By MARGARET BLOHM
For the Times-Herald
DEARBORN – When the Rotary Club of Dearborn shifted its weekly luncheon meetings in March to weekly Zoom sessions, in keeping with CDC and local guidelines to battle COVID-19, members were unsure what to expect.
It was uncharted territory for everyone, including Eric Rader, outgoing Dearborn Rotary president 2019-20, and Colleen Nieman, 2020-21 incoming president.
“We didn’t know how many members would be willing to meet online,” Rader said. “It was a pleasant surprise that our weekly attendance didn’t drop. Instead, members who vacation or live part of the year out of state, were able to participate. Weekly Zoom meetings also made it easier for members who have hectic work schedules to join us right from their desks.”
Rader passed the gavel to Nieman at the end of the Rotary year in June. She quickly recognized another benefit of the virtual meetings.
“It’s now easy for our Rotary district leadership and members from other Rotary clubs — locally and internationally — to join us online,” Nieman said.
Several weeks ago, Swaminathan Chelladurai, a Rotarian from the Rotary club of Tirunelveli Venuvanam located in the southeast tip of India, reached out to Dearborn Rotary and has become a frequent visitor to weekly meetings.
He and his wife visited Michigan for several months in 2016 when their youngest daughter and her husband, both engineers, were living in Dearborn.
“My son-in-law Sankar Durajai worked for Ford, and our daughter Rama Bala gave birth to their son at Beaumont Wayne hospital,” said Chelladurai, 71, a retired education administrator. “They returned to India in 2019. We still have many good memories and photos of our visit.”
Members and guests of Dearborn Rotary have also enjoyed informative and fun programs, two of which were presented by participants in the Rotary Youth Exchange, an international student exchange program for students in secondary school.
In May, Madeline Hnatiuk, a graduate of Dearborn High School and granddaughter of Dearborn Rotarian Martha Hnatiuk, talked about her Rotary exchange year in Iserlohn, Germany. Giving a PowerPoint presentation online, she shared pictures and experiences of her stay with three host families from August 2018 to July 2019. Currently a sophomore at Western Michigan University, she tested out of every German language class and worked with the dean to create her own curriculum.
In August, Gustav Monster, Dearborn Rotary’s inbound exchange student in 2019, joined the virtual club meeting from his home in Denmark. Monster, who attended Dearborn High School, shared how his experience changed his perspective about America and gave him the opportunity to make lots of friends locally and around the world. Following his return to Denmark, he attended the Rotary International Conference in Hamburg, Germany and reconnected with a fellow Rotary exchange student who had lived in Plymouth.
Nieman said the weekly online meetings have helped members stay connected and have also brought the club new members as well as visitors.
“We know it’s not the same as meeting in person, but there are still many things we can do,” Nieman said.
Rotarians continue to volunteer for Meals on Wheels and several helped package and deliver meals in the spring for lunch pick-ups at several of the Dearborn public schools. The club also contributed to delivery of meals to front line workers and caregivers at Beaumont Hospital, Henry Ford Village, and to the Dearborn Police and Fire departments.
On Sept. 26, Dearborn Rotary volunteers will tackle their seasonal cleanup for “Adopt a Highway” of Telegraph Road between Michigan Avenue and Ford Road.
All was not virtual when club members recently gathered at the Fire Station 2 pavilion on West Outer Drive in Dearborn for an evening to “bring your own picnic.” Masked and safely distanced, members were able to greet each other and celebrate the announcement of Dearborn’s “Rotarian of the Year” award – presented to Jim Thorpe, past president of Dearborn Rotary and the Dearborn Rotary Foundation.
Founded in 1923, the Rotary Club of Dearborn is the city’s oldest service organization and is a proud member of Rotary International bringing 1.2 million members in over 34,000 individual clubs together to live the motto of “Service Above Self.” For more information and how to join, go to www.DearbornRotary.org.