A funeral director, a banker, a baker, a librarian and a master plumber walk into a church…
It’s not the start of a joke. It’s the start of the Dormont-Mt. Lebanon-Castle Shannon Rotary Club meeting, every Monday at noon at the Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church. For 90 years, this group has been meeting, with members from different sections of town and various careers, to unite, network, give time and raise money for worthwhile local organizations.
Robyn Vittek, director of Mt. Lebanon Public Library, is Rotary’s president, the third woman in a row to hold that office. Lisa Borelli Dorn and Melissa Fuson preceded her. President-elect Ron Davis, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Mt. Lebanon School District, will take over in July.
“I really got so much out of it,” Vittek says of her first experience with Rotary, in St. Clairsville, Ohio, where she was previously director of the library. “It’s a way to instantly be connected to the community and meet people from all walks of life.” When she came to lead the Mt. Lebanon Public Library three years ago, she naturally joined here.
Ron Davis has been involved for about six years. “For me, it was the service,” he says. “A way of giving back.”
Rotary’s parent organization, Rotary International, started in Chicago in 1905, when attorney Paul Harris convened a group of professionals to exchange ideas and contribute to the community. What does “Rotary” mean? The group began by rotating its meeting locations at the worksites of its members.
Among its national service goals is raising money to eliminate polio, a goal that’s close to reality. It also focuses on disaster relief and clean water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives around the globe, working with such partners as UNICEF.
But the strength of the organization lies in its 35,000 local clubs, with 1.2 million members.
Locally, the Dormont-Mt. Lebanon-Castle Shannon Rotary and its 35 members support at least a dozen beneficiaries. During the holidays, all three towns’ libraries receive proceeds from the annual poinsettia sale, and club members ring the bell at red kettles to raise money for the Salvation Army. During the rest of the year, they host a local third-grade spelling bee (and give every Mt. Lebanon third-grader a dictionary to prepare!) and sponsor the Interact Club at the High School, a way to expose students to Rotary.
The group also provides scholarships to students from Mt. Lebanon, Seton LaSalle and Keystone Oaks high schools, and it recognizes a male and female student of the month. Members pick up litter on Scott Road and take collections for New Eyes for the Needy, providing glasses to those to who can’t afford them. Reg Tate, of Potomac Bakery, who joined Rotary in 1985, says the club has donated more than 750,000 pairs of eyeglasses since he’s been there. (Donate yours at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.)
Rotary’s biggest annual fundraiser, Taste of the South Hills, is Saturday, March 30, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Castle Shannon Fireman’s Memorial Hall, with music by Uptown Rhythm and Brass and food from the best restaurants in the area. Tickets are available: tasteofthesouthhills.com. Tate expects the event to raise $22,000 this year.
Rotary also will give to small causes, such as a recent donation to a family who needed to travel to Baltimore for cancer care but didn’t have enough money. There is no fancy or complicated application; the membership gives when it feels right.
The club has high ethical standards, with a “Four-way test of the things we think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendship? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
A big change came to the club in 1987 when it began to allow women to join. “Some members said they would quit if women came in,” Tate says. “I said ‘Bye’ [to the quitters].”
They also cancelled their spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts. “They were horrible,” Tate says. “They never made any money. You’d work your tail off for a thousand bucks.”
But member Jason Baer had an idea 12 years ago—to have an event to sample the best food from local restaurants. “I was the most negative of all,” Tate says. “I said it will never work. And boy, was I wrong. I was happy to eat crow.” It was highly successful, with the first one raising $15,000.
Vittek and Davis say one of the highlights of the group is its engaged membership, with participants in their 20s to 90s. Social events include mixers and holiday parties.
Membership comes with commitment: The group meets weekly at lunchtime, starting with 20 minutes to eat, with the rest of the hour taken up by the business meeting, which includes a guest speaker from the community. (Police Chief Aaron Lauth was one such recent guest, although he also is a member.)
Dues are $80 for six months, plus the cost of lunch brought in from local restaurants, about $10 each week. And the goal is for all Rotarians worldwide to give $100 each to the Rotary Foundation each year.
Davis says it’s worth it because the mission, “Service Above Self” is important. “We recognize that professionals are busy but we’re hoping that people will carve out some time.”
Vittek says the rewards are many. “We want our community to work together to make things better for everyone who lives here,” she says. “We’ve been proud of the communities we serve. The people here are doing amazing things and we want to be able to help them succeed.”