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COLUMN: Pictou Rotary celebrates 75 years; member Art MacDonald contributes 50 years

Pictou Rotary is marking its 75th anniversary with a celebratory dinner and a tree-planting campaign. Rotary members are, from left, Jim Dunphy, Luke Young, Art MacDonald, Murray Hill, Roger Plamondon, Bill Dodson, Bill MacDonald and Mike Archibald.
Pictou Rotary is marking its 75th anniversary with a celebratory dinner and a tree-planting campaign. Rotary members are, from left, Jim Dunphy, Luke Young, Art MacDonald, Murray Hill, Roger Plamondon, Bill Dodson, Bill MacDonald and Mike Archibald. - Rosalie MacEachern

AMONG FRIENDS by Rosalie MacEachern

Pictou Rotary is using its 75th anniversary to put a spotlight on its oldest member, Art MacDonald, who has provided 50 years of service to the club and Pictou town.

MacDonald, who has had a hand in just about everything the club has undertaken in the last half-century, will be the guest of honour at a 75th anniversary dinner Thursday evening at Pictou Lodge.

“I’m truly and deeply honoured, never mind the jokes,” said MacDonald as fellow Rotarians made repeated jibes about a premature obituary.

MacDonald, who twice served as president and three times as club secretary, is well known as the founder of the annual Pictou Rotary musical but, as fellow Rotarian Murray Hill pointed out, he has contributed significantly to local education, politics, health care and church life.

Born in the old Aberdeen Hospital on New Glasgow’s west side, MacDonald moved to Pictou to teach at Patterson School in 1956, later getting a degree from St. Francis Xavier University and returning to teach at Pictou Academy. In 1970 he became principal at McCulloch School where he says one of his notable decisions involved a future fellow Rotarian.

“I’m the guy who wouldn’t let Luke Young wear shorts to class,” recalled MacDonald.

It was a couple of years after MacDonald settled in Pictou that he joined Rotary.

“My father-in-law was a Rotarian and I believe he may have been president at the time but it was somebody else who invited me to join. I knew they were very involved in the community and that suited me so I joined in 1968 and I am still here,” said MacDonald.

It was after seeing a Broadway production of Oliver in Truro, that MacDonald decided Pictou should be able to stage a similar show.

“I knew we had lots of talent and I couldn’t come up with a reason for not trying it. Don MacKenzie (East Coast FM Radio) played Oliver in our first production. It is wonderful to see how it has continued year after year with so many people involved.”

On the international scene, his greatest satisfaction as a Rotarian is in the near-eradication of polio.

“Young people today will not be aware but there was a great fight waged against polio and Rotary played a part in that. I believe there were only 22 cases recognized in the world in 2017 so to have come so far is a very great accomplishment.”

Luke Young remembers his father, Gordon, being in Rotary with MacDonald.

“Art first recruited me for a part in the annual Rotary musical at age 12 and he had such passion for it. I grew up very aware of what Rotary could do and of Art’s service to the community. I’ve been at Rotary with him now for 20 years.”

Rotarian Bill Dodson was a newcomer to Pictou when he was asked by a neighbour to help out with a dinner and a barbecue.

“I enjoyed the people and the projects so I joined in 1976. In those days many of the businesses closed at noon on Wednesdays and we’d all go to the Braeside Inn to hold our meetings over lunch. We’d get a very good crowd, too.”

Bill MacDonald was born on Pictou Island but left the area for a career in banking that took him to Toronto and the Caribbean but on retiring to Pictou he was also invited to join.

“It sounded like a good organization that could help at home and internationally so I decided I would give it a try and I’ve been here 25 years. “

For Pictou native Murray Hill, some of his first memories include Rotary.

“I can remember playing peewee hockey in the old rink and one of the six teams was sponsored by Rotary. I grew up around Rotary projects and when a colleague asked me to join in the 1980s I came to a meeting and never left.”

Miramichi native Jim Dunphy is also a Rotarian as a result of a personal invitation.

“I wasn’t from here and I didn’t know what Rotary was but Luke kept bugging me to join. Besides knowing the group was active in the community I was kind of interested in what they did internationally so I gave it a shot in 2002.”

He pointed to the club’s Shelter Box program which provides basic necessities in disaster areas as a good project.

“We finance one or two of those a year and within 48 hours or so of a disaster, such as in Haiti, those supplies are loaded onto a military aircraft and delivered,” said Hill, adding Rotary has also been involved in providing clean drinking water in parts of Africa.

Young also pointed out Rotary partners with other community groups on larger projects.

“Being able to partner is increasingly important because people today have more and more places to put their hats. We’re regarded as a group you can go to for support and assistance. Because we are an international organization, we have lots of networking potential. We hear about what goes on in other areas and we pick up ideas.”

At 17 members, the group is considerably smaller than when Art MacDonald first joined but Hill pointed out membership is stable.

“We also have a lot of friends in the community we can call upon when we need more help than our own membership can offer.”

Club members also host Rotarians visiting from other areas.

“We’ve had Rotarians from as far away as New Zealand so that can be pretty interesting,” said Hill.

Art MacDonald would like to see a little more attention on what Rotary has accomplished rather than his contributions but at the moment it is a losing battle.

“Did we mention he is a pretty good bridge player?” asked Bill MacDonald.

According to Hill, he also holds the record for the shortest meeting ever.

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca

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