The Rotary International motto is “Service Above Self,” and those words are no more true than when they are applied to some of the international projects the organization has undertaken.
Whether it be financially or physically, the Scottsbluff-Gering Rotary Club has been living that motto for 100 years, including financial contributions to eradicate polio and physical contributions such as an orthopedic clinic conducted by Dr. Calvin Oba in Africa, a dental mission trip to Guatemala by dentist George Schlothauer, ambulances donated to communities in Russia and Mexico and a clean water project in Kenya. Along the way Scottsbluff-Gering Rotarian Harley Shaver developed the first Rotary Youth Exchange Program with John Rogers of Scottsbluff becoming Rotary’s first exchange student when he went to Australia in 1958.
“Rotary has always used the motto ‘Service above self,’” Schlothauer said. “That’s why we make such a commitment to the world and to the community. We have made a commitment to the world by trying to eliminate polio. According to the Rotary website, 99.9% of polio has been eradicated because of the work of Rotary. We as Scottsbluff-Gering Rotarians have contributed to that cause by contributing money to the Rotary Foundation.”
Rogers, now retired after a career in medicine and chemistry and living in Virginia, said he is honored to have been the first exchange student and thoroughly enjoyed the year he spent in Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia and the experiences he gained as a youth of 15.
“The town I went to had maybe 1,500 people,” Rogers said, “and I stayed with 12 different families — one family a month. Initially, I was worried that maybe they were scared that we were sending some hoodlum there they maybe wouldn’t want to have around. It turned out that they told me that everybody wanted to have me, so I was treated like royalty. It was just wonderful.”
During his stay, Rogers spent time with families in the town and with farm families, and was able to travel much of the country as he transitioned from an 8th grader to a freshman on his return. He recalls the trip from the Denver Airport (where his parents could stand outside and wave at him through the fence) to connecting flights in San Francisco, Honolulu and Sydney, Australia, before taking a short flight to Melbourne. The experience shaped the man Rogers grew to be.
“It’s something that makes one pretty independent,” Rogers said. “It really encourages you to be responsible. As a 15-year-old kid, that says a lot. It really makes you independent, and that’s something where it’s hard to separate out experience and genetics. I think a spirit of independence and the fact that I’m not easily intimidated grew out of that experience.”
Schlothauer made trips to northern Guatemala in 1999 and 2005, one month at a time, to visit different villages. Dentists would rotate in on one-month tours to keep the program going. He saw in the neighborhood of 20 patients per day doing fillings, extractions and other dental procedures.
“It was very rewarding,” Schlothauer said. “It was a situation in a third-world country where they had no access to dental care.”
With quality food and drinking water in short supply, Schlothauer said he remained very conscious of what he was taking in, wanting to make sure he didn’t become ill and unable to treat the villagers who were expecting him. He said they were often set up in churches where the altar was pulled to the treatment area as a supply table and “it was nothing to see dogs and chickens running through.” Schlothauer took baseball caps, Beanie Babies and pens with him for the children. Each day, villagers came to see what was happening.
“This is typical of when the dentist comes to town,” Schlothauer said, showing a picture of people trying to get a view of the activities through the window. “They didn’t necessarily come for dental work. They come to watch. It was the big entertainment.”