Ely Rotary marks 100 years

Celebration, annual auction set for Aug. 14 at Whiteside Park

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s Rotary Club has turned 100, and members are planning a giant celebration.
In conjunction with the club’s annual fundraising auction, the Ely Rotary is holding an outdoor event on Saturday, Aug. 14, at Whiteside Park.
Live music both before and after the auction, a beer tent, food booths and more are part of the celebration, which will be topped off by a drawing for $10,000 in cash prizes.
Todd Heiman, current club president, laid out the plans earlier this week during the Tuesday Group luncheon at Grand Ely Lodge.
“It’s amazing to realize we’ve been doing service work in the community for 100 years, and we’re still very active and very involved.”
The club has put together a full day of festivities, combining the celebration with an auction that’s now in its 31st year and serves as the group’s major fundraiser of the year.
The auction has been moved from its traditional home at Grand Ely Lodge, and from a weekday evening to a Saturday, and the Rotary has added several new elements.
A “big top” 40-by-100 foot tent will serve as home to the auction, while a separate beer tent will be set up as well.
Food vendors will set up shop starting at 11 a.m., with JR’s Beef, kettle corn and tacos among the items available.
Pat and Donna Surface will also perform live music, including a set from 1 to 2:30 p.m., and another that starts at 6:30 p.m.
In between, more than 90 items will be auctioned off as part of the live auction, while a silent auction will also take place, including a “buy it now” feature.
The Ely Rotary is also selling 400 tickets at $50 each, and returning half in the form of raffle prizes with a grand prize of $7,500 and additional prizes of $2,000 and $500.
The raffle prizes will also be drawn during the event, which will be near the pavilion side of the city park.
Started on May 1, 1921, the Ely Rotary has evolved through the years while maintaining its service to the community.
The club currently has 43 active members, including 23 women, and includes a cross-section of new and long-time members.
Much of the roughly $35,000 to $40,000 generated annually by the club is distributed locally, but the Ely chapter has also teamed with other Rotary clubs and Rotary International on other projects, including an initiative that raised over $90,000 for water filtration systems in a Haitian village.
Heiman said the project, which was supported by matching grants, helped reduce symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting, according to surveys of those helped by the project.
In the Ely area, the Rotary has funded the installation of benches, tables, chairs and bike racks at locations including Whiteside Park, Trezona Trail, the Veterans Memorial and the new downtown pocket park.
Ely’s Rotary has also spearheaded projects including highway cleanup and a Youth Interact program that links students in grades 7-12 with the club.
Rotary has also supported exchange students who have lived in the Ely area and attended Memorial High School, and has funded a Rotary scholarship.
The club has also contributed funds to numerous local groups and causes, from the Nordic Ski Club to Ely’s Historic State Theater.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ely Rotary purchased gift certificates, redeemable at local restaurants, to employees of Boundary Waters Care Center.
“Most of our work is done locally,” said Heiman.
The auction is the centerpiece of the Aug. 14 celebration, and auction items will be available for viewing on the club’s revamped website at www.elyrotary.org.
All current and past Rotarians, family, friends, and local supporters are invited to attend the celebration, which begins at 11 a.m. and runs until the early evening as the club marks a century in existence, and revs up for another big year.
“I really believe in this club,” said Heiman. “It has done great work for 100 years and I can’t see why it won’t be great for the next 100.”