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Rotary Club of Leesburg (Sunrise)

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At the instigation of Chet Haynes, president of the Rotary Club of Leesburg and later to become District Governor (1983-1984), a committee was formed to explore the feasibility of sponsoring a breakfast club to share the Leesburg territory. Results of the survey were positive, and organizational work began in 1980, with 14 members of the original club opting to become members of a morning club.

In a short period of time another 14 members from local businesses were also recruited and the Rotary Club of Leesburg (Sunrise) became a reality, chartered January 12, 1981. Meetings were set for 7:15 a.m. each Tuesday morning. Over the years, the location has changed only twice, from J.T.'s Restaurant to Taste Tempter Pancake Inn. The Club is currently meeting at the Opera House in Downtown Leesburg.

During the first year of operation, considerable emphasis was placed on Rotary information as our weekly programs laid a solid foundation for a successful and thriving club. The two Leesburg clubs joined forces for a flea market fund raising project, and the fledgling Sunrise club participated in the Armed Forces Day celebration in nearby Fruitland Park, selling homemade ice cream to the general public as well as to its own workers.

In its second year, Sunrise devised a marketable coupon book with coupons worth more than $700 for two-for-one meals, deep discounts at local golf courses, and other offerings. This project picked up steam and became the club's primary fund-raiser for many years. Proceeds from coupon book sales were returned to the community in the forms of scholarships, furnishings for the multi-purpose room at the Leesburg Public Library, Christmas food and gifts for needy families, sponsorship of a little league baseball team and other worthy activities.

Our third year saw the beginning of an important international project, as some $500,000 in medical supplies and equipment was assembled and transported to a needy hospital in Santiago, Panama. A follow-up shipment of another $200,000 worth of supplies was sent to Santiago the next year. Since then the club has sent similar supplies to Nicaragua and Jamaica, as well as dental supplies to Benin in West Africa. In 1984 a severe famine struck Ethiopia, and Sunrise rose to the occasion, sending several thousands of dollars worth of food to that desperate country, accompanied by our president and working closely with the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa.

Sunrise continues its involvement with international projects to this day. Supplies have been sent to Belize, assistance was provided to a literacy project in Guatemala, and most recently, the club provided travel funds for personnel to establish an open heart surgery in Moshi, Tanzania.

In 1989 a new and highly successful project was initiated as both a fund-raiser and an important community project. Working with a local medical laboratory and several area physicians, arrangements were made to provide very comprehensive blood tests to the general public at an extremely modest cost. From the first turnout of 400 people, some years the level of participation has reached nearly 1500 local residents and visitors. An expert team of phlebotomists is on duty from 6 a.m. on a specified Saturday until all patients have had their blood drawn. The specimens are tested for more than 30 possible ailments. Over the years the club has received countless phone calls and letters of thanks, including several from people whose lives had literally been saved as a result of the test. The 2004 bloodscreening generated approximately $22,000 which is being returned to the community.

Late in 1985 a small group of Sunrise Rotarians met one Saturday morning to discuss the possibility of organizing a new youth program on a district-wide level. Thus was born our vibrant RYLA program, which first convened in February 1986 at a Holiday Inn between Leesburg and Clermont. It immediately became an annual event, and invitations to participate are eagerly sought by high school students throughout the District, with one or two sponsored by each club. More than 100 students participated in 2004.

Since its inception in 1981, Leesburg Sunrise has enjoyed an overall attendance of more than 90%, with several 100% months scattered within the years. Our weekly club bulletin - The Rotariser - has been in continuous publication since our very first meeting and has been acclaimed as the best small club bulletin. Six charter members are still active in the club. There are currently six lady members, one a past president and another who is president-elect. In 1999 we became a 100% Paul Harris club; in 1998 we were 100% Rotary Foundation Benefactor club, and from 2000 on we have been 100% Paul Harris Sustaining Member club. At the 1995 District Conference the club was recognized for having the highest per capita increase in contributions to the Rotary Foundation during the preceding year.

In 1984, together with the Leesburg Club, Sunrise co-sponsored the Leesburg (Sunset) Club. The Club reached another milestone in 1996 when it officially sponsored the new Rotary Club of Lady Lake.

Sunrise is proud to claim two former District Governors among its members: Chet Haynes (1983-1984) who was a member of the Leesburg Club at that time, and George Kuhn (1997-1998), the club's first home-grown district governor. George was chosen to serve as our district's delegate to the 2004 Council on Legislation, the rule-making body of Rotary International.

We are proud of our club and its Rotary spirit and eagerly look ahead to the opportunities that await us in the future.