Macon Rotary Club celebrates 100th year by raising money for Vietnamese amputees

pramati@macon.comMarch 4, 2014 

  • Albert Reichert with the Rotary Club of Macon talks about the importance of the distribution of dictionaries to fifth grade students in Bibb County.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Rotary Club of Macon wants to help people walk.

Specifically, said club President Don Cornett, the organization is asking its members to each donate $150 to cover the cost of making the artificial legs for Mercer University’s Mercer on Mission program, which has created about 1,000 low-cost, fully functional legs for amputees in Vietnam.

Cornett said his club’s goal is to raise enough funds for 500 legs. A local businessman told Cornett he will match whatever the club raises.

“We adopted a special birthday project, which is to work with Mercer on Mission,” Cornett said. “Rotary’s motto is ‘Service above self.’ ... The best birthday present we can give ourselves is to do something with someone else. It’s our signature project for our 100th birthday.”

Cornett said the response was enthusiastic when the idea was pitched to Ha Van Vo and Craig McMahan, who run the Mercer on Mission program for Vietnam.

“It’s a new partnership for future work,” said Vo, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Mercer. “We’ve given 1,000 of these legs over the last five years, and we’ll be provided 500 (by Rotary).”

Currently only a part of Vietnam is served by clinics with access to the legs, Vo said. He wants the program to expand across the entire country and eventually throughout southeast Asia. He said artificial legs also were given to victims of the Haitian earthquake that devastated the country in 2010.

Cornett said it’s just one service project tackled by the local Rotary Club. Over the past couple of weeks, the club also continued its longstanding project of giving every fifth-grader in Bibb County his or her own dictionary. Members of the club were at L.H. Williams Elementary School on Tuesday to hand out dictionaries to students there.

“We’re engaged in servicing the needs of the community,” said Albert Reichert, a member for 48 years. “We let the community say what is needed, and they let us fill their needs.”

As students collected their dictionaries, Reichert -- the brother of Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert -- told them how Rotary International has helped combat and virtually eliminate polio across the world.

“You probably don’t know what polio is, because it’s been eliminated in this country,” he said. “But when I was your age growing up, it was crippling people. We’ve almost eliminated it around the world.”

The Rotary Club of Macon is among the oldest Rotary clubs in the U.S. and one of three in the city. The first Rotary Club started in Chicago in 1905, and the National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed in 1910. The first non-American Rotary Club was created in Dublin, Ireland, in 1911.

The Rotary Club of Macon received its charter in 1914 after its first president, John W. Hancock, general manager of the Atlantic Ice and Coal Corp., began contacting other business leaders in Macon the previous year to see if there was interest in forming the club.

Other officers in the initial year were vice president W.T. Anderson, president and editor of The Telegraph; secretary W.G. Billings, of the Georgia Life Insurance Co.; and treasurer J. Freeman Hart Sr., of the firm Jesse B. Hart. The first meeting was held in downtown’s Dempsey Hotel.

The club now meets at First Presbyterian Church on the corner of First and Mulberry streets.

Cornett said that while each of the club’s members is being asked to donate $150 for the artificial legs, some have donated more while others have sought out donations from other members of the community.

In addition, the club is holding its 100th anniversary celebration Friday with a picnic at Macon City Auditorium from 6-11 p.m. Members of the public can purchase tickets for the event at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia’s website, Proceeds from the event will benefit the prosthetic legs project.

“People in the community are really getting into it,” he said. “It’s a really great project.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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