Carol Erker is no stranger to the Rotary International. Although Longboat Key’s chapter formed in 2014, she has been involved with the organization since 1987. She now serves as president of the Key's chapter.
When did you become involved with the Rotary Club?
I joined in November 1987 in Barrington, Ill. I had moved there in 1986, and a friend asked if I was interested in joining a service organization and also meeting a bunch of interesting people. 1987 was the first year when women were allowed in there, and I was the first woman in my club. I found it to be a great opportunity to become involved with the community and also get to know other business leaders and people in our community. It proved to be the hub of my social life.
Why did you become involved with the Rotary Club of Longboat Key?
In February 2014, the then-President Sydelle Pittas sent out feels asking if people would be interested in forming a Rotary Club here. I was still living in Illinois, but we were moving down to Longboat Key, so I knew I would be interested. It helped me assimilate into my last community, so I knew this would do the same.
How has the Rotary Club grown?
At the first preliminary meetings, there were half a dozen people. Now, we’ve grown to 37. We’ve gotten some very good new members interested in rolling up their sleeves and participating in service projects. We’re not a check-writing club; we’re a doing club. This year, we set our goal of growing by seven, and we’re already at six. I hope to have 40 members by the end of my term ends on June 30.
What makes the Rotary Club stand out from other clubs on the Key?
In a lot of ways, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs are very similar in their missions on working on a community level to accomplish service projects to benefit others. Where we differ is that Kiwanis does wonderful things that focus primarily on youth and scholarships. Our focus is on five things: community service, international service, vocational service, youth service and club service.
Why did you decide to become president?
The fact that I had so many years of history and familiarity with the traditions and areas of focus with Rotary were a benefit to this early stage of the club. Only six people including me were former Rotarians. It was a good fit for me to be involved as president at this stage.
What are your goals as president?
I hope to build our membership, and so far we’re well on our way with active Rotarians, not just bodies. I would like to continue to build community awareness of Rotary and the good we do with community development.
Tell me about the dog park at Bayfront Park.
In our very early discussions when the club was just beginning, we talked about community projects we would do, and one of them was supporting an off-leash dog park. We knew we wanted to stand behind this, and we raised $10,170 for the dog park in Bayfront Park. People love their dogs, and we hope to do dog-and-owner events there.
Tell me about your work with veterans.
With the dog park, we also knew right away we wanted to have events with recognition of veterans on Longboat Key. There’s so many veterans on Longboat Key, and with an aging population, we wanted to try something that had not been done on Longboat. At the Veterans Day Parade, we didn’t know how many people to expect. At first we were happy with 50, but we had at least 130 and close to 40 World War II veterans. It was just such a welcoming environment, and a number of friendships started last year because of it.
Any events you hope to see the Rotary Club organize?
We’d really like to organize a significant fundraiser, but first we need to plant the seeds of recognition of who we are and what we do. Just as Kiwanis has the Gourmet Lawn Party, we’re exploring ideas for something fun we can do that people will look forward to and put on their calendars every year.
When did you move to Longboat Key?
We had a condo here on Neptune Avenue from 2003 to 2010. We’re long-range planners, and we had a five-year plan in place to move to Longboat Key by 2014. Initially, we thought we’d be snowbirds, but the recession was an eye-opener, and we knew we had to make a choice. Going to Longboat was a no-brainer. Our children live all over, so we didn’t need to be in Illinois anymore. We knew a condo would be too small, so we bought a home on Buttonwood Drive.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband and I like to play golf. Not well, but it’s something we enjoy doing together. I love riding my bike on Longboat Key and traveling. We also own a 20-foot boat, and we love packing a lunch and exploring the coast of Longboat Key and going onto Beer Can Island and watching manatees go by. That’s a good day.
What is your favorite thing about Longboat Key?
When I drive over any of the bridges onto Longboat Key, I get this calm feeling. The beauty of this area is breathtaking, and I hope I never lose that feeling.