Burbank Sunrise Rotary Celebrates 35th Anniversary Year


The Burbank Sunrise Rotary service club has defied the odds and, in this 35th year is stronger than ever. It’s been bucking the national trend in recent decades of Americans “bowling alone,” in the words of noted social critic Robert Putnam.

Instead, Burbank Sunrisers had zoomed their way around shutdowns and lockdowns to continue working together. They now meet in person twice a month but have continued to meet on Zoom for their members who are already in the office at 7 AM and for those who live outside of Burbank.

“Nowadays, the people who join service clubs have a real passion for community service, and our club offers a lot of wonderful programs,” says Burbank Sunrise Immediate Past President Maye Stacy. In 2022, Burbank Sunrisers had created and Volunteered in 31 service programs, garnering them the Best Small Club award among clubs in the Los Angeles Rotary District 5280. This year, the club’s 24 members again have 31 projects in play.

Let’s take the Wayback Machine to the 50s. Back then, service clubs in America were boosting young men’s corporate careers as well, giving them opportunities to lend a hand to the less fortunate. (Almost all service clubs were “men only” in those days of three-martini lunches, red leather cushions, and the aromatic fog from a nice Cuban. And if you were really lucky, there’d be some great cheese bread too.)

The thirty-something member could develop his leadership skills in a volunteer setting, where personal persuasion carries the day rather than a job title. He could also form back-scratching networks with other up-and-comers.

All of this was possible because large businesses, and not just the mom-and-pop, were involved in their local communities. Fast forward to the 1980s. Multi-nationals are taking center stage, and large local businesses increasingly become branch offices, untethered from the local community. The route to success has more to do with a willingness to put in 14-hour days in front of a screen rather than helping an adult learn how to read. There are exceptions, and service clubs are still a networking venue for local businesses, but the “bowling alone” trend is well underway.

There was a bright spot. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that Rotary could not exclude women members and in 1989, a year after Burbank Sunrise was established, Rotary International admitted women as members. Like the rise of the two-income family, letting women into the tree house forestalled a steep drop in the numbers. “Fifty percent of our members have been women since forever,” observed long-time member and past club president Janice Lowers. “I think a lot of smaller Rotary clubs would have disappeared without them.”

In fact, an all-male Sun Valley club had whittled down to only a few members who kept it alive in deference to their beloved founder. When he passed in 2012, the club dissolved and three of its members joined Burbank Sunrise. They brought with them a foundation worth over $150,000, which eventually became a Burbank Sunrise foundation. “We continue to have fundraising activities,” remarks the club President Juan Guillen, “but the interest earnings from the foundation have enabled us to provide additional scholarships.”

One of those scholarships is the Liz Carletta Memorial Scholarship (which focuses on a student pursuing a career in the medical field) in honor of a beloved Rotary friend and late wife of Dave Carletta. (She had succumbed to COVID-19 back in 2021.)
Another of those scholarships is the Jon Eshbach Memorial Scholarship (which focuses on a student pursuing vocational training) in honor of a long-time Rotarian and Postmaster of the Sun Valley Post Office for many years.

Over its 35-year history, Rotary Sunrise has contributed nearly $250,000 to local organizations like BTAC, Home Again LA, Family Service Agency, the VFW, and Kids Community Dental Clinic. They’ve also participated in humanitarian trips to Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Belize, and others are helping to upgrade bathrooms, provide solar power, improve water systems, provide medical equipment, and upgrade technology.

But perhaps their proudest achievement in the international arena has been
combatting polio. In 1988, before Rotary had committed to eradicating polio, there were over 300,000 cases per year, leaving death or permanent crippling in its wake.

Today, in spite of turmoil across many parts of the world, there are now fewer than Thirty cases per year, a 99.99% reduction. Since their inception, Burbank Sunrise has donated almost $240,000 to Rotary International for projects foreign and domestic of which $80,000 has been designated for the eradication of Polio. Past member Julie Jenkins, now a member of the Cambria club and herself a polio survivor, has participated in the Rotary immunization program in India in 2010 and 2012. “What really shocked me that India was seeing polio survivors on the street. I am proud to be a part of this amazing program,” said Julie.