When I scheduled an interview with members of the Rotary Club of Whatcom County North, I had no idea how much impact Rotary Clubs have in Whatcom County. These clubs meet regularly and find areas in our community that have a clear need. For example, when they realized the city needed a bigger, more efficient food bank in Ferndale, they worked for two years to raise $250,000 for the new building. This group alone has raised over $1.4 million and spent the bulk of it on projects in Whatcom County.
You may already be enjoying some of the great things this Rotary Club has had a hand in creating. They have contributed to the construction of Star Park, a new shelter at Hovander Homestead Park, the Boys & Girls Club in Blaine and the teen room at the Ferndale Boys & Girls Club. And their Rubber Ducky Derby raised over $16,000 last year. This fun, family friendly event featured sponsored rubber ducks poured out of a Ready-Mix truck and floated in a race down Main Street in Ferndale.
The Rotary Club started in 1905 in Chicago, with a group of businessmen that rotated offices. The goal, according to the Rotary website, was to create a place where “professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas, form meaningful, lifelong friendships and give back to their communities.” Since then Rotary has grown to one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world.
The Rotary Club isn’t composed of just businessmen any longer. Rotary members (both men and women) come from all walks of life, with one common goal: Service over self. They abide by Rotary’s guiding principles to build relationships and help others.
Ken Richardson joined the Rotary Club in Ferndale the same year they were breaking ground on the new food bank. He jumped right in with a hammer and literally helped construct the building. Ken had originally joined a Rotary Club in Beaumont, TX and says, “I was a corporate guy in Rotary, happy to be raising money at fundraising events in a club with 600 members.”
But after moving to back to Whatcom County, a friend suggested that he join one of the groups here. He immediately noticed a much different kind of group. “Sweat equity is important,” Ken says. “It feels great to get your hands on something and make it happen. I was in there with a tamping machine during construction of the food bank.” It was a true community effort to fill a need. Ken went on to serve as president of Rotary Club Whatcom County North. He and his fellow Rotary members are proud of all they do to serve others.
I also spoke with Tim and Pati Villhauer from the Rotary Club of Whatcom County North. They traveled to Central America as part of a partnership with a Rotary Club in Honduras to check on a microlending project at its half-way point. The project gave small loans of $70-$100 to groups of women, with the goal of having them start their own sustainable small businesses.
Tim and Pati visited the women in their homes to see how their businesses were progressing and it was there that Tim says he had his “Rotary Moment” – when he realized all of the good he was doing as a member of Rotary. “We were sitting in the house teaching counting,” Tim recalls. “Pati did most of the talking because my Spanish is not great. We were laughing together and I could just feel their heartfelt gratitude. I was thinking to myself, I am getting more out of this than they are.” He could see what a huge impact this program had on the entire village and that felt good.
The one thing that every Rotarian has in common is a passion for helping others. You don’t have to donate a lot of money to be a part of these groups. If you cannot contribute financially, they just expect that you give your time and talent, and the group can work on fundraising together.
Membership in the Rotary Club is also a great way to build new friendships. Both Ken and Tim described to me the way they have built relationships, working on a shared goal, which never would have happened outside of the group. Tim says, “You can have a lot of fun and make friends. I joined in 2001 when I was just starting a new career, and Rotary was my sanctuary.” He enjoyed going to the meetings after a hectic work day and getting together with like-minded community members to do good for others.
Local Rotary Clubs
There are five Rotary Clubs in Whatcom County. Each group supports different causes and meets at different times and locations, so there is a Rotary Club that will work for everyone interested in joining. Three are located in Bellingham: The Rotary Club of Bellingham, Bellingham Bay Rotary Club and Bellingham Sunrise Rotary. Two are located in the county: Rotary Club of Whatcom County North meets in Ferndale and Mount Baker Rotary meets in Lynden.
Tim Villhauer, president of Rotary Club of Whatcom County North, would be happy to speak with you personally about his experience or answer any questions about membership. He can be reached at 360-714-8661.