Drop of a lifetime

Polio Immunization Day in India

Polio Immunization Day in India

January, 2015 I did a Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) in India.  For two weeks Jan and I toured the state of Gujharat.  13 of us resided with Rotarians in 4 different towns.  The local Rotarians showed us their Rotary projects,  community facilities and events.  An RFE is not a holiday – it’s an experience.  One such experience is pictured left.  It just so happened we were there on a National Immunization Day.  Rotary is well known for working to eradicate polio from the world. Rotary has almost achieved it!  It remains endemic in 3 countries only.  A year ago India was declared polio free.  Every year N.I.D.’s set out to immunize local children against polio.  Although polio free the clinics must carry on for a few years as polio is in neighbouring Pakistan, for now. Rotarians help man the N.I.D. booths.  We got to assist.  Here I am giving two polio drops to a youngster.  It made me weepy.  For years I have supported the Rotary Foundation and talked about Rotary’s  End Polio Now program.  I never thought I would be at an N.I.D. in India.  Very moving.

India has been quite the experience.  The sights and sounds, the food, the air, the tastes, the smells.  The warmth, the humanity.  Incredible.   I found it exhausting yet exhilarating..   Jan nd I made lifetime friends and learned an immense amount.  We have new appreciations for home and the home of 1.2 billion people.  We have seen riches and desperation, hope and despair.  Jan and I always wanted to visit India.  The RFE made it  a unique way to discover the true India.  We also made a difference by assisting several Rotary projects.   And yes,  gave two drops to young people  who will never have to worry about the ravages of polio.

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India - with the RFE team

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India – with the RFE team

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Alaska by Cruise Ship

Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Jan and I did a one week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska this July, 2014.  We stayed for 3 nights in Anchorage and then flew home.   We hadn’t done a cruise for a few years.  It was Holland America.   I always wanted to see Alaska but didn’t relish the thought of driving. (We live one hour from mile zero of the Alaska Highway). 

So I’ll get this out right away.  We aren’t in a great rush to cruise again.  Too much food,  too hard to be active.  BUT,  having said that – we really enjoyed. The food was fine,  very good at times.  The scenery was breathtaking.  I mean to cruise up to a glacier spilling into the ocean is pretty unique.  We had great weather for that area.  We loved the opportunities to explore a few small Alaskan towns.  Best part of the cruise –  a good sized deck off our room. And it was a good size!  Our room was almost as big as a standard hotel room!  Nothing small about it.   We really enjoyed the deck.  After the cruise we landed at Seward, Alaska and from their took a train to Anchorage.   It was about 3 and a half hours and we really enjoyed it.  Relaxing and incredible scenery. 

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

We didn’t see much wildlife it seems but then again we see bears and moose all the time so we didn’t look too hard.  The average age on the cruise ship was certainly a fair bit older than Jan and I.  There were a few families with kids but not many.  It wasn’t hard to go to bed early and get a good nights rest.

The three nights in Anchorage were terrific. Great food, fun hiking around and exploring.  We rented a car.   I have never fished in my life much so Jan and I went salmon fishing with a guide.  It is stunning to see the salmon run.  I had a few close calls.  Jan caught a couple.  Very exciting for both of us.

It was a heck of opportunity to see Alaska.  On a cruise ship passing through the islands of the coast was mesmerizing.  Time with Jan together on a cruise ship fun.  I guess we have the rest of our life to walk off all those calories.  The cruise ship crowd made us feel young.

It was a trip well worth taking.  Alaska is so beautiful.  A cruise up that coast unforgettable.

Jan and the one that didn't get away!  Beautiful sockeye salmon

Jan and one that didn’t get away! Beautiful sockeye salmon

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Representing the President of Rotary International

SpeakingI was honoured to represent the President of Rotary International, Ron Burton – at a Rotary District Conference in California.    There are 532 districts in the world,  every one has a conference annually.  The standing R.I. President can’t attend them all so a rep is sent.  Jan and I were chosen!   The event was at Temecula, CA.  The rep (commonly called RIP REP) is to give inspiring addresses to the delegates and update them on news from Rotary International.  The conference is to inform, inspire and have fun!   We did it all.Balloon ride  We did a tour of the Los Angeles port,  we got to meet the past and future governors of District 5320,  we even did a hot air balloon ride.  Temecula is wine country!   We did some great power walking,  we cycled and boated even.  We were invited to local Rotarians home.   They sure made us feel special.  The conference seemed a smashing hit.

I gave 4 talks.  A greeting, a  talk on media and PR,  a keynote and a farewell.

It was an honour and a thrill.  We were treated like gold by our aide PDG Bret Gerdes.  We made some great friends for sure.  We learned a lot and wow we listened a lot.  I hope we made a positive impact on the attendees.    I would say being chosen to be  a RIP REP was  areal highlight of my Rotary “career”.  So far!  Something I learned, too is – around the world Rotarians seem much the same.  Passionate, proud, fun, willing to share.  They sure did!.

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20 Days in South Africa – Rotary Friendship Exchange

Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids.  We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids. We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Have you ever traveled and  asked yourself “How do the locals live?  What makes this community tick?”.  I have – and Jan and I were fortunate to get those questions answered.  A Rotary Friendship Exchange is when a group of you visit a district,  home-stay,  and the local Rotarians show you around.  Then they visit your home district.    We visited Johannesburg and region for about 3 weeks.  Every 3 days we moved to a new community where a new Rotary club hosted our group.  In the morning we got up and they showed us their community,  their Rotary projects,  their events and celebrations.  It was exhausting but a rare privilege.  We went to Rotary meetings where we spoke about our country.   We


District 6, Cape Town. At the height of apartheid 60,000 blacks were removed from here, their homes bulldozed but these few. They were forced to live in townships.

learned about their country, their culture,  their challenges, their success stories.  Our hosts families treated us like next of kin.  11 of us from District 5370 enjoyed laughs and tears.  We were entertained royally.  We were awed at their Rotary projects.  Highlights include the Mandela Apartheid Museum,  a few days in neighbouring country Swaziland.  (42% of the population HIV positive!)  Seeing the wildlife at Kruger Park.  And making life long friends in South Africa.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela just days after we left I feel it’s a rare gift to be able to get a taste of what Mandela meant to the South Africans.  While there it was as if the spirit of Madiba was everywhere.  You cannot explain to those outside of SA how much he meant to the citizens of that country.

I know you are wondering - "Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?"  Yes.  But more-so in some regions.  Change is slow but it is happening.  This is the President of a club where I spoke.

I know you are wondering – “Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?” Yes. But more-so in some regions. Change is slow but it is happening. This is the President of a club where I spoke.

Travel is such a gift.  To travel to a land like South Africa and stay in the homes of Rotarians is something that’s hard to describe to others.  We lived with the South Africans.  We danced,  we laughed, we cried.  We shared in their Rotary projects.  We talked about the struggles of apartheid and the progress since.  One host is credited with sponsoring the first black into his Rotary Club.  It was such an honour to spend time with him.

South Africa has been described as a dangerous country.   I imagine it is.  We saw a lot of fences and barbed wire.  Security gates are the norm.  Life is certainly different there.   South Africa is a first world country with third world problems.  At many events there were two types of people.  Blacks serving us, the whites.  But at other events and other regions it was much more mixed.   South Africa has a long way to go – but they are getting there.  There are success stories.

In our final days we visited  a township.  An area set aside for blacks to live during apartheid.  To this day the

A township outside Capetown.

A township outside Capetown.

townships remain. Thousands and thousands of blacks still live in townships just like Nelson Mandela did.  It is a community teaming with life, but teaming with challenges.  Segregated from the rest of the cities and towns they are world away from the rest of the country.  Such a sobering stroll for Jan and I and yet – how different is that from what we have in Canada – we call them reserves.

Some adventures can change you. I think this did.  This was not a vacation – it was an experience, a  gift thanks to Rotary International and the Rotary Friendship Exchange program.

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Japan. Respect. Culture. History. Beauty.

A garden in Hiroshima.  Caline Strach is  Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest.  Karly and mom.

A garden in Hiroshima. Caline Strach is an Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest. Karly and mom.

A trip of a lifetime.   Japan was 12 nights of amazing sights and friendships.  The trip was one of the best ever.   Karly got to see her host family in Koriyama,  the Peace Forum in Hirsoshima was impressive,  the people were quite unlike North Americans.   We had 4 fabulous nights in Koriyama, Fukushima hosted by Rotarians.  Tokyo was incredible.     I want to go back.   Some of the highlights:

* Hiroshima was very green.  The Peace Park where they remember the atomic bomb drop is something I could never forget.
* Touring the sight of where the tsunami hit land in Fukushima is hard to describe.  Even after 2 years –  immense work remains.
* The Rotary members in Koriyama treated us so well.  We saw Japan in a way you couldn’t if you were on your own.
* The people have a quiet respect for one another.  Very admirable.
* We spent time with 2 PR people from Tepco, the company that operates the nuclear power plant that was shut down after the earthquake.  They have 1600 staff dedicated to improving the lives of the 150,000 people who will receive compensation as a result of the plant.  The 2 apologized to us for the problem.  It will take 35 years to clean up.

Where water hit the land..   Befoe the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other.  It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about.   We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

Where water hit the land.. Before the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other. It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about. We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

* Tokyo was a pleasure the 2 different nights we stayed.
* Meeting 2 special people –  Ako was a Rotary Group Study Exchange student who stayed with us for 4 days,  7 years ago.   Michiko was an exchange student who lived with us for 4 months about the same time.  First time we saw both since.  Very special.
* Standing in a train station someone said “stand back a train is coming”.  I thought nothing of it until one zipped by – at 300 KM’s an hour!
* The food is very different.  Lots of raw fish.   I did not put on weight.
*Rotarians are the same around the world.  All wanting to do more,  all proud of their accomplishments.  This summer my district will host 5 Japanese youth – all displaced from their homes due to the Tepco plant.  Rotarians working together.
* Seeing and hearing daughter Karly speak Japanese.  magic. So proud.
* Tea ceremony.  An honour.

We had the most incredible two weeks.  We attended a Rotary Peace Forum,  we bought along a future leader (Caline),  we experienced Karly’s Japanese families,  we saw old dear friends and made new ones.  What a trip.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama.  All past host families for Karly.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama. All past host families for Karly.










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Four and a Half Million Dollars Raised

Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

This was a thrill of a lifetime and I am so honoured to be a part of it. Raising 4.5 million dollars!   The media release says it all below.

A unique fundraiser occurred Saturday evening, May 11, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta that successfully raised 4.5 million dollars for the Rotary Foundation – well over the target of one million dollars.  Organizers were particularly excited to have in attendance the President of Rotary International, Sakuji Tanaka.  Kevin Hilgers is the Governor for the district that includes northern Alberta, NW Saskatchewan, NE British Columbia and Northwest Territories.  “The fundraiser was unique whereby we asked Rotarians to include the Rotary Foundation via their will and estate planning.  In other words –  become a member of the Foundation’s Bequest Society.    We asked them to provide documents so we could substantiate and track the commitments, and certainly recognize them for their efforts.

Our object was to find over one million dollars of new commitments to the Rotary Foundation. This also included members who chose outright gifts of cash to the Foundation.  We marketed this for almost a year.  It wrapped up May 11 with the Million Dollar Dinner. In the end a check totaling just under 4.5 million dollars was handed to President Tanaka in front of a crowd of 150 supporters of the Foundation.  Even after we printed that check we had several more commitments come in so in fact we are over the 4.5 million mark.  Many in the room were stunned at the amount raised.  4.5 million dollars in commitments to the Rotary Foundation!  We will make a difference tomorrow and in the future, locally and around the world – thanks to these individuals we recognized at this event”.

Hilgers adds, “The picture (attached) says it all.  It’s not every day you can “wow” the President of Rotary International in your own hometown.  It certainly was a thrill in many ways.”  Lastly some advice for any other Rotary Districts who wish to hold such an event.  “We had a team that put on a terrific event.  It really sparked interest in this sort of fundraising.  It captured the imagination and excitement of Rotarians. If anyone wishes to look into doing a Million Dollar Dinner we would be happy to share.  I would highly recommend doing this.  It’s a very fresh approach and one that obviously inspired many”.

UPDATE – I had so many ask about this unique fundraiser I built a “How-To” website so others can easily do the same.   www.milliondollardinner.net

Update:  The magazine Rotary Canada did a story on the event, click here.

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Receiving the QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal

It was quite an honour and thrill to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, in Red Deer.    I was nominated by Premier Redford in large part due to my role as Rotary District Governor for the year in District 5370.  Jan and I drove to Red Deer as the date worked for us and we were residing in Edmonton at the time for our Rotary duties.    There was a ceremony where around 30 received the medal.  The Premier and Lieutenant Governor of Alberta handed out the medals.  Jan and I took along a Rotary Youth exchange student with us,  Elly from Taiwan.  She was also thrilled to meet these people.

Alberta Premier Redford,  me and The Honourable Donald S. Ethell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

Alberta Premier Redford, me and The Honourable Donald S. Ethell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

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2012, highlights

Map of Rotary District 5370

Map of Rotary District 5370

One of the highlights for me and Jan in 2013 was the official Rotary Club visits as part of our Governor duties.   We visited every one of the 61 Rotary clubs in our district between late August and end of  November.  We also had a separate meeting with the club executive.  I usually gave a 20 minute talk to the club membership after a nice evening dinner event usually.    The executive meetings allowed us to learn about their clubs and offer assistance if needed.   We also met with the youth groups.. around 14 or so Interact clubs and Rotaract clubs.

Jan and I put on around 17,000 km’s driving to places like Fort Nelson and Jasper and Battlefords and Peace River.   We flew to Yellowknife and Ft. MacMurray.   We loved every minute of it.   The clubs are s0 proud to show off their accomplishments.  We are glad we spent a few extra days in the clubs further away from our city,  that being Yellowknife and Hay River and Ft. MacMurray.    All along the way I realized how lucky I am to have Jan.  She visited every single club with me.    I couldn’t have done it with out her.  Such a rare thing to be able to visit 2300 people and learn about what makes them tick in their communities.   So glad to have Jan along with me.  The “Official Governor  Tour” will always be a very memorable experience.  Once in a lifetime.  Our year as Governor ends June 30th, 2013.

Meeting the Rotary Club of Yellowknife executive in Yellowknife, NWT

Meeting the Rotary Club of Yellowknife executive in Yellowknife, NWT.



A warm sunny day in Hay River,  North West Territories.

A warm sunny day in Hay River, North West Territories.





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From Japan to Canada

4 Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Koriyama South, Fukushima Japan attended the Rotary District 5370 Conference. Here with Karly are her Japanese families along with her (real) Grandpa Elmer and family. Missing from the photo is her Grandma Nici who also attended

The Rotary District 5370 Conference was even more special because Karly’s host families and friends from Japan visited.   Karly flew in from University of Victoria to reunite with a host dad and 2 host moms from Japan as well as Jean-Pascal, another member of the club active in the youth exchange program.   This was the first time Karly was  reunited with her Japanese families since the earthquake, so it was quite the weekend.   We had them all over for brunch and were honoured with a tea ceremony by Mrs. Kihara.  Mr. Kihara and Mrs. Honda  and Jean Pascal also took part in the tea ceremony.

Before they left Jean Pascal gave me a document from the Rotary Governor from their District 2530.   It really moved me and made me think about how life must be in that area after the earthquake and nuclear disaster.    Life goes on for us.  A different story for them.  Governor Ito’s words are HERE

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East Coast with Daughter Karly

Just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland – in a fishing village.

When the daughters were in grades one or two or 3 I promised each I would take them on a “Dad Daughter” trip when they graduated.   Catherine and I went to Panama a few years ago.   Karly and I looked at a few areas of the world that we hadn’t visited.  Karly was quite keen on PEI. I was keen on Newfoundland.

We spent 2 weeks on the road.  4 nights in Newfoundland,  3 nights in the Halifax area and a week on PEI.    It was a terrific trip.  Karly said she really enjoyed Newfoundland.   Our hosts were a fellow Governor, Tom and Shirley.  They were terrific!   We loved Newfoundland.  Halifax was fun, too.   I loved PEI.   The weather was terrific,  Charlottetown was beautiful.  We had a quaint hotel.   Loved it.  Perfect for power walking.

Karly and I reading on the bench overlooking a bay in Charlottetown

I really enjoyed my time with Karly.  I found out Karly is a great traveler.  Not a surprise after living in Japan and Brazil I guess.   She also has a great sense of humour.  She isn’t a spender nor extravagant person.  She carries herself well with people she meets.  She is easy to please and not fussy.. is not worried about souvenirs, and is a very gracious person.  She is a joy to travel with and I am so proud to call her my daughter.  I really enjoyed the time with Karly.

This fall Karly is off to University of Victoria, BC.  She will take sciences with a minor in Asian studies.  She wants to keep up her Japanese and learn more about the culture and language.  Who knows where that will take her. I am confident it will be positive and unique. For Karly this is a very exciting time of life, it was  wonderful to share two weeks together at this juncture.

So many years ago we non-nonchalantly said “When you girls graduate we will do a journey together, just Dad and Daughter.”   That seems so long ago, but I sure am glad we dreamed about if for all those years and did it.  I learned so much about Karly and a few years ago Catherine.  Where ever life takes us we will always have these memories and I will always have so much more knowledge about my two lovely daughters.

Karly in front of the home that inspired the author of “Anne of Green Gables”


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