West Orange Rotary poised to celebrate 90th birthday

Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Hadley-Bailey
Karien Ziegler, left, who died during the summer, is seen in front of a local supermarket collecting funds for Rotary Club of West Orange scholarships.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Rotary Club of West Orange will be celebrating its 90th birthday Oct. 20, when the club hosts a fundraiser at Mayfair Farms in support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which works to rid the world of polio cases. Rotary International President Barry Rassin will deliver the keynote speech at the event, traveling to New Jersey from the Rotary Club of East Nassau, Bahamas.

“The anniversary was at the end of June, and we wanted to do something to commemorate it,” Michael Karu, West Orange Rotary’s Foundation chairman, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Sept. 20. “Karien Ziegler arranged for the Rotary International president to be our keynote speaker. To try to get a sitting president is incredibly difficult, since he’s from the Bahamas and his time in the United States is limited.”

Ziegler, who was an active member of the West Orange Rotary Club and did much of the event planning, invited Rassin to speak in West Orange. She died during the summer, and Karu said the event is now a celebration of the club and Ziegler, in addition to being a fundraiser.

“She was a very active member and high up in Rotary International,” Karu said. “She passed away a couple months ago and this is a great way to remember her.”

Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, Rotary International has contributed $1.8 billion to research and care, and West Orange Rotary Club has contributed to that fundraising effort over the years. Even though polio cases have drastically dropped, Karu said there are still parts of the world affected by the disease.

“In 2018, there are only three places” that still have polio, Karu said; they are Iran, Pakistan and Nigeria. “But you can’t do anything of this scope alone so we’ve worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNESCO, and Bill Gates said he would match $100 million. So that’s been a great help.”

While raising money for polio research, West Orange Rotarians will be commemorating the 90 years they have been doing good in the community and in the world. Karu, who has been involved since 1996, said West Orange Rotary does all it can to help people locally.

“We do what we can do in the township,” he said. “We give college scholarships, dictionaries to third-grade students, grants to Main Street and the Turtle Back Zoo. Almost everywhere you look we help. People know us and they trust us. We like to consider ourselves the primary service club.”

In 90 years there have been 91 presidents of West Orange Rotary Club, and sitting at the head of the table now is Cynthia Hadley-Bailey. Only the sixth woman president in the club’s history, she has been happy to see how Rotary has changed over the years and during the nine years she has been involved.

“Rotary has been around since the 1920s but it’s changed a lot. They didn’t allow women and people of color, and now they do,” Hadley-Bailey, a woman of color herself, said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Sept. 25. “It’s changing as the world is changing and definitely changing for the better.”

She has enacted some of her own changes to the club in the few months she has been president, trying to hold extra meetings at night rather than the traditional afternoons so that more members are able to attend.

“It’s been fun. The people are all great and open to new ideas and adding new things,” Hadley-Bailey said. “And I’m only the sixth woman, so I absolutely want to build on that and keep it going.”

“There’s almost no end to the things that we can do,” Karu said. “A lot are things that people take for granted here; we’re one of the best kept secrets in the world.”

For tickets for the cocktail reception and dinner on Oct. 20, visit www.njrotary.org or call 973-992-9400, ext. 321.