Rotarian Reflection – Erik Cempel

I was first introduced to Rotary by my wife Pil Bin, who I first met in 2003. She was a Rotarian in South Korea, and as far as I know, was the first Rotarian I knew personally. Prior to this point, while I vaguely knew of Rotary’s existence, if pressed I might have guessed that it was a cult-like secret organization involving men smoking cigars in wood-paneled rooms and exchanging secret handshakes. 

And this certainly would not have been an organization for me.

However, Pil Bin corrected my ignorance, and I first attended some meetings of a small club in San Francisco while I lived there; I was briefly a member before moving to Seoul. In Seoul I attended a few of Pil Bin’s club’s meetings, but I was never ever to make the timing work to become a regular member. 

It was not until moving back to Chicago in 2007 that my wife encouraged me to walk the 2 blocks from my new office to the world’s first Rotary club. Perhaps I was focused on my career, perhaps I still didn’t quite grasp the benefits of Rotary, or perhaps my introverted tendencies dampened my desire to go: I procrastinated. 

Then in fall of 2008, Pil Bin once again took charge of the situation: she attended a meeting of ROTARY/One (without me) as a visiting international Rotarian. Later that evening, as she described the grandeur of the meeting place and the scale of the meeting, she spoke of some person “who must have been important” making a special guest appearance, getting a standing ovation, saying a few words, and shaking many hands. She couldn’t remember the name.

It was John McCain.

And that got my attention. Not long after I attended my first meeting. I expected a highly stiff and starched crowd, and I expected to feel out of place.

It could not have been farther from the truth: Everyone was welcoming and friendly. The Club continued to draw me in with its deep history, great speakers, and tremendous amount of service work.

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