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  • Paul Van Nest


Rotary is much more than community service and fundraising. Fellowship is a critical piece of the Rotary puzzle for many people who join a club. In fact, Rotary’s founding principle was based on fellowship: a lonely lawyer in Chicago trying to make friends outside his practice. He invited 3 others from different lines of work: a coal merchant, a mining engineer, and a tailor. The fellowship continued through regular social meetings and expanded when these men invited their acquaintances to join in.

This tradition of fellowship continues today and is rooted in the practice of Rotarians helping Rotarians. A Rotarian in need needs only to reach out to fellow members to ask for help. Since Rotary began in 1905, fellowship for many has evolved into long-lasting friendships that are formed through our regular meetings, service events, and social gatherings. The social element of Rotary brings members from all local clubs together for such events as potluck dinners, euchre nights, pub nights, dinner and theatre nights, golf games, etc.

With over 2 million members of the Rotary family in over 160 countries and with the advent of the internet, the number of international fellowships has exploded. These loose-knit organizations are a fun way to make friends around the world, explore a hobby or profession, and enhance our Rotary experience.

The fellowship opportunities are endless and include: Bird Watching, Canoeing, Caravanning, Cruising, Curling, Education, Genealogy, Golfing, Gourmet Cooking, Home Exchange, LGBTQ, Railroads, Rotary Commemorated on Stamps, Singles, Scuba Diving, Social Networks, Strategic Planning, Tennis, Beer and Wine tasting, Young Rotarians, and so many more: they are all listed on the Rotary International website.

For me, Rotary Commemorated on Stamps has brought me much joy. Back in the 1980s and pre-internet, I reached out to a couple of members of this fellowship by mail. One from Syracuse would send stamps to two of my boys who were also into stamp collecting. On our way south once, we visited him to the delight of my boys. I connected with another person north of Los Angeles and he sold me, at a very fair price, the first stamp issued to commemorate Rotary (shown), making my set complete from 1931 to 1984. At the International Convention in Toronto in 1984, I was the local coordinator for our booth and welcomed stamp collectors from around the world.

Another international fellowship opportunity that has become quite popular is the Rotary Friendship Exchange. This exchange program for Rotarians allows participants from around the world to take turns hosting one another in their homes, clubs, and districts for several weeks. As part of our centennial celebrations, plans were well underway to host Rotarians from Australia and New Zealand who are also celebrating their own clubs’ centennials in 2021. Covid-19 forced us to postpone this exchange, but we do hope it moves forward when it’s safe to do so.

But of course, local fellowship through Rotary projects is the most important, such as the annual Nut Drive with the Queen’s Engineering Frosh every September.

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