, the club is well established in Thurston County.

The Lacey Rotary Club has helped the community in several other ways.  It contributed money towards the St. Peter Hospital community care clinic, gave money for the construction of the Lacey Timberland Regional Library, financial assistance to St. Martin's College's library project and contributed to the building of the new Girl Scout headquarters in Dupont.

            But the club does more than give money. In the past it provided hands on work for Habitat for Humanity in its efforts to build affordable housing. Members ring the bell every year for the Salvation Army, have bought toys for the Toys for Tots program, helped fund and construct the Kluh Community Clock and provided money and labor for the Woodland Square Huntamer Park project.  The club also funded and built viewing platforms along the Chehalis Western Trail.

 Under the leadership of former club president John MacGugan 1992-93, thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars worth of volunteer help and assistance went into the construction of the city's first "downtown" park.  Current club president Doug Prull recalls, "we couldn't have done it without the leadership of John MacGugan.  He was down at the park site almost every day making sure that the work was being done right, and often doing the work himself.   The park is a great legacy for John, who passed away in 2001."

            Another former club president, who also passed away was Ron Rowe 1996-97.   "Ron was active in the community for many years before becoming a Rotarian, and he brought that special feeling that community volunteers bring," said Dwan Bowen, club president 2000-01.  "Ron understood that a few committed people can accomplish a great deal and he brought that idea into Rotary."

            Ron died in 1997 while helping to clean up after the DesChutes Duck Dash.  In honor of Ron Rowe, the Rotary-sponsored Community Improvement Awards, which recognizes groups and individuals who help make Lacey a better, more attractive community, were renamed the Ron Rowe Community Improvement Awards.  Two club members who have been active in those awards presentations are Larry Blume and Connie Lovelady.  Connie, along with Dwan Bowen are the two remaining women who were among the first six women in Lacey Rotary.

            One of the Ideals of Rotary calls for using ones vocation as an element of service. 

            Dale Ferrier, who served as club president in 1978-79 was the model for vocational service.  Dale volunteered for every club position and worked tirelessly in the community to make this a better community in which to work, live and play. Lacey Rotary recognized that effort with the creation of the C. Dale Ferrier Vocational Service Award. 

            The award is not given every year, but is given based on an individual's record of service.  Club members who have received the C. Dale Ferrier Vocational Service Award include:  John Brown, Jeff Hollingbery, John Heelan, Rex and Julie Comstock and Robin Hunt.  The award is also, sometimes given to other members in the community.  Past President Art Getchman has headed that committee for a number of years.

            Because Rotary is an international organization, international involvement is required.  The Lacey club has helped fund a major hospital project in Auce, Latvia, built a hydro-therapy pool for an orphanage in Malaysia, helped put a roof back on a school in the South Pacific destroyed by a typhoon and participates in Project Amigo which helps children in Mexico attend school.

            Under the leadership of Club President Steve Romines 2002-2003, our club participated in Wheelchair International's goal to provide one million wheelchairs to those in need.

            With the help of Rick Yale, Lacey Rotary participates in the Cool Jazz Festival, along with other clubs in our area, to raise money to drill water wells in Malawi.  A portion of that money also goes to buy musical instruments for children in our area who can't afford them.

            Lacey Rotarians continue to support the Rotary International Foundation with their contributions, and in 2002 were the number one club in District 5020 in foundation contributions.  Club members have kept up that commitment and are always close to the top of the list in Foundation contributions.

            Lacey Rotary has also supplied leaders beyond the club level.  In 1999-2000, Ken Balsley was nominated by the club, selected and served as District 5020 Governor.  That year, in response to a request from Ken, Dwan Bowen and Ken Parsons co-chaired the District's Polio Plus effort.  Traveling to nearly every club in the District and talking about our commitment to eradicate Polio, they raised $326,000 in that effort.

            Dwan stayed active at the District level as District Treasurer and several years on the District Finance Committee.  During 2005 she served as Assistant District Governor for Area 9B.

            Other club members who have been active at the District level include:  Fred Pierce, Jan Teague. Jim Sygitowicz and Van VanJepmond.

            Recognizing the need for a new Rotary Club in the Hawks Prairie area of Lacey, past presidents Bob Kagy, Joseph Beaulieu and Ken Balsley started the Hawks Prairie Rotary Club in 2001.  Lacey Rotary was the sponsoring club. Bob and Joseph opted to join the new club and Joseph served as Charter President.   In 2005, Ken Balsley helped start the new Capital-Olympia Rotary Club.  Several local clubs sponsored Capital including Lacey Rotary.  Former Lacey Rotarian Jan Teague served as Charter President.

Since 1969, for more than 33 years, the club has met every Thursday at noon.  First at the Chuckwagon Restaurant in Lacey Village, then to the Red Bull Restaurant where it remained until the Bull closed in 1990.  For a short period of time the club met at the Doo Wop Diner and the St. Martin's Student Union Building before moving to the Worthington Center when it opened in 1992.

            Through it all, Lacey Rotary and Lacey Rotarians have done what they can to assure that our community and our world will be a better place in which to live, raise a family and enjoy the fruits of life that only volunteers can know.