A Publication of WTVP

Peoria Rotarians give of themselves to better the community in which they live and work.

Thousands of Rotary International clubs have been formed throughout the world—33,000 to be exact—which have more than 1.2 million members, or Rotarians, collectively. According to the organization’s website,, these Rotarians are average citizens who volunteer to “work locally, regionally and internationally to combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, provide education and job training, promote peace, and eradicate polio under the motto, ‘Service Above Self.’”

Peoria joined the organization in 1913, just eight years after the first Rotary Club was formed in Chicago. The world’s first service club, Rotary was founded by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who sensed the need for a way to bring together businesspeople from all walks of life on a regular basis for professional and social collaboration. As the group grew, its members began to pool their resources to help local communities in need. Before long, Rotary clubs were popping up throughout the United States and abroad as the “service above self” ideal spread.

The Rotary Club of Peoria was the 76th Rotary Club formed and has been dedicated to serving the local community in various capacities since its inception. Over the years, an array of services and fundraisers have been added to the club’s long list of opportunities to make a difference in the River City and the lives of those who live and work in it. For example, Ladies’ Night was added in 1915, the Scholarship Fund in 1945, the Sterling Merit Awards Banquet in 1965, an expanded Reading A-Loud program in 1997, and the Rotary Club of Peoria Endowment Fund in 1999. New programs and service opportunities are added each year as the club continually reevaluates the needs of its members and the community.

Generations of Rotarians
Dedication to service above self isn’t the only thing that has remained constant for the Rotary Club of Peoria; the participation of some families has also become tradition. One of the club’s most notable members, Rebekah Bourland, is the third generation of Rotarians in her family. Win Stoller, a past-president and member of the club for 10 years, is a second-generation Rotarian, whose father was president of the Peoria North Rotary Club.

Stoller noted that such family ties are common among Rotarians. There are numerous families in which husbands and wives are both involved in the organization. And, although many of the Club’s members are retirees, Stoller has begun to see a great deal of younger professionals join the organization.

Giving Back
True to their motto, each year the members of the Rotary Club of Peoria put acts of service above themselves, taking part in projects throughout the city, expecting nothing in return. Some Rotarians’ parents taught them the importance of serving others early on; others came to this realization through their own life experiences in which they were on the receiving end. Regardless of why they do it, it’s the acts of service that are important.

Albert Blumenthal and his family were survivors of the Holocaust who relocated to the Peoria area. Blumenthal worked his way through high school, but upon graduation, although he was eager to attend college, he could not afford tuition. A scholarship offered through the Rotary Club enabled him to further his education and led to a very successful career. Several years ago, realizing that this could not have happened without the generosity of Rotary, Blumenthal got back in touch with the organization. Feeling indebted, he wanted to give back to the community that had helped him when he was in need. His donation was awarded as scholarship money to a handful of graduating seniors from Peoria Central High School.

The Rotary Club of Peoria-North is another option for those Peorians looking to become Rotarians. Peoria-North’s members have committed to bell-ringing for the Salvation Army and contributing to a local holiday toy drive. Over 70 of its members are working on literacy with third graders at Kingman Elementary School, as well as reading to 39 classrooms in the Peoria public schools. For more information on the Rotary Club of Peoria-North, visit

“The first couple of students we got were just so inspiring,” exclaimed Stoller, “because they were, like [Blumenthal], working their way through school [and] doing great in school. And these are the kinds of kids you just say, you know, they’ve got to get to college somehow.” During a banquet ceremony, each student went before the crowd and said a few words. According to Stoller, “If you didn’t bring your Kleenex, you were in trouble. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place when we presented them.”

Blumenthal was equally moved. After watching a videotape of the presentation, he decided to continue helping local high school graduates. Each year, he donates a significant amount of money to the Rotary Club of Peoria to be given out in the form of
college scholarships.

Service to the Community
Although most people know of the Rotary Club of Peoria, few realize how far-reaching its services to the community are. Even in a climate in which many nonprofits face dwindling resources and increased demands, Stoller said he is not worried about a decline in donations or labor from his group’s members. Rotary is not experiencing these fluctuations, because “our club has been a stable force for awhile.”

Many of its service projects are annual events, such as Christmas in April, when Rotarians work together to rehabilitate the house of an elderly, disabled or disadvantaged community member. The annual Sterling Medal Banquet honors the top eight percent of high school students in the Peoria area each year, and is presented in conjunction with other Rotary groups in Peoria and East Peoria.

While some fixed programs take place on an annual basis, the Rotary Club of Peoria also spends many service hours working on one-time projects throughout the year. The group’s Community Service Committee is in charge of allocating funds to various organizations, some of whom appeal to Rotary for assistance. For example, each year, the Club fulfills local neighborhoods’ requests for services and equipment needed to improve their areas.

Many acts of service are performed not by the Club itself, but by its individual members. As Rotarian Norma Rossi pointed out, because these people are humble by nature, it’s common for their individual acts to go unnoticed. In an effort to recognize all that Rotarians do for the community, at each Friday lunch meeting Stoller began to highlight the unique ways in which members are making a difference in the lives of those around them.

“It was fun to get to know these people and uncover some things that they’re not going to stand up and talk about, but given this opportunity, they were able to come to light,” Stoller said. “But also, I think it allowed our club to realize that we’re all doing this—good community service activities—and hopefully inspire us all to do a little bit more.”

Rossi noted that even these days, when it’s hard for an individual to make a difference, joining a group like Rotary can help magnify that act of service. “At times like this, individuals want to help, but it is so hard to make a difference. When you join Rotary, you have a group so that your contribution is magnified. Where one person can only do a little bit, many people can make a big difference. As a member,” she said, “I find that is one of the most satisfying reasons for being involved.”

As we celebrate the leaders in our community this month, we thank our Rotarians for making central Illinois a better place in which to live and work. For more information or to learn how to become a Rotarian, visit iBi