Brian Mittge Commentary: Onward for Chehalis Rotary After a Full Century of Service


“Service above self.”

— Motto of Rotary International


One hundred years ago next week, the Chehalis Rotary was officially chartered. It was number 60 out of what today are more than 35,000 Rotary Clubs. The Centralia Rotary, formed a few months earlier, was number 59.

Today, after a century of Rotary’s energetic and visionary service, our communities are much richer. 

Reminders of their ongoing legacy are all around us. They’re personal to me, and probably to many of you. 

The Virgil R. Lee building in Chehalis, a charming log cabin structure where my friends and I threw a retro sock hop dance while in high school, was built by the Rotary a half century ago. They also built the Fred Hess community kitchen next door, where we hosted one of my daughter’s first big birthday parties. 

These two community resources sit in Recreation Park, whose 13 acres were donated by the state to the city of Chehalis in 1945 through the work of state Sen. Virgil R. Lee, an active Rotarian and one of the Chehalis club’s first presidents. 

The Chehalis Rotary spearheaded the creation of Penny Playground nearly 30 years ago, and helped support the brand new version of the park that is about to be unveiled. 

In Centralia I’ve spent many happy hours in Rotary Riverside Park (it’s where my fiance and I had our engagement pictures taken and where my wife would take her fourth-grade students to do water testing during science class.) Again, the vision and energy of local volunteers made that beautiful community resource happen. 

Over the past years, 2,200 children in Lewis County have signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, thanks to the fundraising and organization of the three Chehalis, Centralia and Twin Cities Rotary clubs. This remarkable program, fueled by Parton’s original generosity and the mighty sum of $50,000 raised locally by Rotarians and their contacts, gives a free age-appropriate book every month to every child from birth to age 5. 

And at the Southwest Washington Fair, I’ve long enjoyed the delicious butter-dipped corn on the cob sold at the Rotary booth.

The list of accomplishments and service to our community could fill the entire newspaper. 

A few days ago I sat down with the Chehalis Rotary club during their Wednesday lunchtime meeting, which is now being held via Zoom due to the pandemic.

It was a pleasure to spend time with folks whose lives have been devoted to service — folks who enjoy getting together with others to do good works for their community. 

Anil Puri discussed his international Rotary work, helping administer vaccines in India. It’s part of Rotary International’s decades-long commitment to help make polio only the second disease in history to be eradicated from the planet. They’re getting close to accomplishing this jaw-dropping goal. 

Kathleen Vodjansky-Ward discussed Rotary’s work to provide mentorships for students, helping them learn about careers that might be of interest. 

This is of particular interest to me, as my children enter the phase of life where it’s crucial to help them connect with ways of successfully entering adulthood. It turns out that for more than two decades, Rotary has been helping match students with job shadows at dynamic local employers. At 80 to 100 students a year over 20 years, that’s a lot of students who have gotten a better, smarter start on life thanks to Rotary. 

David Eatwell, president of the Chehalis Rotary Club, discussed the international exchange programs offered by Rotary, including its Rotary Peace Fellowship program. 

One common thread from my discussion with local Rotarians is that service not only improves communities, it transforms people. By coming together, these people accomplish great things and grow in the process. 

In a way, it’s mentorship for adults who live out another Rotary motto: “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” 

“I have gotten more out of the volunteer work I’ve done than I’ve provided,” Eatwell said. “Taking on a project and really doing something long-term has great benefit for the individual and that’s what we offer.”

Local Rotary clubs are accepting members from civic-minded folks. Learn more at


Brian Mittge’s weekly column appears each Saturday. He can be reached at