Jen Jeffrey: My First Rotary Meeting

Monday, March 31, 2014
Yvette Pyle, president of Rotary
Yvette Pyle, president of Rotary

Mama and I packed a lot in our week in Kentucky, but one of the things I was really looking forward to (and kind of nervous about) was attending a Rotary meeting. I was invited by one of my new Facebook friends Yvette Pyle who was a retired principal of Calloway County High School and the current president of the Rotary. 

She graciously offered to also give me a tour of “Jeffrey Gymnasium” named after my Uncle Boots Jeffrey who had been Calloway County Schools’ superintendent years ago. I was excited to see the ‘Jeff’ and I was also excited to attend a club meeting in the community of Murray. I have always wanted to be a part of a community and be involved with a group or organization. It was nice that I would get to do that as a guest of the Rotary Club at my birthplace.

Doing something like this was ‘for grown ups’ and that was what made me a little nervous. It was something my father would do. He was a member of Kiwanis and the Jaycees and was a mover and a shaker – always involved and in the limelight. The first half of my adult life was busy raising three boys and consisted of playing cops and robbers, other activities and taking my boys to church. I was a kid with them and now that they are grown, I am living the second half of my life doing the things I had never learned about and doing them – as a grown up.

It was more than a coincidence that I had recently interviewed Sue Culpepper (in Chattanooga) for a story and she mentioned she was with the Rotary. To me, this was God placing the right people in my path at the right time and, when I was invited to attend Murray’s Rotary meeting with Yvette, I asked Sue a little of what to expect. She was so kind to write out things about the Rotary and grab things from the Internet and sent them to me.

When I read that Rotarians have helped immunize more than 2 billion children against polio in 122 countries, I knew this was something of importance in my path and God was laying out the breadcrumbs (or the number 22 sequences).

My father was stricken with polio when he was two years old and this meeting wasn’t just about meeting a new friend or even playing grown up and trying to make my Daddy proud – it was a sense of destiny.

It was in my path to be involved with the Rotary Club, to meet Yvette who had ties with ‘The Jeff’ and to happen upon the things I mentioned in last week’s article about my time at Murray State. It was that feeling of  ‘sewing patches of a quilt’ that I had mentioned before when feeling that pull to Kentucky. I wasn’t so nervous now because it was evident that everything had been laid out for me.

What made it even more special was that Jason’s father Bob Billington, who was a best friend to my father, was a longtime member of the Rotary and he invited Jason to be his guest. On one hand that made me happy because I liked doing things with Jason, but on the other hand, I know I may move back to Murray and I want to create things in my life that isn’t as “Jason’s girlfriend.” It is important to me to have my independence and Jason is good to encourage that. After my divorce, I realized my marriage had been totally one-sided and I had nothing ‘for me’ and that I sort of lost myself. My whole world revolved around one man more than it should have. As much as we love someone, it is always good to have our own things in our lives as we blend our lives with another person. Jason and I had discussed this from the start – we were both on the same page.

Jason made it a point to tell me that even though he would be there, that my attending the meeting was ‘my thing’ and he didn’t want me to feel like he was invading my space. I did not feel that way. I was glad to see him when I arrived and he was wearing his navy blue blazer that matched my navy suit (we didn’t even plan that).

I saw Yvette right away and gave her a hug as if we were old friends – that is how she makes people feel. She asked if I wanted to sit with Jason and his dad, but I told her I would sit with her. She sat me at the table where she was sitting and also a girl named Clarissa Roberts and her father Jeff Roberts. Clarissa had been named ‘student of the month’ at Calloway High and made a 31 on her ACT, had a 4.0 GPA, was on honor roll all four years, and was 2nd in regional FBLA competition in Intro to Business, and on the state runner-up team for the Veterinary Tech contest for FFA. I was impressed by that. She got up to speak and was so professional. Everyone cheered when they heard she would be attending MSU. 

I enjoyed the banter that went on in the meeting and it was far from a stuffy or a boring business meeting. They had fun and joked and I eventually caught on to something they did called “Happy Dollars”. I think it was a form of bragging rights or maybe even ‘praises for blessings’ as people would tell something good going on in their lives whether it be a new grandchild or a business success or just getting to see an old friend – the person would tell something and they had to give a dollar to the Rotary. Some people gave more than a dollar and then there were times when someone else told of a person’s good news and they went to that person with their hand out.

*Note to self: If I become a Rotarian in the future I must stop by the bank and have cash on hand – with all the many happy things in my life I feel I will need quite a few dollars to give. And, with the dollars helping polio victims, what better way to share my happiness?

Yvette gave a few happy dollars and she was sweet to give one in my behalf saying she was glad to have me as her guest and told the members about my Uncle Boots and us going to see the gymnasium afterward. I got to see my realtor friend Loretta Jobs who was a friend to my grandparents and father. She also stood up and gave a happy dollar for me and mentioned my grandparents and their store, “Jeffrey’s Clothing.”

My name was mentioned a few times and it blew me away. I felt as if this was some sort of initiation and a help in getting to know people if I live there. Jason’s stepdad Nelson was also there and gave happy dollars for Jason and I being there. Bob gave one for his grandson who was in the paper that week.

After the room was getting settled down and it was almost time for the speaker, Jason had played a joke on Nelson and called his cell phone. When it rang everyone shouted “Nelson!” Apparently he had forgotten to turn his phone off during other meetings and he was known for the disruptions. Jason got a kick out of doing that to him.

It was mentioned that the editor of the Murray Ledger, Alice Rouse, was retiring and the new publisher would be Mike Davis. I had hoped to meet them both before leaving. Keith Davis was the speaker for the meeting.

Afterward, Yvette was good to gather a few people I wanted to see. I got to see my new friend Lisa Shoemaker and Jason was good to take our picture and I also got one with Yvette. I did get to meet Alice Rouse and we got our picture together, and I also saw Loretta Jobs and took a picture with her. She told me a story about my father she had wanted to share with me, but she wanted to tell me in person and not through emails. It was very sweet.

She said that she lived next door to my grandparents at their first home and she would see my Daddy trying to walk and get up the steps with his crutches. Sometimes he would fall down and Loretta wanted to go help him, but my ‘Mama-Grace’ would not let anyone help him. She was a strong woman and was a big reason why my Daddy was an overachiever and could do anything in the world.

It brought tears to both our eyes as Loretta shared that memory and I told her how Daddy had come to my high school to speak. I had never really thought of my dad as handicapped until that day when we were climbing a flight of stairs and he slipped. My voice quivered and I sobbed, “Oh Daddy.” I was about to cry and my heart had completely broken into as I reached to help him. Daddy was stern to tell me not to help and he would get up on his own. He told me not to feel sorry for him and that was the first and only time I ever did.

City Mayor Bill Wells was at the meeting and Yvette introduced me. When I got my picture made with him, I felt as if I was in my dad’s shadow doing some of the things he would be doing if he were still alive. It made me happy.

Before leaving a man named Martin Tracy came up to me and said he knew my father and was a good friend of his. He said that he played tennis with my dad and also ping pong. I was never good at tennis, but Daddy taught me how to play two things in life that I was good at – the game of chess and ping pong. I was thrilled to hear Martin tell me about this and I told him when I come back to Kentucky, I would have to play ping pong with him sometime. He gave me his email address and said he would share stories of my dad with me. This thrilled me to no end.

Now it was time to follow Yvette to CCHS and see “my” gym. I began snapping photos right away as Yvette and I signed in. She introduced me to Randy McCallon the current principal. He talked with us a while and he and Yvette discussed the building’s needs. My aunt and uncle did not have any children so they left money to the school in a fund designated for special needs and also for beautifying the school. The school was clean and kept up nicely after all those years.

Yvette was looking for the plaque that had the Jeffrey name on it, but we did not see it. I was a little disappointed because that would have been a great photo for my photo-journal of the trip. Yvette took a photo of me standing with the gym in the background and that would be just as good.

We did see where it had been and that was when Randy walked by us again and told us that some of the plaques were not cared for or they needed work. That happens in a school and that didn’t bother me at all.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to see that plaque go back up and I planned to talk to Yvette about it. I want the students of Calloway High to know my uncle’s part in the history of Calloway County (or if I could help in obtaining a new plaque and I would like to have the old one if they still have it).

There is so much more to learn about my family and I feel as if I see a long path with several arrows pointing in all sorts of directions that all lead to the path I am to follow, but each arrow being a significant part of the journey …and it excites me.

That evening was our last before leaving on Friday morning, so I had corresponded on Facebook with Mama’s family Harold and Pat McReynolds. Harold is Mama’s cousin and Pat is his wife who I have spoken with on Facebook. Mama was thrilled that we would be meeting them for dinner. Harold owns the store “Corn-Austin” and my uncle Gary (Mama’s brother in-law) also worked there for many years. Jason even worked there when he was a teenager and modeled for them.

Corn-Austin is more than a small town clothing store. They have fitted several country music stars from Nashville. Corn-Austin is very well-known and is another source of pride for me as I grab onto my roots. Pat looked beautiful and has a great personality and Harold is still the handsome man he always was. He was my mom’s favorite cousin on her dad’s side – though as they shared stories, I learned he is a bit of a jokester which made sense to me because I am too.

What a wonderful week in our home Murray, Ky. Seeing old friends and new friends and family members was a delight. It wasn’t too hard to say goodbye to Jason this time because in a few days he would come to Chattanooga and take me with him to Destin for a beach get-away.

On the way home to Chattanooga, Mama and I stopped at the longstanding Dairy Queen on Main Street (where my grandparents and parents took us girls when we were little) just to end the whole week …with a cherry on top!

Photo-journal album of the road trip:

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