Rotary makes shelter feel like home for holidays

Eddie Cheung pulls a turkey out of the oven as local Rotarians prepare to serve a holiday dinner at the Durango Community Shelter. For a third year, Rotarians brought the spirit of the season to the shelter residents. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Roger Ptolemy

Eddie Cheung pulls a turkey out of the oven as local Rotarians prepare to serve a holiday dinner at the Durango Community Shelter. For a third year, Rotarians brought the spirit of the season to the shelter residents.

The residents at the Volunteers of America’s Durango Community Shelter couldn’t sing “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” but they did get a dash of the holiday spirit when members of all three Durango Rotary Clubs and Rotaract brought the party to them.

The brainchild of Eddie Cheung, the event featured a full-scale holiday meal and a visit from Old Saint Nick himself. Enjoying the festivities were 18 adults residents and eight children, also known as the guests of honor.

The ratio of party-throwers to receivers was pretty high, with 12 Rotarians on hand to make sure everyone had fun. I’m pretty sure there were some really good leftovers, as the menu included four turkeys, six hams, five potato dishes, six vegetable dishes and seven desserts. A lot of food was sent over to the Southwest Safehouse, whose residents did not attend the party for obvious reasons.

Helping out at the shelter party were Brandon Walter, Christie Schler and Martha Burwell from the Durango Rotaract Club (Rotary for people ages 18 to 30); Cheung, his wife, Nancy, and Bob Conrad from Durango Daybreak Rotary; Kari Plante, Terry Swan, Roger Ptolemy and President Lynn Westberg of the Rotary Club, or, as some call it, the “Tuesday Night Club”; and Melody Warren from High Noon Rotary Club. Scott Beckstead filled in for the jolly old fellow, who was up at the North Pole getting ready for his big night.

This is truly a collaborative effort between the four service clubs.

The High Noon club provides the soft drinks, while the Daybreak and Durango clubs donate and prepare the food. (Several Rotarians who were unable to attend took the time to prepare dishes.)

The latter two clubs also provided all the funding for the adult gifts and partial funding for the children’s presents. (You didn’t think Santa would show up with an empty bag, did you?) The Rotaract Club donated $150 toward the children’s gifts and did all the shopping. The adults all received $25 gift cards to Walmart, which certainly will come in handy, but it was fun all the way for the kids’ gifts.

It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must be to be without a home at Christmas, or for that matter, any time of the year. But knowing there is a safe place for you and your family to go, where people of good will reach out to make sure something special will happen for the holidays has to be reassuring and heartwarming.

Every item I write about Rotary, I must always include a disclaimer. I am a third-generation Rotarian. My father was a member of the Rotary Club of Durango for more than 35 years, and I, myself, was a founding charter member of Durango Daybreak Rotary Club in 2002. I’m only honorary right now, because I work afternoons and nights, while they meet at 6:45 a.m., a schedule that just doesn’t work for people like me who like to sleep.

But I believe with all my heart in the club’s motto, “Service Above Self,” and one of my priorities when I began writing Neighbors was to ensure that service clubs and nonprofits got enough coverage. Rotary’s coverage shouldn’t suffer because I’m connected to it!

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get more involved in making the world a better place, joining a service club such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions or Civitans is a great place to start. All of them have both local and international initiatives, so you can truly “act locally, think globally,” as the saying goes.


Celebrating these birthdays can be a bit anticlimactic after the holidays, but here’s hoping these folks start the New Year and their new years in style – Charlie Milliet, Sharon Donahue, Richard Biegel, K. Redford, Todd Youngblood, Al Spungen, Jon Geer, Kelli Stanley, Justin McBrayer, Sue Mooney, Dottie Johnson, Jamie Pratt and Anne Rudolph.


Another group that decided to make a difference for the holidays was a group of local authors who participated in Maria’s Bookshop’s first Giving Back Gang event on Dec. 7.

All 19 authors agreed to give a portion of their proceeds from the sales of their tomes to a nonprofit in the area, with a mass booksigning the evening of the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Novels, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and history books were all represented.

Here’s another disclaimer – I was one of the authors, because my first book, Trail Canyon: 6 Miles Long, 10,000 Years Deep just came out in November. My co-author, Howard “Bud” Poe, and I donated a portion of our proceeds to the Montezuma Historical Society, because Trail Canyon is located there.

Libby Cowles, who handles the community liaison work for Maria’s, organized the event with Holli Pfau, the author of Pure Gold, who continued making donations to the La Plata County Humane Society, because all of the profits from her book have gone to various humane societies.

The authors, their books and causes were: C. Joseph “Chuck” Greaves, Hard Twisted, for the National Mustang Association of Colorado; Jerri Lincoln, Cooper’s Smile, for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado; Tekla Dennison Miller, Inevitable Sentences, for Volunteers of America’s Durango Community Shelter and Southwest Safehouse; Erin Gray, Moonshine Murder, for the Animas Museum; Gail Wagner, Donegal Sidhe: Army of Sorrow, for Childhaven; Ken Wright, Monkeywrench Dad, for San Juan Citizens Alliance; R. Lataine Townsend, 2013: Beginning an Era of Hope and Harmony for the Humane Society; Melanie Milburn, I Love You More than Chocolate, for the Mothers of Preschoolers; John H. Wright, Blazing Ice, for the Silverton-San Juan Fire Authority and Rescue; Bruce Ehlenbeck, Some Time Till Knowing in support of Planned Parenthood of Durango; Erica Olsen, Recapture and Other Stories, for Montezuma Land Conservancy; Pam Young, Night Sounds, Alternative Horizons; Fred Wildfang and Nik Kendziorski, Postcard History Series: Durango, for the Center of Southwest Studies; Jean Campion, Minta Forever, in support of the La Plata County Historical Society; Sylvester Allred, Rascal, the Tassel-Eared Squirrel, for Durango Nature Studies; and Ginger Jenks, whose book Wag, Live, Love was in support of Annie’s Orphans.

And did I mention there were cookies? Lots and lots of cookies.

The final tally donated was just shy of $1,200, but the spirit of the evening was contagious.


These folks once started their lives together at the beginning of the year, so that’s when they get to celebrate their anniversaries – Bob Vialpondo and Dian Jenkins and Bill and Carol Thurman.


Because the world is recuperating from the holidays, the Neighbors beat is experiencing a rare quiet period, so I am taking a few days of respite. Neighbors will return Jan. 9.