Visiting Rotarians from Southern Africa display their official Idyllwild Rotary squirrels at the weekly meeting of the Idyllwild Rotary Club on Wednesday, June 21. The seven participants in the Rotary Friendship Exchange spent two days in Idyllwild as part of their three-week trip to Southern California, which the Rotary hosted.

Seven members of Rotary Clubs in Botswana and South Africa spent a few days in Idyllwild, from June 19 to 21, as part of the Rotary Friendship Exchange. This Rotary International program aims to build international friendships by letting members experience different cultures, taking turns hosting each other in their homes and clubs.

This particular exchange was sponsored by District 5330 of Southern California and District 9400 of Southern Africa, with local members traveling to Southern Africa last November.

Upon arrival in Idyllwild, the Africans were generously hosted by innkeepers and Rotarians Marc Kassouf and Nathan DePetris at Strawberry Creek Inn after a reception on the deck at Quiet Creek Inn catered by Nam Kim of Mile High Café.

On Tuesday, Amanda Allen, interpreter of the Idyllwild Nature Center, opened the center on her day off and gave a tour of the grounds, illustrating the flora and fauna of the region. After some more sightseeing, the visitors were welcomed to the weekly Rotary meeting on Wednesday morning.

Professor Ulli Schmitt (left) from Botswana talks with Idyllwild Town Crier Co-publisher Jack Clark at a reception for visiting Southern Africa Rotarians on the deck at Quiet Creek Inn on June 19. Schmitt has developed and patented computer software and teaches at a university in Gabarone. Photo by Tom Kluzak

Two of the visitors were from the Rotary Club of Gaberone, Botswana: Professor Ulrich Schmitt and Michael Everingham. Schmitt, originally from Germany, teaches information technology at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and is an expert in personal knowledge management. Everingham is CEO at Sunglass Cabin, a retail business specializing in sunglasses and men’s casual sportswear.

All of the other visitors hailed from South Africa. Renate Bowers is a retired accountant and avid motorcyclist from the White River Club. On a previous trip to the U.S., she rode from Los Angeles to Chicago on Route 66 and then decided it was too much fun to quit so she and her companions continued to New York.

Carol Allais is a retired professor of sociology at the University of South Africa and a member of the Pretoria Hatfield Club. Jonathan GreenGrass was accompanied by his wife, Jill, and is a member of the Centurion Club. He has been in and out of retirement, called back to work as a business analyst with legacy IT systems. Jill is retired from British Airways.

Amanda Van Biljon, an accountant, was the leader of the group and also a member of the Pretoria Hatfield Club.

Ladd Seekins of the Rotary Club of Colton serves as the Friendship Exchange chair for District 5330 of Southern California, and was responsible for travel, lodging and entertainment of the group during their three-week visit to Southern California. After leaving Idyllwild, the group headed for Desert Hot Springs.

Rotary International was started by attorney Paul Harris in Chicago in 1905 so professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas, form meaningful lifelong friendships and give back to their communities. It didn’t take long for clubs to spring up on six continents so that Rotarians visiting just about any town in the world can find one of the 33,000 local clubs in 529 districts and be welcomed warmly to its weekly meeting.

There are no strangers among the 1.2 million Rotarians throughout the world. But Rotary is very much more than a “good-old-boys club.” Members donate time and money to local projects and the Rotary Foundation, a charity that focuses on six worldwide areas of need: promoting peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; saving mothers and children; supporting education; and growing local economies.

Money donated to the foundation comes back to the originating district where it can be used for local projects. International projects require cooperation between a local club and one in another country, and go through a rigorous vetting process that ensures they will be successful; sustainability is a strict requirement to prevent people from being left with a good thing that cannot be continued.

The name of the founder is memorialized frequently when a member donates a total of $1,500 to the Rotary Foundation and becomes a Paul Harris fellow. The number of fellows reached one million in 2006, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The Idyllwild Rotary Club is well-known in the community, sponsoring the Independence Day Parade, the Harvest Festival and many other events throughout the year, fueled by countless volunteer hours, with any proceeds being funneled back into Idyllwild in the form of scholarships and donations to local charities. The Rotary motto is, “Service above self.”