Harald Kuckertz is the third member of same Rotary club to receive German honour

The phone call “came out of nowhere just before Christmas,” says Harald Kuckertz (RC of Edmonton Strathcona).

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 1.11.06 PMSabine Sparwasser, the German Ambassador to Canada, was inviting him to come to Ottawa, where on January 19 Harald received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The award, also known as the Federal Cross of Merit, is the highest tribute Germany can pay to individuals for service to the nation. It was established in 1952 by the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss.

Harald, who was born in Germany but has lived in Canada since the 1970s, currently serves as the Honorary German Consul for northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“It’s a very great honour and even more so for someone who’s not living in Germany, ” Harald says. “It’s comparable to the Order of Canada.”

There are three people in Edmonton who have received the award. 

“All the honorary consuls in the last 20 years have received it. Both my predecessors (Friedrich “Fritz” Koenig and Bernd Reuscher) have received it and both are Rotarians in our club,” Harald says. 

“I think it is unique to have a Rotary club in a foreign country, not Germany, to have three people honoured in that way. I think that is quite special.”

Harald first came to Canada as a 15-year-old, to visit his uncle who was head of the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital, and came again when he was 17.

He studied at the U of A, where he obtained a law degree, and established a practice in Edmonton.

He stayed because of Canada’s natural beauty. 

“My uncle had a cabin in northern Saskatchewan. I liked the nature part of it, which you don’t find in Germany,” he says. “Germany has all the culture that you may want and it also has some beautiful nature spots, but here somehow the largeness of the country grabbed me. I like the Rockies.”

Even though he would become a Canadian citizen, “Harald always kept in touch with his German heritage,” says Donna Hutton, the president-elect of the Edmonton Strathcona Rotary Club. “Over the years, his office in Strathcona became the place to go for German and Canadian citizens and companies in need of good advice. 

“He was one of the first persons the Alberta government or the City of Edmonton would go to when German delegations came to town or trade missions were sent on their way to Germany,” Donna says.

For many years, Harald served on the board or as president of the German Canadian Business and Professional Association. 

In 2013, Harald took on the additional task of Honorary Consul.

“An honorary consul is a volunteer position, so we’re not paid,” Harald says. “We do certain consular functions, such as accepting passport applications and certifying documents. 

“And then there is a representative part of the role. We go to government functions,” he says. “We assist German people and organizations with respect to their dealings with the Canadian government. We help them find their way around.”

Honorary consuls for western Canada are recruited by the German Consul General inScreen Shot 2019-04-22 at 1.11.29 PM Vancouver, with some involvement of the ambassador.

“They tend to pick people with a legal background for the simple reason that we have to deal with documents and lawyers are probably a well-suited to that,” says Harald. “However my predecessor had no legal background and he did an excellent job, so it’s not a necessity.” 

Harald is also there to help German citizens in difficult situations. “We go to the Remand Centre when some German citizen has been in trouble, for whatever reasons.”

Other honorary consul have supported German citizens following tragic events, although Harald has not dealt with those, himself.

“You may recall the shooting of a German tourist west of Calgary. My colleague in Calgary was extensively involved,” Harald says. “There was also an unfortunate incident of a young German skier who died after crashing at Lake Louise. Again this was not my district, but my colleague down in Calgary was involved.”

Harald says Alberta is the only province that has two honorary consuls, because of the number of tourists who visit. 

“The province is split at Red Deer. I basically have Red Deer and north and I am also in charge of the Northwest Territories. My colleague in Calgary deals with southern Alberta. We work closely together.”

In addition to the two honorary consuls in Alberta, there are four others in Canada, in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Halifax and St. John’s. There are Consul Generals in Vancouver and Toronto and the embassy in Ottawa.

Spring 2019 Leadership Assembly prepared incoming club leaders for the next Rotary year

This spring’s Leadership Assembly (March 8 and 9) was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of 2018-2019 and set the table for the next Rotary year, which begins on July 1.

Approximately 175 Rotarians attended this event, including District leaders and club presidents-elect and members of their leadership teams, including for the first time, the presidents-elect of Rotary Clubs of Whitehorse and Whitehorse Rendezvous. 

Effective July 1, these two Yukon clubs will become part of District 5370.

District Governor-Elect Tracey Vavrek used the assembly to introduce the 2019-2020 theme set by incoming Rotary International President Mark Maloney (RC of Decatur, Alabama): Rotary Connects the World.

Watch as Mark announces the theme to DGEs at the International Assembly in San Diego in January and read about the course he has mapped out for Rotary’s future in an interview in the March 2019 issue of The Rotarian.

“When you reflect on the theme, what comes to mind?” Tracey asked.

T1920EN_PMS-C“For me, it is that we share values and follow the Four-Way Test, we collectively take action for a better world, and we are doing this together,” she said.

“We connect with friends we would never otherwise have met. Rotary connects us to people who need our help and through Rotary we are connected globally through countless projects and programs.”

“The world needs Rotary. As you reflect on the unrest and challenges around the world, it is concerning. We know the work we do and our service do create peace within families, communities and around the world. By bringing fresh water to a community, we bring peace and economic wellbeing to the individuals living there.”

Tracey referred to being part of the Project Amigo work week in mid-February with past and future District Governors as “an example of how we connect with others. It’s life-changing—we are helping people reach their dreams.”

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DGE Tracey Vavrek introduced the 2019-2020 theme during Spring Leadership Assembly

She also asked participants in the assembly to imagine a world without Rotary. “Imagine what would happen with polio if we stopped now. Imagine the people who would go hungry in our own communities and around the world. Imagine the children who would not have extra support to reach their dreams. The children of today and of tomorrow need Rotary.”

Continue to grow Rotary

Tracey asked participants to think about how to grow Rotary.

“Membership is a critical topic,” she said, noting the importance of attracting younger people to Rotary. “Only five per cent of Rotary members are under the age of 40.”

“Few organizations span generations and professions and build personal connections the way Rotary does. We blend tradition with innovation and use trust and respect to close the generation gap.”

“Many of us have been able to get younger generations to visit a meeting or participate in a project but getting them to join our clubs has been more difficult,” Tracey said.

She stated that Rotary can offer younger people what they want. “They crave connections—a network of more experienced professionals, mentors with insight, with clout. They also crave experiences. They want to do good.” 

PDG and Zone Membership Coordinator Jim Adamson from Washington State (District 5060) followed up Tracey’s presentation by reminding participants of the importance of inviting the right people to join Rotary.

“None of us would have joined Rotary if someone hadn’t asked us. We need to ask them,” he said.

“We aren’t just looking for bodies. We are looking for quality people.”

DG Ingrid highlights 2018-2019 successes

Current DG Ingrid used her time on the stage to “share some highlights of our Rotary year to-date and emphasize the need to follow through on current plans.

“My District Governor journey has been amazing, engaging and rewarding—confirming the true value of Rotary and why we are doing this service work. I am immensely proud to be a Rotarian and the District Governor of this District.”

Ingrid’s favourite experiences so far this year?

“Absolutely, it has been visiting our clubs, engaging in our community projects, and connecting with our members.”

She has visited all 57 clubs, making repeat visits to some.

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DG Ingrid Neitsch highlighted successes during 2018-2019 during Spring Leadership Assembly

“Each area of our District is unique and the range of projects is astounding. Some clubs shine with their welcoming atmosphere and signature projects. Some clubs are passionate about international projects and concentrate on fundraising. Some clubs focus mainly on keeping current members engaged in fellowship and attracting new members. Some clubs have chosen to focus on aligning Rotary projects with peace-building activities. Some clubs collaborate, support other clubs’ projects and focus on hands-on projects.”

She emphasized that the culture and value base established in the club is what keeps members engaged.

Highlights Ingrid identified were:

“The District Conference 2018 was fabulous! Some clubs are still following-up with some of our amazing speakers. Thanks to all who participated as volunteers, conference committee members or attendees.”

She reminded her audience of the 2019 District Conference that will be held in Grande Prairie October 3-5.

A second highlight was the relocation of the District office to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton. “It’s a bright, cheerful space accessible to all, with security and maintenance in place.”

Ingrid also referred to the goals in the District strategic plan. “Many goals are completed, some are in progress and some are ongoing.”

She encouraged clubs to create their own plans. “To be change-makers, your club needs a plan of action.”

“One of the main goals this year is to reverse the declining membership trends these past several years. I mentioned that in every single one of my club visits. Every club was asked to retain the current membership and attract three new members,” she said.

“I want to regain the minus 110 members lost last year, plus make a net gain of 50 members by the end of June.”

She urged club leaders to “treat your membership list like a gift. Just because you haven’t seen someone for a while, do not take them off your list. Reach out. Find out what is happening in their world. They are Rotarians and at one time were passionate about Rotary.”

The District membership plan includes establishing new clubs, including the Passport club which is being formed in Edmonton. “We are launching a new Passport club for new and former Rotarians and plan to charter it before June 1.”

5370 reached goal to become a Peacebuilder District

IMG_8851A key District initiative for 2018-2019 was for the District to become a Peacebuilder District, which Ingrid announced during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018, and to sponsor a peace scholar.

“We achieved the peace scholar, as was announced at the District Conference. Out of 1,100 applicants from around the world, only 50 master’s and 30 certificate applicants were chosen, including our applicant, Menasha Nikhanji.

The goal of becoming a Peacebuilder District was also reached.

“We needed to donate $US 25,000 to the Rotary Peace Centres to receive Peacebuilder status within Rotary International. “We have had tremendous support. Clubs and individuals donated close to $24,000, which along with $20,000 in District Designated Funds brings us close to $50,000,” Ingrid says.

“We have reached the goal for this year and are very close to two years of support for the Peace Centres.”

Ingrid closed with words of encouragement for the rest of 2018-2019:  “Let’s finish strong! Keep the positive momentum going, finish blazing our trail and we will continue to flourish as we inspire each other as ‘Rotary Connects the World!’ ”

This month, Highway to Mexico will deliver its 100th vehicle—plus vehicles #97-99 and 101-106

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Fire shuttle van will be the 100th vehicle to be delivered to Mazatlan through the Highway to Mexico program since 2002

Later this week, Rotarians from our District will arrive in Mazatlan with what has been designated as the 100th vehicle to be delivered to the city and the Mexican state of Sinaloa since Highway to Mexico began in 2002 with a single school bus filled with wheelchairs. 

Vehicle number 100—a former hotel shuttle that has been repurposed to become a fire support shuttle—is one of 10 vehicles in this year’s convoy, which left Grande Prairie on March 29.

“I think it an incredible achievement to keep this project sustainable and to keep people involved and to be able to raise the funds we require to do this, year after year,” says Felix Seiler (Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City), who is making his 12th or 13th trip to Mexico.

This year’s convoy, which was described in a recent article by Edmonton Journal columnist Nick Lees, and also in an interview on CBC’s Radio Active, includes two fire trucks, four ambulances, three school buses and the fire support shuttle, bringing the total number of vehicles delivered since the program began to 106.

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Loading wheelchairs from Alberta Health Services

Eighty-five per cent of the vehicles delivered by Highway to Mexico are still in service. 

Knowing that the residents of this part of Mexico have better access to emergency transportation and fire protection because of this program is a source of pride for the Rotarians who have been part of Highway to Mexico over the years.

“You can’t miss it. You see the Rotary name on these vehicles whenever they pass by,” Felix says.

“You get immediate gratification when you realize each of these vehicles will be in use for years to come.” 

The Highway to Mexico was recognized with the Gilbert Paterson Award for International Service during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018.

Several awards for international, community and youth services will be presented at this year’s changeover event on Thursday, June 27, at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. The deadline for submitting entries for the 2018-2019 awards is May 15.

The vehicles come from various sources. The fire shuttle vehicle was donated by the hotel where it formerly served as a hotel shuttle. The two fire trucks were purchased at auctions by Rotary clubs. 

IMG_1292Two ambulances were part of eight obtained from Alberta Health Services, while another was donated by an oilfield ambulance service. The school buses were purchased from school systems through sealed bids. Other vehicles were purchased by individuals in order to donate them to the project.

Once they obtain vehicles, Rotary clubs arrange to have them refurbished. In addition to the Swan City club, other clubs involved in this year’s Highway to Mexico include the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie, Grande Prairie After Five, Peace River, Edson and Edmonton Riverview.

Several other clubs have participated in the project in previous years.

Getting these vehicles to Mexico required a great deal of organization, which began long before they left Grande Prairie.

“It is almost like on ongoing project,” Felix says. “We are already in the process of collecting vehicles for next year.  Six months out, we begin to do paperwork with our Mexican colleagues. It’s very time-consuming.”

Each of this year’s 20 drivers—two for each vehicle—received a detailed itinerary for the 5,000 km journey, identifying everything from the order in which the vehicles will travel (“All vehicles will travel in the same position in the convoy until we reach Mazatlan”) and speed at which they will travel (“The convoy should travel around 95-100 km per hour, depending on the slowest vehicle in the convoy”), to where the convoy will stop to refuel and where the drivers will sleep each night.

There is also advice on crossing the two borders they will encounter.

“Crossing the U.S. border is not as much of a challenge as it once was,” Felix says, explaining all the necessary paperwork is in place before the journey begins.

Entering Mexico at Nogales can be a different story. 

“Every year, it’s a new experience. Crossing the Mexican border can take from two to 14 hours,” Felix says.

“We usually have a pool (US$10 each) on how long it will take to cross the border. The winner is usually responsible for beer at a later date.”

Rotarians from Mexican clubs meet the convey each year at the border for the final segment of the journey.

Referring to these Rotarians, Felix says, “We have made lots of good personal friends over the years.”

While the Canadian Rotary clubs obtain the vehicles, Mexican Rotarians decide where they will go.

“They go through an application process. The organizations requesting vehicles need to prove that they have the resources necessary to keep the vehicles on the road.”

Once they reach Mazatlan, the Canadians will park the vehicles and head to their hotel in the Golden Zone, before participating in activities over the next few days organized by local Rotarians.

Then it will be time to fly home to begin preparations for the 2020 version of Highway to Mexico.