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  • Paul Van Nest


The formation of Easter Seals Ontario can be traced back to 1922 when representatives from seven Rotary Clubs in Southern Ontario met to discuss the meager support available for the province’s children with physical disabilities. Recognizing a need for action, they formed the Ontario Society for Crippled Children.

Rotary’s relationship with what is now Easter Seals Ontario has continued to evolve for nearly a century. Rotarians across the province are a major component of the organization’s annual fundraising needs.

In 1983, the local branch of the Easter Seal Society and Rotary decided to adopt the idea of the provincial Easter Seal Telethon but at a local level. The Rotary Club of Kingston’s Bob Mallette assumed the leadership of Rotary’s part in this and CKWS-TV embraced the project.

Running a telethon is no easy task when there are so many components required to make it a success. Program content for 10 minutes of every hour included interviews, and pre-taped vignettes from Camp Merrywood and local events. Banks of telephones were staffed to receive phone-in pledges and donations. Food was provided gratis by many local restaurants. The coffee kept coming, gratis as well. Families going on-air live were hosted, prepped, and entertained.

The behind-the-scenes activities were intense. Todd Colbourne trained each shift of telephone operators. Doug Forbes led the team entering charge card payments. Stan Collins led the counters who were armed with adding machines to tally the donations to update the tote board. Local corporate leaders and their major contributions were featured every hour.

With guidance from Barry Dale (CKWS), Nesta Wiskin (the Easter Seal nurse), and local Easter Seal staff, the telethons were run by the Kingston and Frontenac Rotary Clubs beginning in 1983. Members of the Cataraqui-Kingston Rotary Club joined in the fun after their formation in 1985. In fact, all the Rotary clubs in Eastern Ontario joined the fundraising efforts over the years.

The picture showing Barry Dale, Paul Van Nest, president of the Kingston Rotary Club, and Fred Schonberger, president of the Kingston-Frontenac Rotary Club, also shows our grand total for that first year of $33,598. By the early 2000s, this total consistently exceeded $400,000. Kingston is such a generous community!

The days of staffing telethon phone-lines at CKWS-TV are gone but the need to help children with physical challenges is not. Every March, Easter Seals Ontario and Rotarians work with CKWS-TV to raise awareness and fundraise through a series of morning and evening segments that highlight all the various special events that occur throughout the year.

Kingston Rotarians have also sponsored students to attend Camp Merrywood for many years. The Easter Seals camp in South Eastern Ontario opened in 1948 and sits on 30 acres of property between Smiths Falls and Perth on Big Rideau Lake. To celebrate our long history with Easter Seals Ontario and as part of 100 Years of Rotary in Kingston, funds have been donated to replace the fire pit at the camp with a beautiful new and accessible one, suitable for all campers and staff to enjoy for many years to come.

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