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Groundbreaking held for Rotary-funded Festival Park outdoor stage
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Groundbreaking held for Rotary-funded Festival Park outdoor stage

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RACINE — Celebrating a century of Rotary International’s place in the Racine community, civic leaders joined local Rotarians Wednesday for a groundbreaking of a new band shell at Festival Park. Rotarians also unveiled new signage to rechristen the park as Paul P. Harris Rotary Park. 

In October, the City Council accepted a $100,000 donation from Racine Founders Rotary Club to create the new outdoor stage proposed to face Festival Hall, on the northeast side of the park. The council voted unanimously to rename Festival Park, as Paul P. Harris Rotary Park, in honor of the organization’s founder and Racine native who grew up in the 300 block of Fifth Street.

The timing of the renaming was not entirely clear, but the new stage and signage are expected to be up by July.

“In its 100 years here, Rotary has been a stable force in the Racine community through the work of three separate clubs,” said current President Ashley Staeck. “Today, the Racine Founders Rotary Club is the one Rotary club remaining (in Racine), with more than 100 members.”

Organizations that want to use the park for events have had to rent tents, awnings and stages to create entertainment spaces, which often makes the venue too expensive to host for some groups.

Dennis Wiser, Racine City Council president, represented Mayor John Dickert Wednesday and thanked Rotary for helping the city fill a need.

“We have a lot of groups that want to put on small performances, and it becomes a problem because of the cost to charge them to put a shell together for them,” Wiser said. “If we already had a band shell ready and waiting to go, more groups will have access to this.”

Wiser said the city is hoping for more tourism money from events held at the park, which was created in the mid-1980s for community events.

“That will bring more people Downtown, and that will help the Downtown community,” Wiser said. “So this is going to be a good deal for everybody.”

Absolute Construction Enterprises won the city bid to construct the $240,000 outdoor stage and plans to complete the job by July.

Racine Rotary

Steen Sanderhoff, the Rotary’s future district governor of southeastern Wisconsin and a 40-year member, said Racine is part of the Rotary Trail, founded in Chicago, that needs more members to continue to do community service like this project.

“For many civic organizations, volunteerism is a problem,” he said. “Worldwide we are seeing an increase, but the United States and Europe have had difficulties retaining members and growing.”

Sanderhoff said the organization is adjusting to the high-stress, high-demand job world of the 21st century, harnessing modern technology to bridge the gap.

“People can’t leave the workplace for luncheons like they use to,” Sanderhoff said. “We’re experimenting with e-clubs.” Rotary International has 1.2 million members in 35,000 clubs across the world, and some meet on the internet with face-to-face meetings once a month.

“Most of the time they meet and do their things online and then they do community projects,” Sanderhoff said. “Rotary, like so many organizations, has to adjust to a new world and a new society, and hopefully we’ll succeed.”

"If we already had a band shell ready and waiting to go more groups will have access to this. It will be more affordable."

—Dennis Wiser, Racine City Council President

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