Rotary Club spins out positives

It really is fun to speak to the Rotary. Once a year, Barbara Manring extends an invitation to speak to Great Barrington’s Rotary at the Crissy Farm restaurant. They’re all there: Buddy Atwood, the head Selectman; Steve Bannon, the chairman of the school committee; bankers; attorneys; and funeral directors. to name just a few.

Over time, the rules of the Rotary have changed. I used to stand and say, “Ladies and gentlemen ” Then I would look around and apologize. “Oh, I forgot, women aren’t allowed.”

I never really understood what that was all about. Maybe the thinking was that men would be distracted from their “old boys club” mentality in the presence of women. I mean, you couldn’t do guy things like telling an off-color joke or two if the ladies were around. And what would the wives think if there were all these attractive women sitting there with the husbands? I have always said that sex is a function of opportunity. You have to meet people in order to mess around with them.

Anyway, if things like that actually happened since women were admitted, everyone in town would know it. That’s the way small towns are. It hasn’t happened, despite the fact that there are some very attractive people of both sexes in the room. I said that to avoid sexist charges being hurled at me. The truth is that the women look a lot better than the men. There, I’ve gone and said it. Since those days of yesteryear, things have changed.

Women are not only welcome to join the Rotary, they are often in the most important leadership roles.

Back in the day, you had to attend every meeting or make them up at “another Club.” That restriction has been lightened up quite a bit. Rotarians who do services for the Club are often forgiven for attendance lapses. Indeed, the people of the Rotary do tremendous service. They have all kinds of projects.

They raise money for the best of purposes including children, Scouting, worldwide literacy, water projects and the eradication of polio.

My favorite time is at the beginning of the meetings. There is always a patriotic song, followed by a universal prayer and then come the fines. Ed McCormick or Buddy Atwood walks along with a tin can and if your name was in the paper you have to put in a dollar. For example, all the people whose names are mentioned in this column will have to cough up a buck next time.

You can also contribute a dollar and that gives you permission to brag about your kids or your wife or where you traveled. There is a tremendous sense of community and continuity. Many of the folks in the Rotary are newcomers.

It gives them a chance to make friends and meet potential business associates. Some of the folks you meet there are old salts. They remember everything that’s happened in the town since the horse and buggy days. They can recall every fire and who owned the “Barrington House” six generations before the ubiquitous Richard Stanley. They remember Melvin, who was quite a character, of Melvin’s Drug Store. One longtime Rotarian, Steve Agar, was sitting next to me at the meeting. As a life-long resident of the town, he ought to be recorded so Great Barrington’s glorious history can be preserved.

Just before I got up to speak, Agar turned to me and said, “Go to it, Alan: Short and sweet.” I talked and then took questions. The thing about Rotarians is that they are inquisitive. On the other hand, Agar’s advice was pretty good. I probably went on too long. Even Paul Hickey, a conservative man who often gives me a hard time, didn’t have a question although I called on him much as the president would call on Helen Thomas. I made the point that when I first voted for Buddy Atwood for selectman, I did it because he was a conservative and I was a liberal. Now when it comes to spending, I’m the conservative and he’s the liberal. But you gotta love the guy.

Anyway, the Rotary is a phenomenal institution. If you want to identify the power elite of a town, get yourself to a Rotary meeting. They’re all there.

They care about where they live and try to make it better. Some of them like Louann Harvey, who helped to clean up some of the drug mess in the town, have a lot of guts. It’s good to see them all together. They are the best we have to offer. You can’t help but love them.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/21/09

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