Second Chances

Written by Andrew Eddmenson

“I’m trying to remember what came next…”

Leo looked up from his sheet of paper.  “I just have these little memories.  I guess that’s all life really is when it comes down to it.”

“You know,” I replied, “I think the best stories are told out of order.”

When I first arrived at Evergreen Retirement Community, the room was full of other residents and teenagers sitting at tables across from one another just as Leo and I were. All of us were part of a wonderful project called Write Your Life, which pairs high school students and young professionals with senior citizens to help them write their life stories. The room was full, but after just a few moments of small talk, I forgot anyone else was there.

At 82, Leo Karner is “just a young punk around this place.” Originally from California, he moved to Wisconsin after suffering a stroke to be closer to his grandchildren.  Clearly a skilled socialite, Leo carries the conversation. His sly smile leads you to believe he knows some marvelous secret no one else knows. He writes incredibly well despite his dyslexia and gnarled arthritic hands, but lets me do most of the writing to make me feel useful, I suspect.

At this point, we’re only brainstorming significant events, people, and accomplishments – a lifelong highlight reel that previews the rich stories to come. Leo takes small detours along the way, but I don’t mind: Begging his mom for a bicycle and getting a used one for three dollars with tires that only lasted a block and a half before going flat (school was about five blocks away); finding out his favorite hobby store was closing due to a burglary shortly before the neighbor kid offered to sell him some “discounted” model airplane engines; getting a flat tire during a cross-country road trip with three of his best friends and the devious events that followed. It doesn’t take long for me to realize what a tremendous opportunity I’ve been given—and that Leo has incredibly bad luck with tires.

My own grandfather passed away in 1996 from lung cancer. In all of the memorable moments we shared, I never took the opportunity to ask him about his life and write down his stories. To be fair, I was far too young and expectedly self-absorbed to recognize this prospect before it was too late. As I sat across from Leo and learned about his early life today, I came to realize how precious these stories are and how important it is that they not be lost forever due to the indifference of a younger generation.

I may never be able to capture all of my grandfather’s stories, but I now have a chance to capture Leo’s stories for his grandchildren who will undoubtedly cherish them one day.  Life has a funny way of giving us second chances, and they aren’t without their irony. As it happens, my grandfather was also named Leo.

Writing with Grace

Written by Yessra Sankari

As a 20 year old, young, full of passion and constantly running around, I never thought of spending two hours of my crazy, busy day with an 89-year old Grace at Evergreen Retirement Community. I never thought of just sitting down with Grace and embracing her meaningful life story. I never thought about taking the time to experience someone else’s life of struggle and happiness.

I always catch myself lost in thought, struggling with my life experiences. What Grace taught me through the program, Write your Life, Oshkosh, run by Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat, was that your experiences define who you are. Your experiences shape you to be the person you are today.

One thing that I learned was that everyone has her own story to share, her own struggles riding underneath her shadow, and her own happiness sparkling in her eyes. Her phrase of “Never worry about anything that will never happen” still rings in my ear. I think I will cherish that forever.

Oshkosh Area Community Pantry Volunteering

Written by Rotaract Treasurer, Dan Snyder 


Saturday February 15th marked our first volunteer activity without our fearless leader, Jerry. Jerry’s sudden passing was and is such a great loss and brings great sorrow to our whole group. We lost a great President and more importantly, a close friend. It was great to see how many current members and prospective members came out to help the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. It was a great way to honor Jerry, since the food pantry was one of his favorite places to volunteer.

The Food Pantry is a great place to spend a couple of hours volunteering. What makes it so great, you ask? Well, you can not only help a lot of people in need, but have fun doing it as well. The Food Pantry is very conducive to working as a large group which allows everyone to interact and enjoy each other’s company.

The Food Pantry is always looking for help because they are constantly getting in shipments of food that needs to be sorted and sometimes repackaged, before being placed on the shelves. This past volunteer session we were able to accomplish a lot because we had such a good turnout of volunteers. We organized and repackaged cereal before rearranging the shelf so families could find what they needed more easily. We repackaged a large amount of yogurt and stocked the aisles. We helped break down boxes and move heavy pallets to make room for the next shipment. We even helped move some of the shelving to provide more space for future shipments.

The Oshkosh Area Community Pantry is a wonderful organization that helps a lot of people who are struggling to feed their families. The community needs places like this to help those in need and they need volunteers to make sure things stay running smoothly. Rotaract Oshkosh is honored to help the community by providing service to places like the Food Pantry. It is a great way to keep Jerry’s philanthropic spirit alive and to keep the great memories we have of him in our hearts.

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December Volunteering – Celebration of Lights: Santa’s Helpers!

Written by Rotaract’s Interact Coordinator, Crystal Seeley 

On a cold night in December, some Rotaract members were called upon for service by Santa.

Santa needed elves to guide the families into the North Pole located at the Oshkosh Celebration of Lights. Once inside next to the roaring fire, Rotaract elves greeted and introduced the children to Santa. This elf lost count of how many families passed through, but can say with confidence Santa attracted many families from all over the surrounding area and a mixture of ages Whether the elves were dancing outside, or using parents’ cameras to catch those priceless expressions children make when they first meet Santa. All elves were able to enjoy the holiday spirit. The joy on the children’s faces, and the appreciation that the families expressed was well worth the little bit of effort to create such a magical special moment for a child.

d s

Dear Jerry

Dear Jerry

Rotaract Oshksh lost its President, Jerry Medina, in a tragic car accident on January 30.

Dear Jerry | Rotaract Oshkosh

Dear Jerry,

I write to say thanks. Actually, I write to say thanks for a lot of things.

Thanks for your help. I would have had a really hard time starting Rotaract Oshkosh without you. Your colleague Dan, a Rotarian, was the one that gave me your name. He said you would probably be interested. That’s why I sent you that left-field [read: frantic] email in spring 2012. Luckily, you responded right away.

Thanks for showing up. To Planet Perk in June to hear me out, to Fond du Lac’s chartering, to all those organizational meetings. And with good company!

Thanks for introducing me to Dan and Becky. I am certain Rotaract would not be what it is without them. They came because of you. So did Shelly and Brandon. Together we grew into something real, something to be proud of.

Dear Jerry | Rotaract Oshkosh

Thanks for introducing me to Meredith. We only met a handful of times, but I recognized a familiar soul. Writing and animal welfare mean a lot to both of us. Once or twice we even toyed with the idea of dropping everything to start a rescue of our own. (Meaning more animals, of course.)

Oshkosh Area Humane Society | Rotaract Oshkosh

Thanks for your laughter. Monthly meetings or volunteering, you were the life of all our proverbial parties. Exec meetings are especially fond memories. You were the first one to laugh and the first to make everybody else laugh. You and Shelly would inevitably bicker; you and Dan would joke about sports or work, and you were the quickest to make a snarky remark that rocked the whole table.

Dear Jerry | Rotaract Oshkosh

Thanks for rallying everyone. Like that night we volunteered with Downtown Rotary at Waterfest, do you remember? Someone had the idea to cheer for people who tipped us. Then you took it to the next level and really made a ruckus. Again, laughter. Much of it because of you. That night will go down as my favorite volunteering event.

Working Waterfest | Rotaract Oshkosh

Our friendship formed around Rotaract almost two years ago. I am so glad it did. I am so glad our paths crossed. You have touched my life, Jerry Medina. Thank you for being.

November Rotaract Oshkosh Meeting

Written by Rotaract member, Becky Snyder

IMG_2099Rotaract Oshkosh’s November meeting was all about Habitat for Humanity and what’s to come for the group in 2014. We will volunteering this month (November) on Saturday, November 9th from 9am-12pm at the ReStore in Oshkosh. Additionally, We voted on a few key items for the coming Rotaract year; including:


New Location:


Starting in January, we will be meeting at Becket’s Restaurant. As we spoke about at our last meeting, we are going to host our meetings at a different local establishment each year as a way to both support different businesses and as a way to try new things as a group. The vote was unanimous.


New Meeting Time:


Based on the Doodle poll results, the top two meeting times were Mondays at 6pm and Wednesdays at 6pm. The group voted 7 to 2 to move the meetings to Mondays at 6pm starting with our January meeting at Becket’s.



December Volunteering:


As an executive board, we agreed that from now on, we are going to nominate 2-3 volunteer options for coming months to be voted on at our general member meetings. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to share their ideas or suggestions for volunteer projects. The vote was:


6 to 3: Celebration of Lights (partnering with Propel)


The other two options were bell ringing with Rotary or Empty Bowl Project with Rotary. So our December volunteer project will be Celebration of Lights (assisting in Santa’s workshop) on EITHER (you can do both nights if you would like) Saturday, December 14 or Wednesday, December 18 from 5:30-8:30p.m. Sign up sheet will be coming out in email.


Rotaract will be participating in the Race for the Lights run on Saturday, December 7 at 4:30pm at Menominee Park. Proceeds benefit Christine Ann. Money will be due to Shelly beforehand. It’s $30 to run, includes a shirt.


We also discussed member obligations and dues. $50 yearly dues are due at our January meeting. In addition, being a Rotaract member asks that you attend a monthly meeting, volunteer project or fundraiser. The more you can make it to, the better, as we are trying to build membership and form relationships!


Lastly, we will be hosting our monthly fundraiser – bar trivia – at Peabody’s Ale House this coming Tuesday, November 12 at 6pm. Tell your friends!


Our guest speaker was Christy Becker, the Volunteer Coordinator with Habitat for Humanity. Christy gave us an overview of what HFH does in the community as well as what the ReStore is all about – a local volunteer (mostly) run store that collects and sells new and gently used items for those in need. We will be volunteering there this Saturday, assisting with unloading and stocking new items. Christy also explained that the homes they are currently building are open for the public to view on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8am-3:30pm. On Fridays and Saturdays the homeowners are on site. Email me for the addresses of active build sites.


See you at our next meeting, Tuesday, December 3rd at Algoma Club.
ARC Cerebral Palsy Benefit

ARC Cerebral Palsy Benefit

Written by Rotaract member, Joe Walk.

photo (1)On Friday October 18th, Rotaract Oshkosh had the opportunity to support Cerebral Palsy and ARC by volunteering at their Parisian-themed art benefit auction. Founded in 1954, Cerebral Palsy of Mideast Wisconsin proudly serves nine counties, including Winnebago, Outagamie, Fond du Lac and Waupaca, and provides services and programs designed to help individuals and families affected by Cerebral Palsy and other physical and developmental disabilities.

The night before the event a group of Rotaract members assisted in the set-up of the event, which including assembling the Arc de Triumph and the twelve foot high Eiffel Tower, as well as decorating and arraigning the auction areas.  On the night of the event Rotaract was able to assist at the registration table, greeting the guest as they arrived at the event, before moving to wrapping and delivering purchased artwork.
rotaract 1
The night was a great success with a great time had by the over 350 people attending this wonderful event and many generous donations going to support the great work that Cerebral Palsy and ARC do for the community. Rotaract is already looking forward to the next art auction next year!


Rotaract Oshkosh’s First International Project – Pilgrims to Ibillin

Bethany Lerch, the first president of the newly chartered Rotaract Oshkosh, had a dream. That dream was to return to Israel/Palestine where she had been before, this time with the intent of learning all about the Mar Elias schools for Israeli Arab children of Christian, Muslim and Druze descent located in the village of Ibillin near Nazareth in Galilee. Three other Rotarians came to share her enthusiasm. They are: Candice Lane; Yessra Sankari, and John Hobbins.

Alas, Bethany was offered a job in Leipzig Germany for a year; she now plans to go on the trip to Ibillin next year.

Along with one other person from the area, Jack Stubbs, Candice, Yessra, and John are going this year. Other Oshkosh Rotaractors are excited about the possibility of going in a coming year.

To find out more about Candice and why she is taking this trip, go here:

To find out more about Yessra and why she is taking the trip, go here:

You can read more about the trip, why there is a conflict in Israel/Palestine in the first place, and about the commitment of Bethany, John, Yessra, Candice and Jack to the trip at:


If you would like to help support the group going on this trip, please contact us directly at [email protected]


PS. Thank you

PS. Thank you

Written by Bethany Lerch

The best stories start at the very beginning. This story, my Rotary story, began four years ago…

I got rocked by Rotary in August 2009. I was standing outside my apartment on Oregon Street. I don’t remember what I was doing, only that it was sick hot out.

My phone rang. It was Richard, a professor from the Milwaukee area, someone with whom I had just interviewed for a Rotary scholarship.



“It’s Richard, from Mount Mary.”

“Oh, hi.” Here’s the part where he is going to tell me I failed. I sat on the steps and scrunched my eyes closed waiting for the fatal blow.

“We’ve selected you for the scholarship.”

“I’m sorry?” ohmigod. Why would you do that?

His voice became cloudy, and the cars on the street sounded fuzzy. When he said goodbye a short while later I called my dad bawling. He cried, too. His daughter was going to graduate school.

Bethany Lerch | Rotaract Oshkosh
Reading with a girl from Al-Arakib in the Negev, Israel – March 2011

Just like that, my life changed. Because of Rotary. It changed many more times in my year abroad in the UK.

Rotary chapters in Oshkosh were curious about my experience in Scotland and, upon my return in fall 2011, invited me to their meetings. I met a number of people at those meetings, one of whom was John Hobbins. A few months later he zeroed in on me. “So, what do you know about Rotaract?”

“Not much,” I told him.

“That’s okay,” he said. And he’s been there every step of the way since.

With that, our curious journey began, and my life changed all over again with Rotaract

Jerry came first. Our first run-in to talk business was a memorable one. I remember trying hard to be professional while I described Rotaract, but an obscenity crept out. I covered my mouth and apologized. Jerry laughed and said he suffers from the same problem. Relief and good humor ensued.

Jerry Medina | Rotaract Oshkosh
Jerry, at our first service project, at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry – November 2012

With Jerry came Dan, a peer from law school. He and his wife Becky had just moved to the area. John invited the four of us to attend a chartering ceremony for the Fond du Lac Rotaract chapter. That’s when we added Joe Mann. The ball really got rolling after that.

November saw our first event, a Saturday morning at the food pantry (that actually started with bloodies.) I met Jena and Joe and Taylor that day. Our open meeting took place in December, when we went public with the whole gig. Enter Brandon and Michelle, Joe Walk (who has a different last name that none of us can spell) and Virginia.

Come January, we had full support from both Rotary chapters and were going full-steam ahead with monthly meetings and speakers, running events and invites to Rotary socials. Ours was a full plate and it remained a full one as we continued to grow with the help of Crystal, Candice, Ray and Oriane.

Crystal Seeley and Dan Snyder | Rotaract Oshkosh
Crystal and Dan helping out at the Christine Ann Center – February 2013

While we have a number of achievements to smile upon, the greatest, in my mind, was the fact that Rotaract Oshkosh went from brainchild to officially-recognized in approximately nine months. Less than one year. That’s all it took for us to tackle the project of growing a grassroots service organization for millennials in the Oshkosh area. To be clear, that’s – if I may – pretty damn baller.

That we have hosted and been hosted by so many area nonprofits continues to amaze me. You continue to amaze me. It has been a pleasure to be a part of your organization. Thank you for making me, I think, a better person.

For your future, I wish you that which you so beautifully wished me a few short days ago:

Follow your passion. Find what you’re looking for. (Stay out of trouble.) And, above all, find joy in all you do. Together.

September Meeting Notes

September Meeting Notes

Written by Bethany Lerch

September Meeting | Rotaract Oshkosh

There wasn’t much on the agenda at yesterday’s September meeting. Mostly, we just wanted to get past the formalities and bring in our new executive board. Just a few changes:

While I’m sad to be leaving, Rotaract is excited to have you on, Joe!

September Meeting | Rotaract Oshkosh

Next, we covered a few upcoming events:

  • First, the Tough Mudder, coming up on Saturday, 7 September. Rotaract has a group volunteer slot from 9 AM until noon. Contact Becky Snyder to get involved. (All proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project.)
  • Next, the Christine Ann Center will need volunteers to help them move back into their residence which is renovated following their recent capital campaign. Then, they will need other volunteers for their Take Back the Night event. Becky will have information for these opportunities, too.
  • A chili cook-off is coming in October. We’re looking to have two teams already. (Competition will be die-hard as our new veep Joe Walk was part of last year’s winning team.) Proceeds for the event will benefit the Day by Day Warming Shelter, a nonprofit we have volunteered at in the past.

September Meeting | Rotaract Oshkosh

A few changes worthy of note:

  • We have decided that we will switch our meeting venues each year. We began at Manila Resto & the Algoma Club and are presently looking for another establishment to hold meetings. Many thanks to Manila for providing such a memorable first year!
  • All of our “Change for Change” money will be collected at the end of each year and go to an organization to be determined via vote by all members.
  • We’re going for a more social feel, too. More dynamic events to draw more dynamic crowds!

That’s all for now. Next month’s meeting is going to be Tuesday, 1 October. Stay tuned for deets on the new location. (Time will remain the same.) Thanks for checking in!September Meeting | Rotaract Oshkosh