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Fenelon Falls Rotary Club in Conversation:  With Wayne Hutchinson, Dave Kish, Sharon Chambers, Helen Robinson and Joe Willems

January 12, 2024

Bill Scott and Monty Robson at Fenelon Falls Rotary Club

By Sophie Kaloudas

If you live in Fenelon Falls, you have likely heard of the local Rotary Club, and seen its classic car on Colborne Street. But not everyone realises how much of an impact they have had on the community. In one way or another, they have supported practically every good cause in town for generations. Today, they fund local sports teams and playgrounds, sponsor community events and build community infrastructure. Rotarians work tirelessly to prove that their motto ‘Service Above Self’ is true. 

The Fenelon Falls Rotary Club was founded in 1942, with the first official meeting held in December 1943. From the beginning, the club was devoted to community betterment. Rotary originally started as a businessman’s club, with the aspiration of having representation of each local profession–but only one representative. For instance, there were not to be two dentists in the club. It quickly gained popularity, with many local businessmen joining. 

From the beginning, fundraising has been fundamental to the club’s activities. Their first fundraiser was a skating carnival on February 11th, 1944, in order to introduce the club to the general public. The club raised $200, which was in turn donated to the skating rink and the Red Cross Society. From there, Rotary in Fenelon Falls took off, as the club began to take on more projects and fundraisers. Some notable projects include theRed Cross Water Safety Program in 1947, and the Easter Seals Campaign, which continued for several years. For a generation, most local kids grew up learning how to swim with lessons sponsored by the club. Over the years, it would also support countless projects that turned the beach park into what it is today–most recently with the addition of a splash pad. 

From the beginning, the Rotary Club had a variety of activities for its members. It often hosted dinners–at one point they would gather at the Hearthstone. In keeping with the norms of the day, all members would wear a suit to the meeting. As its membership grew, one popular annual event was the charity golf tournament, which ran from 1946-1999. For more information on the early years of the Rotary Club, check out this history of its first 25 years:

As the years progressed, the club has evolved to keep pace with changing social norms. Formal dress is no longer the norm, and there is no longer a cultural expectation that men and women should have their own separate service clubs (for instance Lions and Lionesses). For many years, ‘Ladies Nights’ were held annually, while only males could be members of the club. Since 1986, female members were allowed to join, which was controversial at the time, as there were still many people who thought that service clubs should be for a single gender. Though the club lost a few members at the time, it gained more as the years passed. “It’s the Girls Club now,” Joe jokes, “They just let us men join.”As a whole, Rotary welcomes everyone now, and is open to anyone who would like to join.

As the years have passed, the Rotary Club has taken on more and more projects. For decades, it was instrumental in creating and maintaining the beach park and ball diamond. Today, the municipal government plays a much larger role in looking after these community facilities, yet it seems like the Rotary Club takes on more new causes each year and not just in the local community. Rotary International has taken on the campaign to eradicate polio. 

The Fenelon Falls Club focuses many of their efforts on service to the community through necessary services as well as fellowship and friendship, however the Rotary Club of Fenelon Falls is one of many Rotary Clubs throughout the world (and in our district 7010!). Rotary Clubs throughout the world work to Promote Peace and Goodwill, Save Mothers and Children, Support Education, Provide Clean Water, Protect the Environment and Fight Disease. The Fenelon Falls Rotary Club adapts these mottos to serve the greater public of Fenelon Falls and area. For example, under the pillar of Save Mothers and Children, Rotary Supported the ‘Adopt a Family Christmas Program,’ by providing funds to purchase Christmas Dinner and Gifts for deserving Families.  

The Fenelon Falls Rotary Club meets twice a month at the Fenelon Falls Community Centre & Arena (another one of the many projects Rotary has supported with their funds.) Meetings are full of “Fun,” “Heckling” and “Good Food,” according to Dave. Eventually, the meeting is called to order with the ringing of the bell, and attendance is taken. Then, the club gets down to business, to discuss projects on the agenda as well as read written requests for funding for specific projects. (The club prefers a written request when funding is desired from the Rotary.) Many of the proceedings also take place over email, as there is a lot of work that goes into planning the Rotary Fundraisers such as the car draw. Each Rotary project also has specific committees, so more work can be carried out to complete these big undertakings. 

For many years, the club’s main fundraiser is the Fenelon Falls Classic Car Draw held every year on Canada Day. It started in 2002, when former members Lou Hilland Randy Johnson wanted to raffle a classic car. Club money was used to purchase a 1970 Red Duster 340, 4 speed. Many tickets were sold, and the draw was a great success. The club then decided to make the car an annual event. Now, club members take the car to different car shows, and sell tickets for $5 each–also available by mail and through the club’s website. The Classic Car Draw became an annual event, and the money raised from the sales of tickets went towards different Rotary projects and funds. (The club sells around 42 000 tickets each year!) This year, Rotary is selling tickets on a 1972 Lemon Yellow Plymouth Roadrunner 440, 4 speed, with the draw held on Canada Day 2024. 

Fenelon Falls Rotary Club doesn’t stop work at the Car Draw, the list of projects Rotary has supported in recent years is extensive. Some of the larger projects include the Fenelon Falls Splash Pad and Change Rooms at the Fenelon Falls beach park (completed in 2018).  Rotary also built and maintained the Russ Baptiste Ballpark (originally the Rotary Park) in Fenelon Falls for many years until it was sold to the City of Kawartha Lakes for $1. The Fenelon Falls Arena was built and opened in 2012.

To address food insecurity, Rotary provides funds for local food banks to purchase food. During the Covid 19 Pandemic, 2 skids of Potatoes were brought to the Kawartha Lakes Food Source from PEI as the result of a Rotary connection. There were new picnic tables at the Fenelon Falls beach park installed, as well as benches installed on Francis Street. Rotary was able to use funds to support healthcare in Fenelon & Area, providing funding for the Kawartha North Family Health Team, Community Care, Five Counties Children’s Centre, the Fenelon Medical Clinic as well as a new MRI machine at the Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay. 

Rotary has a big involvement with local youth, in the past year they have funded things like the Football, Cross Country, Curling and Robotics Teams at Fenelon Falls Secondary School, as well as the Cooperative Education Program. Both the Secondary School and Langton Public School have graduation awards for deserving students in honour of Rotary’s Motto of giving back to the community. Another annual trip Rotary Sponsors is MP Jamie Schmale’s ‘Capital Experience’ where two students are chosen to participate in a 3-day trip to Ottawa to learn about career opportunities, political life and more. And of course, Youth involvement would not be complete without ‘RYLA’ Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. Students are designated due to leadership ability and get a ‘weekend away’ at a Camp and complete outdoor activities, listen to speakers, and connect with other like-minded youth. This year, RYLA was held on October 13th-15th at Camp Wanakita, and was a great success. Sharon, one of the main RYLA organisers, says that RYLA is beneficial to students as they can get more involved in their communities, and make new friends.  

The Fenelon Falls Rotary sponsors the Fenelon Falls Turkey Trot, the Annual Santa Day & Parade in November and Habitat for Humanity. Internationally, there is the Clean Water Program in Guatemala, the HEART program and a number of other international projects. Fenelon Falls Rotary is sponsored some electric vehicle charging stations in Fenelon as well as donations to local organisations helping families around Christmas. 

In the past couple of years, Fenelon Falls Rotary was faced with the significant challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Rotarians were resourceful and adapted-meetings were held virtually and Rotary was able to carry out business as usual through a virtual format. One day, Helen got a call from the Coburg Rotary Club who were looking to put together a vaccine clinic. She thought, “If I don’t do it, who will?” The Fenelon Falls Club mobilised into action. They worked with the HKPR Health Unit to create a schedule, used funding to build ‘vaccine pods’ and recruited local politicians Doug Elmslie and Kathleen Seymour-Fagan to put together a list of volunteers. There was an online schedule where volunteers could sign up. Locations in Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, Kirkfield, Mariposa all worked together to vaccinate the local population. 

Truly, the Rotary Club supports too many good causes to enumerate them all, but it is not all about business. Rotary districts offer social events for Rotarians, including different clubs and friendship exchanges to meet Rotarians from other districts and countries. Rotary even has trips offered, this year the Rotary Trip offered is Alaska. There is the annual Rotary Convention every year (this year in Singapore) and the district 7010 conference. Rotarians ‘love to make friends’ as they are all united for a common purpose. Fenelon Falls Club has no shortage of fun and shenanigans. Once, Dave was pied in the face. 

The Fenelon Falls Rotary Club started a mock ‘rivalry’ with the Bridgenorth-Ennismore club and on several memorable occasions, the bell used to ring in meetings went missing. One time, Joe was taken ‘hostage’ and shot with water guns, so as revenge, the Bridgenorth Ennismore bell was seen in multiple places around the world and ransom notes were sent to the BE club in order to get the bell back. In fact, a fake police car was made in order to ‘arrest’ members for stealing the bell, and it worked until another Rotary Member became a bailiff and freed everyone. Such is the Rotary sense of humour. Rotarians really appreciate the social aspects of the club. For years, they hosted a Hamburger Day, with a Barbeque by the former IGA (now Red Apple) or Stokes on Trent. Fostering friendship is a big part of Rotary’s mission. 

Rotary welcomes anyone to come out to meetings, volunteer on special events, buy a car ticket or make a donation to Rotary. Like many service clubs, it especially appreciates new members, and the fresh ideas that come with younger generations. ”Members Come, Members Go, Members come back and fellowships are created between members and families. Come out to see and speak, and don’t just become a member, become a lifelong friend of the Rotary Club.”

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