Every year, Rotary members strap on their leather belts, cowboy hats and boots to benefit the Portage community.
It is not a chore.
“We’ve done this for eight years and I haven’t missed one yet,” Portage Rotary member Josh Vehring said of the club’s Western-themed “Draw-down Hoedown,” which gets underway at 5:30 p.m. Friday at The NorthShore restaurant.
“Rotary does a lot for the community, but we have fun too,” Vehring said. “If you’ve ever been to one of our meetings, you’d know we have a lot of fun.”
Rotary will distribute $3,100 in total prizes during the fundraiser. Tickets to the hoedown cost $100 and table sponsorship costs $500, helping the service club to later distribute $10,000 in college scholarships for Portage High School graduates, as well as funding other services and projects carried out each year.
People interested in buying tickets – which get participants a lottery ball, dinner and drinks – should contact Vehring at 608-742-5408.
“The value of this event is the exposure we get within the community,” Rotary member George Beasely said. “People find out what we do.”
Rotary currently has about 35 members and has existed in Portage for approximately 70 years, President Rich Jacobson said. It started the scholarship program in the 1970s and has since donated more than $300,000 to Portage students, he estimated.
Rotary regularly aids community projects and was instrumental in getting the Splash Pad built in Goodyear Park in 2013. More recently it contributed money to the Portage Community School District’s snack program for hungry students and pledged $10,000 to the Portage Service Club Association’s pavilion project for Pauquette Park.
Rotary also orchestrates an exchange program that enrolls a foreign student at Portage High School every other year. This year’s student – Lion Veit – arrived from Germany, while past students came to Portage from places like Mexico and Indonesia.
“When I talk to people about Rotary, I always explain the exchange program because it has such a big influence on the community and school,” Vehring said. “I know people who hosted 10 or more years ago but still fly to Europe for weddings or just to visit. They stay in touch, and social media makes that so much easier these days.
Vehring said he could provide an update on each exchange student the program has hosted since he joined the group. He said when an earthquake hit Indonesia recently, the first thing he did was check on the safety of a past Rotary exchange student.
“It makes the world smaller,” he said.
Rotary’s worldwide mission is seeing the eradication of polio, and the organization also digs wells for drinking water, members said.
“Rotary has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to wipe out polio internationally,” Jacobson said. “We’re now down to three countries left with only a few cases and that’s accomplished in part through Rotary contributions.”
Portage Rotary always is looking for new members, Jacobson said, and those interested in joining should attend the meetings held at noon every Monday at Dino’s Restaurant in Portage.
“We’re busy; we’re welcoming,” Jacobson said of the group he joined 28 years ago. “Anybody can join and we have people from all walks of life.”