While navigating uncharted territory, Rotarians reflect on historic events that have halted weekly meetings

DOWAGIAC — As the Dowagiac Rotary Club continues to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, Rotarians are reacting to the organization’s possible first cancellation of meetings in its history.

Following recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Cass County Council on Aging decided to close its doors on March 17 amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19, and to protect their clientele, which is primarily senior citizens.

The Dowagiac Rotary Club, which has been meeting at the COA’s Front Street location since February 2019, suspended meetings with a resuming date tentative on the COA reopening. Currently, the state continues to be under an executive “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order from Whitmer.

Longtime Rotarian Barbara Groner said the virus had been a big topic of conversation among people her age and older.

“None of us remember anything of this magnitude happening in our lifetimes,” she said.

The Dowagiac Rotary Club, which was chartered on Jan. 1, 1920, began meeting two years after the flu epidemic of 1918-1919.

“That truly disrupted life in America,” Groner said. “Although folks were nowhere near as informed about how widespread it was.  Now, thanks to modern technology, we are just seconds away from knowing what is going on anywhere on Earth. I am glad this threat is being taken very seriously.”

In her life, Groner remembers the polio epidemic being the most worrisome for people and recalls when Salk immunization became available and was reported on the news in the mid 1950s. From various Rotarians, Groner heard stories of campers at a boy scout camp coming down with polio, and one Rotarian told of a story of how his brother became infected with polio, followed by the rest of the children in the family. The brother died within days.

“This affected the family throughout the rest of their lives,” Groner said.

For more than 30 years, Rotary International has worked to eradicate polio. Dowagiac’s own club has been involved with members taking part in immunization teams that traveled to India and African countries between 1988 and 2007. 

“Rotary’s polio eradication emphasis in the 90s is when I became involved in Rotary. Through co-planning and leading many volunteer teams to India and African countries to help with National Immunization Days efforts in those places,” Groner said. “Those experiences greatly enriched my life, and I continue to communicate with both team members and friends made in the countries we worked in.”

Dick Judd, the most senior member of the club and whose father and grandfather were active Rotarians, also could not think of a time when meetings were canceled for an extended period of time.

Due to COVID-19, Rotary International announced it would be canceling its Rotary International Convention scheduled for June 6-10 this year in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Groner said several members from Dowagiac’s Rotary Club have attended these conventions. She has participated in conventions in Australia, Spain, San Antonio, Chicago, Singapore, Scotland, Argentina and Japan.

As Rotary navigates COVID-19, discussions have begun about other ways for the club to keep in touch via calling, texting and emailing.

Rotary International recommended that all districts’ Rotary and Rotaract clubs plan to meet virtually or cancel and postpone meetings.

Dowagiac Rotary is looking into future possibilities such as Zoom meetings or a closed Facebook page, said President Melody Wallace in an email to club members.