Donna J. Rapp

Donna J. Rapp
District 6310 - 1995-1996
Women and Rotary
District 6310 is small compared to most of the districts in the Rotary world. We have only 31 clubs in a predominantly rural area of east central Michigan. There are approximately 1,500 Rotarians; twelve clubs had fewer than 25 members. One Interact Club exists in the district, and during 1995-96 there were eight outbound exchange students and 16 inbounds. No new clubs were chartered during my year as DG; in fact, one club returned its charter. This club started the year with 14 members, six of whom wintered in the south for six months of the year including the club president.

My familiarity with the District was relatively strong in that my husband, Andy, had preceded me as DG. He was in the class of 1991-92. I attended many of his club visits and had a chance to see up close the role of the District Governor in both its glory and tribulations. He was an exemplary role model, as he took his position seriously without taking himself seriously. In other words he did justice to the position without self-aggrandizement.

Those who know Andy are aware of his strengths in public speaking. Clubs were invigorated after his address. That was a quality I wanted to bring to my year. He was very helpful to me, and while I will never be as articulate and inspiring as he was during his year, I certainly was better than I would have been without his coaching assistance. He was my greatest champion and supporter among a strong field of contenders.

Past District Governors from my district were supportive in every way possible. They shared generously of their time, offered valuable insights and information, and were always uplifting in their demeanor. They brought their full resources to bear to help both me, and the district, be successful during my year. They were strong contributors and valuable allies without ever being overbearing. I have nothing but praise and the fondest of feelings for them. They were one of my greatest gifts.

The International Assembly was a magical experienceóboth times in which I was a participant. Going there first as spouse to a DGN, I experienced the internationality of Rotary. I was a bud just beginning to bloom in the warmth of delegates from all over the world. An avid student of world cultures, I participated in the spouses' sessions in French, Spanish and English. I learned firsthand how Rotarians from other parts of the world viewed Rotary, what their commitment was, and the benefits they derived from their participation. It was a life-changing experience. I left Anaheim in 1991 (at that time a club president-elect) knowing that I would be both influenced by and an influence on Rotary International.

When I returned to Anaheim as a DGN, I could not imagine how the experience could be any better. It was, and the reasons were RI President-Elect Herb Brown and his wife, Diane.

I grew up in an age of scrutinizing leadership and challenging their actions. Herb Brown not only did the right things, he did everything right. How well I remember him during his first plenary address. He acknowledged the women district governors-nominee and voiced his commitment to our success. I felt the words he chose, and the brevity and style in which he delivered them, affirmed us as women in our role as district governors without detracting from the men who had worked equally hard to attain the same position. He could not have handled the situation better.

During the difficult times of my year, I reflected on Herb and Diane Brown, and found great inspiration in their leadership. To this day, their 1995 holiday season family photo remains immediately above my computer keyboard.

My match for a group study exchange was with a district in England. Thus, I was paired in Anaheim with a DGN who found, much to his astonishment, he was working with a woman. Gentlemanly and courteous, the look of perpetual surprise never left his face. He would comment, " I don't know how I'm going to go back to my district and explain that I was matched with you!" I graciously offered him the blue copy of the three-part form we needed to complete and kept the pink for my files. It was my first real introduction to being perceived first as a woman and second as a district governor. I could have fun with it.

Our GSE turned out to be a very positive experience for both of our districts. The quality of both the inbound and outbound teams was outstanding. Our outbound team leader, a college president, was rigorous in his schooling of our team members. The English district had women Rotarians, but relatively few of them. The reality of a female district governor was astonishing. Thus, I'm told, our team leader relished the opportunity to introduce me via a full-screen slide to a bastion of male Rotarians. It had a jaw-dropping effect.

During PETS, I gave each president-elect the opportunity to select the day he or she wanted me to make my official visit. One PE was particularly eager. He followed up with me quickly to get my commitment for July 5, just five days into the year. My reaction was very positive. Here, I thought, was a PE I had impressed during our training program. Perhaps it was my speaking style. Maybe he appreciated my message... my organization. I was exuberant on the day of this, my first official visit.

Upon our greeting I inquired as to what quality he saw that compelled him to have me address his club so early in the year. He explained that his club meets in a church basement, and the women of the church would cook for no fewer than 15 people. They had 14 club members. I made the distinctive difference.
One small club in our district showed little district or international participation with Rotary.

My  repeated attempts to contact this club president-elect went without response. He did not attend PETS, nor had the presidents prior to him. Knowing that they were a club at risk I slated them for my third official visit. Letters and phone messages went out calling for a meeting with club officers an hour before their club meeting was scheduled to begin. I received no acknowledgment.

Unwavering, I traveled the distance to the rural restaurant where the club met. To my surprise, the door was locked, yet I could hear voices inside. Knocking at the door garnered no response. I peered through the high window; there were people inside. Suddenly the door opened and a man came out - I grabbed the door and went in. No sign of anyone waiting for me. Diners were finishing their meals. I took a seat and quizzed the waitress. The restaurant locked its doors an hour before the Rotary meeting, she explained, so those having dinner would have a chance to finish and leave before the eight Rotarians came in for their meeting. I waited.

An hour later they began to arrive. Their air was very casual. They seemed surprised to see me - their president had not spoken of my visit. I had a chance to talk with them informally about their club before the president arrived.
He greeted me pleasantly and called the meeting to order. No program had been planned so I was welcome to give my address. I opted for less formality and asked for a conversation about their Rotary Club. All too apparent was the need for membership growth. When I asked what was being done about inviting new members I was told that attempts had been made in the past and were fruitless. There was no longer anything that could be done. I politely disagreed.

These men were mostly either retired farmers or forestry men. I asked what would happen if seeds were not sown in the spring. Would prayer and wishful thinking harvest the fall crops? The discussion became livelier and more meaningful.

The club is still struggling and may not survive. But I felt I had done my best when this song was offered at the conclusion of the meeting. It was composed by one of the club members during the span of our discussion. I keep it as it was written, penciled onto the back of the Rotarian's paper placemat:

"Our Rapp Song"
"Our new Gov is Donna,
We think she's neat and
Has a great persona.

She is our new first
Lady - and even though
She's new to the system,
We think she'll be
On-line to solve the problem.

Donna will bring new ideas
To Rotary, if we help
Her she'll make us strong
As new trees.

Traveling down the road,
Donna will call on all
Clubs to be bold. Help us
To mature and be old."

In my experience as a Charter member of my club, past president, Rotarian spouse of a District Governor and District Governor, I have never felt that I have been treated inappropriately, discriminated against or held back because I am a woman. Rather I have felt encouraged, supported, assisted and elevated because of the contributions I can bring to Rotary as a person who happens to be female.

It has been with mixed feelings that I have been interviewed and had my photo taken with the other women district governors. It's not because I am not proud of being part of this outstanding group, but because I see myself not as one of the eight first women governors in the world, but as one of 515 governors in the world during 1995-96. And each of the 507 others is deserving of recognition.

I think the reason Rotary has grown stronger throughout its 90-year history is because of diversity. Few organizations possess this attribute. In fact, many others are based on being exclusive rather than inclusive.

Rotary forces diversity through its classification system. And, in fact, it was Paul Harris himself who wanted Rotary to be an organization where politics and religion were not barriers to membership. I think that was the genius of Rotary, both past and present. Young, old; women, men; different faiths and cultures - diversity should be seen as an asset, not a liability.

Women will have the potential to serve Rotary in any capacity they would like. What I would hope for is that, as with men, their aspirations are equally matched by their ability.

This year I am serving on the RI Task Force for New Generations, under the leadership of Howard D. Vann, General Coordinator.

At the 1995 international Assembly, I remember the humble words of RI President Saboo. He said that as fulfilling as it had been to serve Rotary as its president, he looked forward to a future of working in Rotary at the club level again.

I have had the privilege of serving Rotary in the capacity of a member of an International Task Force and as a District Governor. Yet I receive as much satisfaction from doing a job well for my club. I believe the real work of Rotary is not at the international level or district level, although very good things are done there. The real value of Rotary is at the grass roots level, the thousands and thousands of Rotary Club members around the world.

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