Club News Archive
South Haven Rotary celebrated its 59th Paul Harris Fellow on Tuesday, June 23. President W.C. Askew is pictured presenting the award to
member John Harding. John has been a member of South Haven Rotary since 2004. The Paul Harris Fellow recognition acknowledges individuals who contribute, or have had contributions made in their name, to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. It was established in 1957 and today the number of Paul Harris Fellow exceeds one million. See South Haven's Paul Harris Fellows
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South Haven Rotary Club sponsored its third community pancake breakfast of the summer on Sunday, Sept. 6. Nearly 600 breakfasts were served. The proceeds from the breakfasts will be used to support South Haven Rotary's community outreach programs which last year totaled $14,000 given to more than 20 organizations. Enjoy photos from our breakfast. - See more at: Haven Rotary Club sponsored its third community pancake breakfast of the summer on Sunday, Sept. 6. Nearly 600 breakfasts were served. The proceeds from the breakfasts will be used to support South Haven Rotary's community outreach programs which last year totaled $14,000 given to more than 20 organizations. Enjoy photos from our breakfast. - See more at:

Citizens of the Year

South Haven Rotary is pleased to present its 2020 Citizens of the Year Award to Joel and Heidi Gesiakowski, owners of the Taste restaurant in downtown South Haven. Joel and Heidi have dedicated themselves and their business to the community from the day they came to our town in 2012.  They donate time, resources and food to many worthy causes.  Recently they were awarded the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award, and a State of Michigan Business Excellence Award.  They have also been featured on Michigan Public Broadcasting’s “Under the Radar” program. During the current COVID crisis, Joel has broadcast a virtual Sunday afternoon cooking class.


Educator of the Year

A South Haven teacher who took an extraordinary path to becoming an educator has been presented the 2020 Education and Service Award by the Rotary Club of South Haven.
Anna DeVries, a third grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary, has been honored as an educator who exemplifies attributes that go beyond teaching.
DeVries taught in Covert and Benton Harbor prior to joining the South Haven system in 2014. Her grandparents, Don and Dorothy Jackson, were both teachers. DeVries' classroom at Lincoln Elementary is the same room where her grandfather taught.
DeVries' path to a career in education is especially impacting.
"If you knew me when I was younger, you would have never guessed I would have followed in my grandparents' footsteps. I once dropped out of high school. I was disconnected and lost in the school system. After I had my daughter, I returned to school and found myself at home in a classroom because I truly enjoy learning.
DeVries graduated from Eastern Michigan University and became a reading specialist after getting a Master's degree from Western Michigan University.
"It is from these personal experiences that I grew a passion for helping every student succeed. Connecting those students who struggle academically and emotionally is important to me," she said.
Lincoln Elementary principal Katie Jobson, in her nomination of DeVries, observed that "not only does the ongoing development of her craft lead Anna to be a strong presence in the classroom, but the way she develops positive relationships with her students is noteworthy. Anna is our go-to person for science instruction, providing leadership and new learning to her-colleagues."
In this unique time of a prolonged school closure due to the COVID pandemic, DeVries is credited with establishing ways to connect with her students online and for being quick to respond to their needs.
"As someone who once hated face-timing, I have quickly learned to love it when I see the joy on the faces of the kids seeing their friends," DeVries said.
"Equality is an issue that definitely sparks my passion," said DeVries. "Creating equal opportunities for all of our students to succeed, regardless of wealth, race, culture, or beliefs, is something I strive for every day. Unfair opportunities that lead to a gap in achievement is something that disturbs me, something that may likely be getting worse with distance learning, and something I work to fight against as much as I can."
"Anna's generosity with her time is a benefit for her students, her colleagues, and the greater South Haven community," said Jobson.
She is also active in the community, serving on the Board of Foundry Hall and as treasurer for the South Haven Education Association., She has been involved with Girls on the Run, encouraging young girls to have positive self images of themselves. She has partnered with the garden club on projects that have beautified South Haven schools, including an outdoor learning area at Lincoln.
The Rotarians, in collaboration with the South Haven Public Schools Educational Foundation and the South Haven campus of Lake Michigan College, annually  recognize an educator who exemplifies the attributes of quality teaching and is an active volunteer in the South Haven community. Nominations for this honor are received from the education community. A $250 contribution will be presented to the Educational Foundation in DeVries' name by Rotary.
Over the past 15 years the Rotarians have also contributed over $200,000 in support of financial aid for students at the South Have campus and to benefit programmatic initiatives within the South Haven public schools systems.

New Scholarships Awarded

Four new scholarships for members of the graduating class at South Haven High School have been created by the Rotary Club of South Haven and are being awarded for the first time.
"Rotary has been actively involved in supporting education in our community for many years," said club president Mark Odland. "In this new scholarship program we looked beyond academic achievement in reviewing applications and considered ways in which the students have applied Rotary's "Four Way Test" to their lives."
The Four Way Test is used by Rotarians worldwide as a moral code for personal and business relationships. It can be applied to almost any aspect of life.
Two of the new scholarships are being named in honor of Rotarians who died in recent years -- Don Hixson in 2018 and Glenn Pietenpol in 2019. Memorial gifts and a grant from Rotary District 6360 helped fund the program.
The recipient of the Pietenpol Scholarship is Sierra Garber. She plans to attend Lake Michigan College and then pursue a nursing degree at Western Michigan University.
"In a letter of recommendation Sierra is referred to as having a "heart of gold" and has always shown a strong concern for all of the people around her," said Rotarian Dene Hadden who chaired the club's scholarship selection committee. "She plans on following in the footsteps of her grandmother and become a nurse."
The Don Hixson Scholarship is presented to Opal Eddy. She will attend the University of Michigan. "A person recommending Opel observed how hard she worked to be fair to her classmates, including helping them to succeed."
The third Rotary Club scholarship is presented to Victoria Loikitis who plans to attend Western Michigan University. "Victoria is always looking for ways to be of service and never places her own interests about the needs of others," noted a letter of recommendation." She has shown maturity well beyond a person of her age."
Katherine Schooley is the recipient of the fourth scholarship. She plans to attend Western Michigan University. "Katy's character and integrity are not something that she constantly forces, but instead are woven throughout how she was raised and who she is at the core," noted a letter of recommendation.  Her selection as Miss South Haven was based at least partially on her desire to serve our community and to make sure that everyone in our community is well served.  She humbly chooses to tackle life's challenges with an "others first" mentality."
The new scholarships are in addition to another fund supported by the South Haven Rotarians. Since 2004 the club has donated nearly $200,000 to the Rotary Scholarship Fund held at Lake Michigan College and to the South Haven Schools Fund managed through the Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation. 
Pictured from left to right: Sierra Garber, Katherine Schooley, Victoria Loikitis, Opal Eddy.

Kenya Hospital Recognizes Rotary

The dream of South Haven Rotarian Dr. Marty Graber to open a hospital in Ngoswani,Kenya is about to become a reality.
Dr. Graber has devoted his life to helping the people of the Maasai Tribe, first with school buildings and now a community maternity and child care hospital. South Haven Rotary has been among the supporters of Dr. Graber's tireless work. The hospital's surgery suites acknowledge Rotary.

A Record Breakfast Servings!

South Haven Rotarians served a record 1,916 breakfasts at the club's 48th consecutive year Blueberry Festival Fly-in Breakfast on Sunday, August 11 at the South Haven Area Airport. Thank you South Haven for your support. Thanks to you the Rotary Club of South Haven over the past year has donated over $40,000 in support of local, regional and international non-profit initiatives. Enjoy photos from the breakfast.

Rotary District 6360 Governor Margie Haas joined South Haven Rotarians in flipping pancakes during own annual Independence Holiday breakfast on Sunday, July 7. President Mark Odland offered some tips. Enjoy photos from our breakfast.

Leader of the Parade

Rotarian Jerry Gruber was the grand marshal of South Haven's Sesquicentennial parade on the Fourth of July. He was driven in the parade by fellow Rotarian Tom Ruesink. Rotarians were responsible for organizing the units in the parade and our own Rosalie Plechaty chaired the committee of judges. Enjoy photos

Service to Community Recognized

Pictured left to right are President Mark Odland, honoree Al Ruppert and President-elect Dan Thompson.
The Rotary Club of South Haven honored longtime businessman and community benefactor Al Ruppert by presenting its Community Service award to him at the organization’s recent annual dinner.
The Rotarians annually honor a resident who makes a difference in the community while embodying the spirit of Service Above Self.
A resident of South Haven since 1972, Ruppert founded Clementine’s restaurant in South Haven and Clementine’s Too in St. Joseph and the HawksHead Links golf course and Inn in South Haven.
“Al has given back to the South Haven in immeasurable ways including donating generously of his time, talent and treasures to make our community a better place to live, work and play,” said Rotary president Mark Odland.
At the dinner the club also recognized Tom Renner as its Rotarian of the Year.
“Tom truly exemplifies “Service Above Self,” said Odland. “He is passionate about Rotary and loves to be at just about every volunteer project we sponsor.”
The club announced its officers for 2019-20.  Odland will continues as president while Dan Thompson is president-elect. Rhonda Wendzel will continue as secretary while Bob Straits will serve another term as treasurer. Board members will be Dene Hadden, Paul Hix, Steve Larsen and Richard Swanson.

Our Club Hero

South Haven Rotary Club has proudly declared member Robert (Bob) Straits its “Club Hero” for 2019.
Straits will be honored during the Rotary District 6360 conference on Mackinac Island on Saturday, May 18. Each member-club in the district is invited to declare a “Club Hero” for recognition at the annual gathering.
“Bob Straits is a perfect example of what it means to be a Rotarian. He represents our club with dignity, and is always in search of ways the South Haven Club can be of service to our community. He exemplifies our core belief of ‘Service Above Self’, and is most deserving of this recognition," said President Mark Odland.
Bob has been a Rotarian since 1985, first in Kalamazoo and in South Haven since 2010. He is currently treasurer and is a past president (2015-16).
In 2009 he was presented the Irving S. Gilmore Lifetime Achievement Award for his three decades of service to dozens of community organizations in the Kalamazoo area. He served five terms on the Kalamazoo City Commission. He has been passionate about serving on organizations that assist socially and economically vulnerable persons.
In South Haven is also treasurer of We Care INC and a current board member and past chair of the South Haven Community Foundation.
He retired from the W. E. Upton Institute for Employment Research where he served as administrator and director.
He and his wife Kathy of 50 years have two daughters and three grandchildren. The Straits family has roots in southwest Michigan going back to 1892.
He received the bachelor's degree from Southern Utah University and graduate degree from Western Michigan University. He served in the U.S. Naval-Air Helicopter Combat Squadron II.

Educator of the Year

A South Haven educator whose teaching technique helps her students relate what they learn to their own lives and experiences has been presented the 2019 Education and Service Award by the Rotary Club of South Haven.
Julie Sheppard was honored during the Rotary club’s South Haven Future fundraiser on Saturday, April 27. Julie is pictured with Rotarian Dan Thompson.
The Rotarians, in collaboration with the South Haven Public Schools Educational Foundation and the South Haven campus of Lake Michigan College, annually  recognizes an educator who exemplifies the attributes of quality teaching and is an active volunteer in the South Haven community. Nominations for this honor are received from the education community.
Rotarian Dan Thompson, chair of the club’s recognition committee, presented to the Educational Foundation a $250 contribution in Sheppard’s name.
Sheppard teaches fifth grade at North Shore elementary school. She is also the advisor for the South Haven Public Schools History Club which year-after-year is  viewed as one of the best in Michigan and on a national level. Later this spring the History Club will be represented at the national competition a tenth consecutive year.
"Mrs. Sheppard has a special gift for bringing the subjects of social studies and history to life for her students," said her nominator. "She displays endless patience and is always looking for ways to accommodate students' learning styles so every student can be successful."
She is also active in the community, partnering with the Historical Association of South Haven on projects, serving on the board of Our Town Players and assisting many local students in 4H activities. She also coaches the Baseline Middle School volleyball team. In 2017 she was presented the Kalamazoo County 4H Leader of the Year Award.
"In short, Mrs. Sheppard goes above and beyond to ensure she does her best for her students, her school family and the community of South Haven."
Sheppard has taught in the South Haven school system since 1988. She received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Nazareth (Mich.) College and the Masters degree from Western Michigan University.
She lives in Gobles on a 103 acre horse farm with her husband Dale and three sons, Justin, Antonio Garrett and Nic. She volunteers her time in many ways. For example, she boards the North Shore Elementary school's miniature fainting goats, Sirius and Dobby, at her farm during the winter months.
"I am deeply humbled and appreciative of this kind award," said Sheppard. "I have always felt it was my purpose in life to make the world a better place and the place to start is with empowering and educating the young minds of tomorrow. It takes a village to do the job and I am grateful for the villages in which I live and in which I come to work. I touch all kinds of lives with my volunteer and other educational services, and they all impact mine for the better."
The Rotary Club of South Haven has raised nearly $200,000 since the event’s inception 15 years ago. The funds that are raised provide financial aid for students attending classes at the South Haven campus of Lake Michigan College and benefits programmatic initiatives with the South Haven public schools system.

A Growing Club

Pictured from left to right are: sponsor Don Hodgman, new Rotarian Pete Swanson, sponsor Ted Weber, new Rotarian Ross Woodhams, sponsor Scott Mark, new Rotarian Sue Duvall, new Rotarian and sponsor Rosalie Plechaty, new Rotarian Francis Peet, new Rotarian Don Dobbin, new Rotarian Kevin Schooley and sponsor Steve Miles.
In response to a challenge from Rotary District leadership and Rotary International, President Mark Odland of the Rotary Club of South Haven has made new membership recruitment a top priority for 2018-19.
A Membership Plan was created under the direction of President-elect Dan Thompson. An assessment of past membership recruitment successes and failures was conducted and ideas for attracting new members in specific categories such as age (younger), gender and diversity were presented. The Club's bylaws were reviewed and subsequently amended to add a Corporate Membership classification. Membership is now a regular topic at Board and Club meetings. Rotarians who are sponsors of new members are regularly reminded of their vital role in helping the new Rotarian to become engaged in the life of the Club.
South Haven Rotary has added eight new members since December for a net increase of five to a current roll of 54. Two new Rotarians joined through the new Corporate classification. While we celebrate the addition of these new members we also mourn the loss by death of two longtime South Haven Rotarians, Don Hixson and Glenn Pietenpol. Another member moved out of the area for employment reasons.
"We are fortunate to have Rotary held in a very high regard throughout our community," said Odland. "At the same time, we are an unknown to a lot of folks. Increasing awareness of our Club has become another high priority for us with initiatives in that regard being developed."

Community Pride

Thanks to South Haven Rotarians,  the finishing touches on a major renovation to the gymnasium at South Haven High School has been accomplished with the installation of purple-and-gold banners heralding the accomplishments of athletes and teams over the years. The banners were donated to South Haven Public Schools by the Rotary Club of South Haven with matching funds from our District Foundation. The South Haven Rotarians were also the donors of the time-worn banners installed in the gym in the early 1980s. The banners will be formally presented to the school district by Rotary president Mark Odland at halftime of the January 25 boy's basketball game. See more photos.

In Service to Community

South Haven Rotarians were among the community volunteers who participated in a service project on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We gathered to package 5,000 pounds of rice to be distributed to local food pantries. See photos.
2017 Rotary in Review