Editor's note: The 2018 Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Awards banquet will be held Saturday, March 2, at the Quality Inn & Suites in Batavia.
As Batavia’s oldest service club prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it will be honored by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce with the Special Service Recognition of the Year on Saturday.
Rotarian Christopher White stressed the importance of the Rotary Club of Batavia in the community when he nominated it for the Chamber award.
“Founded by local businessmen looking for camaraderie and an opportunity to give back to their community, the Club has made meaningful contributions, not just financial, but of their time, talent and expertise to make Batavia a better place to live,” White wrote.
Rotary’s contributions to the Batavia community include support of Batavia Concert Band, Genesee County Youth Bureau Community Garden, Genesee Cancer Assistance, Crossroads House, Genesee Symphony Orchestra, GO ART!, Fourth of July Picnic in the Park, Genesee/Orleans ARC and United Memorial Medical Center.
And they support local youth in ice hockey, minor league baseball, Boy Scouts, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), YMCA Camp Hough and the YMCA Summer Adventure Program.
The Rotary Scholarship Program provides $18,000 each year to high school students from Batavia, Notre Dame and Genesee Valley Educational Partnership.
Rotary also gives local high school students a chance to spend a year abroad, and has hosted foreign exchange students looking to experience life in the United States and Western New York. Two of these students, one from Australia and the other from Denmark, are in Batavia now and attended a recent meeting to tell of their experiences at Algonquin Provencial Park in Ontario, Canada.
Rotary has also provided youth leadership training to many local high school and college students through Rotary International. And they support the world by continuing to raise funds from club members to support Rotary International in its quest to eradicate polio from the face of the earth.
Batavia Rotary hosts the annual girls’ and boys’ high school basketball tournaments, the annual Father’s Day Fly-in Breakfast at Genesee County Airport, the annual Beerfest and raffle, and the Memorial Day Flags and Flowers Sale.
Not to be forgotten are the Rotary shows which were put on for so many years.
White noted that many of the current 75 Rotary members sit on boards of local organizations and nonprofit agencies, lending their support and knowledge to them. They can be found making an impact outside of the Club itself, he said. Members range in age from 28 to 88 and all believe in the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.”
Batavia Rotary was founded in 1919 by Batavia businessman Carlton M. Sleight, who had only lived in the city little more than a decade, according to William F. Brown Jr. in his book "Service Above Self: The Story of a Rotary Club."
Sleight had attended a Rotary meeting in Elmira, while living and doing business in Canandaigua, and Brown believes that his visit may have inspired him to form a club in Batavia. On March 13, 1919, Sleight invited 25 business and professional men to meet at the Holland Club with Dr. John H. Ready from the Rochester club to learn how to form a Batavia unit.
The group was so enthused that, two months later, a dinner meeting was held at the Batavia Club to discuss the reports of committees working on bylaws and a constitution. Officers were installed May 26 at the Odd Fellows Temple (the former St. James Episcopal Church on Ellicott Street). More than 200 Rotarians attended from Rochester to Niagara Falls and enjoyed a five-course dinner served by the Eastern Star.
Batavia became Rotary International’s charter No. 491.
Batavia dentist Joseph Rowbottom is a 50-year member of Batavia Rotary, along with Dave Schwartz and Don Iwanicki.
Rowbottom first became exposed to Rotary after moving to Corfu. When he was a freshman in dental school, he had a friend whose fiancee’s mother knew a dentist in Corfu who was retiring. That turned out to be Guy Patterson and Rowbottom bought his building. (Guy Patterson's daughter was the famous swimmer Greta Paterson, who swam across Lake Erie in 1955.)
In 1966, the Vietnam War was heating up, and Rowbottom didn’t want to be drafted, so Patterson agreed to hold the building and Rowbottom enlisted. He served two years in the military and after returning home, started attending Rotary meetings with dentist Patterson.
“I’ve been coming ever since,” Rowbottom said. “I continued to block off time on my schedule from noon to 1:15 p.m. so I could attend Rotary. I’ve always had a lot of fun at Rotary. I also liked the Buffalo Club, but they were so formal.”
Rowbottom said his friends challenged him in the beginning to propose that women be allowed to join Rotary. At the time, the Batavia Jaycees were thrown out of the organization for accepting a female member. He proposed Rotary welcome in Terry Carauna, the dean of Business at Genesee Community College.
“They didn’t accept her and I almost got thrown out of Rotary,” Rowbottom said. “Today, we would be in a world of hurt without women. This club could not function as it does without women.”
One of the newer, younger members is Pam Sivret, who joined in 2017. Her sister, Teri Yasses has been a member since 1994 and Sivret has helped her with the fly-in breakfasts and Rotary shows.
When Yasses said Sivret should join, she did.
“I love the friendship and how we are all very like-minded,” Sivret said.
She was the first winner of a Rotary Youth Leadership Award to become a Rotary member. She won the award in 1990 while a student at GCC.
Lori Aratari was working for Triple AAA when she joined Rotary.
“They encouraged us to be part of our community and get involved,” Aratari said. “I explored the service clubs locally and Rotary stood out.”
She has chaired fundraisers and is in her second term on the board.
“I’ve made amazing friends through Rotary and my husband enjoys participating in Rotary events,” Aratari said.