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FORT ERIE’S ROTARY CLUB- HISTORY SHARED

Submitted by Christine Whelan

APRIL 29, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 18

Peter Waytena is looking to find a good home for a box of Fort Erie history he has kept safe all these years. Serving as President of the Fort Erie Rotary Club for many years, he has, according to his granddaughter, Summer DeBeau, who originally contacted the Observer, neatly stored years of Rotary Club records, documents and newspaper clippings containing an abundance of history on Fort Erie and all the ways the club contributed to the town since its beginning.

“He doesn’t want his efforts to save history destroyed.” Summer shared.

I spoke with Mr. Waytena, who is turning 101 years old on May 1st, along with his family, by phone last week. He and his daughter, Susan (McCleary), talked about where they were considering reaching out with an offering of the records to. They wondered about the museum, a local historian or the current President of the Fort Erie Rotary Club.

Peter explained, “I have all the minutes to all the meetings.”

The records he has begin with the discussion and consideration of starting the Fort Erie Rotary Club, one year prior to its start, in 1952.

Peter shared, “I am one of the first members here in Fort Erie. I kind of feel responsible for the records.”

The Start of the Rotary Club in Fort Erie

According to a document, Peter Waytena’s History of the Rotary Club of Fort Erie, in June of 1952, three Rotarians from Buffalo Rotary Club met with Fort Erians, a real estate and insurance broker and a family practitioner, where they decided that Fort Erie should have a club. They immediately started recruiting.

The Rotary Club of Fort Erie started in 1953 with 23 members and a mandate of providing local businessmen and professionals with fellowship. Later, this mandate was expanded to provide humanitarian aid to people around the world.

The documents in Waytena’s collection include many stories describing “a history of successful campaigns”.

Peter himself, on the phone, shared the story of the club’s first project. “It started when someone died in a fire,” he began, telling of how the casualty could have been avoided and a smoke ejector was presented to the fire department. However, he stated, “there was no way they could get the fan to a fire.”

He continued, “The club came up with the idea of a van to carry the equipment that the firemen needed. This van was bought by the club and named the Rotary Rescue Rig.”

In 1954, the Fort Erie Rotary Club’s main project became working with disabled children for almost 50 years. Due to Provincial Health Care restructuring and the amalgamations of the Easter Seals Society, the campaigns are now run out of Toronto head office.

In 1961, the club presented a boat and trailer to the newly organized Underwater Recovery Unit of the Fort Erie Fire Department. The following year, extra equipment such as wet suits, regulators, tanks and aqua-lungs were presented as needed.

The club was instrumental in introducing the Lifeline System, a personal emergency response and support service designed for the care of the elderly and disabled people who live alone.

Exchange Students

Over the years, exchange students have been brought to Fort Erie with the help of the club. The first, in 1969, came to Canada from Australia.

Susan shared, “Mom and Dad had exchange students stay at our house. They would stay with us for three or four months at a time while going to Fort Erie High School. They’d learn about our customs and speak at the club.”

“Then in1987, Mom and Dad travelled to Australia to catch up with the girls who stayed with us years earlier, when they were teenagers.”

At The Very Beginning, There Were Four Men

The Rotary Club was founded in Chicago. On February 23, 1905, the documents state, “Once there were four men”. They were professional men– an attorney, a coal dealer, a mining engineer, a merchant tailor. They met and agreed on a club that would be organized based on the idea that “men in business could be and should be personal friends.”

“Rotary International is an organization of business and professional leaders of all nationalities and religions that helps promote peace and understanding worldwide,” Peter Waytena defined in another document.

The Wives

The club has shifted with the times. Susan explained, “At the beginning, the Rotary Club was just for men. Back then, there was another group called the Inner Wheel. This group was made up of wives of the men of the Rotary Club. Their main goal was to do fundraising. Now, women are accepted into the Rotary Club. It doesn’t matter if you’re a businessman or a businesswoman, you can be a Rotarian.”

More About the Waytenas

Peter Waytena, as a man, his character and his accomplishments, have not gone unnoticed.

He and his wife, Mary, owned Erie Jewellers on Jarvis Street for many years. They celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last August 11th.

Waytena was granted the 1st Paul Harris Award in 1980 and he received the Queen Elizabeth II’s  Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013, at a ceremony in Niagara Falls, presented by Rob Nicholson, for outstanding contributions in community service. At Waverly Beach, the Fort Erie Rotary Club placed a bench in honour of Peter and his 60 years as a charter member.

As we wrapped up the interview and I wished Peter a Happy 101st Birthday, it made me smile when Susan let me know her dad has said he is going to be starting over. On May 1st, he will, again, be one year old.

If anyone is interested in connecting with Peter and his family regarding the Rotary Club records, you can contact his daughter, Susan, through email: susanmccleary3658@gmail.com

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