History of the River Falls Rotary

River Falls Rotary Club History

In the fall of 1998, the Hudson Daybreak Club and PDGs Bob Hayes and Roland Wilsey began to hold a series of informational meetings in River Falls to inform local citizens about the benefits of Rotary.  A group of people began meeting weekly, first at noon on Thursdays at Coaches, a local restaurant.  A few people in that early group had been members of Rotary elsewhere, but a large number were unfamiliar with the organization.  That November a group of officers, headed by Tom Bloom as president, began to lead the new club.  Our first public service project, while we were still in the process of getting organized, was to “adopt” two local families to provide them with needed Christmas presents, as a part of a Sharing Families program in the community.  One of the primary methods of communication for our new organization involved the extensive and almost exclusive use of email.  All of the notices were provided electronically—placing us among some of the first clubs in this area to use email with all of our members.
In January, 1999, the club began meeting on Tuesday mornings at 7 AM.  For several months we met in a board room at the River Falls Hospital.  As we began to outgrow that space, we moved to Ezekiel Lutheran Church on 2nd Street—our current meeting place.  Breakfasts were originally provided by the Habitat for Humanity Servant Group in the church, so all proceeds from our meals also helped to provide service.  The Youth Group at Ezekiel now prepares our breakfasts with the same understanding.
On March 21, 1999 the Charter Banquet for the club was held at Rodli Dining Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, presided by District Governor Will Sallesses.  Thirty people were initiated as Charter Members.  Tom Bloom continued in his position as President through the next year, providing essential leadership for the new club from November, 1998 through June, 2000. 
In the spring of 1999, the local high school asked us to sponsor their annual Honors Event, in which each of the graduating honors students recognize a specific teacher who has been influential in their development.  The funding for that event had been cut from the school district budget, and the club stepped in to keep it going. 
In November of 1999, we held our first annual fundraising banquet in Rodli Commons at the University.  These have become annual events where Rotarians and others from the community gather for fellowship and celebration.  At the banquet the club annually recognizes a non-Rotarian in our community who has exemplified our motto “Service Above Self.”
In addition to our annual banquet, we host a golf outing and other social events and take part in community events like providing a food booth for River Falls Days—an annual community celebration in mid July—and selling Rotary Kettle Korn at other community gatherings. 
The River Falls Rotary Club’s weekly meetings are lively gatherings that begin with devotions and the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a recitation of the Four Way Test and the collection of “Happy Bucks” to mark events of celebration and to honor the work of others. 
The Club’s Centennial Project involved the spearheading of a major community effort to rejuvenate Veterans’ Park, a small park in the middle of our downtown that serves as a passage from Main Street to the Kinnickinnic River.
Among the many accomplishments of the club to date:
  • Brought a group of business and professional people together to enjoy camaraderie and work together for the betterment of our community and world
  • Assisted in the beginning of a new Rotary club in Ellsworth; 2002
Community contributions
  • We have been early leaders in the idea of developing a local Recreation center that has culminated in the development of a River Falls YMCA personal involvement by many of our members and regular club donations toward the development of the River Falls YMCA.
  • Annually present an award to recognize the River Falls Volunteer of the Year—a presentation made at our annual banquet to recognize a non-Rotarian who best exemplifies the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.”
  • Assisted in the planning for the St. Croix Valley Marathon that premiered in Sept. 2003, combining the efforts of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce, the Hudson Rotary Club, the Hudson Daybreak Club, the Hudson YMCA, the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, the River Falls Rotary Club, and the River Falls YMCA.
  • Brought the Carson’s Barnes Circus to River Falls-Hudson in 1999 and again in 2001, providing family entertainment and raising funds for local causes.
  • Adopted a highway clean up section on Highway #35 north of River Falls that we clean twice annually.
  • Participate in the Caring Families program for the Christmas holidays buying personal gifts and meeting needs for three or four families every year.
  • Support Habitat for Humanity through Ezekial Lutheran Church—our breakfasts are provided by the Servant group at Ezekiel and all proceeds are devoted to the Habitat program.
  • For the past two years we have held a spaghetti dinner for the Relay for Life, donating all proceeds to the American Cancer Society.
Support numerous local projects and needs, including:
  • Local arts programming.
  • The local Food Shelf.
  • First Responders, providing field kits for rescue volunteers.
  • The Sexual Assault Response Team, buying a camera and providing other support necessary for their work with assault victims.
  • Car Seat Safety Program.
  • We are placing Rotary benches in several public places in the community.
High school and Youth Programs:
  • Sponsor the annual River Falls High School Honors event where high school honors students recognize the teachers who have been influential in their development.
  • Conduct an annual Rotary Literacy program which has members volunteer time weekly to read with elementary students at Westside Elementary School.
  • Provide two (2) $1000 college scholarship to River Falls High school students each year (preference to non-Rotarians.)
  • Sponsor 2 students each year to attend the RYLA conference on leadership.
  • Sponsor 2 high school students each year to attend weekend conference at Camp Enterprise business leadership.
  • Contributed recreation funds to each of the four elementary schools in the city (We received Volunteer of the Year from the School District for this work.)
  • These funds were used to build a climbing wall in Greenwood School and picnic furniture for Rocky Branch School.
  • Supported an international internet program in the local schools.
  • Created a Career “Shadowing Day” for local students to follow Rotarians at work.
  • Support the local Boy scouts annually.
  • Supported a minority student at the University who had special needs and various other special educational projects.
International efforts: Bringing the world to River Falls
  • Sponsored local teachers to conduct an educational exchange program in Tibet and Nepal.
  • Sponsored a high school student from the Philippines for one year exchange in the River Fall High school for the 199-2000 school year — the first of many Rotary Exchange students.
  • Hosted Hannah Mhlongo for one year, a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar from Durban, South Africa to study at UW-River Falls.
  • Participated regularly with the Group Study Exchange (GSE) Program bringing a team from another part of the world to meet and interact with people from their professions in the community.
  • In 2004, we sponsored a faculty member from the University to participate in the Central America outbound GSE team.
We have contributed to the following projects:
  • Donated for disaster relief for Siren tornado & the 2000 for the earthquake in India.
  • Raised $8000 to build four Hurricane proof homes in Fiji.
  • Contributed to the support of a local school, training for local weavers and other community needs in a small village in Peru.
  • Coordinating an international effort to build a bath house in Port au Prince, Haiti.
  • Participation annually in the district Fast For Hope campaign and the International Polio Plus project.
In its relatively brief history, the River Falls Rotary club has become an active and vital part of the city of River Falls, participating in events of the Chamber of Commerce and contributing significantly to building a better community and world.
Respectfully submitted by Gorden Hedahl