Going Big for the Centennial

Rotary Club of Tucson Plans Anniversary Celebration

By Christy Krueger

Things that turn 100 years old in 2021: Wheaties, White Castle burgers, Maricopa Hall on the University of Arizona campus and Rotary Club of Tucson. 

With a Centennial Celebration planned for Sept. 25, the Rotarians are ramping up their efforts throughout the year to do what they’re passionate about – working to meet community needs.

“Back in 1921 a group of Tucson businessmen met at the Santa Rita   Hotel and elected to go with Rotary,” said President Mark Irvin. “This is the largest Rotary Club in Arizona with 250 members, the 38th largest in the U.S. and 55th largest out of 35,000 clubs internationally.” Rotary is a service club with more than 1.2  million members worldwide.

Irvin, founder of Mark Irvin Commercial Real Estate Services, has spent a majority of his adult life contributing to Tucson’s growth and improving the quality of life for its residents. He’s worked with the Tucson Rotary for over 25 years and also serves on the Rio Nuevo District board of directors. In return for his endless service to the community, Irvin has received numerous accolades, including the Greater Tucson Leadership Man of The Year Award in 2019.

“Service above self” is how he describes Rotary’s mission. “We should find ways to be impactful in our community. Our hot button is education. We incorporated and administered the Reading Seed program and, through a merger, it is now a program of Literacy Connects. Our goal is to have every kid reading at a third-grade level by third grade.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the Tucson Rotary has amazingly continued to grow in memberships, donated funds for the community and generating excitement for its major fundraiser, the Tucson Classics Car Show. The annual event has raised more than $1.8 million in its 15-year history and is a favorite among attendees. This year JTED is the sole beneficiary. The goal is to raise $250,000.

In 2020, after several years of supporting Reading Seed and Make Way for Books, Tucson Rotarians overwhelmingly selected Pima Joint Technical Education District as its new major beneficiary, committing $250,000 from car show proceeds and other fundraising sources. Pima JTED, which is funded by the state and through local property taxes, offers high school students tuition-free career-training programs in dozens of growing fields.

“This is for their new building at The Bridges,” Irvin said. “There’s great need for JTED, and they needed one campus instead of being all over. So far we’ve paid them $75,000, and we’ll pay them the rest after the car show. Our goal is to give JTED more than we told them we would.”

Joni Condit, a 30-year Rotarian and this year’s car show chair, said members wanted to select an organization that could make the greatest impact in the community. “JTED has so many career paths. That’s giving back in a big way.” 

Condit, CEO of La Posada in Green Valley, credited fellow Rotary member Jon Wang for coming up with the car show idea. “He said we need a signature event in the community,” she said. “It should be fun, do good work. We use our labor and other people’s money.”

The car show annually draws more than 20,000 attendees to The Gregory School, and “people look forward to it,” Condit said. About 400 cars are displayed in categories according to type and decade. “Some exhibitors sign up a year in advance,” she said. “We’re trying to find a 1921 car for our centennial year.” In exchange for the use of the school’s property, Rotary takes care of its field and donates a scholarship for a student to attend The Gregory School.

 Classic cars attract attendees to the event, but the raffle is the money maker. A $10 ticket gets attendees into the show and a chance to win a car – usually a used Corvette. Rotarians wanted to up the ante for the centennial year and do something extra special.

Irvin went to his friend Rob Draper at O’Rielly Chevrolet, who said he’d talk to the Chevrolet people about getting involved. “We were able to secure a new C8 Corvette Stingray Performance Package,” Irvin said. “This will enhance the car show and raffle.” And if the winner would rather have cash than the car, that person will take home $50,000.

“The color is red mist. They only made 2,000 last year, and it’s a hot item,” Condit said. “It has an $85,000 value and it’s very beautiful.”

Rotarians began selling raffle tickets in the spring. As of May 1, Irvin was leading the pack with 1,200 sales. “He’s setting the bar for the rest of us,”    Condit admitted. The general public can buy tickets at www.tucsonclassicscarshow.com and scroll to “Buy Tickets.” If referred by a Rotarian, put in that person’s name.

As Irvin prepares to take his new position as president July 1, he praised his predecessor, Jennifer Hoffman, for her work in keeping the organization rolling during a difficult year. “We have migrated from not being able to meet to actually growing during the pandemic due to her leadership,” he said.

Those leadership skills were likely honed in Hoffman’s current position as VP of operations at Contact One Call Center, started by her mother in the 1980s, that provides customer service support for 450 clients nationwide. Hoffman has found a great amount of fulfillment since joining Rotary in 2011. “I wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” she said. “It was such a warm, welcoming group who had similar views of giving back and a focus on literacy. I wanted to be involved.” 

For the past year-plus, members have met virtually and in small groups, which resulted in some feelings of isolation. To help bridge the gap, they upped their technology usage and turned to Switcher Studio for high-quality video production. “It connects multiple Apple products, so iPhones and iPads can interconnect and we can have up to five cameras at different angles in one room,” Hoffman explained. It allows virtual-meeting participants to feel more like they’re present. “Despite the pandemic, people have wanted to connect and give back,” she said.

While the car show may be Rotary’s most visible event, the organization is also involved with causes with international reach. Polio was last seen in the U.S. in 1979, but it still exists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

In 2009, local Rotarian Mike Harris decided to act. He started Ride to End Polio as part of El Tour de Tucson to raise funds to eradicate polio. Several fellow Tucson Rotary members joined up and pedaled in support.

“We sent a pile of money to Rotary International,” Irvin said. This caught the attention of John Hewko, general secretary and CEO of Rotary International, who came to Tucson and rode in El Tour. We’ve raised $10-$12 million every year since, and Rotarians come from around the world to participate. This is the largest fundraiser to rid polio in the world – right here in Tucson.”

Cyclists and supporters can participate by visiting www.rotaryd5500.org/page/ride-to-end-polio. 

In addition to running meetings, participating in community service projects and fundraising, one of Irvin’s biggest goals during his one-year presidential term is to balance the membership’s demographics. “I’d like us to be in the 50-50 range of men and women. Now we have 28-30% women.” That’s already changing, as seven of the last 10 new members were women. “Another focus is to support diversity in our club with more people of color,” he said. “I’d also like to take the average age and reduce it significantly, focus on younger members of our community.”

And then there’s the big Centennial Gala on Sept. 25 at Tucson Convention Center. Members and guests will bid on auction items with proceeds benefiting JTED and view an in-depth video of the club’s 100-year history. Produced by Rick Rose of Film Creations, the video will include narration by Hoffman and Irvin and recordings of several past Tucson Rotary presidents. The event chair is Jim Lubinski, CFO of Bookmans.

Irvin said he is eager to get started in his new position and proud to lead this group. “They’re 250 of the best do-gooders in Tucson, always trying to find a way to do more.”

After meeting at the Doubletree Hotel for more than 30 years it was recently decided that the Rotary Club of Tucson will now conduct its weekly meetings at the TCC. Those interested in attending a meeting or becoming a member can visit www.tucsonrotary.org or call the office at (520) 623-2281.

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