When Keith and Ruth Ann Lindgren moved to Blount County from Florida four years ago, it wasn’t to be near family and friends; in fact, the closest relative was his sister in Chattanooga, and she moved back to Florida a month after they arrived here.
As Keith explained, they knew no one.
So, the retired couple began looking for ways to plug in to their new community and it wasn’t long before they found Maryville Rotary. They said they felt comfortable from the first greeting.
“I have been a Rotarian — in December it will be 36 years,” Keith said, with the earlier years in Florida. After finding the Maryville club and attending a meeting, he was immediately welcomed in and made treasurer. Ruth Ann joined later.
Rotary has clubs in more than 200 countries, with members totaling 1.2 million, Keith said. He said the model of community service that dictates its missions is just what he wanted. Each year, Rotarians around the world donate 16 million volunteer hours, according to Rotary International’s website.
“You don’t have to think about anything else but making the world a better place,” he said. “Do things for other people and the world will be a better place and you will have played a tiny part. That’s my thought process.”
It comes as no surprise to fellow Rotarians that the Lindgrens have been named Maryville Rotarians of the Year 2020. This is one of the club’s highest honors. In addition to being treasurer, Keith is president-elect of Maryville Rotary. Ruth Ann served as dictionary project coordinator and will be this year’s service project chair. Before moving to Blount County, Keith served in several roles with Rotary, including president and district-level positions.
The husband-wife team work together on the dictionary project, which provides a dictionary to ever third grader in Blount County. This is a Rotary project that began here many years ago.
“This might be the first book they have ever owned, that they didn’t have to check out of a library,” Keith said. “We make it special. Ruth Ann and I did seven schools this year.”
Keith does a program for the students to get them to delve into the fascinating resource book. He talks about the longest word in the English language to get their curiosity up. (The word is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which refers to a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano.)
It’s been a project both Ruth Ann and Keith have loved to be involved with. This past year, 1,500 dictionaries were personally delivered to 14 schools by the Lindgrens and other Maryville Rotary members.
These two also participate in a program through Rotary to pack lunches for school children. As Keith explained it, there are elementary school children in Blount County who don’t get nutritious meals at home on weekends. So, Rotary partners up with Second Harvest Food Bank to provide take-home meals that include fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy, etc.
The packed meals are delivered to the various schools, and teachers place them discreetly inside the children’s backpacks.
An estimated 7,500 bags of food were handed out to students by Maryville Rotary this past year.
This club works on providing affordable housing to Blount County through its support of Habitat for Humanity. Keith said Maryville Rotary raised money for Habitat’s Women Build recently, including participating in a fashion show. Both men and women in Maryville Rotary got involved in the actual build, too.
“We don’t dip our toes in any puddle,” Keith said. “We jump right in.”
Currently, there are about 45 members of Maryville Rotary. They meet each Wednesday at noon at the Blount County Public Library, or at least they did until COVID-19 reared its ugly head. The group started meeting on Zoom back in mid-March and is slowly getting back to a normal schedule.
New leader takes the helm
K.C. Williams was just installed as the new club president, effective July 1. She takes over from Christine Clanton, who handed over the gavel to Williams via Zoom.
Other community projects include Rotary Night Fever, an annual celebratory event that serves as a fundraiser for the club. It is generally held in February at the Capitol Theater in downtown Maryville. Keith said the event raises $25,000.
“We put a lot of work into this,” he said. “It is such a fun event. We get to dress up like everybody is John Travolta. All of the money goes toward community projects.”
In addition to the local causes, Rotary has its international projects as well. One has been the mission to eradicate polio across the globe by vaccinating every child. The polio vaccine has been around since Jonas Salk discovered it in the 1950s.
To date, Rotary has immunized billions of children. Only a few countries experience outbreaks of the childhood disease today. The international club started its efforts back in 1985.
“Back then, 30,000 kids per year were getting polio and dying from it,” Keith said. We have now immunized over 2.5 billion children, for free. It’s incredible.”
Maryville Rotary has partnered up with the Smokies baseball team to hold fundraisers and awareness campaigns about polio and teamed up with international projects down in Mexico.
And when this local club raises money for its local projects, the money stays here, Keith said. Zero dollars raised go toward administration, he said.
The Lindgrens have definitely settled into life in East Tennessee; he says he doesn’t miss summers in Florida at all. It didn’t take long to build a new family here. They are both busy in retirement thanks to Rotary.
“All of our friends are here now,” Keith said. “We moved up here not knowing anyone. We just bonded with these people. They are wonderful. They have big hearts. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”