Members of the Lions, Optimist and Rotary Clubs recently got together in the Evangelical Lutheran Church kitchen to bake lefse. “It’s about making life better for people,” says Bob Faliveno, right. Photo contributed.
Service clubs are lifeblood of the community...
...but after pandemic caused numbers to drop, local humanitarian groups need new members
Local humanitarian groups are one of the bedrocks upon which small communities are built. Throughout its history, Mount Horeb’s many successes – its varied stories of compassion and collaboration - have often been the direct result of local service clubs, primarily Lions, Optimists and Rotary.
They stock food pantry shelves, teach women self-defense, help screen for and treat health problems, support local students and much, much more. If there is a philanthropic endeavor taking place in the Troll Capital of the World, there is a good chance one of these service clubs has something to do with it.
But while all three have long histories in Mount Horeb, they are currently struggling to keep membership up after two-years of COVID-related disruption to in-person meetings and charitable work. With less members, the groups aren’t doing less for the community. In fact, some are even doing more. But they are doing more with less, and many longtime members are hoping young citizens will step up and join them in their efforts to help the most vulnerable.
The International Association of Lions Clubs is a non-political group founded in 1916 in Chicago, Illinois, by Melvin Jones. As of January 2020, it had more than 46,000 local clubs and more than 1.4 million members, including the youth wing Leo, in more than 200 countries around the world. There has been a Lions Club in Mount Horeb since 1957.
Rotary International is a non-political humanitarian service organization that brings together business and professional leaders “in order to provide community service, promote integrity, and advance goodwill, peace, and understanding in the world.” There are over 46,000 member clubs worldwide, with a membership of 1.4 million individuals. The first Rotary Club was founded by attorney Paul P. Harris in Chicago in 1905. The Mount Horeb Rotary Club was founded in August of 1939.
Optimist International is a service club organization with nearly 3,000 clubs and more than 80,000 members in more than 20 countries. The international headquarters is in St. Louis, Missouri. Optimist International is also the sponsor of Junior Optimist International, designed for elementary school through high school aged youth. Optimist International’s mottos are “Friend of Youth” and “Bringing Out the Best in Youth, in our Communities, and in Ourselves.” The first official Optimist Club was formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1911. Mount Horeb’s Optimist Club was founded in 1995.
Karen Tetzlaff has been a member of the Mount Horeb Optimist Club for six years. When asked what they do for the community, she replied: “We give back to the kids!”
“It’s so wonderful to be able to provide for the kids of our community,” Tetzlaff said. “We put on events such as Easter Egg Hunt, Self Defense Class, Prairie Fire Theatre, Cops and Bobbers. We give out scholarships each year. We nominate kids that do good around our community for the Someone You Should Know Award. We donate to many organizations or clubs that help with the kids.”
“I chose this club because it’s lots of fun, and I wanted to be able to give back to our community with something that involved kids,” she continued.
The Optimist Club’s biggest fundraiser is the Silent Auction on Super Bowl Sunday, as well as the Rotary Breakfast. They host a raffle as well.
Local service clubs rely heavily on donations and fundraisers to support their work.
“We volunteer for the Frolic and we are one of the organizations that benefit from it,” Tetzlaff explained. “We have been doing a Culver’s share day, which is wonderful to take part in, we have a golf event, and lastly, we were part of the Focus on Energy program and so we benefitted from that. We also try and apply for grants when they are available.”
“We would love to have some new ideas and see some new faces,” she said. “We truly are a fun organization, and we only meet once a month for one hour.”
Ellen Walton has been a member of the Mount Horeb Optimist Club for 14 years. She was convinced to join by a friend named Charlie Goins, and she’s glad she’s been able to help local youth over the years.
Optimists raise money for their charitable efforts through an annual silent auction every year, which is held in conjunction with the Rotary Super Bowl Brunch, as well as working at the Mount Horeb Summer Frolic.
Despite its presence in the community, the service club saw its numbers decrease due to the pandemic.
“Our membership has dropped dramatically over the past three years,” explained Walton. “We had approximately 40 members before COVID with at least 12 to 16 members attending our monthly meetings. After COVID we usually only have about five-to-seven at each meeting.”
Walton said she knows other local humanitarian organizations are facing the same problem. She said people in Mount Horeb should consider joining so they can all work together for the betterment of the entire community.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community, meet people and be part of a group that focuses on the youth of the community,” said Walton.
Susan Wallitsch has been a Mount Horeb Rotary Club member for about five years. Her grandfather was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Rockford, Michigan, so the tradition runs in her family.
When she attended her first local meeting, she said she met “remarkably interesting, generous, engaged and warm people” there.
“I was drawn in by the commitment to service, both locally and internationally, and by the friendship and support the members offer to one another,” she continued. “Rotary has a reputation of being a hard-working club, and this is true. We are able to raise and give away quite a bit of money with a relatively small membership. We work closely together and form strong bonds which allows us to accomplish so much. The contributions of every member are important and appreciated.”
In collaboration and service, close bonds are forged.
“We are a group of friends who have a lot of fun together, set goals and work to make our world a little bit better,” Wallitsch said. “We celebrate our successes and support one another in times of sadness. We welcome people from all backgrounds - you don’t need to own a business, be a professional or even employed - who want to engage their time, energy and friendship for impactful action in our community and beyond.”
She said the Mount Horeb Rotary Club “exists to support both our local community and to be an ambassador for peace, fellowship and service in our larger international community.”
The club’s mission statement is: “We provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional and community leaders.” Their motto is “Service above self.”
“The practical side of these statements is that we engage in local service projects and giving and also in international projects,” Wallitsch explained.
“Locally, we are involved in supporting and encouraging youth through our Rotary Interact Club at the high school with over 55 members. We sponsor students to attend the World Affairs Seminar, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (an intensive leadership training), we host international students and sponsor our local students to have experiences living abroad, we host two student Rotarians at our weekly meetings each month during the school year and we provide scholarships for students with outstanding leadership and service potential to pursue education beyond high school,” she continued.
Rotary also provides grants to clubs and school groups in the village. The club has a yearly grant cycle with many local organizations receiving funds. Recipients include: the community garden, the volunteer ambulance fund, the Chamber Welcome Center, Community Clothes Closet, Mt. Horeb Farmers Market, the MARC Center, Summer Frolic, Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society, Public Library, Mt. Horeb Area Arts Association, Giving Tree, Mt. Horeb Remembrance Project and many more.
“For larger projects, we are able to partner with our Rotary District 6250 for matching funds for grant money,” Wallitsch said. “Some of these larger projects include furnishing a community Kitchen at Prairie Haus (affordable housing for disabled adults and workforce housing), a cooler and service van for Neighbors Helping Neighbors and a special pier for people with mobility challenges at Stewart Park. Our local club partners with Rotary International to multiply the amount of our local grants for international projects including partnering with Libraries Without Borders to create hurricane-proof community centers in Puerto Rico, provide hundreds of cataract surgeries in India, supporting a medical clinic in the Amazon and providing shelter and food when natural disasters strike.”
As with any service club, no tax dollars are used to fund the organization’s work. Fundraisers play a vital role in keeping their humanitarian efforts going.
Because Rotary’s efforts revolve so heavily on in-person gatherings and work, they struggled during COVID-19.
“We are a social group and so many of our activities are in person, including all of our fundraisers,” said Wallitsch. “The biggest challenge of the last two plus years is that we were not able to meet in person for so long and missed our weekly meetings.”
The damage was quantifiable: During that time the Mount Horeb Rotary Club lost a third of its membership.
“We were also unable to conduct our traditional fundraisers and had to significantly reduce our giving,” she said. “This was a painful time for our club. But it also allowed our club to focus on important questions such as: What are the fundamental purposes of our club? How do we recover from these challenges and what should our club look like moving forward? So, we engaged in a serious refresh of our Bylaws and Handbook to reflect our club priorities. We are in the midst of a club renaissance to allow us to say ‘Yes’ to more community needs and have the capacity to share generously and change lives; some of the lives we change are our own - we have the ability to do more than we ever imagined. We are working to upgrade our hybrid meeting experience to allow participation for those who cannot attend in person and to host quality presenters from outside our area. We are evaluating expanding our meetings to include breakfast or evening meetings to accommodate those not available at lunch time.”
“Although we lost cherished club members, we have also gained members who bring new energy and ideas with them,” she explained. “The pain we experienced is transforming into creativity, purpose and joy. Mount Horeb is a community full of caring people and Rotary is an opportunity to connect caring with meaningful action.”
Wallitsch offered a blunt assessment of just how important human interaction is for many in the community.
“For so many of us, the COVID years were intensely lonely,” she said. “Mount Horeb Rotary Club is a place to make true friends. My autistic son is a member of our club and expresses the importance of being ‘among people.’ He communicates by spelling on a board and writes ‘Love keeps me going.’ This is a place where we find loving friendship and community. As a club, we are far from perfect, and sometimes a bit odd, but our concern for one another and our community are genuine and are expressed through our actions.”
“Too often we see all of the sadness, injustice and poverty in our world and feel helpless,” Wallitsch concluded. “Rotary is a place where we don’t feel helpless. We feel empowered that as humans we can do better. We welcome the ideas, passions, contributions of time and commitment of all who want to leave our community and world a little better than they found it. It is what we are here for.”
There has been a Lions Club in Mount Horeb since 1957. Bob Faliveno has been a member of the local group since 1977 and recently received a commemorative pin for his 35 years of service.
“I was relatively new to town,” he recalls. “I just became a part of it by talking to friends. I got to talking to people about the Lions and what they could do for the community, and I knew it was important to give back.”
Faliveno eventually became district governor, and his involvement took him on the road, where he got to see other clubs in action in their communities.
“There is a tremendous amount of activity at the international level,” he explained.
Lions Club works to serve communities in a variety of ways, focusing particularly on vision, diabetes, hunger, the environment and childhood cancer.
“It was Hellen Keller who challenged us to be knights for the blind, and we have been doing good things for vision ever since,” Faliveno explained.
Lions members conduct vision screenings for both adults and children, as well as working to combat diabetes. They have planted “millions and millions of trees,” said Faliveno, and they regularly collect and recycle plastic bags and film to keep them out of landfills.
It’s a lot of work. Currently, it’s being done by a very small group of people.
“We’re down to 14 members, which is really low,” Faliveno said. “We used to have 42. It’s a lot of work. A lot of work. We get about seven people at a meeting.”
“It’s really, really hard to get young people,” he said. “We’ve got to just keep trying, one day at a time.”
As numbers have dwindled, Mount Horeb’s three primary humanitarian groups have begun working together more often. Most recently, they all gathered in the kitchen at Evangelical Lutheran Church to make lefse together for a Lions fundraiser.
Faliveno said it is service events, rather than meetings, which have the potential to attract new people.
“If you invite someone to a meeting, they might not get too excited,” he said. “But if you invite them to a service project where they get to help people, you are more likely to get a new member.”
Faliveno has a message for the next generation of Mount Horeb residents.
“If you are in your 20s or 30s, now is the time to start thinking about giving back,” he said. “Giving just works, and it makes you feel good. There are tangible results, and with Lions you get to see those results.”
They work something that has the hue of a miracle, rushing corneas to the hospital for transplants, helping the blind see.
“The feeling you get when you are driving with a set of new eyes on the passenger seat next to you, with something that is going to change someone’s life, is an unbelievable sense of satisfaction,” Faliveno observed. “The satisfaction of knowing you are helping someone else live a better life, it takes the focus off of you, and that’s what Lions is all about.”
Faliveno believes that if people can glimpse the work Lions members in Mount Horeb and in the world, they will want to be a part of it.
“It’s about making life better for people who can’t afford this stuff,” he explained. “And it’s not just Mount Horeb. The need is global.”
“We do stuff,” he concluded simply. “That’s why we need young blood, to keep things going.”
How to find out more...
Cynthia Jefko was one of the Mount Horeb Optimist Club’s charter members in 1995. When asked why she has been part of the group all these years, she had a simple answer.
“It makes me feel good to help people,” she replied.
If anyone else wants to help people, and feel good in the process, they can reach out to any of these three service clubs.
More information on the Mount Horeb Rotary Club can be found on their website www.mthorebrotary.com and on Rotary International can be found at www rotary.org. Their meetings are held most Wednesdays at noon at Skal Restaurant in the room at the back. Everyone is welcome to drop by and see what Mount Horeb Rotary Club is all about.
If people are interested in learning more about the local Optimist Club they can reach out to club president, Curt Garity at email@example.com.
Those who wish to learn more about local Lions can just contact Faliveno at 608-444-5192 or firstname.lastname@example.org.