When someone from the Rotary Club of Houma introduces themselves to the public, according to club president Sybil Webb, the club member is usually asked questions about the organization.
In her role, Webb said she’s become accustomed to educating others about the Rotary Club of Houma, which is preparing to celebrate its 90th anniversary Nov. 2.
Part of this education is dispelling commonly held beliefs regarding the organization.
“This isn’t strictly a gentlemen’s club full of old men wearing suits,” Webb said. “In other words, this isn’t your grandfather’s club.”
The club has members that range in age from 23 to 95, which includes men, women and people of various ethnic backgrounds.
Examples of the many activities the Rotary Club of Houma engages in throughout the year is an annual dictionary project for all third graders in Terrebonne Parish, a blood drive, food drive and sponsorship of an EarlyAct Club at Mulberry Elementary School and two Interact Clubs at Houma Junior High School and H.L. Bourgeois High School.
Similar to the Rotary Club of Houma, these Interact clubs also participate in worthwhile community projects under the guidance of Rotary members.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is just the amount of lives Rotary touches throughout not only our local area, but the country and world as well,” Webb said.
One of the bigger projects Rotary International, of which the Rotary Club of Houma is an active member, is involved with is the eradication of Polio worldwide. Along with its fellow 34,049 clubs and more than 1.2 million club members, the Rotary International Foundation has raised millions upon millions of dollars to wipe the crippling disease off the face of the planet.
“We only have something like four countries left before we reach our goal,” Webb said. “This is something we all continue to strive for.”
HOW IT STARTED
Getting a completely accurate depiction of the Rotary Club of Houma’s history isn’t the easiest task because as its own website states, “Since our founding members operated in a most informal manner, written records do not exist giving a written rational for establishing our Rotary Club.”
However, this doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t have an interesting story to tell.
Only 16 years after Paul Harris chartered Rotary International, Rotary set up shop in Houma on Nov. 1, 1921.
Meetings were held at noon on Wednesdays at the Elks Lodge of Houma. Other meeting places for the club were the Sea Breeze Hotel, Booty’s Southern, Red Carpet Inn, the Plantation House and the Holiday Inn.
In what has become a custom of organizations such as the Rotary Club of Houma, another club helped sponsor them initially. In this case, it was the Rotary Club of New Orleans.
Many years later, the Rotary Club of Houma returned the favor when they sponsored the Houma-Terrebonne Rotary Club in 1977. There’s actually three Rotary-affiliated clubs in Terrebonne Parish with the addition of the Houma Sunrise Club two years ago.
Webb said all three work together for the good of the people that call south Louisiana home. In fact, during his last visit to the area, District 6200 Governor Linwood Broussard, told Webb how impressed he was with the relationship the three clubs had with one another.
“One of the main reasons why we have three different clubs is different times of the week work better for different people,” Webb said. “To accommodate schedules, we had people who wanted to branch off and start other clubs. However, we routinely come together for a number of community activities.”
An example is the recent Rotary Roast for Martin Folse, an event where a portion of the proceeds were divided among the Houma Rotary Club’s local youth leadership programs, the Houma-Terrebonne Rotary Club’s local high school scholarships and the Houma Sunrise Rotary Club’s Christmas Bicycle Give-a-Way.
BREAKING THROUGH BARRIERS
Although she doesn’t consider herself a piece of walking and talking history, Brenda Faucheux has reserved a special place in the Rotary Club of Houma’s history.
Faucheux broke with a long-standing men-only tradition and became the local club’s first woman when she joined in 1991.
Rotary International made it possible for women to become members in 1989.
“I actually attended meetings in an informal capacity from 1989 to 1991,” said Faucheux, who works as the executive assistant for Fletcher Technical College chancellor Travis Lavigne. “I became interested in what the club did and wanted to join.”
For many years, Faucheux has served as the club’s general secretary in charge of things such as finances and historical records.
Faucheux presided over the club in 2003-04.
Faucheux said she finds it “unbelievable” that the club now boasts a membership where more than one-third of its 100 members are women.
“I actually went at least five years where I was the only woman,” she said. “To see where [women membership] is today is truly awesome.”
At the time Webb joined seven years ago there were only five or six women in the club.
“When I first came in you still had what I would consider as your old-school guys who all sat at the same table and weren’t too keen on women being in the club,” Webb said. “But, most of the male membership will probably tell you that we’ve made the club better because of our detailed nature, etc.”
Faucheux said it is hard for her to pick out one singular thing she loves most about the Rotary Club of Houma.
“I love all aspects of the club,” Faucheux said. “It is a meaningful organization that participates in many meaningful activities. The club is a big part of who I am and the type of person I’ve become over the years.”
The Rotary International theme for 2011-12 is “Reach Within to Embrace Humanity.”
Webb said the organization has continually demonstrated its ability to do just that through the years.
She cited one particular example where her club and other clubs outside south Louisiana made a major impact on the lives of local residents.
“Fellow clubs from all over the world reached out to us immediately following Hurricane Katrina,” Webb said. “We took in close to $500,000 that we distributed in the form of school supplies, a truck load of food and a washer, dryer and refrigerator for every resident of Grand Isle that lost those items.”
Members such as incoming president Michael Bergeron of Houma and Jude Laperouse of Laperouse Metal Works said they value the fact that their organization routinely makes a direct impact on the lives of locals through its many activities.
Bergeron said he knew the club was for him after seeing what his father, Claude, did during his time with the club. Claude Bergeron served as the club’s president in the mid-‘80s, according to Michael.
“I would actually meet up with him at the meetings from time to time because I went to school at Vandebilt, which was right across the street from the Holiday Inn,” Bergeron said. “I always felt right at home over there.”
Laperouse, a 34-year member of the Rotary Club of Houma, said he probably got involved in the organization for the all the wrong reasons initially.
“All I knew was a lot of business people were in it, so I thought it would serve a good tool to network with others,” he said. “Little did I know how much more there was to it. I quickly found out how service-oriented the club was — and that’s the part of it I’ve grown to love. We really do a lot of good work that all of us are proud of.”
To learn about the club, visit www.houmarotary.org or call 856-1723.
Staff Writer Thad Angelloz can be reached at 857-2207 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.