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Rotary’s Wheels Keep Turning

Featured Photo from Rotary’s Wheels Keep Turning

The Rotary Club of Oviedo celebrates a half-century of service in our community

Perhaps lost in the turmoil that has gripped our collective lives of late, the most significant civic organization in the history of Oviedo turns 50 this year. If that wasn’t enough to celebrate, Shirley Range, the new president of the Rotary Club of Oviedo, became the first black woman to lead the local Club in its storied history when she took the helm on July 1. It’s a significant milestone and a testament to Rotary’s evolution from its white-male-only roots of 100 years ago to the diverse, inclusive, and vibrant service organization it is today.

A career philanthropic fundraiser working mostly for institutions of higher learning, Shirley rose to the top of the Rotary Club of Oviedo in unconventional fashion. Most notably, she has only been a Rotarian for three years. Most Club presidents have a decade or more of Rotary service under their belts. But Shirley’s profession found her, at times, either living away from home or commuting long distances, circumstances that made active participation in any local civic group difficult.

But that’s only part of the story. Truth be known, Shirley has been a longtime member of Rotary’s extended family via her husband, A.J. Range, who is a 25-year veteran of the Rotary Club of Oviedo. In fact, A.J. recently held the Rotary title of district governor, overseeing Clubs throughout Central Florida.

“We moved here in 1994 from Chattanooga, Tennessee, when my husband was offered a job at the University of Central Florida,” Shirley explains. “He became involved with the Rotary Club, and I have been following him around ever since, so people thought I was a Rotarian. Rotary is a family organization, so I always went to the training sessions and conferences with him.”

Even the Ranges’ son, Thomas, got involved, becoming a Paul Harris Fellow, an honorary title given to those who’ve made significant financial contributions to Rotary International’s many charitable initiatives around the world.

As A.J. was finishing up his role as district governor, he asked Shirley why she never took the plunge and became a Rotarian.
“I told him no one has ever asked me,” she laughs. “Membership in Rotary begins by invitation. He recruited me on his last day  as governor.”

Despite her short (official) tenure as a member of the Oviedo Club, Shirley was asked about a year ago if she was interested in leading the group. Since she had recently retired and finally had the time necessary to dedicate to a Club president’s duties, she accepted.

The cultural significance of Shirley’s presidency is important to both the local Club and Rotary at large. Female Club presidents and black Club presidents are becoming increasingly common, but black women are still underrepresented in the role. For Shirley, though, her individual honor is secondary to what she and the Club can accomplish together for the community. That type of Service Above Self is the mark of a true Rotarian.

“I guess it’s a big deal,” Shirley says of her milestone presidency, “but I think it’s just a matter of a group of people who are dedicated to service and making a difference together.”

Lance Ragland, a longtime Seminole County resident and Oviedo Rotarian for the past six years, is proud of his Club’s diverse and welcoming environment.

“I think that it’s a big step, a wonderful step,” Lance says of Shirley’s presidency, “and I think the fact she is following a woman [immediate past president Damaris Ghislaine Claude] is special, too.”

Only four women have led the Oviedo Rotary since 1970 – two in the past two years. Nonetheless, Lance believes Shirley’s term will be remembered more by what she will help the Club accomplish than by her gender or race.

“She is a firecracker who cares about the Club and the community,” Lance says. “It is going to be a big year with a strong board and Shirley is leading the way.”

Lance, who serves on the Club’s service project committee, says members are looking forward to some eventual normalcy after months and months of virtual meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Eventually, that means a return of the Oviedo Rotary’s rousing fundraising events, too. At the top of that list is the Club’s annual Blockbuster Movie event, which generates the bulk of the group’s funds every year. An exact date for this year's movie night is still to be determined.

Giving Back, Having Fun
When Rotary Clubs raise money, they turn right back around and give it to the community. The Oviedo Club supports more than a dozen local organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, the Oviedo Police Foundation, and Helpful Hands, Inc. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, members also bought and donated medical supplies and more to local hospitals.

While the Oviedo Club raises much-needed money for organizations and causes, it is really known for its service projects.
“It’s the blood, sweat, and tears,” Lance says of his Club’s most valuable community contribution. “We have participated in Adopt-a-Road for years, installed free libraries, and fixed up countless properties for residents who don’t have the means. Members identify a need, and we put on the gloves and boots and get out there. We've also delivered Meals on Wheels to local seniors every week for many years.”

Shirley says the Rotary Club of Oviedo’s service is more important today than ever before.

“What we are going through in the world right now is what Rotary is all about,” she affirms. “We are very focused and eager to come to the table and help.”

Between service projects and fundraisers, the Oviedo Club isn’t letting its 50th anniversary go by unnoticed. Since the Club was founded, its roster of members has included many Oviedo mayors, council members, and city staffers, plus countless business leaders and nonprofit champions. Shirley plans on honoring those who came before her throughout the Club’s golden anniversary year.

“It is our hope that as we look toward the next 50 years of our Club, our members will continue to be people of action who respond to the needs of our community by building bridges and filling gaps that can improve the quality of life for everybody here in Oviedo and beyond,” says Shirley. “We are looking forward to opening opportunities that build better relationships, partnerships, collaborations, and friendships. In short, we want to build an even better community.”

Fifty Years of Progress 
Mike Bryan, now 76, had just moved to town in 1976 and settled on Lake Charm when he was invited to join the Rotary Club of Oviedo by one of its founders. Moving up through the ranks and ultimately becoming president, Mike was a forward thinker whose actions would forever change the nature of the Club.

“The Rotary was all men back in the 1980s,” he says. “I met a woman, Vicki Eartham, who was a bank vice president at the time. I thought she would make a wonderful member and our first female member. Of course, the old-timers didn’t like that idea so much. She went on to become the first woman president of the Oviedo Rotary in 1992.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Mike went on to recruit the second female member of the Oviedo Club, Mimi Bruce, an Oviedo native whose grandfather served as one of the first members of the Oviedo City Council. Mimi was elected mayor of Oviedo in 1995 and ultimately became president of the Oviedo Rotary Club in 2005.

“Our members have always been leaders,” says Shirley. “The movers and shakers and influencers in the community. The Rotary Club of Oviedo has shaped this city and this county by virtue of the people who have been associated with it. Members past, present, and future want to see a difference in our community. We all just want to do what is best.”

COVID’s Call to Action

When the coronavirus crisis struck, members of the Rotary Club of Oviedo called for some backup to help our community. The Club recently secured a Global Grant from Rotary International of nearly $37,000 and is using the money to purchase tools and supplies for the local medical community to treat COVID-19 patients. 

Oviedo Rotarian Dr. Alex Sacharoff, the newly appointed Rotary district foundation chair, says the grant addresses the urgent need for advanced medical equipment in Central Florida.

“More importantly,” he adds, “the real beneficiaries are the patients who require these lifesaving treatments.”

The Rotary Club of Oviedo and Barry Gainer, who will serve as district governor next year, worked with AdventHealth to identify medical supplies that would most meet hospital needs.

“At one point back in April, we thought ventilators would be the most pressing need, but now that has changed,” Dr. Sacharoff says.

The money was eventually earmarked to purchase a vaporized hydrogen peroxide room sterilizer and five germicidal enclosures to disinfect medical instruments.

Club president Shirley Range adds that this grant is unique since the money is staying local. Most Global Grants are just that, often used to meet needs in impoverished countries around the world.

“This is exciting and groundbreaking,” Shirley says. “This is a milestone for us because it’s the first Global Grant led by our club and one of the very few matching grants ever hosted in our district.”

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