Posted by Bret McKeand

District Governor David Simmer kicked off the district’s first-ever virtual conference June 20 with the announcement of several individual and club awards, as well as the presentation of the Service Above Self Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an individual Rotarian.

The online “recognition” program recapped David’s tenure as district governor and celebrated the work of District 5495 Rotarians and their contributions over the past year – a year severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am so proud of how our clubs and their leaders responded to difficult circumstances,” said DG David.

“These were uncharted territories, but that is what Rotarians do … we race toward those who can use our help … who just need a hand to get back on their feet.”

The program featured the presentation of several awards, but DG David was quick to emphasize that he considers all Rotarians “heroes and champions.”

Rotarian of the Year

The Rotarian of the Year Award, also known as the Leadership for the Second Century Award, was awarded to Jim Bissonett. 

Jim has served as the chair of the District Rotary Foundation Committee for the past five years (also serving as chair of District 5510’s Foundation Committee prior to the merger). He is stepping down and will be replaced in July by Past District Governor Charlie Tegarden. 

“Jim has been a critical player in building district-wide support for Global Grants,” said DG David. “I believe we have broader participation by our clubs in global grants than any other district in our Zone.”  

“Jim has been committed to putting the funds that the district had to work with into projects that were important to the clubs. The club priorities were always Jim’s priorities,” added DG David.


Rotary Direct Club Award

New this year were several awards recognizing a club’s recurring support for The Rotary Foundation. Awards were presented to clubs in two categories: highest number of members within a club participating in Rotary Direct, and a second for the greatest improvement (percentage-wise) in the number of members participating in Rotary Direct.

The Top two winning clubs in each category received a $2,000 district grant to use however they determine. Remaining clubs in the Top 50% were put into a hat and one winner chosen in each category, with the winner receiving a third $2,000 grant.

Mesa West topped all clubs in the district with the highest number of members participating in Rotary Direct, followed by the Phoenix 100 Club. The Rotary Club of Flagstaff was chosen as the random winner of a grant.

In the category of the greatest increase percentage-wise in the number of members signing up for Rotary Direct over the past year, Peoria North Rotary Club and Tempe Downtown tied for top honors. The eClub of the Southwest USA captured the random drawing prize.

End Polio Now Champion 

The district is also recognizing for the first time a club that distinguishes itself in its support for the End Polio Now campaign. A traveling trophy will honor the club that each year contributes the most to the campaign.

The competition will end June 30, and the winner announced in July. 

“There is still time to help reach the goal of Rotary to maximize the Gates Foundation match, but also to be the first club to ever have its name engraved on the District 5495 Polio Champion Trophy,” said DG David.

Connect Through Giving Campaign

The district also launched a campaign this year to encourage Rotarians to become major donors by committing at least $10,000 to The Rotary Foundation.

As of June, the campaign had generated $2.4 million in contributions and commitments to the Rotary Foundation. In all, 28 Rotarians have so far committed $10,000 or more.

The campaign ends June 30. A special dinner to salute those who have become major donors is planned for next January.

A year of challenge and change

This year’s district conference is the culmination of David’s year as District 5495 Governor, a year severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus forced the cancellation of the district conference as originally planned, and for the past several months clubs throughout the district, district committees and district training programs have held their meetings and events virtually.

Rotary International, too, cancelled its in-person convention, originally planned earlier this month in Honolulu. A virtual edition of the international convention kicked off the same day as the district conference.

Plans for this year’s district conference include virtual hospitality sessions June 23 and 25, and a virtual installation program for District Governor-elect Elizabeth Mahoney on June 27.

Looking back over the past year, DG David said despite the challenges presented by the Coronavirus, Rotarians remained committed to serving others.

“Well this has been a different kind of year,” said DG David.

“While we haven’t abandoned the goals of (Rotary International) President Mark Maloney to grow Rotary we found that we grewour understanding of connecting through technology, we grew our creativity and resolve to serve others in our own communities that have been impacted by a novel coronavirus and to support our first responders.  

“And we grew in our empathy for others who are not as privileged as we are.”