Written by Max Evans in 2019

Max Evans

November, 2019
(Written at the invitation of President-Elect Sheila Mark)

Other than church membership, Rotary is my longest active affiliation with any organization, but in the 1960's it didn't start out that way. I was the assistant superintendent of schools in Marietta, Ohio and my boss, Allen Rupp, nominated me for membership in the Marietta club. Trouble was - he was already a member and the Rotarian in charge of classifications would not create another "public school educator" slot so I was off to Kiwanis for several years.

My 50 years in Rotary actually began on Monday, March 17, 1.969 in Kano, Nigeria. The route to Kano was from the superintendency in the Marietta Schools to the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at Ohio University then to Kano as the leader of the College's Teacher Training Proiect in Northern Nigeria. Nigeria was then engaged in a civil war, but with my wife Kathy and three kids ages 5, 8, 11), we left Athens in July, 1968. My Ohio predecessor in Kano had been a member of the Rotary club there and recommended that I join. Recollections of my experiences in that club are dim except for two things: the president was a Chinese man who owned the local hardware store and there were no Nigerian members. Fast forward to 2002-2003 and Jonathon Majiyagbe from that club is President of Rotary International.

Sometime after returning to 0hio University in 1970, I joined the Athens club which met on Mondays, then at the Sportsman on West Union Street. The Dean of the College of Education, Allen Myers, Don Knox and I were regular attenders from that College. Still remembered by some Athens Rotarians from those days was surely the briefest invocation in the history of Rotary which was given by Rotarian Rev. Fred Luchs: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!" My first committee assignment was as chair of the lnternational Service Committee; however, that work was interrupted in 1980 when the College of Education was awarded what turned out to be a 10-year project for the development of primary education in Botswana. I was a member of the design team for the project. As a result, Kathy and I ended up living in the country for about 8 years where she, a nurse practitioner, also served as the medical officer for the U.S. Embassy.

Joining the Rotary club in Gabarone, the capital, was "a natural". Meetings were held at noon on Fridays at the Southern Sun Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn) with an open bar beginning about 11:30! Again, all members, about 35-40, were expatriates until I sponsored Michael Dingake who was then an administrator at the University of Botswana. Mike's story is a very interesting one. Although a native of Botswana, Mike had attended a black secondary school in South Africa where he became very active in the anti-apartheid movement, was later arrested, and imprisoned on Robben Island for several years alongside Nelson Mandela. During that time Mike pursued his education through a correspondence course offered by the South African government. There was some uneasiness about Mike's becoming a member of the club, expressed privately to me, because of his well-known record as a fighter against apartheid and his relationship with Mandela.

In 1987 the US Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Rotary clubs could no longer exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Shortly after, on my next return to Athens which included a visit to our club, I found that two women had already been admitted - Lois Kiss and Kay Atkins - and that Lois was now president! International Rotary policy required that existing clubs must vote annually on this issue until women were admitted. During my years in Botswana, the club held two such votes but the 60 percent approval level was narrowly missed. Perhaps because of the failure to admit women, a German expatriate in the noon club started a second club in the city which, by Rotary policy, required the admission of women.

In 1985, Rotary International began the Polio Plus program which became an important part of both the Botswana club's program and the Government of Botswana. That country became polio-free in 1991. The club was also involved with projects dealing with the influx of young boys who had left their rural home villages for the bright lights of the city, leading to increasing incidences of crime. A Rotary club located in a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg Rosebank, partnered with the Botswana club to provide medical equipment for Princess Marina Hospital and clinics in more remote regions of the country.

I rejoined the Athens club in 1991 at the end of the Botswana project but continued doing consulting work in Africa: at the University of Namibia (funded by the Ford Foundation) where the country had just achieved independence from South Africa and in South Africa (funded by USAID). I visited the Windhoek, Namibia club on a number of occasions, once when the District Governor for Angola, Namibia and South Africa had flown in from his home club in Port Harcourt. I vividly recall conversations with Windhoek members about the conflict then taking place between the Hutus and Tutsis in which upwards of one million Tutis were killed.

The relationship between Ohio University and the country of Botswana continues to flourish to this day, growing out of the primary education work done there from 1980-1990 and President Charles Ping's personal interest in the country. He participated in the installation of the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Botswana, visited the work of the project on several other occasions and, in 1989, invited Quett Ketumile Masire, President of Botswana, to give the commencement address at Ohio University and to receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Our own Rotarian Renee Middleton, Dean of the Patton College, led an Ohio University team of faculty and administrators to Botswana a few years ago resulting in new relationships to the benefit of both Ohio and Botswana.

Reflecting upon my years in Rotary, I have personally been privileged to see just a bit of the good works in which its members around the globe are engaged. Nigeria, where I got my start in Rotary, has now been polio-free for three years according to the NY Times. And in Botswana, a country that was polio-free, has launched again a massive inoculation campaign when a case of polio was found in February 2019. The work of Rotary goes on worldwide, just as it does here in Athens, Ohio, where I have spent by far most of my Rotary years. The Rotary motto - SERVICE ABOVE SELF - resonates throughout our planet.

Max Evans,
Paul Harris Fellow