With big hearts and willing hands, Chisago Lakes Rotary celebrates 25 years of ‘Service Above Self’  By Leilani Freeman,  Chisago County Press

McCarville explains, “Rotary is about meeting new people, doing good in the community and making positive, lasting change.” And Jim should know. He’s been a Rotarian for more than 40 years, first in Brookings, S.D., and then as a founding member of the Chisago Lakes Rotary Club.

How it began

Records show that 94 individuals have belonged to the Chisago Lakes Rotary since Ted Haines of rural Chisago City first recruited Frankie Dusenka, Dr. Joe Virga, Kurt Bauer and Jim McCarville to help establish a local Rotary. With the aid of the White Bear Lake Rotary, the Chisago Lakes Club was incorporated on May 21, 1998, with 21 members. Virga became the first club president. 

Today the Chisago Lakes Rotary has 26 members. At no time in the past 25 years has membership exceeded 35, yet in that time the Chisago Lakes club has raised and donated more than $500,000 and given over 10,000 hours to aid not only the local community but the world, through the help of Rotary International. 

“As an organization we can do more than we can as individuals. It’s easier to get things done as a group,” says McCarville pointing to the thousands of dollars and hours contributed. 

Rotary provides three avenues of service. The first is to contribute to projects that serve its communities, locally and globally. This includes raising funds and giving time to meaningful work. 

The second avenue of Rotary service involves improving social connections of club members while providing an opportunity for friendship through volunteering, and the third focuses on improving knowledge and understanding of local and global cultures through learning opportunities. 

A history of service

The hundreds of contributions made by Chisago Lakes Rotary over the years are far too numerous to list, but among the most significant are:

• providing support for the Swedish Immigrant trail with an initial donation of $1,000 (one of the club’s first donations) and later providing pollinator gardens, trailhead development and maintaining a section of the trail from Shafer to Taylors Falls

• contributing funds along with other community organizations to purchase the property for Ojiketa Regional Park and adopting and refurbishing a lodge there

• creating an endowmed scholarship fund with the Chisago Lakes Area Community Foundation for high school seniors

• funding an outdoor classroom at the Chisago Lakes Middle School

• sharing proceeds of the long-time golf tournament with a half dozen community groups over the years

• collecting toys, food and books as part of Anonymous Santa 

• providing significant funds to develop Rotary Park along School Lake in Chisago City with trail access and picnic shelter in honor of the club’s 10th anniversary

• providing funds in collaboration with the City of Lindstrom, the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Tourism Bureau to build a trail kiosk and benches in Memorial Park in Lindstrom in honor of the club’s 20th anniversary. The kiosk features a map of the Chisago Lakes Water Trail, a bike repair station, and drinking fountain and is the standard for future trailheads in the community

• providing half of the $10,000 needed to initiate the Chisago Lakes Area Community Foundation (CLACF) as an affiliate of the St. Croix Valley Foundation in 2008. Since that time, CLACF funds have grown to nearly $500,000, enabling the Foundation to make donations to local projects of up to $25,000 a year in perpetuity

“I am so proud that, in 2008, Jim McCarville saw the need for a community foundation,” says Fuge. “At the time we didn’t have a lot of cash, but they needed $5,000. Without that initial [seed money], CLACF wouldn’t be at a half million dollar level today. This is something that will outlast all of us.”

And that’s what Rotary tries to do, explains McCarville. “We want to set in place something that has a long-time and lasting effect.”

Making a global impact

The Rotary’s international projects are also impressive. A percentage of all funds raised locally goes to Rotary International projects.

“I’m most proud of the impact we’ve had on peoples’ lives locally and internationally through projects like PolioPlus Partners,” says Krinke. 

Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 40 years. As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotarians have reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent since the first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979. Rotary members have contributed more than $2.1 billion and thousands of volunteer hours to protect nearly 3 billion children in 122 countries from polio. Through their advocacy governments have agreed to add more than $10 billion to the effort.

In addition to contributing to PolioPlus, the Chisago Lakes Rotary also has helped send medical equipment to hospitals in Jamaica, computers to Ghana, books to Kosovo, and South Africa, and supported wells and water projects in Mexico, Haiti and Gambia.

Established by attorney Paul Harris in Chisago, Ill., in 1905, Rotary is the world’s largest non-government foundation providing educational and humanitarian aid worldwide. Rotary has a permanent seat in the General Assembly of the United Nations “in recognition of the efforts of its membership to foster goodwill and peace across national boundaries.” 

With 36,000 clubs in 200 countries, McCarville points out that every Rotary member is welcome at any Rotary meeting anywhere in the U.S. and abroad.  “Just wear your Rotary pin, walk in, and you’ll be welcome,” he says.  A Chisago Lakes club member recently helped with a fund-raising event while vacationing in the Florida Keys, and retired Judge Linn Slattengren, a Franconia native, once carried the Rotary’s message while serving on a war crimes tribunal in Kosovo.

Service Above Self

While languages and projects may differ throughout the world, the primary goal does not. Rotarians everywhere commit to the motto: “Service Above Self.” 

As Chisago Lakes Rotary membership materials explain, “Service is what Rotarians do. We change the lives of others in need. Your membership in Rotary gives you the opportunity, structure, knowhow and resources to provide service to others. The benefit a Rotarian receives by helping someone else is extraordinary and life-affecting.”

Who can join?

Rotary welcomes diversity. Men and women of all races, religions, occupations and political affiliations are welcome. One of the positive aspects of Rotary is that it unites people from many different walks of life in a common purpose.  

“At Rotary I have an opportunity to get to know people I might not otherwise meet,” says McCarville.

People can join the Chisago Lakes Rotary in one of two ways. They can apply using the form found on the Rotary website, chisagolakesrotary.org, or they can be invited by a member. In either case, all candidates meet with the membership chairman to ensure they are a good fit for the club.

“We’re alway recruiting members,” explains Krinke, “but it’s got to be the right people. We’re looking for upstanding individuals who want to give back to their community, and who want to do the work.”

The club also embodies a set of ethical standards. Krinke shared the Rotary’s four-way test of “things we think, say or do:”

- Is it the truth?

- Is it fair to all concerned?

- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Getting together, meeting, learning, and having fun

Krinke, McCarville, Fuge and Shafer emphasized that Rotary is about service but it is also about bringing people together and having fun in the process. For example, Club members enjoy getting “dressed up” in costumes at their casino night fundraiser in winter, and waving at the crowds from their restored antique ferryboat in local parades each summer.    

With the help of insurance provided through the state organization, the local Rotary is able to raise funds by staffing beer gardens for numerous local events ranging from fishing tournaments and fire department dances to community celebrations like Karl Oskar and Ki-Chi-Sago Days. Their past fundraisers also have included snowmobile “radar runs,” during Celebration of the Lakes, raffles, rose sales, and golf tournaments, all with an element of fun added to the mix. The fundraisers may change, but the purposes don’t.

On the third Thursday of each month, the Rotary currently meets at the Wild Cat Community Center in Lindstrom for lunch and a guest speaker. A social gathering, held at rotating locations, takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month, and the board meets monthly.

Future plans

Krinke announced two changes ahead as the Rotary enters its second 25 years.

This fall the Chisago Lakes Rotary will establish a “Rotaract” club for students in grades 9 -12 at Chisago Lakes High School, Wolf Creek School and those who are home schooled.

Rotarians have often passed down the principles of Rotary to their own children, but the Rotaract program carries the message of “Service above Self” to an even broader audience of young people. Forest Lake already has a Rotaract Club for students, and the Chisago Lakes Rotary will work closely with local school staff to launch a similar group in Chisago Lakes, again with the goal of perpetuating their work into the future.

The second change will involve a new approach to membership. Krinke said. Rather than one flat, annual membership fee, the Chisago Lakes Rotary will now offer different levels of membership, and will include a “Friends of the Rotary” category. Watch their website, chisagolakesrotary.org for more information or find them on Facebook.

What can a small group of passionate, hard-working individuals accomplish in 25 years? Prepare to be amazed.

The Chisago Lakes Rotary celebrates its silver anniversary this May, creating a booklet outlining their history and their accomplishments. They gathered members and guests for a party on a boat trip down the St. Croix. 

​But the 25th anniversary of the Chisago Lakes Rotary is much more than a party or a date on a calendar. It is an opportunity to recognize important services the Chisago Lakes Rotary has rendered, and the meaningful and lasting differences the group has made for the community, for its members, and throughout the world. 

​Current President Mara Krinke and three past presidents and long-time members Jim McCarville, Kris Fuge and Darlene Shafer gathered recently to tell that story.