HIGHLAND PARK – The Birchwood Club will be transformed into a Roaring 20s speakeasy on Saturday, April 8 to commemorate the Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood’s 90th birthday.
“We’ll be having a Great Gatsby theme in conjunction with the time period of the 20s. And in support of our intergenerational philosophy, the Highland Park High School (HPHS) DJ Club helped us research the music,” said Cynthia Plouché, Rotary Club president.
The club’s Annual Spring Gala has raised funds for scholarships for Highland Park High School students and grants for select local charities for over 20 years
“One of the things we’re doing this year with our scholarships is recognizing the members who’ve passed,” said Plouché. “We’re honoring them posthumously, but their families will be invited to attend the annual Spring Gala. When we do that recognition we’re linking the generations between the students who are currently receiving scholarships and remembering the people who helped build the club, as they have had at least 30 years of membership.”
Throughout the years, HPHS and the Rotary Club have worked on several projects together. “For example, the HPHS Rotary Interact Club which Rotarian Jim Berardi and teacher Melissa Zientara started in 2011, helps us get more boots on the ground in Highland Park and Highwood,” said Plouché. “Our members are getting older so one way to keep the club energized and involved in a wide array of multi-generational things is to have a club to partner with.”
Plouché said she will be taking a trip to Belfast, Ireland with six HPHS students and another teacher on the subject of understanding conflict resolutions. The program is called TABU (Toward A Better Understanding), and on alternating years during spring break, a group of HPHS students go to Belfast and a group of students from Belfast come to Highland Park.
“This project has been going on for nearly 20 years, and it’s very eye opening for the students,” said Plouché. “A generation later, we realize that there are still things the students can gain from the experience.”
Plouché said three Rotarians participate in student interviews with HPHS social studies teachers to make recommendations, while the teachers have the final say. The students also write conflict resolution essays. Of the six students selected this year, two are members of the HPHS Rotary Interact Club.
Another upcoming project is Adopt a Highway with the City of Highland Park and the HPHS Rotary Interact Club.
Plouché has been involved in the rotary for almost five years and became president two years ago. She has also been the Moraine Township Assessor since 2013 and is running unopposed in the April 4 election. She explained why her position hasn’t had an impact on her role as Rotary Club President:
“It’s just not a political organization,” said Plouché. “The benefit has been that it has put the assessor role in a very accessible position, so that the members know me as a Rotarian first. We have a good number of people who over the years have participated in rotary and have also been elected in some shape or form.”
Plouché said the Rotary Club currently has 55 active members, and likely had closer to 100 members at its peak. The members range from early 30’s up to 94 years of age. “I think there’s something to be said about having 55 people who come from different walks of life who are there for service and the enjoyment of other people’s company.”
Frank Schwermin is the longest tenured member of the Rotary Club and has over 60 years of membership. “We’ve had a couple of other members who’ve had that longevity; unfortunately, we lost them this year. We’re so proud of Frank,” said Plouché.
Schwermin came here in 1951 to be the Highland Park Hospital administrator and soon joined the Rotary Club. “The Rotary Club has been a very important part of my life and I’m still a Rotarian,” he said. “I’ve been very happy with the Rotary Club and it’s been good for me and I think it’s been good for the Rotarians. I’m the oldest man and the longest member. They gave me a big cake with candles for my 90th birthday and I’ll be 95 in May.”
Schwermin has served as president and district governor. “When I finished my year of governor for rotary I still wanted more to do, so the Rotarians asked me to open up a new Rotary Club and I opened up seven new Rotary Clubs in different communities,” he said.
Schwermin looks forward to attending the gala. “There was a time in my life when I was 22 and I didn’t know if I’d live to be 23,” he said. “I was in a German prisoner of war camp and the Russians were coming in. I was wondering if I was going to survive, but I’m still here.”
Plouché explained that the Rotary Club has been hosting two major fundraisers every year, the gala and the golf outing for about 15 years, but many people may not be aware of the Rotary Club’s Financial Literacy Program. Fred Orkin who became a member in 1995, organizes five to six sessions each year that are run by David Burke at HPHS with instructors from several local banks.
“In addition to these programs, the Rotary Club is focused on our traditional scholarships and non-profit grants,” said Plouché.
The Rotary Club’s motto, “Service Above Self” holds a special meaning for Plouché: “Actually living those words and seeing people who believe it and act upon it is just very rewarding,” she said. “There are people who might not have come together otherwise, but each Monday we’re sitting together at Highland Park Country Club enjoying each other’s company. It’s intergenerational and it’s about learning and giving back which is a really good combination. In this day and age people who are still willing to step up and help others, is a commendable thing.”
The Rotary Club will be hosting its Annual Spring Gala and special 90th birthday celebration on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 6 p.m. at the Birchwood Club, 1174 Park Avenue West, Highland Park. The event will feature dinner, dancing, comedy from the Improv Playhouse, a raffle with a $5,000 jackpot and a cash bar.
To purchase dinner and raffle tickets, please contact Mike Babian at [email protected]
For more information on the Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood visit: website,www.highlandparkrotary.org