GARLAND — A local group has reformed the Garland Rotary Club in an attempt to hold the annual Rotary Fair, a fixture in the town for more than 30 years. The sole topic of a special-called town board meeting Thursday, the event’s name and the form it ultimately takes on is very much in doubt.
The Garland Board of Commissioners met to consider holding “Garland Community Day” in the Rotary Fair’s place Oct. 5, but no action was taken in light of the announcement of the new club in the wake of Garland Rotary Club’s terminated charter due to low membership.
“Many citizens have inquired about activities for the Rotary Fair that has been in Garland over 30 years,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy. “They anticipate it and look forward to it every year. I hope all of us committed to Garland will leave here with a collaborative action plan … a solution that will benefit the town and all its citizens.”
Pearl Smith, representing a newly-formed Rotary Club and Cynthia Murphy, representing a concerned citizens group, each spoke to the board Thursday.
“As of last night, we have a new Rotary Club,” said Smith. “We have 26 charter members and they are ready to go. We are going to have a parade, and we are going to have it the first Saturday of October. It will be business as usual as it has always been.”
Last year’s was the 31st annual Rotary Fair and Parade, featuring a full slate of activities, including the parade, tribute to veterans, a plethora of games and vendors and a street dance to close out the night. Town officials have touted the event with attracting a large number of people, putting the town on display and allowing vendors a good chance to advertise themselves and bringing outside revenue into the southern Sampson town.
“We are going to have a Rotary Day,” said Smith.
Murphy said, after talking with Rotary district governor Andy Chused Thursday morning, she was under the impression the charter was terminated and a new Rotary Club would have to undergo a 6-8 month process to be fully recognized and do Rotary business under that name.
“He said that we could not have a Garland Rotary Fair,” said Murphy.
“We do not have the same number as we had before, but we have a new number,” Smith replied. “We have started a whole new charter.”
Cynthia Murphy said it would be disappointing if the town could not have its Rotary Fair and she and others brainstormed on possible options with a small group of people Tuesday night, the same time Smith and many others were convening to revive the Rotary Club.
With Smith’s announcement, Cynthia Murphy requested to Smith that the new club join forces with the group of concerned citizens.
“They can add something to make it a better fair,” said Cynthia Murphy. “We cannot let Garland die, and that’s the reason we came together as concerned citizens. I would like to have something huge — better than before.”
Smith said she would have to bring it up with other club members.
“Right now we have 26 charter members and we won’t be accepting any more members into the club unless it comes before the committee of the club, and we have to finish forming those,” Smith remarked.
Longtime Rotary president Sandy Norris is involved in the new club. Other residents said they hoped they would get a chance to join.
“I was a member of Rotary,” said Garland resident Brenda Cromartie. “We don’t need to start any club that is not open, that anyone who wants to be in it can be.”
In the end, “Garland Community Day” was not considered. The matter will be further discussed at the town’s Sept. 10 meeting.
“Since the Rotary Club has reorganized, I guess we don’t need that, if they’re planning to do what they have always done,” said Mayor Murphy. “I still think we need to have a level of support and commitment, not just from their 26 members, but from this board and the community. Because, before you’ve had months to plan. Now you have four weeks to plan.”
Smith said she was confident that was enough time.
“I think we need all the support we can get, not just from the Rotary Club but you need all the volunteers you can get,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith.
Pearl Smith did say that a member from Clinton Rotary would be sent down to sponsor Garland and guide the new club. Ralph Smith, her husband, suggested that the event not actually take on a name at this point, until the new Garland Rotary Club can get further along in the process and meet again with Chusen, at which point the name of the Oct. 5 event could be considered by the board.
“I don’t care who’s doing it, the time frame bothers me,” said Commissioner Matthew Register. “Four weeks is just quick. My biggest concern is Garland looking bad if we don’t pull something off. That’s been my concern all along.”
Michael Toler said there are a handful of old Rotary Club members in the new club, which should ease the transition. He said it was important to see that the Rotary Club stays active in the community, just as it has for decades.
“We know what it takes to put it on, we know what we’ve got to do in order to get it, we can pull this off for the parade.” said Toler. “The Rotary Club in Garland has been a large backbone for this town for over 30-some years, and I do not want to see Rotary Day taken away from the town of Garland. When you pass that park every day, when you pass that fountain, when you see that clock sitting in that park — that was not done by the town of Garland. That was done by the Garland Rotary Club and the citizens I hope remember all that.”
Three scholarships have also been given annually by the Garland Rotary Club to Union, Lakewood and East Bladen high schools, and donations are made to non-profits and a number of ongoing projects.
“We have been doing this for years and we want to continue to do things to help our town,” said Toler.
Mayor Murphy agreed the Rotary Club’s impact has been positive, and called for inclusiveness in any new form of the club.
“I don’t think anyone can deny the impact the Rotary Club has made on the town of Garland. I am concerned that there still seems to be some division here. I am very concerned that this is more political than trying to help the town of Garland,” the mayor said. “I’m very disappointed this is taking place without the entire community knowing about it and giving everybody an opportunity who is eligible to be a Rotarian.”
“I would like to see us work together as a community,” said the mayor. “I was hoping (Garland Community Day) would bring us together without any political ambition, and just do the right things and involve everybody.”
“We don’t need the conflict,” added Cynthia Murphy. “We need to unite together and be as one.”
Ralph Smith said the Rotary Club is not political nor religious, and felt the group could bring another event of which the town could be proud.
“I really think if anybody can pull it off, that group can,” said Smith, a former two-term president of the Garland Rotary Club. “With the help of the rest of the community, I think they can do it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.