Once the development of Columbia began, it wasn’t long before businesses and organizations followed to create a more complete community. One of those organizations was the Rotary Club of Columbia. Founded in November 1967, five months after the town was “born,” it was officially chartered on March 22, 1968, by Rotary International.
The Rotary Club of Columbia (Columbia Rotary) was founded by William “Bill” Jefferson and James “Jim” McDiarmid. Jefferson was a former Lewes, Del., banker and came to Columbia as president of the Columbia Bank. McDiarmid was a former Niagara Falls nuclear manager and moved to Columbia as director of administration for a firm making nuclear buoys for use off Maryland’s coast. Both were Rotarians and, “We agreed that Columbia would benefit from the service ideals of a Rotary Club,” said McDiarmid, still a member of the club, having served as District Governor in 2003–2004. “And we believed Rotary would benefit from a club in Columbia.”
Celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2017–2018 year, the Columbia Rotary club is in full birthday mode. “We just had our 50th golf tournament in September, which was another great success,” said club president (and The Business Monthly Publisher) Becky Mangus. “This is one of our annual fundraisers that allows us to provide funds and support to the local community.”
“Our individual members also will participate in 50 projects during our 50th year,” said Mangus. “That sounds like a lot, but we do almost that every year. We already participate in Rebuilding Together each April. Tom Briscoe, one of our members who passed away a couple of years ago, was one of the founding members of the Howard County chapter of Christmas in April (now Rebuilding Together), and we have participated every year since then. We also help the Howard County Loan Closet, which we helped start in 2005 as a Rotary Centennial project. Our members provide pickup and delivery services for the durable medical supplies when clients can’t get to the Loan Closet on their own.
“Another project we do is purchase and deliver dictionaries to third-graders in Howard County. We are asked, ‘Why books?’ But we have found [that] books still are treasured by the young people. They still love having a book that is their own, that they can put their name in and use whenever they want. Our feedback from teachers, students and parents is that the dictionaries are still worth providing — so we will continue to do so until we find they are no longer of value. We also look forward to working at the Howard County Food Bank and reading to the children in the Head Start Summer Enrichment program as some of our ‘50 in 50’ over the rest of the year.”
Giving Locally and Worldwide
The Rotary Club of Columbia also raises and contributes funds to local charities. More than $1.5 million has been distributed over the past 50 years to nonprofits including Camp Attaway, First Tee of Howard County, Head Start Summer Enrichment Program, Making Change, Bright Minds Foundation, Columbia Festival of the Arts, FIDOS for Freedom, FIRN, Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, HC DrugFree, Howard County General Hospital, Howard County Police Unity Tour, Howard County Special Olympics, Linwood Children’s Center, Success In Style and Voices for Children, just to name a few.
“We try to give funds to organizations that don’t have a large budget, or for specific projects,” said Herb Moltzan, club treasurer. “That way, the amount we contribute can have a greater impact. But we also have a few ongoing programs that we support year-to-year. For 10 years, we have contributed toward a Howard Community College Rouse Scholarship; for 26 years, we provided $6,000 each year for high school scholar/athletes; for the past 12 years we have given to the Howard County Loan Closet; for 26 years, we have contributed to Rebuilding Together; and for the past three years, we have joined with other Howard County Rotaries to support Head Start’s Summer Enrichment Program.”
“What is great about this club,” said Mangus, “is when a member has a passion for something, everyone gets on board to support it. Rotary in general is about giving, but this club is a golden example. Early in our club history, the Linwood Children’s Center was having financial difficulties. Our club was able to contribute enough to keep it going short-term, and it is now a nationally-recognized center for children with autism. One of our members goes to Uganda each year and works with a program to educate women and help them with self-sufficiency. When he first asked for support, we did not have the funds in our budget, but every member raised his or her hand and pledged personal support. The next year, and every year after, we have put funds into our budget to contribute toward the project. This last year, he gave dictionaries to students, and the reception from the students in Uganda was incredible.”
The club also has been instrumental in creating new projects such as Soup’r Sundae that benefits Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. “Several years ago, a few club members invited Jean Moon to breakfast to discuss projects we could do to benefit Grassroots,” said Mangus, “and we came up with the idea of Soup’r Sundae. It still continues to be a very successful program each March. Although we no longer hold the event, we do contribute as a sponsor.”
Two other programs for which the Rotary Club of Columbia is proud of its involvement include working with the Freestate Challenge Academy in Aberdeen, a program that offers at-risk adolescents 16 to 18 years old an opportunity to change their future. “One of our members, a military veteran, was active with this program and suggested we participate when we could,” said club member John Startt. “As a result, we have worked with Freestate, that has participated in Rebuilding Together; we have sponsored Freestate students to participate in the Rotary District 4-Way Test Contest, and we have sent four students each year to the District’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards weekend program.”
“As important as our projects and giving to the community are, for our members, fellowship and programming are key elements, as well, to a healthy club,” said Mangus. “In my opinion, we have the most interesting speakers, certainly very diverse programming, and our club is never short of asking questions or having opinions. Our meetings always provide an interesting and thought provoking evening.”
Just in the past three months, some of the speakers have included Dr. Hank Boyd, assistant dean of the University of Maryland School of Business; Del. Vanessa Atterbeary; Howard County Interim School Superintendent Dr. Mike Martirano; Howard Community College President Dr. Kate Hetherington; and Rabbi Susan Grossman, among others. Each year, a representative from NASA speaks, with Dr. Herb Frey having presented “Pluto to the Eco-System” in March.
The club also has quarterly potluck meals at members’ homes and invites family members to join in. “As with any group that you take the time to know, people you may not have thought would be friends are. What a great way to go outside of your normal box, plus do a lot of good things in the community and worldwide,” said Mangus.
“I am proud of the club participating in the Rotary Foundation,” said McDiarmid, “much of which goes to help the needy worldwide. The Foundation is rated No. 1 among all charitable foundations worldwide. Along with the Foundation, [the club participates] in the polio eradication program. There used to be hundreds of thousands of people with polio, many in iron lungs or crippling agony. Today, there are less than 12 — that’s 12 people — worldwide. I also am proud that our membership has fun, lots of laughs, along with very sharp meeting participation, and we have full participation in our many Howard County service projects.”
“For a number of years, we have contributed money to a girl’s school in Sierra Leone for school supplies,” said Mangus. “This was a project founded by one of our young members. This last year, with the Ebola outbreak, nine of the girls could not go home — they live at school — as they were from the region that was hardest hit. We gave money to help keep the girls at school during the summer. Four of the girls were left orphaned, and our club has since ‘adopted’ one young girl to help keep her in high school instead of the alternative of getting married at the age of 14. Given that, how can you not feel that you have made a difference?”
“Our club is composed of people that are highly respected in Columbia for their achievements and accomplishments, “ said President-Elect Dave Parris. “But I am most proud of their universal commitment in giving back to the community and beyond through our Rotary Club’s local and international service projects —as well as being some of the nicest people that I have had the privilege to know.”
Member and long-time Howard County participant and activist Vernon Gray said, “I enjoy Rotary because of community and the networking it affords. Furthermore, at meetings, it provides special opportunities to listen to engaging and interesting speakers and discuss issues of high relevance.”
The Rotary Club of Columbia is planning a picnic anniversary celebration in the spring, inviting past members and those who have been involved in Rotary and the club. “It will be a kick-off for the next 50 years,” said Mangus.