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Postcards from the past

Clubs now moving toward flexible attendance policies


Ronnie Yeager, 84, joined the Rotary Club of Aransas Pass, Texas, on 1 May 1970. Over the 52 years of club meetings since, he has had perfect attendance. His extraordinary tenure in Rotary earned him a special recognition letter in September 2020 from then-Rotary International President Holger Knaack.

For Yeager, who had a demanding schedule as a district judge, maintaining his attendance has required meticulous planning and tremendous dedication. "I enjoy the fellowship," he says, "and I find it exciting to be with a group that represents an excellent cross section of people in my five-county judicial district." Yeager says his connection to Rotary deepened in the 1980s, when it made polio eradication its flagship program. A polio survivor, Yeager developed post-polio syndrome 30 years after initially contracting the virus at the age of 8.

Postcards from Rotary’s archives show how members fulfilled and affirmed their meeting attendance while away from their home clubs. The family of J.G. Clapp, who served as secretary of the Rotary Club of Palm Springs, California, in the 1960s, donated some picturesque cards to Rotary International, including this one from 1968, when a member of the Palm Springs club visited the Rotary Club of Athens.

Attending meetings is an opportunity, not an obligation.

Traditionally, attendance for a Rotary member had meant participating in a regular weekly meeting at the member's club or at another club. Exceptions were granted only for those who attended the Rotary International Convention or were on official RI business, such as a board or committee meeting or a district conference. Participation in special club meetings, roundtables, informal gatherings, and service activities could not be counted as attendance.

Recent Rotary research shows that rigid attendance rules and policies are a barrier to attracting new members and engaging current ones. Further, they exclude young professionals who have developing careers or are starting families. In response, Rotary International has stipulated that any Rotary club wishing to try a new approach can do so by amending its bylaws. Clubs are encouraged to relax attendance expectations or not have them at all.

His attendance streak faced a challenge about 20 years ago when his family took a three-week vacation along the coast of Australia. Yeager managed to make up his absences while on the trip — a practice that in years past typically would be affirmed by sending a postcard to one's club. Yeager also recalls traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2006 and attending a local Rotary club event. "The club secretary said he would mail a postcard to my club," he says, "but I had him give it to me because I wanted to make sure that my club received it."

In Yeager's early years in Rotary, the Aransas Pass club met on Mondays, at times in conflict with his busy law practice. "There were several other Rotary clubs within 25 miles of where I live," he says, "and I always made sure that I got to the adjoining town for a makeup meeting." One nearby club was known for treating visiting members with delicious fried chicken. "That club had about 20 members," he recalls, "but they would normally have 70 to 100 visitors who were there like me for the food and attendance makeup."

Yeager commends his club's flexibility. Since retiring in 2013, he has been hospitalized twice. His club, which now has 13 members, accommodated his situation by holding the meeting at the hospital.

In recent years, many Rotary clubs have innovated by adopting flexible formats. Some clubs rotate their meeting locations among a member's home, a restaurant, or a business. Some meet virtually, while others use a hybrid format, allowing members to call in to in-person meetings.

"I think having some flexibility in meeting attendance requirements is a good idea," says Yeager. "It'll accommodate people with a disability or young people with a busy work schedule. Holding meetings every other week or in the evenings are good ideas to explore."

Changing the meeting format can keep members engaged and active, and enables guests to have fun, productive meetings that connect with Rotary's values and mission.

"There are certain things in life that we don't have that much control over," Yeager adds. "The new rules now give you a whole lot better control over that."

Susan Hanf is a Heritage Communications specialist at Rotary International.

This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Rotary magazine.