A 63-page bill in the SC Senate would mean more changes in the state’s public schools rather than true education reform, according to Pam Mills, guest speaker at Capital Rotary’s Feb. 12 meeting. Mills (in photo with Rotarians Bob Davis at left and Mike Montgomery) assists the SC Association of School Administrators with legislative matters. She outlined several recommendations for the much-debated measure: (1) a shift from focusing on accountability and assessment toward “letting teachers teach the way they know how, with love and enthusiasm, rather than just meeting pacing deadlines”; (2) restore a sense of status and respect for the teaching profession, plus strengthen the home-school connection for more parental support and better classroom discipline; (3) facilities improvements to ensure that all schools are safe environments conducive for learning; and (4) offer expanded industry certification and college-credit programs so that students would graduate “with more than a diploma.” Mills, an alumnus of Columbia College, previously was the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s press secretary, served as Governor’s School for the Arts admissions director, and retired from the Greenville County School District.
State treasurer Curtis Loftis touched on the highlights of his role as South Carolina’s “private banker” when he addressed Capital Rotary members Feb. 5. Loftis (shown in photo) is responsible for managing, investing and retaining custody of nearly $50 billion in public funds. He said state government is “doing well” financially, but he remains vigilant to “see that we are good stewards of your money.” For instance, Loftis praised the SC Department of Transportation for “doing more work at less cost than ever before.” But he warned that some nonprofit entities tied to corporate (instead of local) interests are getting public funds for services that state agencies and employees could provide more economically. He said some $450 million is awarded to nonprofits, but in some cases “we don’t know what good they do for how much.” Loftis was first elected treasurer in 2010. A 1981 graduate of the University of South Carolina, he is a member of the Cayce-West Columbia Rotary Club. Loftis has held leadership positions in numerous state, regional and national fiscal authorities and associations.
Capital Rotary members visited the University of South Carolina football field on Jan. 29, but they weren’t there to see Gamecocks on the gridiron. Instead, nearly 30 Rotarians (shown in group photo) got a behind the scenes look at current amenities and details about coming improvements at Williams-Brice Stadium. Zach Smeltzer of Gamecock Sports Properties led the way, starting upstairs in the press box, then moving down to premium seating areas and Champions Club suites, a Hall of Captains (portraits of team leaders through the years) and the postgame press conference room for coaches, players and media. Smeltzer said renovations now under way will mean a better gameday experience for fans plus extra revenue. The $22.5 million project includes: (1) The 2001 Club, a wedge-shaped section of open-air, suite-like seating in a corner over the tunnel where the team takes the field and a club area beneath; (2) The South Club – an enclosed area underneath the south end zone seats; (3) The East Club – a new deck, more outdoor suites and an indoor club area; and (4) The West Club – a concourse club area near the top of the west lower deck. Project design and planning took more than a year, according to the contractor.
The president and executive director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education is Capital Rotary’s newest member. Rusty Monhollon (at left in photo with sponsor Bryan Goodyear) moved from Missouri to the Palmetto State in 2019. He previously served as assistant commissioner for academic affairs in Missouri’s Department of Higher Education. A native of Topeka, Monhollon taught U.S. history at Washburn University there and at the University of Kansas. He also taught at the University of Missouri-Columbia, at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Friends University in Wichita and Hood College in Frederick, MD. He was a summa cum laude Washburn graduate and earned his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Kansas. In addition to service on a number of academic boards, committees, commissions and organizations, Monhollon has been a Scout leader, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer and a member Missouri’s Columbia South Rotary Club. He was a welder/machinist before attending college.
Past District 7770 governor Gary Bradham told Capital Rotarians on Jan. 22 how recent projects spearheaded by the international service club improved life in Ghana’s impoverished communities. Bradham (in photo with Capital president Abby Naas) also celebrated the local club’s $1,000 contribution toward construction of a new elementary school. In addition to schools, Bradham said district projects included deep wells for clean water and installation of microflush toilets in place of pit latrines that smell bad and pollute water and soil. Over half of Ghana’s population lives in rural areas, and only 10% have access to basic sanitation. Two-thirds can obtain safe drinking water only after making a 30-minute round trip. Bradham said Rotary’s public works employed 300 people and totaled $1.6 million in donated and matching funds. Last year Capital Rotary was a contributor and lead club for building a new Nkrankrom Elementary School in the African nation. Bradham is a retired Air Force officer who’s been a Myrtle Beach Rotary member since 2005. He’s held numerous local and District 7770 leadership positions since that time.
After being badly injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, Steven Diaz (in photo) was left with scars including post-traumatic stress, partial blindness, traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder. The former Marine told Capital Rotarians on Jan. 15 that the battle to survive led him to become a founding member of Hidden Wounds, a volunteer organization aiding others with emotional and psychological challenges. Diaz said Hidden Wounds works to provide immediate and emergency psychological treatment for active-duty, veteran and retired military service members regardless of discharge status. In many cases, he said, Hidden Wounds is a safety net until the Department of Veterans Affairs is able to deliver long-term treatment through government-funded programs. Diaz believes that sharing his story promotes better understanding of post-war ailments affecting many veterans and their family members, thus helping to “ease and heal the hidden wounds of the people we love.”
Keeping Richland County’s older citizens healthy, independent and safe has been the goal of Senior Resources for the past 42 years, says Beth Struble, interim director of development for the non-profit that began in 1967. Struble (shown with Rotarian Perry Lancaster) was Capital Rotary’s Jan. 8 guest speaker, detailing the agency’s work in supplying food, helping at home and promoting active living. Capital’s members – as volunteers – are most familiar with the Meal On Wheels program delivering hot food daily to the homebound. But Senior Resources also provides clients with bags of fresh produce monthly and has a senior care pantry for non-perishables, household goods and personal hygiene items. Home help includes personal care, transportation to doctor visits and other medical-related trips, and Pet Pals – monthly dog and cat food delivery for seniors’ four-legged companions. Active living services are (1) four wellness centers for physical fitness; (2) “foster grandparents” who mentor and tutor at-risk students, primarily in elementary school; and (3) senior companion volunteers assisting with light housekeeping and meal preparation. Struble said all these programs enable clients to remain at home as long as possible, delaying or preventing institutional care needs.
Capital Rotary Club members adopted a Columbia-area family and provided gifts for the holiday season (shown in photo) as part of the 2019 Midlands Families Helping Families Christmas program, a Palmetto Project and WIS-TV initiative. Rotarians had the option of purchasing gifts or making a monetary donation. For 27 years, Families Helping Families has helped ease the holiday burden for thousands, ensuring that more neighbors may share in the joys of Christmas. The program had a goal of serving 3,500 families and senior citizens this year. Recipients are referred by local social service organizations and schools.
Local clubs are the “heartbeat” of Rotary International, but need training to grow stronger and more effectively serve their communities. That’s the message Capital Rotarians heard Nov. 20 from guest speaker Tom Ledbetter (shown with Capital member Neda Beal), head of District 7770’s Rotary Leadership Institute programs. The institute is a learning experience consisting of separate sessions in three parts: (1) exploring Rotary’s roots, engaging members and creating service projects; (2) strategic planning, team building and attracting members; and (3) public relations, effective leadership strategies and club communications. Developing leaders is key for service clubs to get and retain younger members. Ledbetter said District 7770’s Rotarians average 58 years old. “Aging out” impacts a club’s ability to conduct events and projects that advance the goal of “service above self.” Noting that “it’s not your father’s Rotary anymore,” Ledbetter said persons ages 25-45 must be engaged in worthwhile activities before they’re willing to make a commitment. He believes Leadership Institute training would benefit every new Rotarian in his or her first two years of membership. Ledbetter is a charter member and past president of the West Metro-West Columbia club and is associate vice provost with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Educational Support at Midlands Technical College.
Joey Von Nessen (right in photo with Rotarian Stephen West), a research economist at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, shared the state’s 2019 market overview as Capital Rotary’s guest speaker Nov. 13. He said this year has been an economic roller coaster due to tariff and trade disputes, slowing global markets, fluctuating interest rates and waning of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 stimulus. Auto tariffs affect the Palmetto State via increased costs in the short run and potential changes in global production strategies in the long run. After peaking in 2015, our employment growth began to fall and is at 2% so far this year. But Von Nessen noted that every county has had employment gains at or above the state average since 2018. Labor costs, lumber costs and higher interest rates have negatively impacted the state’s construction industry, but the latter two are more positive recently. Although South Carolina is well-positioned for 2019, Von Nessen said the bottom line is that a “decaf” economy (lacking stimulus) combined with higher uncertainty worldwide means slower growth. Von Nessen serves on the advisory committee of the SC Board of Economic Advisors and is responsible for preparation and presentation of USC’s annual statewide economic forecast. He’s regularly invited to brief the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond on the state’s market conditions.