Local Rotary Club involved in many community aspects

By Steve Estes

Editor’s Note: The following contains commentary from the author.

A hot summer night on the waterfront on Big Pine Key. Thousands of people pack the park grounds. Overhead, on a starry, clear night, fireworks burst against a black sky, drawing oohs and aahs from the packed house while patriotic music fills the air.

For hours prior to that, those same thousands munched on holiday fare, tipped back a few cold ones and listened to a free concert from a local band, dancing toward nightfall. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

Such is the finale to the annual Independence Day celebration.

On a slightly chill January morning, nearly a hundred golfers tee up at the Key West Golf Club for a friendly scramble tournament. When the flurry of golf balls against a clear Keys’ sky is over, nearly $5,000 has been raised to help send a local student to a four-year college of their choice.

Thus is the end result of the annual Al Mueller Benefit Golf Tournament.

On a brisk Sunday afternoon during the first week of February, hundreds of folks pack the park at Watson Field on Big Pine Key, partaking of prime tailgate food, otherwise known as fish fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs and pulled pork. Many of those pop the top on a cold one and settle into lawn chairs to listen to a parade of local talent across the stage while the youngsters pop in and out of the bounce house, play some miniature golf and suck down sugary drinks at a prodigious rate. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

Thus is the lazy day called the Super Sunday Spectacular prior to hundreds scattering to a favorite television screen to watch the annual Super Bowl match up.

On an Easter weekend Saturday, local volunteer firefighters and a club of community service folks stand at the traffic light on Big Pine Key asking passing motorists to throw a few bucks or coins in a bevy of buckets or boots to help raise money for the annual Independence Day celebration.

On Easter Sunday, those same community service club folks pepper the ground at Blue Heron Park with more than 2,000 plastic Easter eggs loaded with candy and prize tickets for the children of the local islands. The Easter Bunny makes a cameo appearance. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

In early April, a cadre of homemade paddle wheel boats make their way down the canal behind Looe Key Tiki Bar, sometimes finishing with a flourish, sometimes not, as hundreds look on, tipping a few cold ones and cheering on their favorite racers.

Such is the annual Lower Keys Paddleboat Pursuit.

Just a week or two later, more than 100 kids line the No Name Key Bridge brandishing brand-new fishing rods, trying to catch a prize-winning fish to win a shiny, new bicycle or one of a host of other prizes donated by the local community, or purchased by that same club of community service folks, with the integral aid of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.

On a hot May morning, the weekend of Memorial Day, that same community service club and local volunteer firefighters again take up residence at the traffic light on Big Pine Key, again asking passing motorists to toss a few bucks or coins in the bevy of buckets and boots to aid in paying for the annual Independence Day celebration.

Then comes the celebration.

Beyond that, in the time surrounding Halloween, volunteers from the community and that same community service club transform the community center at Big Pine Park into a world-class haunted house for the screaming pleasure of everyone. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, volunteers from the community service club haul out the holiday lights to adorn the power poles along US 1 from Summerland Key to Big Pine Key. Up and down the ladders, hanging ornaments for the viewing pleasure of those traversing the highway. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

In mid-December, volunteers from that same community service club drive the streets of the Lower Keys, looking for the greatest in holiday light displays, rewarding those that really shine with gift certificates donated by a willing and helpful business community. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

Also in mid-December, that same community service club gathers together boaters from all over the Lower Keys to parade across the calm waters of Pine Channel in the annual Lighted Boat Parade to the delight of young and old alike. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.

Between all of those community events, the service club sends kids to college on Take Stock in Children scholarships. The club donates to local youth leagues, the local food pantry, scholarships to Sea Camp for deserving children, and many other charitable organizations.

If you were to guess that the club so involved in the community that nearly every resident and visitor partakes of one of their services at some time during the year is the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce—you would be wrong.

The small cadre of community-service-minded folks that try hard to bring fun and unique events to the people of the Lower Keys is the Big Pine and Lower Keys Rotary Club.

The club has been established for decades with a primary mission of community service.

Chances are if your children or grandchildren received a polio vaccination, that vaccination was part of the Polio Plus Program sponsored by Rotary International, the parent organization to the local club and thousands like it around the world.

Rotary here doesn’t do as great a job in tooting its own horn as it should. It is extremely involved in many of the things you see that enhance our community.

But tooting its own horn isn’t what Rotary is about. The club is about community service first and foremost.

If you’d like to learn more about what Rotary does in your community, give me a call some day. I’ll be glad to talk to you about everything we do.

And if you want to find out first hand, come to our meetings at 11 a.m. on Tuesday for lunch at Springer’s Bar and Grill.

You too, can be part of a service to your community.

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