Special project to commemorate Rotary’s 100th year

The seating in the amphitheater at Christmas Hill Park is

Gilroy
– Rotary International will celebrate its centennial Feb. 23,
and Gilroy Rotarians are already preparing for the birthday
bash.
For the 100th-year festivities, the 130 members of the local
service organization have started work on a special project
involving the City of Gilroy and various South Valley
businesses.
Gilroy – Rotary International will celebrate its centennial Feb. 23, and Gilroy Rotarians are already preparing for the birthday bash.

For the 100th-year festivities, the 130 members of the local service organization have started work on a special project involving the City of Gilroy and various South Valley businesses. They will raise funds to renovate the amphitheater at Christmas Hill Park where Shaboom and other bands perform at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, said Kurt Michielssen, Gilroy Rotary Club president.

“If you go out there and walk around the amphitheater,” he said, “(you’ll see) the railroad ties that are used as seats are pretty well trashed.”

The amphitheater project is in its beginning stages, said Jeff Orth, a Gilroy-based financial planner who, as president-elect for the Gilroy Rotary, is spear-heading the project.

“It’s in pretty sorry shape, to the point where it’s actually embarrassing looking,” Orth said. “Our plan is to restore this thing to a state of glory that’s better than it was when it was first built.”

Members will work with groups such as the Garlic Festival, Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau and the city to raise funds. At this point, he said, it’s too early to determine how much money needs to be raised. The Rotary still needs to find a professional architect who can establish a budget.

The project might be completed in stages over a few years. Possible plans include enlarging the stage area and putting a cover over it, renovating the lighting, sound and electrical systems, and rebuilding the seats.

The newly remodeled amphitheater could be used for a Shakespeare Festival, outdoor concerts with a choir and Saturday night free park concerts, he suggested.

Who could have predicted that when Chicago businessman Paul Harris started Rotary International 100 years ago, he ignited something that would virtually cure polio around the world – as well as start America’s most famous food festival.

Harris was out dining with a lawyer in a residential area of Chicago when his friend stopped at various stores in the neighborhood and introduced him to the owners, Michielssen said. Harris’s mind clicked with an idea of starting an organization where business owners and managers could meet on a weekly basis and find ways to serve their communities.

“It basically started as an opportunity to build friendships with business people, to gather socially and help people,” Michielssen said.

The Gilroy Rotary Club was founded Oct. 19, 1925, when the charter was formally signed in the Sun Room of the downtown Milias Hotel (where Harvest Time Restaurant now stands).

Over the years, quite a few well-known Gilroyans have been involved in the Rotary. Brownell Elementary School was named after E.E. Brownell, the local branch’s first past president. George Milias, the well-respected founder of the Milias Hotel, also was a former president of the local branch. Local thoroughfares are named after Rotarians including Princevalle Street and Renz Avenue – named after James Princevalle and George Renz.

And today, many Gilroy Rotarians remain active with various fund-raising and community service projects. Two Rotarians helped found the world famous Gilroy Garlic Festival. Garlic farmer Don Christopher and Gavilan Community College president Rudy Melone were Rotary Club members who, along with Val Filice, cooked up the event back in 1978 after being inspired by a newspaper article about a similar garlic celebration in France.

The Gilroy Rotary Club member who holds the record for longest membership is Dale Connell. Fifty-three years ago, Connell joined the club and has remained true to it through the more than half a century. He joined when his auto parts store opened in 1947. The companionship is what keeps him coming back even today, the retired businessman said.

“Certainly I have enjoyed it,” he said. “Rotary is made up of individuals in business. There’s nowhere else in Gilroy you can go where you have 100 people from a cross section of professions sitting down to lunch.”

Connell served as Gilroy Rotary Club president for two terms. His son Larry Connell served one year in 1976.

People join for the networking opportunities, but the club provides other incentives to continue as a member, he said.

“You stay because of the things that Rotary sands for and what they’re doing,” he said.

Then there are the newcomers.

Vince Strangis has been a Rotary member for about four months. He and is wife own the Gilroy Quiznos Sub Sandwich franchise as well as the Marble Slab Creamery.

The reason he joined?

“Rotary (members) are dedicated to helping those that are less fortunate,” he said about his reasons for joining. “Most of the people in the Rotary Club are very involved in the city.”

He also sees the weekly meetings as an opportunity for networking and “just keeping a sense of what’s taking place in our community.”

Over the years, the Gilroy Rotary has impacted the local community. In addition to the Garlic Festival, other projects Rotarians have been involved in include “Project Share Life” – which has created a bone marrow donor registry for leukemia patients – and the planting of 200 cypress trees along Hecker Pass Road.

In its first 100 years, Rotary International has been active world wide in serving many communities. And the Gilroy Rotary has been on the same journey of service for 80 of those years, Michielssen said.

“Rotary is truly a special organization and one that has had a positive and lasting impact on Gilroy,” he said.

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