Service above self


Local Rotary clubs work together to improve Lowcountry life

FOR 50 YEARS, the Hilton Head Island Rotary Club has been pitching in and raising money to improve the community and the lives of residents.

Since buying Hilton Head’s first ambulance, the club has raised more than $1.7 million for local needs and helped make possible such mainstay institutions as the Island Recreation Center and a permanent home for charitable organization The Deep Well Project.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the club has grown to more than 150 members who participate in service projects year-round. Since 1967, when the Hilton Head club was chartered, four more Rotary clubs — the Sunset and VanLandingham clubs on Hilton Head and the Bluffton and Okatie clubs on the mainland — have adopted the international organization’s motto: “Service above self.”


To kick off its 50th birthday, the Hilton Head Rotary Club did what seemed most fitting — another service project to improve the community.

After brainstorming and vetting ideas, the club created 50 signs to place along the town’s bike paths, giving bikers and walkers quick facts about the island’s history and ecology.

“For our 50th anniversary, we wanted to give a gift to the community that both residents and visitors would enjoy,” says Michael Marks, who led the sign committee. “We hope it will be a fun, educational moment as they are riding their bikes or walking down the pathway.”

The signs are part of a multitude of projects the club has adopted over the past five decades. It typically picks a long-term project every couple of years to work on and raise money for. Past examples include building island bus shelters and funding a new building for Memory Matters, which provides care for Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers and help for their caregivers.

The club has also funded $300,000 in annual college scholarships, and its members have been regular fixtures at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing PGA Tour golf tournament, serving as greeters and manning the will-call ticket booth.

“We all enjoy getting out there and trying to make it a better place to live and work,” Marks says.


The Hilton Head club isn’t the only group of Rotarians on the island celebrating an anniversary.

The Sunset Rotary Club turns 20 this year. Though much smaller than the Hilton Head club, its 35 members make a big impact on the community. President Ron Molen says the club likes to stay small, and its specialty is getting out in the community and lending a hand.

“We do contribute $10,000 to $20,000 a year to nonprofits,” Molen says. “But our preference is to actually get in and do the sweat equity.”

Some of the club’s recent projects include painting the Hilton Head Children’s Center, landscape work for the First Tee youth golf program at the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island, and sprucing up the facilities for the Wish Upon A Horse riding program for children with disabilities.


The VanLandingham Rotary Club has been serving Hilton Head Island since 1983, raising more than $1 million for community organizations through its annual television auctions and other fundraisers.

The club raised $350,000 to build the Hilton Head Children’s Center. It funded Volunteers In Medicine’s Pediatric Dental Clinic. And it raised $200,000 for the island’s Boys & Girls Club.

Its other projects include helping with the development of the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Hilton Head Heroes, Operation R&R and Neighborhood Outreach Connection.


Across the bridges on the mainland, Rotarians are busy in Bluffton and Okatie giving a boost to local nonprofit organizations.

The Rotary Club of Okatie raises thousands of dollars through its annual Polo for Charity event. Last year’s tournament yielded $6,000 for victims of Hurricane Matthew. The club recently completed its Have a Heart and Feed the Children fundraiser, and also donated $5,000 to Moss Creek Marines, which helps place assistance dogs with combat veterans suffering from physical and mental injuries.

At the nearby Rotary Club of Bluffton, members also pack in a lot of community service each year, working several fundraising events, including Mayfest, the Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival and the Bluffton Oyster Roast.

Last November, the club bought about 200 pairs of new shoes for needy children through its annual Happy Feet program.

Club president Michael Putich is particularly proud of the club’s Walk for Water fundraiser, held in September. Along with a grant from Rotary International, the event funded the construction of a $50,000 clean-water facility in Miramar, Peru.

The project was also an example of how the local Rotary clubs work together for the greater good.

“I will give a big shout out to all the Rotary clubs in the area,” Putich says, “because they each contributed something to our international water project, and we really appreciated that.”