An international visitor will honor the work that the New Kensington Area Rotary Club has done for the local -- and world -- community for the past 75 years.
Rotary International president Sakuji Tanaka will attend the club's 75th Gala Anniversary at Oakmont Country Club on Oct. 23. He will present a citation to emphasize the club's anniversary-year theme of Peace Through Service. A 5:30 p.m. press conference kicks off events.
In its past seven-plus decades, the New Ken club has delivered a polio vaccine in South America, organized a water project in Uganda, given computers to American Indians and sponsors a host of local initiatives.
"It's a great honor," said former Pittsburgh District governor and New Kensington club president Robert Arbuckle. "It's not often the president of the entire operation comes to visit."
An original member of the Yashio Rotary of Japan, which was chartered in 1975, Mr. Tanaka is the recipient of the Rotary International Service Above Self Award, the Rotary Foundation's Citation for Meritorious Service, and the Distinguished Service Award. In his 37 years as a Rotarian, he served as a Foundation trustee, director of Rotary International and a district governor. He also was a member of the Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force and Future Vision Committee.
Mr. Tanaka is former chair of the Daika Co. and former president of the National Household Papers Distribution Association of Japan.
He will be joined by a number of other high-ranking Rotarians, including Tom Fallon, district governor of the Pittsburgh East club, and Louis Piconi of the Bethel Park/Upper St. Clair Club, who is past vice president of Rotary International.
Using the motto "service above self," Rotary is one of the largest humanitarian service organizations in the world with more than 1.2 million members, 538 districts and 34,216 clubs worldwide.
Its mission is to "provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders," according to its website.
The New Kensington club was established in 1938 and has been named outstanding club in its district seven times. The club's 30 active members are part of the greater Pittsburgh district that hosts 50 clubs, the largest of which is the Downtown Rotary with 400 members.
"It's an honor to be a part of this club," member Jennifer Bayer said.
Rotarians support education and job training, provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health conditions and help to eradicate polio.
But, the "major project is the elimination of the scourge that is polio," Mr. Arbuckle said.
"When we started this project in 1985, there were over 350,000 cases in the world each year in 125 countries. Now there are less than 1,000 cases in only three countries."
Rotarians have contributed nearly $1 billion toward the disease's elimination and provided vaccines for approximately 3 billion children.
Mr. Arbuckle recalled traveling to Venezuela in 1988 as part of a Rotary mission to distribute vaccine.
"I have been involved with many projects in my 35 years in Rotary," he said. "But the highlight was delivering [a vaccine] to babies high in the Andes of Venezuela. Villagers lived in mud huts, and we traveled on mules to get there."
The New Kensington club also helped in development of two water cistern projects in a remote village in Uganda. And members bought and installed computers for youths on the Cheyenne Indian reservations in South Dakota.
Still, much of members work is right at home. The club sponsors a scholarship at the New Kensington campus of Penn State University and distributes dictionaries to third-graders in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
Rotarian Tamara Girardi said the club developed a project that ensures each local pre-K to fifth-grade student is able to attend a spring Scholastic book fair to pick out books to read with their families.
Ms. Girardi, a writer, contacted the district in 2009 to learn how her club could help facilitate literacy. A study found that some students did not read during the summer because many households lacked books.
The club also works with the Salvation Army hosting an annual Breakfast With Santa and organizes projects with the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels.
The local club also has built and maintains a Rotary Garden in the town's Memorial Park that is dedicated to military members.
Matthew Soucy, freelance writer: email@example.com.