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Rotary Happenings: Longtime Rotarians share stories as part of focus on membership

By Staff | Jul 30, 2019


Great Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club meeting recently. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood and our traditional Happy Bucks ritual at the begin of our meetings just got a little more happy than usual. A spontaneous sharing of medical ailments went into a one-up-man-ship laughing fest. It was like a really good comedy show. Wished we had filmed it. They say, “Laughter is the best medicine,” let’s hope so because we certainly got a great big spoon full of sugar, along with a great dose of medicine.

Prior to becoming the new club president this year, Eldon Bohrofen held the important position of membership chair for, I think, the last three or four years. During his tenure, the club grew in membership from around 50 active members to 72 and has welcomed a number of new snowtarian visitors from up north to join us at our season meetings. A particularly important note here is that as our member count went up, our age average has gone down slightly.

Our members recently took a simple survey, asking for their analysis and opinions of club activities from fund raising to fellowship and how they feel about their connection to those activities and their engagement in Rotary overall. The survey came back and across-the-board the club is doing excellent in all areas. Not to rest on those laurels, our leadership team is aware that overall the club needs to engage all members on a meaningful level with a renewed focus on retention of our seasoned Rotarians. Membership is the life-blood of service organizations around the world. With the busy lives of people now, it is truly impressive that Rotary still is a meaningful global service organization.

A decline in membership in North America and an uptick throughout the rest of the globe has been noted for the last 10 years. The need for each of our state-side clubs to strengthen our membership numbers comes with a challenge of communicating the work we do throughout the world and how it benefits all mankind. Personal benefits are important too – meeting new friends, sharing your ideas on how to solve important problems facing the world, engaging in meaningful activities and the feeling of satisfaction from leaving a positive impact on the future of your family and planet.

With a focus on membership, so to speak, Bohrofen wanted to reintroduce a few of our longtime members to newer members through having them present classification talks regarding their professional lives and how they chose that eventual business path. At the recent meeting, talks were given by 14-year member Lee Almas, 33-year member Scot Congress and 29-year member Don Russell. I will try and give you a brief synopsis of their stories. One thing to start, each have had many twists and turns in their professional lives; two went from college to the family business, and one went from high school to work for Uncle Sam.


– Lee Almas, property management: Almas’ work history started part-time after high school in the family business, Almas Lumber Company in Cleveland, Ohio, learning the business from the bottom up. He graduated college, joined the full-time world at the company and helped an already successful business expand from selling wholesale lumber to large companies to running a construction company, property company, and cabinet and panel company. Almas was promoted to treasurer of the corporation but maybe that wasn’t the right place for him. He resigned and struck out on his own and held several jobs across the nation, some with construction components but others without. In 1977 when he found himself ready for another move, Almas came to join his father down here and help run a small motel. He later opened his own company with a partner in Cape Coral, supplying building trusses throughout Florida. Almas sold that and joined his eldest son in a construction company on Sanibel, Windward Development. After building many homes on island, his son moved to Texas to follow the boom and Almas downsized to a renovation business. Property management followed, and the rest is history.

– Scot Congress, retail jeweler: In 1981, the Congress family moved from Peoria, Illinois, to Southwest Florida. Although the Congresses were established in the jewelry industry up north, they took a different path on Sanibel. They bought a bike and boat rental business at the Casa Ybel Resort. Congress and his brother helped run the shop, working the beach, and somehow word got out that his father knew a lot about jewelry. It didn’t take long before the jewelry business was the way for the family to go again. They sold the beach gear rental business to Billy Kirkland and opened Congress Jewelers. Congress went off to college at the University of Florida, then returned to Sanibel and became actively involved at the store, which later expended five-store mini jewelry enterprise. In 2006, Congress Jewelers was sold to a public corporation but it was unsuccessful at running it. Congress bought the Sanibel store back and the rest is island history.

Check next week’s column for more!

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.