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updated: 6/23/2011 12:26 PM

Rotary well worth 90 minutes a week

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Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the fact we all have the same 24 hours every day to fill; yet we all choose to do things so differently.

One thing I've enjoyed about my choices is that in 1996 I joined the Rotary Club of Naperville, a group now with about 150 members that has met weekly for lunch since 1941.

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I made a commitment to set aside 90 minutes every week to attend meetings with other service-minded folks who'd made the same choice.

Gathering together for lunch, fellowship, enlightening programs and the common bond of certain service projects, including helping to eradicate polio, Rotary membership began to enrich my life tremendously. That first year featured guest speakers who'd climbed Mt. Everest, tracked polar bears and carried Olympic torches. I could only imagine what I would learn if I stuck with Rotary over my lifetime.

Plus, members are encouraged to visit any of the 33,000 Rotary clubs in 200 countries throughout the world.

During my travels to cities in DuPage County, England, Czech Republic, Poland and the Caribbean, I've had opportunities to experience Rotary service in other places. That's when I discovered that in addition to sunrise and lunch clubs, some clubs meet after work. And all clubs have their own personalities, composed of businessmen and -women representing a wide variety of vocations.

Back in 2005, Rotary International's centennial year, Rotary districts were sizing up their commitments with a desire to add new clubs in new time slots to attract new members. I noted I'd become enamored with smaller clubs (the average club has 38.5 members), so when the opportunity presented itself to help begin a third Rotary Club of Naperville, I climbed onboard.

Long story short, in February 2007, the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown was chartered with 25 members.

Life goes on and within a couple of years, our little club, now known as the "4:44 Club" that meets every Wednesday, slowly began to grow, even when several founding members changed jobs and moved.

After rotating meetings at eight downtown locations, 4:44 finally found a home in Hugo's Frog Bar in Main Street Promenade. About that time, Keith Beckmen, regional president of Harris Bank, was invited to a meeting. He kicked the tires a few times and joined. Today he's our community service director who coordinates our gifts and grants.

Toward the end of last year, Keith mentioned that his sister would be visiting for the holidays from Alaska where she is the wildlife veterinarian with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.

Wow! Wouldn't she be a great program, we thought. Though time didn't permit then, we urged Keith to arrange for her to be our featured speaker someday. We didn't let up.

On June 8, Kimberlee Beckmen, back in the Midwest to pick up a Siberian husky puppy, was booked. She arrived with a PowerPoint presentation chock full of maps and breathtaking photos of herself on the job with moose, wolves, sea lions, whales and birds in the unspoiled Alaskan wilderness. The varied landscape, home to a diverse array of wildlife including bison, caribou and grizzly bears, displayed her passion for the "dream job" she's had since 2002.

One photo pictured a view of Mt. McKinley, North America's highest peak at 20,320 feet, from her home. She emphasized that "Denali," which means "The High One," is the original name for Mt. McKinley and the preferred name by natives of our 49th state.

Another riveting photo showed Kimberlee cramped in the back of a small plane with seven large black bears. Her responsibility was to monitor the bears' status during the 350-mile flight to relocate them, making sure they were sedated. Really!

The first draft of this adventure story was about 2,200 words -- more than three times my limit.

Now that I've chopped it to bits to fit, it's taken a different turn.

The Rotary year runs July 1 to June 30 and clubs worldwide are wrapping it up. For instance, members of all four Rotary Clubs of Naperville -- the Rotary-South club was chartered after ours -- recently attended the annual Pursuit of Life Scholarship Breakfast at Meson Sabika, where 26 college scholarships were presented from Naperville's clubs.

Installation dinners are planned as new officers take over leadership next month. In our club, President Chuck Corrigan will hand the gavel over to Nancy Quigley. And 50 new weekly programs will be arranged.

If you're interested, visit rotary.org to see the impact of Rotary's first 106 years on this planet. It's likely a club meets at a time that will fit into one of your 24-hour days.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville. Email her at spennydh@aol.com.

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