My dear ol’ dad, turning 93 on August 26, has always been something of a pioneer. He has also been a Rotarian for as long as I remember. This pioneer Rotarian arranged for our family to host the second-ever yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange student in the whole world.
He was the publisher of the Pauls Valley Daily Democrat (not to be confused with or suggest the paper was politically Democrat). This was just on the heels of him converting the newspaper operation to offset printing. He purchased and had installed the first web offset press in Oklahoma history. He was in his pioneer mode already.
As he was involved in Rotary, he heard of a brand new program, not yet a program of Rotary International, called Rotary Youth Exchange. It’s an opportunity for a club-to-club exchange of high school age students. I was 10 years old and a fourth grader when we welcomed into our home, my new big sister, Margaret Anning.
Margie’s family was from a community in the outskirts of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (half way around the world). As a grade-school kid, I remember Margie being tall, beautiful and loveable. Phillip, my younger brother, was not yet in school and though he sure loved his new big sister, I remember more the friendships between my sister Terry, then a sophomore, and Ruth Anne, an eighth grader at the time.
Margie was the perfect first exchange student for our family. She was genuinely part of the family almost instantly. As this was in 1965-66, the method of communications with her family in Australia was very infrequent and very expensive international phone calls and more frequent letters and cassette tapes exchanged via mail.
Of course, we loved Margie’s accent. It was also a special treat to hear her dad and mom, David and Cherie Anning, as we listened to their recorded voices on the cassette.
We kept her for the first six months then she moved to the Little family (church friends of ours) for the balance of her year. Near the end of the year, Margie’s parents travelled here from Australia and the strong family friendship began.
It was about this time when dad became acquainted with a civil engineer from Thames, New Zealand, Max Bosselmann, whose position brought him to Pauls Valley. Not long after Margie returned home, mom and dad took the first of several trips to follow to Australia and New Zealand.
Upon Max’s return home, he became a Rotarian with strong involvement in the Youth Exchange Program resulting in several exchange students hosted in our home from New Zealand. Specifically, I remember Mark Matahare, who was about my age, and Robyn Thompson, about my sister Ruth Anne’s age.
We also hosted a number of students from Australia in years and decades to follow. Ian Quinton, from Australia, was another we hosted that was about my age. These experiences were priceless.
As the years went by, our family and then my family, after Myra and I were married and began a family, hosted exchange students from all over the world. We had students from Mexico, Sweden, Belgium, Japan, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and other countries.
My sister, Ruth Anne, was an exchange student, three years after Margie’s return home, to Australia and was hosted by Margie’s and other Rotarian families there. A generation later, Anna, Ruth Anne’s daughter, spent a year as an exchange student and hosted part of her year in the home of Margie and John Macauley, who, of course have their own family. They have a son and two daughters. Caroline Jane, one of their daughters, who is my dad’s God-daughter and traveled to Oklahoma for an extended visit hosted by my mom and dad while my brother was still at home.
So the friendships, through our experiences with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, run deep. But so do the friendships resultant from Rotary’s Group Study Exchange Program and Wings of Rotary.
Wings is a district to district exchange of a group of about 10 high school students from Oklahoma to a Rotary district in northern Japan for two weeks. This program has been going on for over 40 years. My dad and a Rotary friend, Mark Berrong, lead the second team, with my brother as one of the team members. A generation later, Myra and I were team leaders on the WOR trip to Japan one year after our grandson, Linden, served as a team member.
My mom and dad led the first co-ed Group Study Exchange team to southern Africa. There they met John Casrter and his wife, Dallas. John ran the country’s businesses for Malawi President Dr. Bando. Their friendship grew such that John and Dallas have traveled with us, sometimes bringing their family, to Alaska for salmon fishing trips. The Carters have also made return visits to Oklahoma several times.
The Cushing club hosted a GSE group from New South Wales, Australia (just south of Queensland). Just before my year as district governor began, we attended the RI Convention in Brisbane and while there, were hosted in the home of John and Margie, also by our friends who had visited here with the GSE program. We had a wonderful time. Also, while on that trip, we spent a week with Max and Carol Bosselmann in New Zealand. They hosted our tour of the NZ north island. Priceless. Max and Carol, sometimes bringing their family, have made many return trips to Oklahoma.
An example, of the depth of the friendships born of Rotary programs, is the trip my mom and dad made over 30 years ago. An airline company offered a “round the world” fare with the only restriction that each leg of the trip has to advance them around the globe. There was no time limit. They were gone over a month, zigzagging in an easterly direction and, save two motel nights, were hosted all month long by a dozen or so friends made through Rotary’s International Exchange programs.
Today, my bride, Myra, serves as our district’s Rotary Youth Exchange officer. She is responsible for all placements of international students in clubs inbound and getting our high school students places in clubs in foreign countries.
Through the years, we’ve had stellar experiences and we’ve had awful experiences such that we’ve had to send kids back home before their time was up due to their poor choices. It’s inevitable that with all the kids hosted here and there, there are some bad apples. Still, none of this could have happened without the totally positive experience we had with my Australian sister, Margie. She was the start of generations of international friendships, which continue to evolve.
In 2016, we celebrated my dad’s 90th birthday. It was his choice to replay his 80th birthday party in a houseboat on Island 40 on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. For his 90th, though, there were two houseboats and in addition to family, international family members attending were Margie and John (aka “Dundee” Macauley, John and Dallas Carter and Max and Carol Bosselmann).
Gotta love Rotary!