Rotary celebrates 30 years of inclusion

It took a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 30 years ago to admit women into Rotary clubs

Dean Rohrs

It took a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 30 years ago to admit women into Rotary clubs.

But Dean Rohrs notes there are still some clubs that consist only of men.

Rohrs, the second Canadian woman to serve as vice-president of Rotary International’s board, is the special guest at an April 5 event in Courtenay to celebrate the 30-year milestone of women’s involvement in the service club. Rotarians in the Comox Valley and Campbell River are hosting the event at the Native Sons Hall.

Raised in Africa, Rohrs is a strong human rights proponent.

“I have a very strong belief,” the Cloverdale resident said. “We as humans, we scar people so easily. If that person reacts in a way we don’t consider normal, whose fault is it? I feel that our mandate as Rotarians is to make sure no person ever develops a scar. And those with scars should be helped and mended. This is really what Rotary is about. Service above self. It makes it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”

Rohrs grew up in Zambia, and later lived in Malawi, Namibia and South Africa, where she was active in the Red Cross. In Cape Town, she was an OR nurse on the team that assisted Professor Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first successful heart transplant in 1967.

She also ran a nursery school in Malawi.

“I couldn’t work because we were ex-pats,” Rohrs said. “I was bored out of my mind, so I took over a school. That was an amazing experience.”

She and husband Rhino (also a Rotarian) and their three children emigrated to Canada in 1990. The couple first joined the Rotary Club of West Vancouver, then the Rotary Club of Langley Central. In 2016, Rohrs hosted a major Rotary event at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. She arranged a visit from former Costa Rican president Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the crisis in Central America.

Rohrs has served on various district and zone committees, but her fondest memories have been leading teams of Rotarians, Rotaractors (18-30 years) and Interactors to Africa, and seeing how the volunteer experience changes their lives.

“Every time I go back (to Africa), it teaches me another lesson,” said Rohrs, who visits Kenya next January.

While there’s a lack of younger Rotarians in North America, she said Rotary is “developing like crazy in Asia.” Nepal, for instance, has 114 Rotary clubs.

“What they do have is Rotaract. We as Rotary have to understand they are as much Rotarians (as adults). We have to embrace them.”

The April 5 event runs from 6-8 p.m. at the Native Sons Hall. Mo Fritz-Roberts of Comox Rotary will MC the evening.