Okay...had I known that Gettysburg was at the far edge of the middle of nowhere, I might have had second thoughts about attending the District Conference there at the end of May. However, I decided it would be a great opportunity to try out my new motorcycle (a 2003 Honda Nighthawk 750, for those with an interest in such details) on a road trip, as well as a chance to see a larger segment of Rotary up close.
The trip there was longer than anticipated and much of it was after dark. Note to self: that part of rural Pennsylvania basically shuts down and turns out the lights around 9PM, so it got pretty lonely on the road. I arrived at the very spiffy conference venue outside the town at about midnight, and was welcomed by the hotel staff as if it were a perfectly normal time for a guest to arrive, carrying low-end motorcycle luggage and looking fairly bedraggled.
By early next morning--Rotary conference organizers seem to have a fetish about starting the program at 7:30AM and going until the wee hours of the night--all was sorted out. The welcome table had all my "stuff"--name badge, goody bag, miscellaneous info about the area and a mini stuffed bear, which later on I donated to our president's, Kevin's, collection for shipment to Haiti as "packaging" for medicine, etc.
The days in Gettysburg were, frankly, a tad longer than I am used to and much of the meeting time was taken up with formal reports about official District business. But....there was also an awful lot of information about what the District and individual clubs, such as ours, have been doing to make the world a better place. The boards and circular picture displays that our president, Kevin Hersh, and his wife Rita had painstakingly put together were a huge hit, and Kevin's presentation, although brief but accompanied by eye-catching and informative videos, was very warmly received.
On the final evening, at dinner, there were musical presentations by the fairly large group of Rotary exchange students who were heading home after a year's stay here, and by a small group of Finnish young professionals who had been visiting the District for the past couple of weeks. (FYI, I got to practice my four or five words of Finnish.) Along the way, a lot of time was spent by DG Karen Castora giving out awards for an enormous variety of achievements. Our club, and our president, Kevin Hersh, in particular, were showered with our large share of such awards, for which I was extremely proud.
Two personal highlights of my time in Gettysburg: first, the opportunity to re-connect with my now dear friend, Leo Redmond, who has visited and spoken at our club meetings several times and who gave a fantastic presentation on his year in Turkey as our District's Ambassadorial Scholar. The older ladies, in particular, wanted to know if Leo had "met a girl" while in Turkey, and after some good-natured banter he shyly admitted that he had and that the relationship was moving ahead slowly but steadily.
The second highlight was a motorcycle outing of the countryside around Gettysburg and of the battlefield itself led by the president of one of the Denville clubs. There were four of us bikers, plus two wives and one of the Finnish ladies, who stopped for lunch at one of the historic houses in the town and then spent a very enjoyable few hours leisurely wandering the back roads. The ride was, regrettably, cut short by a sudden downpour, but we had a convivial time even so.
The ride home to New Jersey was in daylight and thankfully uneventful, except for a very unpleasant first 1/2 hour or so in a chilly drizzle.
I was so pumped by the whole experience that I am seriously considering riding the bike to next year's Conference in Annapolis, Maryland. I would urge other club members to consider going (in cars, if you must), as well, as the experience is worthwhile and enables us to get out of our sometimes parochial perspective and to see the wider world of Rotary at the District level.