For Ormond Beach resident Rich Cooper, community service runs through his veins.
His father was the president of the Rotary Club of Ormond Beach from 1989 to 1990. Cooper held the same position from 2012 to 2013. And likewise, his father was president of the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce from 1993 to 1994, and Cooper took the helm from 2019-2020.
Now, Cooper will take his leadership a step further: He will soon assume the role of governor of Rotary International’s District 6970 for 2021 through 2022.
“It’s in the blood,” Cooper said. “I love community. I love to be a part of what’s going on in the community.”
With Rotary International having over 1.2 million members worldwide, District 6970 spans 12 counties in northeast Florida. It’s composed of 63 clubs, two satellite clubs, 15 Rotaract clubs and 44 Interact clubs with over 3,300 men and women, according to a press release. Effective July 1, Cooper will succeed past governor Rich Turnbull, who actively supported Rotary’s commitment to eradicate polio worldwide. In addition, under Turnbull’s leadership, District 6970 became one of the most successful fundraising regions in the world.
Mission to serve
In the last three years since Cooper’s nomination for governor was accepted, he’s been preparing for the role. Cooper, a former firefighter and paramedic, first joined Rotary in 2002. He felt Rotary gave him an opportunity to help people, and as the executive vice president of Halifax Insurance Partners, community service isn’t quite in the forefront of his career as it once had been when he was a firefighter.
However, it wasn’t until he became the president of the club in 2012 that he truly saw how international Rotary was. He was sent to the international convention, which was held that year in Bangkok, Thailand. There he met Rotarians from 200 countries, he recalled, and he decided he wanted to be more involved with Rotary.
“You have this melting pot of all these people from all around the world, and it was just amazing,” Cooper said.
He was later asked to be an area governor for the Ormond Beach and Flagler County clubs, and he filled that role for three years before moving on to serve in other positions within the district. Through the years, he and fellow members orchestrated hospital improvement programs in underserved areas of the world, raised over $700,000 for projects and Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign and installed safe water access and piping systems for people in third world countries, a press release details.
One of the most memorable projects for Cooper was when he and five other Rotarians traveled to Nicaragua in 2017 to help install water towers and pipes and in three different communities to help the residents receive running water in their homes.
“I like being around other people that want to do that kind of stuff,” Cooper said. “It’s hard work, but being around other people that are philanthropic and shareable and want to help others — it’s the caliber of people that you meet when you volunteer. Some of the best people in the world.”
The club is also one of the few remaining that consist of all men. Will that change in the future? Cooper said that about 35-40% of all Rotarians are women, and that there is currently a big push for diversity.
“When you go to a club, you want to see colors and different ages and sexes,” Cooper said. “You want to see all of it.”
Little clubs, big work
Rotary International’s theme for 2022 is “Serve to change lives.”
“To me, it means that we serve to change the lives of others, and I think that’s the outward meaning of it, but it also changes our lives,” Cooper said.
Being a Rotarian has been a “growing experience,” Cooper said, and as much as he’s been able to touch other people’s lives, meeting them has also made an impact on his life.
But not all projects take Rotarians around the globe to lend a hand. Oftentimes, the work happens in their very community.
The Ormond Beach club doesn’t publicize their community service projects very often, but they are a presence in the community. It’s about the simple things, Cooper said, like putting a fence around the Pace Center for Girls, building a retention wall for the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce and hosting a beer fest for the community. The club also awards a scholarship every year to a deserving graduating senior.
As district governor, Cooper said he’s looking forward to meeting all the Rotarians in the district.
“I see amazing things being done all over northeast Florida,” Cooper said. “Little clubs doing big, big work.”