History of the Westlock Rotary Club

For some, especially Charter Members, it’s hard to believe that the Westlock Rotary Club has been around for 35 years.

In that time, there has been a wealth of history as the club grew and changed.

In 1967, there was talk of forming a Rotary Club in Westlock. Barrhead already had a club, chartered in 1960 and became the sponsor of the Westlock Club.

On January 17, 1968, Charter Night for the Westlock Club was held, and the Club was granted a charter with 23 members. Dick Ponting was the first President, with Alan Watt Vice-President, Jack Phillips Secretary, Bob Jacobson Treasurer, and Rollie Ward, Bob Sutherland and Bill Glover as Directors.

Of the original Charter Members, three are still in the Club today; namely Bob MacKenzie, Albert Miller and Alan Watt.

The first fundraising project of the club was a watch raffle, which raised a total of $51.25. The Club went on to bigger and better things, and set up the Westlock Racing Association, which involved a lot of volunteer hours in the construction of stall for the horses, construction of a 52 stall pole barn and 1000 seat bleachers. Club historian, Alan Watt notes, " We never did make any money running the races, but when the barn was accidentally torched, and after negotiations with the Town, the club came out with $14,000!"

The money has long since been put back into the community projects, along with a good deal more.

Meetings in the early years were held Fridays at 12:15 in Tostos Restaurant.

Our first International Youth Exchange wasn’t done through district channels, but during the 1969-70 year, arrangements were made with the Andover Club in England and Caroline Leadbitter arrived. A young Westlock resident later went to England to court her; they married and now live in B.C. with their five children.

Our first, Adventures in Citizenship trip to Ottawa by a young student was made by John Beamish in 1971. Many Westlock area students have gone since that time on this and on other similar trips sponsored by the Westlock Rotary Club… Adventures in Forestry at Prince George, Adventures in Petroleum at Fort MacMurray and Adventures in Agriculture in Regina to name three.

While President of the Club in 1972 – 73, the late Bill Glover helped instigate efforts to have an airport developed in the area. Also during this time, highway signs were erected on the then three approaches to town.

This was also the year of the first on many Burns Nights, and Lt. Governor Grant McEwan gave the toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.

Selling Canadian Derby Sweepstakes tickets became another fundraiser for the Club.

The start of a long relationship with the Swim Club began during the 1973-74 term of President Ron Mielke. The late Fred Morie was instrumental in organizing the local swim meet, and the Club continues to support this event each year.

As sometimes happens, the Club lost some of its drive and members, and the roster shrank to 20 members in the 1974 – 75 term of Clayton Kobie. Still, the Burns nights and the antics that went with it carried on, but the 1975 –76 year of President John Linville was the last to be sponsored by the Club. It was also the last year of the races when the barn burned down.

Taking a new direction, Westlock Rotary made contracts with Alberta Housing Corporation and plans for the Senior Citizens Housing Projects began. The first project, Parkview Place, was completed in the fall of 1978, and the second Parkview Plaza was completed and opened in 1979. The Club manages both projects and the senior’s complex in Clyde.

During the time of the late President Muff Matson in 1978-79, the club made a major donation of $1500, which was matched by a grant to build new bleachers at the fair grounds.

It was then also that Kathy Jones was chosen as the first outbound, long term exchange student to be sent by the Club. She went to New Zealand. That same year, Diana Brimble came from New Zealand to spend a memorable year in Westlock, and still keeps in contact with the Club.

Our first Paul Harris Fellow was Clayton Kobie during the 1980-81 year. The club was faltering at this point, and nearly folded, but when Bob MacKenzie took the President’s chair for the second time in 1982- 83 and with lots of special effort by him and Albert Miller, the Club began a slow regrowth.

A sense of fun and fellowship returned to the meeting, and the Club passed a momentous resolution to support the development of the Cultural Arts Centre, Membership in June 1983, was just 16 members.

In 1983 – 84, Graham Clews took a double role, as Club President and editor and author of the Club’s bulletin. He not only wrote copy for the bulletin, but drew caricature "centrefolds" of a different member each month as the feature Rotarian and a bit of a "roast" of that member. It was during this year that the Club won five of eight possible trophies at the district convention, including best attendance and best club bulletin. The club was named

best in the District; quite a change from two years previous.

Albert Miller became President for the second time in 1984 – 85, and Chuck Masur started an annual event which is attended by exchange students, both Canadian and foreign, from the entire district. Each year, about 60 students, representing a dozen or more countries, come to Westlock in September for the Annual Harvest Weekend.

It was in this year that the Club came away with four of the eight district awards at the conference in Banff.

Bill Siegle’s year as President

In 1985 – 86 will be remembered as the year our Club sponsored the Rotary Club of Athabasca, with a lot of extra effort by Lochan Bakshi, who lived in Westlock and taught at Athabasca University. That Club continues to thrive and meets every Wednesday noon at the Athabasca Legion.

Dick Arth’s years as President in 1986 – 87 will be remembered as the year the Club really got behind Rotary International’s drive to stamp out polio and five other childhood diseases in third world countries. It was part of the worldwide PolioPlus campaign, and with just a few more countries to complete the effort, Rotary International hope to be able to declare the world polio-free in 2005. It was part of the PolioPlus campaign that sparked Westlock to take and old Iron Lung along with a wagon train to Calgary. Wagon Master Wally Sczebel led the way. It was a big hit, and helped raise a lot of money and awareness here in Alberta for the project.

The Club also sold a large number of Verniel Martin’s cookbook, " Among Friends" to raise even more for PolioPlus. She was the wife of the District Governor that year.

Another local fundraiser that lasted for a few years was Rotary Radio Day, when the Club took over the airwaves of the local radio station for a day, producing ads and playing music. Between Station Owner Len Novak and Fred Morie, both active Club members it was a huge success each year.

Ever restless for something to keep him and the Club busy, Chuck Masur and the Club collected and arranged for the shipment of serviceable medical equipment and supplies to Central America and gained recognition throughout the district for his efforts on behalf of World Community Service.

During Len Novak’s years as President, 1987-1988, Radio Day funds were allocated to the recreation complex proposal.

Roy Ritter took on the role of President in 1988- 89, and by now we know Albert Miller, twice President of the Club and a Charter Member, would be the District Governor for 1989- 90. He and Florence traveled to each of the clubs within the district, which at that time included all of Alberta, the west third of Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and the Peace River region of British Columbia, a total of 59 clubs

(There were 66 in 1992 prior to the district redistribution in 1998 – 99 year, when our Club became a part of District 5370 – smaller in size but today still a large number of clubs.)

During this year, including the new Recreation Centre complex proposal, the Club made donations totaling $24,865 in the community.

Chuck Masur became President in 1989 – 90, the busiest year to that time for the Club. With Albert Miller as District Governor, it was up to his home Club in Westlock to host the annual District Convention. It was decided to hold the convention in Jasper, as there simply was not enough room to host the event in Westlock.

The Club did itself proud, taking the cast of the spring play "Nunsense" and performing it for the convention crowd. It was a smash hit, and a convention still talked about around the district.

When Roy Lewis was President in 1990- 91, little did he realize the Club was about to undertake the biggest spending spree in its entire history. $20,000 was pledged to the golf club expansion, and another $20,000 to the new Community Hall project. The Club took on fundraising projects with new zeal. Composters were sold, and a group of members cleaned up an old dump area to raise $1,000. New Member Leo Seguin organized a Poor Boy supper and raised another $4,000 plus. Enthusiasm was high, and so was membership, with a record 47 members at this time.

Plans were well underway to raise even more funds to meet Club commitments when Wayne Williams stepped in a President in 1991 – 92. The Drama Society teamed up with the Club to put on a dinner theatre production in the new Community Hall in the Spring 1992 and the Chicken Ranch became the largest single fund raiser of the Club yet (some productions since have surpassed it). When everything was all settled up, the Club turned over $40,148.06 to the Hall Society.

In out 25th year, 1992 – 93, Sydney Gomes led our Club, and plans were underway

for another Dinner Theatre in the spring of 1994. Sydney also had a fund raising project of his own, which he initiated at the beginning of that Rotary year. An avid stamp collector, he knew where used postage stamps could be sold, and started the STAMPS project (Stamps to Avoid Malnutrition, Poverty and Suffering). Used postage stamps are being brought in each week by members, and are also being collected at the post office. Sydney has, in the years since, raised a sizeable sum of money through this project, and some of that money went towards the local Canadian Foodgrains Bank water project in Ethiopia in 1998.

During that year, the Club put together a book to commemorate the 25th Anniversary, now 10 years later this history has been produced for out 35th anniversary.

In the last decade, the Club has continued to put on more dinner theatre production, usually every other year, and each one seems to be a little more successful that the previous one, in terms of dollars raised by the Club.

In the past 10 years, the Club has grown steadily. Currently, there are 56 members, double what it was when it was chartered in 1968 with 23 members.

Added to the income for Dinner Theatres, the Club also raises funds through their Annual Trip of the Month program, capably headed up by Don Hengel.

In the term of President Rod Marks, 1994 –95, the Club again won the Best Club Bulletin award.

Last January, Alberta Lt. Governor Lois E. Hole was the guest speaker, Along with Grant MacEwan and Gordon Towers, she is the third Lt. Governor to speak at Rotary.

In recent years as a result of the successful Dinner Theatres, the Club has helped fund the new Westlock Community Hall, built a RV Park at the Westlock Golf Course and established the Rotary Trail in Westlock a 14-km trail that encircles the town. The trail has become a source of pride in the community. Dick Arth took on the Trail with a passion. It was officially opened in 2000.

When Todd Arth took over in 1998-99, the Club was part of the new District, 5370, which was the same as District 5360 was in, but with the portion from Red Deer south remaining as the new District 5360.

During Jim Smith’s term as President in 1999 – 2000, Jackie Hofs became the first female Westlock Rotarian. She has since moved away, but the Club’s roster now includes four lady members.

The next big project for the club is still in the works…

Centennial projects for both Rotary and for the Province of Alberta in 2005

But all that is something we can talk about in 15 years time, when the Westlock Rotary Club celebrates it’s 50th, Our Golden Anniversary!