The declining membership of community service clubs across the nation in recent years is common knowledge, but Murfreesboro’s Noon Rotary Club is bucking the trend.
Established in 1919, the club recently elected the former chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, Kent Syler, as its newest president, and is committed to continuing Rotary’s record of success in charitable work and member recruitment.
Syler has been a Rotary member for 26 years and was encouraged to join in 1985 by longtime member Earl Hull.
He came to Murfreesboro from Winchester in 1976 to attend MTSU, eventually becoming Gordon’s assistant in his chairmanship of the Tennessee Democratic Party in 1981 and managing his campaign for Congress in 1984.
He is currently an assistant professor in the political science department at MTSU.
“It was all about being asked – I was 26 years old when Earl (Hull) suggested that I come to a meeting of Rotary and consider joining,” he said. “At that time I was just beginning to establish roots in the community, buying a house and having my first real job. “
Syler will assume the title of president in June 2012, but his work starts immediately.
As president-elect, Syler is responsible for organizing and promoting Noon Rotary’s annual pancake breakfast, an annual fundraiser that funds the club’s charitable initiatives.
“Where else can you be served pancakes prepared by a physician (Dr. Jim Boerner), an oral surgeon (Dr. Payne Hardison), stock broker (Earl Hull), and a local oil executive (George Huddleston Jr.),” Syler said.
The pancake breakfast will be held from 7-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Middle Tennessee Christian School on Memorial Boulevard.
Tickets are $5 and can be purchased from any Rotary member or at the door.
“As an international organization, our commitment to Rutherford County and the world is to improve our quality of life, whether that is eradicating polio from the planet or helping to fund local United Way and Red Cross initiatives,” Syler said.
Most recently, Murfreesboro’s Noon Rotary Club took part in funding the constructing of a lobby for the newly acquired Red Cross building on Memorial Boulevard, formerly location of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
The club also recently staffed the Special Kids “Run For The Kids” Race, provided free dictionaries to local school children, and funded the construction of an examination room at Murfreesboro’s Hope Clinic.
Syler said the local Noon Club has more than 100 members, and the organization as a whole is growing fastest in nations where modern economies are just beginning to be established.
He said the challenge of recruiting and retaining members can be met by “adapting and evolving” with the times.
For example, in times past the organization’s strict attendance requirements excluded those who could not spare their lunch hour, so a breakfast club was formed and has become equally successful.
“Worldwide, Rotary has lost 1.2 million members in the last decade but has also gained 1.2 million new younger members during the same period, so it is a constant challenge to keep up with that attrition,” Syler said.
He also cited new attendance pilot programs in other clubs as examples of successful changes that can help recruit and retain members of the young professionals demographic.
“Facebook and Twitter are great tools that can also enhance young professionals’ communication and community involvement, but nothing can replace the weekly face-to-face interaction that the Rotary Club and other service clubs provide,” Syler said. “We’ve got to keep people involved – in person – in their community by working together in improving our quality of life.”
• The Murfreesboro Rotary Club will be holding its 9th annual Pancake Breakfast from 7-10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Middle Tennessee Christian School cafeteria. Santa will be there for the kids, along with live music. Tickets are only $5 and may be purchased from any club member or at the door.