East End Rotarians agree that Gwenn Ramage-Wons, who was recently installed as the first district governor of the organization’s newly united Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens clubs, has her work cut out for her.
But they also think that the Westhampton Beach resident has the will to succeed.
Beginning on July 1, Ms. Ramage-Wons will oversee Rotary District 7255, which will join the 34 clubs in Suffolk County District 7260 with the 42 clubs in the Nassau County, Brooklyn and Queens District 7250. Rotary is an international service organization whose 1.2 million members worldwide work together to accomplish goals as momentous as the eradication of polio, while carrying out smaller projects in their own neighborhoods.
Connie Gevinski, the outgoing district governor of the Suffolk County District 7260, said the merger will offer clubs in both regions the opportunity to work together on projects and share different viewpoints. The Suffolk County district saw a decline in the number of Rotarians and clubs, she explained, and Rotary International, along with the district governors, came to the decision to merge the two districts about three years ago.
“It comes down to a full-time job,” she said, of the district governor position.
The district governor is expected to visit each club in his or her district, which will be a mountainous task for Ms. Ramage-Wons; she will oversee a combined 75 clubs, rather than the 35 in Suffolk County alone, Ms. Gevinski explained. “But I think she’ll do a good job,” she added.
Ms. Ramage-Wons, a real estate broker of more than 20 years with Douglas Elliman, grew up in Germany. She emigrated to Bennington, Vermont, in 1962, and later graduated from Baruch College in Manhattan with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and international trade. In the mid-1970s, she worked on Wall Street as a stocks and commodities broker, one of few women in the profession. She met her future husband, Gene, a builder, when she later moved to Westhampton Beach.
She joined the Rotary Club of Westhampton in 1989, and went on to serve as president of that club, as well as the assistant district governor. She is also a charter member of the Seatuck Cove Rotary Club, which formed in January 2012 to give community members who cannot make the traditional Rotary lunch meetings in Westhampton an opportunity to join and attend evening meetings.
District governors are first nominated by their home club and then elected by a council of district governors at the Rotary International Convention. They serve for two years before assuming the district governor position, first as district governor-nominee, then as district governor-elect. During that time they undergo training with the leaders of their Rotary zone and then travel to San Diego with the other district governors-elect from around the world to prepare them for their leadership roles and help them establish goals for their districts.
“The training is about how to move Rotary forward,” Ms. Ramage-Wons said, adding that her week in San Diego was “intense.”
“You don’t come up for air,” she explained.
In 2010, she traveled to India as a Group Exchange Leader with the organization to take a hands-on role in the eradication of polio, a moving experience she recalled last week. “You put some drops inside a child’s mouth, and you know you’re changing a life,” she said.
The last strain of the illness, which is seen largely in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, could be eradicated within five years, she estimated.
While visiting India, her group also raised enough funds to install 18 toilets in three rural schools, where female students often drop out so that they don’t have to share bathrooms with their male counterparts.
“A lot of people don’t know what Rotary does,” Ms. Ramage-Wons said.
One of her goals as district governor is to publicize the organization’s good deeds and mission, with the goal of attracting new members. She said the district currently boasts about 1,850 members, and she would like to see that increase to above 2,000.
Aside from the large projects that they undertake, such as organizing trips so that surgeons can visit developing countries to operate on children with heart defects, local Rotarians raise scholarships for high school students, oversee Rotary Interact, a junior club for students, support Meals on Wheels programs and raise money for Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, a facility in Center Moriches that caters to children with disabilities.
Patricia Blake, the outgoing president of the Seatuck Cove Rotary Club, said during a recent interview that she has known Ms. Ramage-Wons for many years.
“I think she’s going to inspire people to work together,” she said of her friend. “She’ll be missed at our weekly meetings, but that’s necessary for her to unite the district.”
Last week, Ms. Ramage-Wons and her husband left for Lisbon, Portugal, to take part in the Rotary International Convention.
Chad Vanderslice, the incoming president of the Rotary Club of Westhampton, pointed out that the organization’s slogan is “Service Above Self,” and the merging of the two districts will allow dissipated clubs to unify in order to achieve their goals.
“She is just an extremely passionate Rotarian, and I’m sure when she puts her mind to it, she will have a very successful year,” he said of Ms. Ramage-Wons. “She’s right for that position.”