GANDER, NL – Sifting through stacks of newspaper clippings and old photos, Bruce Sparkes can’t help but laugh when reflecting on the last 40 years.
He was a charter member of the Gander Rotary Club when it was founded 1977, and is the last active original member today.
He was 23 when he joined.
“Oh, we had some fun,” recalled Sparkes, especially noting the Santa Claus parades.
“We’ve had some fantastic floats over the years, from a space ship to a mummers Christmas with a burning woodstove on the flatbed.
“Another time we built a doll house during the parade, but now we partner with Newfoundland Power to help collect with the food.”
The group officially got underway Nov. 3, 1977, started by the late John Parker, an RCMP officer in Gander at the time.
“I believe he came here from Grand Falls-Windsor, because that’s the organization who sponsored us,” recalled Sparkes.
“(Parker) saw there was a void in this type of organization, as it’s a little bit different, because it fills as many classifications from the community as it can.”
The Rotary Club’s members are involved with law, academics, retail, hospitality, construction, communication, healthcare, and more.
While its primary objective has been developing Cobb’s Pond Rotary Park –which started as a concept in 1982, opened in 1985 and continues to see upgrades – the Rotary Club has donated to dozens of Gander-based organizations and supported international Rotary charities as well.
“It’s been a great 40 years, and I don’t think there’s an organization in Gander that we haven’t helped in some way or another,” said Sparkes.
Current president Patrick Kean said the Rotary Club continues to remain strong, with 43 active members.
And coming from a dedicated past, Kean says members aim to continue the Rotary Club’s work into the future.
“I think it’s pretty amazing to have a club in the community for so many years that is still vibrant and planning projects for the future,” said Kean.
“We’ll never stop doing things with Cobb’s Pond, but we are in the phase now where we are looking at other major projects.
“We aren’t to the point where we have anything to announce yet, but we are hoping over the next year or two, we’ll have another major project to start working towards.”
A few Gander Rotary highlights
Rotary Club of Gander founded Nov. 3, 1977
First charter night held Dec. 3, 1977
Decision to create Cobb’s Pond walking trail 1982
First live auction took place in 1983
Cobb’s Pond Rotary Park opened in 1985
Mary Chaffey appointed first female club president – 1993-1994
Hosted annual 7820 district conference in 2003 – Atlantic Canada, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Magdalen Islands.
Has had 38 presidents - five of whom were women.
Currently has 43 members – 28 per cent women.
Meeting 50 weeks of the year, the Gander Rotary Club has held 2,000 luncheons.
First contribution was made to the James Paton Memorial
Has supported dozens of local organizations