by Carolyn Bart-Reidstra PHF, Festival City

Stratford's second Rotary Club was given official status by Rotary International on March 23, 1995 with twenty-eight members and was inaugurated on September 30, 1995 with a membership of thirty-two Rotarians. The Rotary Club of Festival City (Stratford) was formed with the help of President Robert Ritz, from the Rotary Club of Stratford. Rotarian Ritz began the legwork in September, 1994. He invited and inspired interested individuals to create a new club. A minimum of twenty-five members was required to form a Rotary chapter and in February of that year, this goal was reached and a charter requested.

Membership of the newly formed Rotary Club of Festival City included several Rotarians from the older club as well as the first twelve women to join Rotary in Stratford. The first president was Etienne Leushuis who was a member of Rotary from 1988 to 1992. It was noted that the meeting time of the older club was not always convenient and the new club was providing an alternative day and time meeting Tuesdays at 7:15 am instead of over the lunch hour on Thursdays.

At the time of the charter presentation and celebration a special newspaper insert by the local Stratford Beacon Herald commemorated the event and featured articles about Rotary's history, International projects and local community involvement. The insert was sponsored by Rotarians from both clubs and provided an excellent introduction to the new Club, its members and Rotary International.

The first fundraising activity was the creation of a 1997 calendar featuring photographs from local photographers and designed by a graphic designer. The proceeds of the calendar were to be used for International projects. Sales began in May of 1996 and while deemed successful this project was not repeated.

To celebrate the millennium, the Festival City Club offered to sponsor a millennium bridge that would effectively connect William Street to the Patterson Island which already had a bridge to the other side of the river. Public opinion was opposed to the project and the bridge proposal was withdrawn.

One of the projects in 1998 was the installation and improvements to school and park basketball nets. Club funds were used for materials and students built the nets as part of their school work. Dufferin Park and Anne Hathaway Public School were two of the beneficiaries of the project implemented by Club Service Chair Brian Johnson and Rotarian volunteers Gregor Read, Jack West, Etienne Leushuis and Richard Young.

The theatre brunch fundraiser was introduced in 1998 under the presidency of Carolyn Dingman. Money received from this successful project helped to fund the local Red Cross Breakfast Program in 2000 and 2001. Red Cross Executive Director, Kathy Bjorkquist, reported in 2001 that over 60,000 local children had been fed nutritious breakfasts in area schools. "I hope the Festival City Rotary Club realizes what a difference this makes", Bjorkquist stated in February 2001 at a cheque presentation.

Other money raised through the theatre brunch supported Rotary International Projects such as Polio Plus, food, shelter and fresh water projects. This fundraiser continues to be the most important one for the Club.

In May of 2001, Diana Nguyen, the first student sponsored by the Festival City Club to attend the four day Ottawa's Adventure in Citizenship event provided an article on May 25, 2001 to the Beacon Herald about her trip. She cited the various tours and federal buildings she visited as well as the various symposiums and discussion groups with other students. One of the highlights of her trip was witnessing the citizenship induction of new Canadians. "Thanks to the Festival City Rotary Club, I learned something very important on my adventure in Ottawa. I learned that the most important factor that determines the success of a nation is the people." Each year the club sponsors a student to attend this worthwhile citizenship event.

In 2002 the Club introduced a "Dinner of the Month" raffle. Tickets were sold for chances on dinners at area restaurants for four people. Each month a different restaurant is featured. Money from this event will be used for local projects.

Over $750 was donated to the Neighbourly Services and Meals on Wheels mobility van following a sold out production of William Needles' one man show: Bill and Will: My Life with Shakespeare.

Audience members were enthralled with the anecdotes, stories and readings from one of Canada's leading Shakespearean Actors. This event took place in May, 2003 with half of the proceeds going to Meals on Wheels. Other money was given to the Stratford General Hospital for a crash cart, the House of Blessing, and the Public Library on Wheels projects.

In 2003 there are thirty active Rotarians in the Rotary Club of Festival City who continue the mandate of service and community support started by their predecessors. Of those thirty, about one third is charter members. Members of the Club continue to spread the message of Rotary and Service Above Self.


Written by Carolynn Bart-Riedstra, Rotary Club of Festival City, District 6330