July 9th the Akron Rotary Club kicked off the first meeting of the 2024-25 Rotary year.  2023-24 President Tom Knauer inducted Nathanael "Thane" Billow as 2024-25 President. Tom shared that Thane has been an integral part of the Club and under his leadership our Club will continue to be strong moving forward. Tom presented Thane's mother, Patty, with flowers and Thane with Roberts Rules - a lengthy book in very small print!
 
Tom said he is "looking forward to working alongside Thane and President Elect Katy Miller and the rest of the club membership in support of the community and Rotary International".
 
Thane is a 5th generation Rotarian, his great great uncle, George W. Billow served as the Akron Club President in 1916-17. Click to view the Billow Rotary Dynasty article written when Thane first joined the club. His father, Chip Billow, a Tallmadge Club Rotarian, pinned Thane with the President's pin. 
 
Thane also swore in his Executive Committee and Board. View board list.
 
Here are comments that President Thane Billow shared after his induction:
 
As my first act as President, it is now my distinct honor to “pin” Tom as our Immediate Past President. Thomas Knauer, per the bylaws and constitution of this club, I will recognize your honorable and faithful service by pinning you with a banana. The phrase originated in the burlesque theater where the top comedian was given a banana. The act and joke were so widely known that the term was coined to refer to the headliner or the main attraction. In modern times, the phrase “top banana” refers to the most powerful or important person around. For example, if you are promoted to top banana at work, it means you are the boss. And in the case of Akron Rotary, if you are presented a Top Banana pin, it means that you have done an exceptional job leading the club forward and are extraordinarily well deserving of recognition and praise for all your good work. Tom – you indeed are the top banana. Congratulations and thank you!
 
Before proceeding with the actual pinning, Thane presented Tom with a few small gifts on behalf of our officers and board:
  1. At the last meeting of Tom’s presidency, he shared that during his Rotary year, our club members volunteered more than 860 hours of their time to service projects. 860 hours. That is quite impressive and is the equivalent of almost 28 days. Not to be outdone, did you know, that during his presidency, Tom personally spent more time - 861 hours to be exact - on the phone or responding to emails where he fielded complaints, got yelled at, and received feedback about just how poor of a job he was doing! Tom, after putting up with all of that, I think you deserve a drink. We would like to present you with a bottle of Beluga Gold Line Vodka and Beluga Transatlantic vodka. These Siberian vodkas are regarded as some of the finest vodkas in the world. You can taste test these and compare them for yourself. You definitely deserve a drink.
  2. Serving as the Rotary president is, I am told, a very time consuming position. You’ve made a number of sacrifices and had to skip many family functions so that you could attend club events, volunteer at service projects, and I am sure you took one or two late night calls as well that prevented you from spending time with Missy, Fran and Georgie. You see -Tom is a family man, he has an amazing wife and two great kids. Tom we would like to present you with a gift card to the Diamond Grille. We also know that your son George, even though he is in elementary school, has already developed a taste for fine dining, so we made sure to get an extra large gift card so that Georgie can order a king size filet mignon from the Diamond Grille. Dinner is on us.
  3. Your final gift. I don’t think you have any bad vices other than your addiction to eating pretzel rods late at night while watching Fox News. Now that you are done serving as president, you’ll have a lot more free time. So…I would like to introduce you to a new vice. We would like to present you with these imported cigars from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In your Rotary retirement, perhaps you can develop a smoking habit and light up a celebratory cigar with all this new found free time that you will certainly have
Goals for 2024-2025 Rotary Year
I’d like to spend just a moment or two talking about our goals for the next year.
 
I’ll start by reminding all of you, and reminding myself, that we can’t really know where we are going until we know where we’ve been.
 
Tom and the previous board did a phenomenal job providing steady leadership. There was a renewed sense of calm, a renewed sense of purpose, and we reaffirmed our commitment to service.
 
Our Club, just like many other clubs, had been through so much change, turmoil and volatility during the pandemic. Rotary, for many in the United States, has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
 
We met in person, then remote, then hybrid, then back in person. There was a time where our club couldn’t get together because it was imprudent and potentially unsafe for us to do so. We went through 3 different meeting venues in a very short period of time. We witnessed historic inflation in the cost of food and the cost to serve food. We had tremendous difficulty securing speakers. And this all had a negative impact on attendance and membership.
 
Prior to 2020, meeting in person for lunch at the country club was a no brainer for our working man and working woman’s Rotary club. We didn’t even have to try hard to get numerous Rotarians to every meeting. However, in the remote digital world now, it is hard to get people out of the house and out into the community. We are lucky (and grateful) to get 30-35 members at a meeting these days.
 
As we continue to put time between ourselves and the recent pandemic, the dust has begun to settle, and we as a community and we as a club have learned to adapt in this new world. We are evolving, and we are changing, and we are now at a point where we are growing our membership. The excitement is back.
 
Tom did an excellent job making our club more inviting and more welcoming to all members. It doesn’t matter if you come to meetings once a week, once a month, or once a year…if you are a Rotarian, you matter to us, and we are grateful for your membership in our club. If you can’t make Tuesdays at noon, but you can make a few service projects here or there, great! You matter to our club. Or if you can only make the annual Chili Open, that too, is just fine. We are proud to have you as a member in our club. Thank you for supporting our camp.
 
Rotarians come in all shapes and sizes. Each of us have unique gifts. It doesn’t matter if you can only be a doer, a donor, or a door opener, you matter to our Club. If you are all three, then even better – you should serve on the board! Thank you for sharing your talents with our club and our community.
 
Being an Akron Rotarian is not a status symbol. We are not a social club or a country club. We are a service organization. We are here to work. Thanks to the profound leadership of President Tom Knauer, our Service Project Chair Cyndi Kane, and Rotary service heroes like David Hall, Sandy Naragon, Katy Miller and Darethann Krill, we have reaffirmed our commitment to service. We are going back to our roots. This bell up here that Tom is afraid to ring with the gavel has on it engraved the words “He who serves best, profits most.” During Tom’s year, our club was back in the black. We had a profitable year. My goal is to make this year an even more profitable year.
 
My goal for this year is to keep the train on the tracks. We will remain laser focused on service. The foundation of our club is strong. We are on the right path forward. Our membership is healthy. We are growing our numbers. And we are making Rotary fun, inviting and open to all.
 
My mom is here today, and as a college professor and retired attorney, she just loves studying history and she loves learning. She will tell you, just like she told me many times, that Calvin Coolidge was one of the most effective presidents we have ever had in the oval office. Why was he successful? He didn’t do anything. He didn’t force an agenda. He got out of the way, let the American people choose their own destiny, and the country prospered because of it. With regards to my Rotary presidency, I am going to try to be Calvin Coolidge. I am going to get out of the way and let our Rotarians do what they do best – serve! I am going to do my best at serving you, our membership, and I will strive to do so with grace and humility.
 
The only “changes”, will be some minor housekeeping and administrative updates to a few of our committees. We are also going to try to do a monthly breakfast. Pardon me, as I know this is very exciting.
 
Mainly, we are getting our house in order. We are going back and reinstalling some of the discipline and structure we had in place prior to the pandemic period. This will enhance and aid three of our committees specifically.
  1. Chili Open – we are going to appoint Chairs for the chili open, and will have a formal committee with designated committee chairs. We will have our new club members serve on the chili open committee. We will follow our roadmap and stick to our schedule, we will make sure everything goes to plan. Work begins in August, and the chili open is only 6 months away.
  2. Rotary Youth Exchange – we are taking a brief pause to make sure we have our house in order by securing enough host families. We will maintain the relationship we have with Stow-Munroe Falls High School, and explore new relationships with other area high schools that could be prove to be fruitful. Jacinto Nunez and his committee will make sure we are in a position to deliver exceptional experience for all inbound exchange students
  3. Programming Committee – Gerry Kiefer has done a phenomenal job as our Programming Committee chair. Gerry has been an army of one, and while she has done an amazing job, it has also been a lot of work. Typically, from district to district or club to club, that job is the hardest one anyone can have. We have created a formal committee to get our current, past, and future presidents involved with securing speakers. This will lighten the load on Gerry. This will also expand our combined network of speakers, and will also help us attract a larger, newer, and more diverse audience at our meetings.
Finally, Final Fridays -the only other “change” or initiative that will be new for this year is to host a monthly alternate social meeting at a different time and venue. This is something that RI and our District leaders have recommended we look in to.  Final Fridays” as we are calling it, will be held on the final Friday of every month. It will be a 7:30am breakfast meeting at Portage Country Club, our old stomping grounds. The cost is $20 per person, so the same cost as a normal meeting, we be getting together, fostering connections, and enjoying friendships.
 
This “Final Friday” meeting will allow us to accommodate and connect with those club members who perhaps cannot make a meeting Tuesdays at 12pm, like our good friends John Margida and Pat O’Neill. Proud Rotarians, but also successful small business owners, and running a small business is a lot of work. Shame on you for working hard!
 
And while I am excited for Final Fridays, I must also clarify that we do indeed remain committed to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and to Tangier catering. Our club is blessed to be here, and we will continue to meet every week at 12pm on Tuesdays. But, we will also offer a “bonus” meeting once per month so that we can reconnect with some of those members who we may have lost touch with.
 
Our inaugural Final Friday meeting will be 7:30am Friday July 26th at Portage CC. In August, it's Friday the 30th, which is the day before I get married, and in September, it's Friday Sept. 27th. Bring your friends. Would love to have you there.
 
In an effort to be transparent, I have disclosed the master plan with you all. Thank you for coming today. Thank you to our board and officers for serving. It’s going to be a great year. Thank you all!
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