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Charter member a “keeper of history” for Fonthill Rotary

Rotary charter member Gail Levay. VOICE PHOTO

Gail Levay is the club’s archivist and “go-to person”

BY JENNIFER CHORNLEY
The VOICE

Gail Levay has put “Service Above Self” with the Rotary Club of Fonthill and the community for the past 27 years.

As one of the original charter members, Levay’s founding roots have grown for her be recognized within as the club’s “archivist” and “go-to person.” Of the 25 members who planted the Fonthill organization’s seeds, Levay is the only remaining founding member.

With her extensive experience with the organization’s structure and mandates, Levay is described as being a “consistent” factor by club president Mel Groom. “We have an executive changeover annually and someone like Gail is a constant through these changes.”

Groom says Levay’s longevity with the organization makes her a “keeper” of history as she has 27 years of archived photos and documents.

“She has a memory like a steel trap.”

Maintaining the club’s history is a task Levay says she enjoys doing. She has about 18 scrapbooks compiling 27 years of the club’s history containing photos, news articles, brochures, documents and prominent pieces of club lore.

Past club president Paul Snack considers Gail to be a “great resource for the history of the Fonthill Rotary Club and how it has evolved over the years.”

When Levay joined as a charter member with Rotary International, the organization was looking to expand and chose Fonthill as its new community. It took six months to gather 25 members, but on September 21, 1991, the Rotary Club of Fonthill was officially chartered under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Welland.

“I like the fact that not only does it contribute to the immediate community but also makes an impact internationally,” she says.

“I look forward to the Wednesday morning meetings, especially when we have speakers they are very interesting and insightful.”

The speakers come from a variety of backgrounds, including business, education, professionals, individual volunteers and community-based organizations and facilities.

Levay enjoys being with club and is happy that it has a family-sized membership total, as this allows for the members to get to know one another on a more personable level compared to clubs that may be three or four times the size.

Another aspect Levay likes is that it allows members to expand networking opportunities beyond the immediate community.

“Because meetings are weekly, we can do make-up meetings when we travel by visiting other clubs.” Worldwide, Rotary International has 30,000 active clubs comprised of over a million members in 163 countries.

“It gives the members an opportunity to gain insight, ideas and inspiration on how other clubs do things, such as fundraising initiatives,” Levay says.

She is the first point of contact and welcome at the club’s weekly meeting, looking after registration and attendance.

Because she has fulfilled all positions except presidency, Levay’s experience allows her to mentor new general and board members, educating them on the organization’s mandates and routines.

Past president and current District Governor Frank Adamson says, “Gail probably has the best attendance record of any member of the club.”

Paul Snack agrees that Levay is the “go-to person” for understanding all the Rotary rules and regulations.

Levay also enjoys interacting with the community, especially being involved in a number of community initiatives.

One of her favourite memories is the tree planting campaign the club initiated at Peace Park in 1991. Levay says a recent trip to the park brought back memories. Another community initiative Levay enjoys assisting with is the Summer Bandshell Series, on which board she sits.

Over the years, the Fonthill Rotary Club has undertaken many community events, including Canada Day celebrations, Christmas parades, the first phase of the Steve Bauer Trail development, Summer Bandshell concerts, Mayoral debates, and the Riehl Skate Park Day.

One of the club’s greatest fundraising efforts was for the E. L. Crossley Marching Band’s new uniforms, which took two years to complete with a $100,000 goal.

Another significant initiative spearheaded between the club and community was Pelham Cares.

Throughout the year, there are many fundraising efforts organized by the club to support a variety of local non-profit organizations that incorporate health and wellness, social, cultural, historical and humanitarian related causes. The club is currently working on ideas for new fundraising initiatives to help support its main annual event, the Rotary TV Auction that happens at the end of November and beginning of December.

Over the years, an aspect of the organization that Levay has seen evolved is increased participation of the youth programs. Rotary International has programs at all levels beginning in elementary school up to post-secondary.

The Rotary Club of Fonthill was the first club in Canada to sponsor an Early Act program at A.K. Wigg Public School, she says.

It also offers a one-year international youth exchange program, Rotary Youth Leadership Award program, Adventures in Leadership, and “Student Leadership Award Program for Students High on Training,” also known SLAPSHOT.

Levay says this is of great benefit to the organization as it prepares community youth towards becoming future community leaders and Rotarians.

“Local service clubs and other volunteer community organizations are the base of the town’s social foundation,” Levay says.

“Gratitude is extended to all the members who dedicate their time and resources to the community and to the businesses and individuals who donate to various causes.”

“Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self” and I think to have a member like Gail serving our club since inception is really special,” Groom says of Levay’s dedication to the club.  

Levay is a lifelong Pelham resident and business owner, which to Snack says is a benefit.

“She is plugged in to the community and knows most of the ‘who’s who’ of Fonthill. Gail grew up here, so, when we hear her stories it sounds like she has known absolutely everyone or is at least related to half of them.”

When Levay is not serving the community, she enjoys gardening and acrylic painting, which she has been doing for the past 15 years.

With her extensive contributions, the club has honoured Levay with the Paul Harris Fellowship and Rotarian of the Year awards.

Describing her role as the Club’s dedicated archivist, Adamson says, “We would be lost without her.”

 

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