WEST ORANGE, NJ — In addition to celebrating the 90th anniversary of the West Orange Rotary Club, members and supporters will also enjoy a particularly rare public appearance from Rotary International (RI) President Barry Rassin at the club’s Oct. 20 fundraiser to support the eradication of polio, a vaccine-preventable disease that still threatens children in parts of the world today.

The event is being held four days prior to World Polio Day at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, beginning at 6 p.m. In addition to welcoming Rassin, the West Orange Rotary Club will also present Vocational Service Awards to outstanding Rotarians and pay tribute to West Orange Rotary member Karien Ziegler.

“Our official anniversary was actually this past June, but in order to celebrate it and get a speaker at the level the we wanted, we had to leave the day open,” said Michael Karu, a member of Livingston-based Levine, Jacobs & Company and a longtime West Orange Rotarian who was thrilled when Rassin agreed to be the keynote speaker. “To get the Rotary International president to come to any event is near impossible.”

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Ziegler, who died over the summer and will unfortunately not be able to see her idea successfully implemented, was not only instrumental in securing Rassin as the keynote speaker, but was also the West Orange chapter’s champion for the cause. She traveled to many countries around the world to administer the polio vaccine and encouraged thousands of Rotarians to support the PolioPlus campaign to rid the world of polio.

“Karien Ziegler was one of the most passionate Rotarians I’ve ever met,” said Karu. “She was a past district governor, she was a director in our zone and was the PolioPlus chairperson for more years than I can count. She was incredibly passionate about PolioPlus, and we felt that we needed something to commemorate the RI president’s visit more than just the anniversary of just one of 35,000 clubs.”

Given Ziegler’s background, fundraising for PolioPlus as part of the 90th anniversary celebration was a natural choice.

“As the district PolioPlus chairperson for a lot of years, she always championed these events,” said Karu. “She would go from club to club asking [for support] and continued that way right up until she got sick. I think it hurt her more to have to step down than having to fight her illness. She’s a true role model for Rotary’s motto of ‘service above self.’”

According to Karu, PolioPlus was initiated in 1985 after RI distributed a questionnaire asking the question, “How can Rotary help you?” and received a reply from a Rotarian in the Philippines requesting that RI help rid the Philippines of polio.

Since Rotary and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases worldwide to only 22 cases in 2017.

This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established a challenge grant that will provide $2 for every $1 raised to eradicate polio. Karu noted that the West Orange Rotary Club’s goal is to inspire 100 people or organizations to each contribute $1,000 so that the $100,000 in contributions will ultimately become $300,000 raised through the West Orange chapter’s efforts.

“Nothing gets done alone,” said Karu. “Several years ago, Bill Gates said to Rotary, ‘If you raise $100 million, I’ll match it.’ It took three weeks. He then said, ‘Well that was fast, do it again.’ It took three months. Since that point, he’s been matching $2 for every $1.”

In the weeks leading up to the PolioPlus Gala, Karu said that it is a significant accomplishment and extremely unusual to have Rassin, a native of the Bahamas, attend this event.

“We treat this not just as a club event, but as a district event,” said Karu. “When the RI president is a non-U.S. citizen, he’s only allowed in the U.S. for 180 days. How many days does he truly have to visit a club? It’s less than a handful a year, so we’re incredibly fortunate to have him come here.”

Dinner is $90 per person, and those who contribute an additional $1,000 will be invited to attend a special VIP cocktail reception with Rassin. More than 600 people are expected to attend the dinner, and the West Orange Rotary Club is optimistic that the $100,000 goal will be met.  

The West Orange chapter of Rotary International was founded in 1928, and was the 2,900th club to be chartered worldwide. There are currently more than 35,000 clubs worldwide with more than 1.2 million Rotarians involved in the organization’s charitable efforts.

Karu said the premise of the organization is “simply to make this a better world,” and to “change the world one person at a time.”

In addition to its international endeavors, the West Orange Rotary Club also provides scholarships to area seniors as well as dictionaries to the public school third graders and also supports many of the local organizations in various ways.

Contact Karu at mkaru@ljcpa.com for more information, or purchase a ticket by visiting www.njrotary.org (Polio Plus Gala link) or calling 973-992-9400 ext. 321.