Mimi Altman

Mimi Altman

Governor District 6440 - 1995-1996
July 1, 1995, a very special day in my Rotary life, dawned sunny and warm. I had a special glow in my heart, as I thought about the plans and dreams I had created for District 6440 during the coming year, and as I thought of my many adventures with Rotary and Rotarians throughout my life.

As I enjoyed my morning coffee, I couldn't help wondering what my father, Herbert C. Angster, would have thought about this day. He was the first district governor of District #8 comprising the entire States of Illinois and Indiana back in 1915. And now, 80 years later, I, his daughter, would assume the same position for a portion of that area, District 6440. What would he think about women Rotarians, let alone eight women in the United States, becoming district governors on that day? My reaction was that each of us would have his blessing and good wishes.

I couldn't help but think of my good friend PDG Jack Bakeman, who had traveled from his new home in Florida back to Deerfield, Illinois to install me as district governor. I also thought about Dr. Joseph D. Boyd, the man who had proposed me to Rotary and nurtured me, from being a member in 1987, to a real Rotarian ready to assume this most prestigious office. Jack and Joe have been my mentors, my advisors, and most of all cherished friends. Now it was up to me to carry the responsibility of moving District 6440 to new heights in the coming year.

District 6440 is located in northeastern Illinois and calls itself the "Home District,' since its southeastern boundary is Evanston, the home of Rotary international. It is bounded on the east by Lake Michigan, the north by the Wisconsin state line and extends west of Chicago to the Fox River. The District has approximately 3000 Rotarians belonging to 67 clubs. Its general population is contained in rural communities ranging in size from less than 100 inhabitants to suburban cities with more than 100,000 people. Its diversity is displayed culturally and economically in both rural and urban areas.

During my lifetime I had been fortunate to share Rotary events with my father, a Chicago Rotarian from 1909-1965, my husband, past president of the Highland Park, Illinois Rotary Club and my daughter, President-Elect of the Rotaract Club of Evanston. As I grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, many prominent Rotarians had been guests in my family home and close friends, including Paul Harris, Chesley Perry, Harry Ruggles and numerous others..

Now it was up to me...the mantle was on my shoulders, not only to carry on the strong traditions in our district, but to elevate the district to a greater height. It was up to me to convince the 3000 Rotarians in the district to undertake new projects, strengthen ongoing projects, support the Rotary Foundation and achieve the major Rotary International project for the year, increasing and retaining membership.

The Past District Governors were immensely helpful as I prepared my plans for the year. They gave unstintingly of their time and expertise. The Zone Institute held in Omaha, Nebraska, the preceding fall, had trained me well, so that the week of training in Anaheim, California, in February of 1995, had not only taught me new insights, but reinforced my learning at the Zone. The Anaheim experience highlighted the real diversity of Rotary. It showed me 515 districts throughout the world with distinct yet similar strengths and problems, and 515 district governors committed to building the strengths and solving the problems.

I had spent countless hours selecting my district officers and committee chairs, and with their help and that of the club presidents, setting goals for the district. Now it was time to put all the plans into action.

After my first "official" act on July 4 helping my Deerfield Club conduct its annual mini-marathon, I set out on my first club visit, July 6. With 67 visits on the calendar, I scheduled four per week for the first few months and successfully completed 66 visits before the first of the new year, with the visit to my own club the first week in January. Becoming a part of the Chicago morning rush hour traffic, and dealing with ever-present road construction was no fun, but the club visits themselves were highlights of the year. Learning the many club projects in all four Avenues of Service, and the dedication of so many Rotarians was heartwarming.

Each club presented a challenge as it attempted to strive for membership growth and retention. I had participated in membership recruitment discussions and seminars in early August, so l was able to give some ideas. But, imagine my surprise when, at the conclusion of my talk to one club, a long time member asked me why his club should consider admitting women members. He quickly followed that question with "What good are women members to any Rotary Club?" Ah...the old boys' network at work! A hush fell over the room, and embarrassment on the face of the president was obvious. I told the questioner I would answer his questions, and then give him three minutes to tell all of us why Rotary clubs should NOT admit women members. We each presented: our answers to the club, but the exciting thing about this club is that they selected a woman to be their president-elect in spite of this man's negative views.
The best thing about club visits was meeting and reacquainting myself with district Rotarians. I had the good fortune to be part of a club president's 25th wedding anniversary celebration, have a club sing to me at 6:30 A.M., and another club write a parody to "Hello Dolly" which they sang to me at their noon meeting. I gave my talk to a club at the same time a jury was returning its stunning verdict in one of the most celebrated criminal trials of our time in the United States, and the club was patient enough to wait until I finished before learning the verdict!

In addition to club visits, fellowship outings were held during summer and fall, as well as seminars throughout the district on membership, the Foundation and the Four Avenues of Service. I attended as many evening club events as I could fit into my schedule, the majority of which were auction fundraisers and great fun. I managed a winning bid on so many auction items, it looked as though it might be necessary to build an additional room onto my home to display them! 

There were many highlights to my year as governor, but certainly one was the chartering of two new clubs in the district. I made a visit to each of those clubs in the spring of the year and it was gratifying to see them embracing Rotary ideals within a few short months of chartering. Another highlight was my district conference, held at the Grand Geneva Resort in April. Under the direction of mentor Joe Boyd and an outstanding committee, attention was given to all details from Thursday night to Sunday noon, and the event was a huge success. Certainly an additional highlight was winning the Calgary Challenge for being one of 50 districts in the Rotary world to attain the greatest percentage growth in membership. Imagine being the only woman governor, along with 49 male governors, accepting a beautiful crystal piece from Rotary International President Herbert G. Brown at the Calgary Convention. It was exciting!

Lowlights of the year centered on severe weather related problems around the world. It seemed there was a weather catastrophe almost every week printed in the Rotary Newsbasket. Our district experienced a catastrophe in October of 1995, when a school bus was hit by a commuter train killing seven high school students. Clubs in the district responded immediately to an emergency fund created at one of the banks, and then contributed generously to a piece of sculpture created by a former Ambassadorial Scholar in the district which was presented to the high school.

Looking back to the goals set at the beginning of the year by me and the club presidents, district officers and committee chairs, seven of the eight goals were met. The district, which has always been strong in contributions to the Foundation, fell short of its $205,000 goal. With no matching funds in the district it was difficult to generate adequate enthusiasm for giving.

In retrospect, I believe the district continued to move forward in 1995-96. With the support and encouragement of the PDGs, the clubs responded to the district as Rotarians, not seeming to display concern that a woman was the governor. I felt surrounded with an aura of respect and affection that made it a pleasure to hold the position. Would I do it again? Yes!

During the 1996-97, Rotary year I have served as a member of the International Interact Committee, and in 1997-98 I will serve as Zone 21 Coordinator of the International Literacy Committee. Both of these appointments have given me a far-reaching appreciation of our international organization, its members and its worldwide projects.

Women Rotarians bring a separate and distinct dimension to the organization. Having long been volunteers in charitable work, they are excellent fundraisers. While being very well organized individuals, women also bring compassion, dedication and enormous energy to undertakings on the club, district and international levels. Since their admission to Rotary membership in 1987, women have risen to high positions in Rotary more quickly than they have in corporate America. Women will have representation on the Rotary Board of Directors in the near future, and a woman President of Rotary international is on the horizon.

Women have proven their capabilities as Rotarians, as club presidents and as district governors. Their leadership qualities have been demonstrated at the club and district levels, the future will see them rise to the height of Rotary.

I am proud to have served as a pioneer woman district governor and to have helped blaze a trail for women Rotarians to follow. My hope is that each of them will be blessed with the special rewards of Rotary that were a part of my year as District Governor.

Mimi Altman, who was serving as the treasurer of the Rotary Heritage and History International Fellowship, passed away in March of 2001. She had been widowed in 1990.

Mimi Altman became a member of the Rotary Club of Deerfield, Illinois in 1987 and served as its president in 1992-93. In addition to serving her club in many capacities, she has served District 6440 as District Secretary twice, a Governor's Group Representative, Club Service Chairman and member of numerous committees. She is a member of the Rotary World Fellowships of Music and Rotary Heritage & History International Fellowship. www.historyfellowship.org Mimi is both a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and a Benefactor of The Rotary Foundation.

She was the owner of The Village Secretary, an executive secretarial and telephone answering service, as well as owner of Executive Management, an association management firm. She served as Executive Director of the Deerfield Area United Way and Leadership Illinois.

Mimi was the founder, organizer and charter president of the Community Relief Foundation of Deerfield and a trustee of the Deerfield Park Foundation. She was a member of the American Business Women's Association, Women in Management and the National Association of Secretarial Services.

Mimi received her Bachelor of Music degree from DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana and serves as an alumni representative for the university. Her interests included travel and music. Her daughter, also named Mimi, had joined her in business before her passing. She also is a graduate of DePauw University, and has continued her heritage by serving as president of the Highland Park-Good Morning, Illinois, club in the rotary year 2000-2001. 

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