Dexter Rotary: Good People Doing Good Things Around Town

If I could reinvent church, it would look more like Dexter Rotary.

Their motto is simple: “Service above self.” And that’s not just talk. These people live it out. They put one-hundred percent of their money and effort back into the community where they live as well as the world at large.

The community service group began twenty years ago in 1998 when John Hansen told Paul Cousins they were starting a Dexter chapter of Rotary Club. “That sounds like a good idea,” Paul told him and then adds, “John then told me I was a part of it and they were going to meet in my restaurant for their weekly breakfast meetings.” Cousin’s Heritage Inn (where Terry B’s is now located) didn’t serve breakfast. “John can be very persuasive,” Paul says.

Four of the original founding members, John Hansen and wife Sandy, Fred Farmer and Paul Cousins remain in the club today. Their community service grew as did their membership. Today the club has forty members ranging in ages from their 30’s into their 80’s.

Their motto is “Service above self” and they mean it. They are the cause for a lot of service projects around town that just quietly happen. Rotarians love to give back and serve but are staunchly reticent when it comes to getting any individual recognition for it. They’ll talk freely about Rotary, the good things the club accomplishes, but not about their own good works. They prefer to let the service stand for itself without being attached to an individual.

President of Dexter Rotary, Dr. Julie Schumaker (member for 8 years), told how Rotary International requested local chapters to begin turning in a tally of hours volunteered for community service. She made the request to the Dexter group. Very little response. Only a few members turned in hours. Another request, and another, very little response from club members.

Julie totally understands their reluctance. “The idea of service is not to be recognized or counted for that,” she says. To meet the request of the home office, she asked committee chairpersons to submit the service hours their members were putting in. For July through December 2017, total hours of work (not meetings) from Dexter Rotary were 589.5.

Joe Evans (joined in 2014) is one of the newer members who heads up their STRIVE program (Students Taking a Renewed Interest in the Value of Education) recounts that soon after moving to Dexter, it was the Memorial Day Parade that drew him into Rotary:

“I’ve been to a lot of Memorial Day Parades, inside and outside of the military, and the Memorial Day Parade in Dexter, I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. It seemed like the whole town was either marching in the parade or there on the sidelines watching the parade. .. I said to my wife ‘pinch me because I think we’re in Mayberry.’ We literally asked around ‘Who’s in charge of this Memorial Day Parade?’”

Dexter Rotary took over organization for the Memorial Day Parade in 2012 and it is this kind of civic-mindedness that drew Joe and his wife in. “We wanted to be part of that kind of community building,” he says.

Most of the ideas for community service come from within the group. Somebody sees a need and has an idea. Rather than just let it die as a good idea somebody ought to do, they get a few club members together and just make it happen.

Past Rotary President, Caryl Burke (13 years) tells how that kind of mindset worked when the tornado struck Dexter 6 years ago: “Thank God there were no fatalities,” she says, “but one thing we lost was a lot of trees. A couple of us (Rotarians) had an idea that we could plant trees to replace some of those taken out in the tornado.”

The needs were huge at that time and the community as a whole was pulling together to help one another in any way they could. “What Rotary decided to take on was planting trees,” says Caryl. “We planted two-hundred and fifty trees.” The club was planting 5-10 trees a year before the tornado and since. Their goal is now however is to plant a tree each year for every member. That’s 40 trees this year.

Caryl really appreciates how Rotary members put legs to a good idea. “A lot of people will say something like, ‘Oh that’s a great idea’ and leave it there,” she explains. “But you bring it here to Rotary and they go ‘oh yeah, let’s do it.’”

Paul Cousins tells of how one idea grew into another and then yet another. Rotary has three plots in the Community Garden across from Cornerstone Elementary. “We grow from three-hundred to five-hundred pounds of produce a year which are donate to Faith In Action so the people using that service have access to fresh food,” he explains.

He continues, “Somebody (in the club) got to wondering if there was something they could do to provide fresh produce during the winter months and the next thing you know they have a partnership with Country Market with Rotarians picking up produce and bringing it over to Faith In Action.” Ideas grow like that in selfless, service-minded people.

There’s a palpable camaraderie among like-minded people, especially in a group passionate about giving back, paying it forward, who are happy to help where they can. It’s a special esprit de corps that you notice immediately upon arrival to a meeting. Like Rep Lana Theis good-naturedly joked when she spoke to Rotary last week, ““You guys are a little overwhelming in how happy you are when you come in. It’s a little intimidating.”

On the sheer enjoyment of being together, Karl Fink (10 years) comments, “If all we did was meet Thursday mornings, that alone would be enjoyable.”

Paul Cousins adds, “You really hate not to be here.”

Lori Sprague (21 years in Ann Arbor and then Dexter clubs) also says, “A lot of people get into Rotary because of the opportunity for service. I think you stay in for the long-haul because of the friendships.”

The longest standing member of Rotary in Dexter’s club, Jim Brady (46 years in Dearborn and then Dexter), has perfect attendance. In Rotary if you miss a meeting, you can attend another meeting in another chapter wherever you’re at in the world or participate in one of the club’s service projects. Jim has done just that and had this to say, “If you don’t come every week you lose the enthusiasm. I’ve just grown into it and it’s become a part of my life.”

Rotary is a worldwide organization of 1.2 million members working in their communities for good. But it’s not just local efforts the group involves themselves in, but worldwide concerns as well. Decades ago, to what has now spanned across generations, Rotary has dedicated themselves to the eradication of the dreaded disease Polio.

As Julie Schumaker points out, “Not one of us as an individual can do that, but when you harness the energy of 1.2 million people, their financial support and work, you can.”

One of the newer members, John McGinnis (in his 3rd year), agrees, “Now that our kids are grown and gone we both feel it’s important to give back to the community. To give back as in individual would be difficult, in some cases daunting. Having an organization that is specifically structured to return back to the community is why I’m here.”

Rotary’s Thursday morning breakfasts feature a variety of engaging and interesting speakers ranging from elected officials to nonprofit organizations to business people.

So yes, if I could reinvent church, I would want it to look more like Dexter Rotary – completely selfless and unassuming, charitable without judgment, open and accepting, going beyond themselves into their community with money and sweat, quietly working behind the scenes, and satisfied in simply helping out where needed.

The group does have a benediction of sorts for their meetings: The Four-Way Test is a nonpartisan and nonsectarian ethical guide for Rotarians to use for their personal and professional relationships. The Rotarians recite it at club meetings.

“Of the things we think, say or do,

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

You can learn more about Dexter Rotary by visiting their website.

Their good works in and around Dexter are more than just a few. In 2017-2018, the Dexter Rotary Club was involved in the following activities:

Community Service Activities

  • Organized the Dexter Memorial Day Parade.
  • Provided $3,000 of fresh produce to Faith in Action’s food pantry in Dexter, as well as over 300 pounds of fresh produce from our community garden.
  • Provided $1,000 to purchase a Shelter Box to provide temporary shelter, cooking supplies, and tools for those affected by natural disasters.
  • Provided dinners for the Circles Program sponsored by Friends in Deed which aims to break the cycle of generational poverty in Washtenaw County.
  • Provided 20 turkeys at Thanksgiving for local families in need, as well as Christmas gifts for a local family of nine.
  • Rang the bell for the Salvation Army’s annual fundraising.

Youth Programs

  • Launched a mentorship program for Dexter Alternative High School (DAHS) graduates and provided $8,000 in college scholarships to graduates of the Class of 2017.
  • Provided $1,000 to the Dexter Alternative High School for day-to-day expenses.
  • Hosted a Rotary exchange student from Peru, and sent ­4 Dexter High School student to South Korea, Germany, France and Argentina as a Rotary exchange students.
  • Provided a new facility dog (Tank) for Mill Creek Middle School and secured agreements with local businesses to provide on-going food and medical care.
  • Donated backpacks and supplies for four Dexter students in need.
  • Sponsored the Dexter High School Interact Club.
  • Staffed the Dexter High School library on Wednesdays so that students could study afterschool.
  • Sent __ Dexter High School students to RYLA, Rotary’s youth leadership training program.
  • Provided $500 in financial support for Shop with a Cop.
  • Provided $380 in financial support to purchase basketballs for University of Michigan’s Wheelchair Adaptive Basketball program at Peace Lutheran Church.
  • Provided $275 in financial support for a Girl Scout Gold Award project to create a computerized database of costumes for the Dexter High School Drama Club.

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