A story of service: George McKenzie

The Emery Village Voice is celebrating a local hero this month.

Eighty-five year-old George McKenzie is the humble type. When he talks about his own accomplishments, he speaks of the groups and people involved and never about himself.

For the active volunteer, thinking back on a life of giving, he remembers most fondly his time with local Rotary Clubs.

The Rotary is an international organization with clubs in cities and towns all over the world. They are known for local fundraising efforts that turn the funds into better lives for those in the community, as well as much more.

The mandate of the organization is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and advance goodwill and peace around the world.

There are more than 34,000 clubs around the world and approximately 1.2 million members.

The Rotary first came into Ontario in Ottawa in 1916, with 67 charter members.

McKenzie has been a member so long, he struggles to recall which part of the fifth decade of taking care of the community and service he is entering.

And his reason for service shows his humility.

"We wanted to work in the community, provide things that are needed."

McKenzie still says we, as if his unique level of service was just what he was supposed to do.

He tells stories from years that include everything from fundraising for Easter Seals and the Finch Humber Hospital, to efforts that provided scholarships for students, breakfast programs in schools, and helped people living with mental health.

On the Rotary's 100th anniversary they unveiled the outdoor pavilion at the Kortright Centre, a picnic shelter - the Rotary Acres Site.

He gets joy, he said, from seeing the schoolchildren visit and enjoy the structure.

Most of his fundraising experience locally was in Rotary bingo drives, often held at Delta Bingo Hall.

The Church Street Humber Hospital was also a local focus for McKenzie. But the man, and the Rotary he said, didn't only work locally. The organization always had one main international goal.

"We did lots of international projects, but we were always thinking about and providing millions of dollars for work against Polio."

McKenzie also spoke highly of the diversity he saw within the work of the organization, and the people he would work beside.

The Rotary spent almost 25 years, he said, sponsoring residents to get their new citizenship papers, and among the membership, he always saw a reflection of the community around him.

"We had members from every profession involved," he said. "Lawyers, Chief Metallurgists, Chief Engineers, Doctors, Cooks."

McKenzie also got involved in the executive of the organization, serving as President four times, including a first term in 1982.

And he's seen a lot of the globe due to his service.

The Rotary International Convention returns to Toronto this year for the first time since 1984.

McKenize has been to many ",Birmingham, Chicago, Scotland…"

Today he is retired with more than 30 years work with the Ontario government.

He isn't stopping though. He still swims twice a week, including Mondays and Fridays, with aqua fit an hour after each dip.

He sees big changes in Emery's future, but likes what he sees.

"The big change is going to come with the LRT, and the smart people should be thinking about getting ready," he said. "The whole area is going to be moving, Progress is going to make people see a different variety of storefronts and houses. Prices of everything, property, will be in the works too. People are going to want to move up and businesses are going to want to come.

"I do see a great future for the area, but lots and lots of different things happening." To the amount of change, he said he's seen, he knows the future is just a bunch of questions. "For the time I've been here, you couldn't imagine it."