Posted by Jerry Venters on Jan 03, 2019
The Rotary Club of Kansas City Plaza, chartered originally as the Rotary Club of Ward Parkway on December 15, 1986, has become one of the leading Rotary clubs in District 6040 in its short history.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Kansas City, the club first met on Tuesdays at noon at Costello’s Greenhouse at 85th and Ward Parkway.  Three of the 27 charter members are still members of the club – Jerry Smith, Doug Zimmerman, and Bob Latz, all of whom later served as club president.  In 1994, the club moved its meetings to the Country Club Plaza and changed to a breakfast meeting on Fridays.  The first Friday morning breakfast meeting was held at Fedora’s on the Plaza on September 9, 1994. The club changed its name to the Rotary Club of Kansas City Plaza, with Rotary International’s approval, on January 1, 1996.
Good fellowship and camaraderie, great club programs, and a mission of “Service Above Self” have marked the club’s 32 years. 
In the early years, member Rotarians formed numerous golfing groups, attended the ballet and musical performances together, had nights out at professional and UMKC sporting events, and worked together on many service projects.  The longest-running social gathering has been the annual “Chiefs Watch Party,” started in the mid-1990s, when members gather to watch a Kansas City Chiefs away football game. More recently, several members have met regularly to sample single-malt whiskeys from around the world.
(Pictured L-R: Jeff Jernigan, Gary Smith and Jerry Smith grilling brats and burgers for a Chiefs Party.)
From the beginning, the club had a mission of service to the community.  The first mission statement, which has remained much the same for the last 25 years, was:
“The Ward Parkway Rotary Club will commit a major portion of our resources, including time and funding, for community betterment through helping youth, education and elderly.”
 The club’s “signature” service project has been the Bridge Home for Children, a residential facility for troubled youth founded by Plaza Rotarian Jesse Watson and his wife Beverly.  Over the years, the club donated more than $230,000 to “The Bridge,” enabling it to purchase two vans and install a modern kitchen, for example.  Club members invested hundreds of volunteer hours painting, installing windows and floors, and making many other repairs and improvements in the facilities.  Still today, the Club provides meals to these children in December each year.  More recent beneficiaries of the money and muscle of the Plaza Rotary Club include Hope House, Cristo Rey High School, Ozanam Home, the Urban Ranger Corps, and Shoes for Orphan Souls. 
(Pictured: In 1996, the Plaza Club presented a check for $23,130 to “The Bridge” to enable the Watsons to purchase a van for the home.)
In February 1992, club members established the Kansas City Ward Parkway Rotary Charitable Foundation, a tax-exempt organization designed to help further the club’s mission of service.  The Foundation, now named the Kansas City Plaza Rotary Foundation, has distributed more than $500,000 to numerous beneficiaries in the Kansas City metropolitan area.  From its beginning, each new member has made a contribution to our Club Foundation.
“Comics for Kids,” the brainchild of 1988-89 President Alex Petrovic II, was the club’s first major fundraiser.  It attracted more than 500 attendees and raised more than $23,000.  Since then, the club has raised funds with several annual events, including a wine tasting and auction, a golf tournament, a poker tournament, a jazz cabaret, and, since 2014, the Games for Good, which also recognizes the area’s First Responders and nonprofit programs. 
The Plaza club was one of the first and most energetic supporters of “Kansas City Day,” the Kansas City Rotary Club’s annual fundraiser for its Rotary Youth Camp.  The event was launched in April 1988, when Rotarians hit the street corners on the Royals’ opening day and gave the Star newspaper to passing motorists in exchange for donations for the camp.  That first year, Plaza Rotarians collected almost $9,000 out of a total of $63,000 raised citywide.  In 1990, the Plaza club collected $8,810 of $83,000 raised.  As more Rotary clubs have participated in Kansas City Day, the corners worked and the donations received have decreased, but the club has participated every year and remains a strong supporter of the event. 
(Pictured: Past President Jeff Deatherage hawking papers on Kansas City Day.)
Early on, Plaza Rotarians were supportive of Rotary’s international programs.  In 1987, the club pledged $20,000 toward The Rotary Foundation’s original campaign to raise $1.2 million to eradicate polio. The club has hosted numerous Group Study Exchange teams and counts several former GSE team members and leaders among its members.  The club supported its first Matching Grant in 1997, and since then has completed Matching Grants projects in Malawi (building latrines for schools, providing anti-malaria bednets, providing educational programs for girls) and numerous District Grant projects (such as microcredit loans in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, carpeting and tile and laundry facilities for Hope House, a computer room for students at the Urban Ranger Corps, and anti-malaria drugs for villagers in Malawi). 
(Pictured: Plaza Club members and Urban Ranger Corps participants celebrating a rewarding day of work on the computer room.)
Although it is one of the “youngest” clubs in District 6040 – of the 56 Rotary clubs in the District, 42 were chartered before the Plaza Club received its charter – the club has been a leader in the District for much of its existence.  Four of its members – Larry Lunsford, Jerry Venters, Elizabeth Usovicz and Cassy Venters – have served as District Governors in District 6040, and Plaza Rotarians have chaired numerous District and Zones committees.  Three of its members – Jesse Watson, Larry Lunsford and Jerry Venters – have received The Rotary Foundation’s highest individual award, the Service Above Self Award.  In addition, Larry Lunsford served as a director of Rotary International in 2013-15, the first such selection for the Plaza club.
The Plaza club has been among the leaders in the District in its support of the Annual Fund of the Rotary Foundation for several years.  Since the club’s chartering, Plaza Rotarians have contributed $669,761 to the Annual Fund.
In addition, in 2014-15, the club was recognized as a 100% Paul Harris Fellow Club because all club members had received Paul Harris Fellow recognition.  The Rotary Foundation extends Paul Harris Fellow recognition to any person – whether Rotarian or non-Rotarian – who has accumulated $1,000 in giving to the Foundation through monetary contributions and/or recognition points.  Only six clubs in District 6040 have achieved the 100% Paul Harris Fellow Club recognition.
The club has also repeatedly received the Presidential Citation in recognition of its annual achievements.  The club received the inaugural Klinginsmith Cup in 2009-10, presented to the club that (1) leads the District in per capita giving to the Annual Fund of The Rotary Foundation, and (2) receives the Presidential Citation for its overall club efforts.   The club has received the Cup in five of the nine years it has been awarded.
(Pictured: PDG Allen Garner presents the 2017-18 Klinginsmith Cup to President-elect Eric Dickinson, accepting the Cup on behalf of 2017-18 Club President Jeff Chapman.)
2017-18         Jeff Chapman                                     1995-96         Jerry Smith    
2016-17         Drue Thomas                                     1994-95         Bob Latz
2015-16         Jane Brown                                        1993-94         Victor Swyden II
2014-15         Bob Merrigan                                    1992-93         Jeff Jernigan
2013-14         Debra Anderson                                1991-92         Terry Putney
2012-13         Liz Thomas                                        1990-91         Sister Elizabeth Ney
2011-12         Beth Bahner                                      1989-90         Chuck Vogt
2010-11         Terry Berkbuegler                            1988-89         Alex Petrovic II
2009-10         Cassy Venters                                    1987-88         Richard Abell
2008-09         Bo Steed                                             1986-87         Robert Chien
2007-08         Bruce Moorman
2006-07         Will Hodgkinson
2005-06         Will Hodgkinson
2004-05         Kile Morrison
2003-04         Doug Zimmerman
2002-03         Elizabeth Usovicz
2001-02         Jim Lloyd
2000-01         Steve Johnston
1999-2000    Jeff Deatherage
1998-99         Bob Harris
1997-98         Larry Lunsford
1996-97         Gary Smith