Local club funds AEDs for community

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – After 10 years, the local Rotary club is still focused on one thing: working for the community, both locally and worldwide.

Among the nonprofit’s 2013 projects were funding automated external defibrillators for the public; committing $12,000 to the Crail Ranch Homestead Museum; funding climbing boulders in the community park; installing informational signage in Firepit Park; contributing to a student-run composting project at Lone Peak High School; and supporting a women’s education center in Afghanistan.

With approximately 24 members, the club is made up of business and community leaders from across the professions.

“The whole idea behind Rotary is that the projects are more important than the people doing them,” says Dale Palmer, who is currently serving as co-president of the local club with Dr. Jeff Strickler.

The club held its annual Gold Auction fundraiser on Jan. 24 this year, just 12 days after its official 10-year anniversary.

“In 10 years, we’ve gained credibility in the community,” said Strickler, a retired physician who was involved with Rotary in Helena starting in 1982, and has served as a former Rotary District Governor for the state.

With approximately 125 silent auction items including stays in the Bahamas and Napa wine country, the event brought in nearly $22,000. More than 180 people attended the evening at Buck’s T-4, the largest Rotary event yet, Strickler said.

In an unlikely turn of events, Rotary member Sheila Chapman, Big Sky Resort’s public relations manager, won the $2,500 in gold and donated it back to the club.

“It’s an organization of people who are active in the community and trying to help the community, trying to help the world,” said Palmer, also owner of Nordic Hot Tubs. He pointed out the annual holiday giving tree project, which provides gifts and clothing to underprivileged local children, plus a food basket for their families.

In years past, the auction raised as much as $30,000, all of which has gone toward projects including building a bus shelter in the Meadow Village, installing call boxes in Gallatin Canyon; and a clean water project in Mexico, among others.

The club’s most notable recent project was part of a partnership with the Big Sky Owners Association and the Big Sky Fire Department.

When BSOA realized the community’s public spaces needed additional AEDs, it went first to the Rotary to request funding, said BSOA executive director Suzan Scott. The Rotary allocated $3,390 for two defibrillators, which are now located in the entryways of the Post Office and the Chamber of Commerce, both of which are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

“Having AEDs distributed in the community is extremely important,” said Big Sky Fire Chief Bill Farhat. Seconds make a difference in the survival of a cardiac arrest patient, he explained, with early CPR and early AED application crucial.

“For every minute that goes by without an AED, the patient has a 7-10 percent greater chance of dying.”

The fire department has agreed to maintain the units, and also teaches hands-on CPR classes upon request, Farhat added.

At the Gold Auction, Rotary received $700 more in donations to go toward additional AED units, Palmer said. Other potential future projects include adding informational signage for in the Big Sky Meadow Village and building a pet park and a flagpole in the Big Sky Community Park, Palmer said.

The Big Sky club has its own 501(c)(3) foundation, and while it operates under the umbrella of Rotary International, it is autonomous in choosing, fundraising and completing its own projects.

With the current presidential term ending on June 30, Grant Hilton, a Big Sky Owners Association board member, will take over as leader of the club. He will be followed by president-elect Danielle Miller in June 2015.