Rotary Bridgefest money goes back to community

HOUGHTON – People talking with Bill Musselman have often assumed the Houghton Rotary Club is getting rich off Seafood Fest – and now, the Bridgefest FEAST, taking place this year June 13-14.

Instead, that money is either going back into community projects, or to the international Rotary organization to fund Rotary community service projects worldwide, said Musselman, chair of the Bridgefest FEAST committee.

Some of the most visible projects the Houghton Rotary has worked on include sites along the Houghton waterfront.

In the early 1990s, the club donated $25,000 over three years for construction materials for the Rotary Pavilion at the Ray Kestner Waterfront park. The Houghton Rotary was also crucial in the East Houghton Waterfront Park, for which is pledged $70,000 over 10 years, starting in 2003.

As part of the Rotary International centennial celebration in 2005, the club set aside $30,000 to help Houghton upgrade the utilities building at the Kestner park.

Rotary member Helen Richards said the club also likes to be involved with hands-on work. She recalled the “Paint ‘Til You Faint” party Rotary volunteers held to paint the renovated utilities building.

“We had a big turnout and we painted that building inside and out,” she said.

“I still have paint on that flannel shirt,” said Rotary member Debbie Bradford.

Houghton Rotary will also hold a wine auction at the gala dinner on the Thursday night of Bridgefest FEAST weekend. That goes towards its scholarship fund at the Keweenaw Community Foundation, which in 20 years has given out more than $80,000. This year, graduating seniors Wynter Bethel and Vladislav Kotov got $2,000 each.

The Rotary Club is working this year with the KCF on raising funds for the installation of a 280-foot brick walkway at the Kestner park. Money raised, in addition to funding the project and the KCF’s administration endowment, will go to Houghton Rotary’s high school scholarship fund. They hope to have the bricks available at the gala.

Houghton Clerk Ann Vollrath said the waterfront parks and trail are some of the most used recreational facilities in the area – and wouldn’t be what they are without the Houghton Rotary.

“I can tell you that the people I work for, when they’re looking at projects, especially along the waterfront, the first match they think of, is ‘We can check with Rotary to see if they’ll help,’ she said. “We’ve got a few things in our five-year capital plan that say City/Rotary, where we’re expecting to be able to go to you.'”

Musselman said it is “awesome” for the Rotary Club to reach that level.

“When the club has elevated its status within this community to be automatically considered for capital improvements for the community, I think that’s incredible,” he said.

Don Morin, a former Rotarian and a member of the Omega House board, said Omega House had a capital improvement campaign when it first started, and went to the Houghton Rotary for help. Over the years, the group has donated almost $5,000 to Omega House.

“They’ve always been very supportive,” he said.

While Bridgefest FEAST is Houghton Rotary’s big fundraiser of the year, it also raises money through smaller ways. Members receive fines for various infractions such as having their cell phones go off at meetings, wearing a logo shirt or having their name or picture appear in The Daily Mining Gazette.

Morin holds the record for fines after Rotary members said his name 150 times during a radio interview. (He only had to pay $75.)

“I set the record the following week, because I mentioned every Rotarian,” he said. “I collected $149.”

Members also have a drawing every meeting where the winner picks a charity to receive that week’s pool – usually $40 to $50.

Half of the money raised at the meetings goes to the Rotary Foundation, which funds programs across the country.

“Even though the Bridgefeast FEAST is a lot of work and a lot of organization, the club is pretty dedicated to trying to support not only the community, but the Rotary Foundation,” Musselman said. “That’s kind of what Rotary’s all about – trying to help people.”

Musselman encouraged people to go to bridgefestfeast.com and purchase food and beverage tokens.

“The net proceeds out of this event is going to help the community,” he said. “We want the community of the Keweenaw to come out and help Rotary help others.”

Bridgefest parade organizer David Crowley is also looking for more entrants for this year’s parade, which will take place 7 p.m. June 12. Interested organizations should go to bridgefestfun.com to register, or go to the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce office in Houghton.