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PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, October 3, 2007
More than 70 years of Rotary plotted
"Somehow in the last several decades of the twentieth century, all these community groups and tens of thousands like them across America had begun to fade," writes Robert D. Putnam in "Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community" (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

The Harvard University professor goes on to detail the decline in almost every imaginable voluntary activity and association-across the country-that used to tie people to their neighbors and their community.


  Image courtesy of Joann Lott
He looks at sports leagues, religious groups, quilting circles and philanthropic endeavors and points out that the shift threatens a healthy society because volunteerism creates strong communities that work for the common good and form solid roots for democratic government.

Putnam may have missed Juneau when conducting his research. Or the Capital City may be bucking a powerful trend.

The spot where McDonald's now stands in downtown Juneau hosted an event in 1935 that would pioneer volunteering in Juneau for decades to come.

Seventy-two years ago, the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression, the Treadwell Gold Mining Company had already stopped its work and the AJ Mine would follow. Construction of the Shrine at St. Therese had started and a Civilian Conservation Corps crew had just finished a ski run on Douglas Island.

Twenty-two men met on an October Tuesday for lunch at the Terminal Restaurant, the era's version of a fast-food joint. Their meeting was the first for the newly organized Juneau Rotary Club.

That meeting would lead to a network of volunteers and civic projects spanning the city and borough of Juneau.

Today Rotary in Juneau is booming. There are three long established clubs.

There is also a Rotary Interactive club for high school students and a new initiative called Rotoract-for people in their 20s and 30s-that is forming.

"Volunteering is big in this town," said Candy Behrends, former president of Juneau-Gastineau Rotary Club, which is celebrating two decades in operation this year.

Each local club is part of the umbrella group Rotary International. It was founded just over a century ago in Chicago.

That's when four friends, a mining engineer, a tailor, a lawyer and a coal trader started gathering to talk about community needs, such as finding a horse for a local minister.

Today Rotary International has grown to 1.2 million members across 200 counties. It focuses on providing humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards and works to build goodwill and peace in the world.

In Juneau, the efforts of Rotarians can be felt community wide. They have worked on the Zach Gordon Youth Center, the Glory Hole, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Lena Point ball fields and trails. Rotarians also funded the restoration and relocation of the Auke Tribe totem to Juneau Douglas High School. Earlier this year, the Juneau-Gastineau Rotary Club published a map of Juneau featuring about 50 initiatives of the three main clubs. The map was the brainchild of Behrends.

"We often have visiting Rotarians who want to know about the work we do here. We tossed around the idea of a graphic portrayal of about seventy years of work and people became really excited," she said.

Members from Juneau-Gastineau, Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary and Juneau Rotary contributed lists of key projects and photos of works.

Joann Lott of Jensen Yorba Lott designed the map. About 200 copies were printed for the annual district conference in May. The club also plans to post the map on its website at www.Juneaugastineaurotary.org.

Meanwhile, Putnam has co-written a follow-up book to "Bowling Alone." In "Better Together," (Simon & Schuster, 2003) he covers fresh stirrings of civic engagement around the county.

The book highlights small libraries in Chicago that are thriving and spreading literacy, and details a sixth grade class in Wisconsin that persuaded disenchanted public officials to make a local railroad crossing safer. Somewhere between school reform led by parents in the Southwest and the book's history of civic engagement in Portland, Oregon, you expect to find examples of volunteerism in Juneau.

Perhaps that's for the next book.


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