Rotary conference moves to Grace Inn due to wildfires - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Rotary conference moves to Grace Inn due to wildfires

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Posted: Monday, June 13, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 10:23 am, Thu Jun 30, 2011.

Even threats from the Wallow Fire couldn't stop Rotary District 5510 from holding its annual conference on Friday and Saturday.

When the original plan to hold the conference in the White Mountains was ruined, some quick thinking and calls for help brought over 100 guests and speakers to the Grace Inn in Ahwatukee Foothills.

The conference is planned over a year in advance. It's an annual celebration of the district governor who is in charge of more than 50 local rotary clubs across Arizona.

They had arranged for speakers from across the world to address their guests for two days at Hon-Dah Resort and Casino in Pinetop. With all the smoke around the area, the group was forced to find a new location.

"Fortunately because I do so much with them I knew exactly what they needed," said Jim Champlin, general manager of the Grace Inn and a Rotary member himself. "It made it very easy to just say ‘we'll make it work' and we did."

This year the district governor, Glenn Smith from Payson, worked with Bryon Harrington to chair the event. Harrington's home in Springerville was only a quarter of a mile away from the fire when the conference began on Friday.

"When we evacuated on Tuesday we could see the glow on the roof behind us," Harrington told the group at the conference. "It's pretty scary seeing the black smoke for five days and then all of a sudden you see white light like the sun behind you and you know it's not the sun that's lighting it. It's a strange feeling."

Even though their home was so close to the fire, Harrington and his wife Jackielyn were confident everything would be OK.

"I'm good," said Jackielyn. "There's nothing that can't be replaced. My house can be replaced. My business can be replaced. I'm heartsick over the mountain. I'm heartsick over what will happen because the town is very reliant on tourism. My heart breaks for the people who have lost homes. We've been fortunate because the forest service has done such a great job."

Jackielyn said they've also been blessed because of all their friends in Rotary. The club raised funds during the conference through a raffle and general fundraising to go to victims of the wildfires.

Jackielyn couldn't think of any ways the community could help victims of the fire just yet, but she believes they'll have a better idea of what they need once they're allowed to go back home. For those who truly want to help, she suggested monetary donations.

"Always the Salvation Army and Red Cross can use donations," said Jackielyn. "If you donate it to fire, it could benefit our community and if it doesn't go to us it'll definitely go to someone who needs it."

For now the group is just grateful to be able to carry on as usual and make their yearly celebration a success.

They're keeping the mood light as they honor Smith for all his work. Smith's wife, Sharon, said Friday, "I'm telling everybody that he's going out in a puff of smoke."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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