Finding Unexpected Inspiration in Rochester
Observations from a weekend at NCPETS 2018
Woodrow "Wooj" Byun speaking to NCPETS on Saturday, March 10, 2018.
I must admit that the idea of spending several nights away from the comforts of home, family and friends in Rochester in early March was not all that appealing.  While I was interested in meeting other Rotarians in preparation for my upcoming term as club president, there was much apprehension in my mind.  In my 3 years serving alongside many of you in Coon Rapids Rotary, I have heard mixed stories about the experience; from refreshing and inspiring to overwhelming and confusing.  I had a certain unease that could best be described as skeptical optimism.  Perhaps you know the feeling?
For much of the time, the sessions played out with a certain predictability: a packed schedule, an abundance of ideas, positive energy, a lot of new faces, a few familiar ones, but mostly a sense of anxiety about what I was getting myself into for the upcoming Rotary year.  I wasn't sure I could take on this role and be effective, much less offer anything remotely inspirational.  Then came Saturday morning and the general assembly speech.  A time for unexpected inspiration.
Still somewhat fatigued by the last 36 hours and ready to come home, I sat alongside my Rotarian friends from the Anoka and Blaine/Ham Lake clubs.  It was great sharing time and stories with them; building bonds for the future.  At about 7:45 AM our speaker and fellow Rotarian Woodrow "Wooj" Byun approached the lectern and gave what became the highlight moment for me of the entire weekend.  For the next 30 minutes, he offered heart-warming and humorous tales built around the theme "The Best Year of our Lives" - drawing parallels from various lessons he learned as a club president.  He was confident that our year as club president would among the best of our lives.
Wooj Byun came to America from Korea in 1990 to study law through a Rotary International Scholarship.  The program was setup at the end of World War II in an effort to build international peace through education.  He stayed, married a woman from Iowa (he acknowledged the challenges) and raised a family.  He currently practices law in the Twin Cities.  In the early 2000's, he approached the local Rotary club in his adopted hometown of Edina (Thursday, 12:15), seeking to literally pay back the $23,000 scholarship he had received.  The club suggested he join Rotary instead and pay back whatever he felt it was worth in service to others.  He told many impactful stories about what he and others in Rotary have done.  In the years that followed, Wooj became club president and more recently a Rotary International Ambassador and author of a book entitled "My Rotary Journey".  The net proceeds of his book are going to the Rotary International Scholarship Fund.  For more information on Wooj Byun, check out this YouTube link:  I got a chance to meet him and buy his book.
I walked away from the moment and the weekend with most of my anxiety washed away - replaced with a sense of calm and excitement.  There is much great work for all of us to do in Rotary, both locally and abroad.  There will be opportunities to re-think some of things we do and how we do them.  There will be successes and failures, but I'm confident there will be progress.  We will need to thoughtfully grow our club, so that it reflects the people and needs of the community and beyond.  If you're drifting away from Rotary, I want to pull you back.  Your involvement will be the key to everything we do.  I'm going to need your help in so many countless ways. 
I don't have a complete 'vision' for the coming year, but I hope that it is built around having fun, re-charging our Rotary batteries, re-engaging in our purpose and serving and inspiring each other and those around us.  It is why we're here and it's the essence of our collective Rotary journey.  I'll talk more in the months ahead, but wanted to share what I learned at NCPETS 2018.  I look forward to the year ahead and hope you do too!
Grant Fernelius
Coon Rapids Rotary
President-Elect (2017-2018)