History was made Monday in the Hampton Inn parking lot on Rockford Street, where the top Rotary Club official in the world paid a visit to Mount Airy.
Rotary International President John Germ of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first person in that capacity to ever come to this city, appeared in conjunction with a food drive by Rotary District 7690, which includes Surry County.
Although District 7690 includes 49 clubs in a geographical area bounded by the Sandhills, Piedmont Triad, Elkin and Graham — where food drives also were conducted Monday — Germ chose Mount Airy to visit.
And the community responded in kind, with an enthusiastic crowd gathering in a section of the hotel parking lot in and around two blue tents to greet Germ. It included members of the Mount Airy and Surry Sunrise Rotary clubs, local citizens and municipal officials who presented the Rotary leader with a key to the city.
“We are excited that you have chosen to visit our city,” Mayor Pro Tem Jon Cawley said while presenting Germ with the key.
Germ has made fighting hunger a top priority for his term as president of the Rotary organization, which stresses community service by its members to address various problems — an issue that was not obscured by Monday’s fanfare surrounding his visit.
“We, too, are serious about hunger,” Cawley said on behalf of Mount Airy when handing Germ the key to the city.
“Will this get me out of jail?” the Rotary official joked, while not overlooking the serious reason behind his historic visit.
“Thank you so much for the work you’re doing,” Germ said in reference to Rotary members unloading a steady stream of food items in the parking lot Monday. “You think of those who are going to have a nutritious meal thanks to what you are doing here.”
All food and monetary donations from Monday’s event, which was scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be given to Yokefellow Ministries, which operates a food bank and distributed 408,825 pounds of items to community members in need in 2015.
Jeff Boyles, this year’s president of the Surry Sunrise Rotary Club, said the visit by Germ was a major boost.
“I just think it is quite an honor to have someone here who’s volunteered to take on the responsibility he has this year,” Boyles said. “There’s a tremendous amount of work involved.”
“I travel about 300 days out of the year,” Germ said of his schedule as Rotary International president. He is a former U.S. Air Force captain who transported troops and equipment to Vietnam, and now is using his business experience as the chairman and CEO of an engineering firm to help guide the service organization.
Germ said Monday that the message he is trying to get out about Rotary during his travels is simple:
“There are tremendous needs within every community, whether it be literacy, or starving families or health-care needs, and that we need more involvement by volunteers to provide community service.”
This is the only way to make localities better, said Germ, who thinks every community has needs regardless of how prosperous it might be.
A hunger and malnutrition crisis is plaguing this part of North Carolina, with the Triad area found to rank number one in the country in food insecurity based on a recent survey. More than one of every four children in the district suffers from hunger.
The food drive Monday in Mount Airy is part of a regional effort called Rotarians Unite to Stop Hunger (RUSH), a new three-year initiative for Rotary District 7690. It has a goal of 100,000 hours of community service by club members, who number about 2,600 across the district; the collection of 1 million canned food items; and providing 3 million meals.
Germ said other efforts by Rotary International have included trying to stamp out diseases that have long plagued the world such as polio, which has been nearly eradicated with only 19 known cases now existing globally. He believes polio will be wiped out this year.
‘Andy Griffith Show’ fan
Germ said Monday that before coming to Mount Airy, he was familiar with its link to the fictional town of Mayberry as popularized by a certain local native.
“I know about Andy Griffith — that’s what I know about Mount Airy,” he said. Germ watched “The Andy Griffith Show” as a youth and it made a lasting impression on him.
“How could you not remember Andy and Opie?” he added.
“That was good family entertainment, which unfortunately you don’t have anymore.”
The presence of the top Rotary International official also made a lasting impression Monday on present residents of “Mayberry.”
“I’m glad we had a good turnout,” Boyles commented.
“He deserves it,” the local Rotary official said of Germ.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.