Jim Davis, a local real estate agent, was given the honor during the civic club’s Thursday meeting.
“Shock” was the word of the day as club members surprised him with the award and made fellow Rotarian Ruthie Forgey a Paul Harris Fellow.
Club President Andy Anderson gave those in attendance gradual clues about who would be the Rotarian of the Year after explaining the criteria for choosing who would receive the honor, which included a “high level of service” to the community.
“Our Rotarian of the Year is someone who has exceeded those expectations,” Anderson said. “The people of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary and Cleveland have benefitted greatly.”
At first, all they knew was that the recipient was born in Cleveland. They later found out he had also graduated from Bradley Central High School before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Russian studies from Vanderbilt University.
Anderson explained that, in 1967, Davis was not drafted but volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Davis is fluent both in Russian and Vietnamese, which he learned while in the military. Davis worked with the National Security Agency to help intercept Vietnamese communications after being trained in the language.
After four years in the military, he attended the University of Tennessee to earn a master’s in business administration before taking part in various business endeavors out of state. In 1997, he moved back to Cleveland to spend more time with his family.
Anderson then turned his attention to the unusual way Davis met his wife, Philomena.
“Who would ever have thought hot dogs and Rotary would have resulted in true love?” Anderson asked.
During a Rotary fundraiser in March 1998 at which hot dogs and chili were being sold, they “met” over the phone after someone tried their hand at matchmaking. By May of the same year, they were engaged, and they got married that August.
The Davises now work together in real estate, both with Crye-Lieke Realtors.
Davis was a charter member of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club and served as its president in 2009 and 2010. He is currently the chair of the chapter’s Rotary Foundation. Anderson said Davis has also done many things to help the club, including recruiting new members and serving as the club’s photographer.
Upon being introduced as the Rotarian of the Year, Davis shared just how surprised he was.
“It was an absolute shock,” he said.
Davis explained he didn’t “get” Rotary at first, but he said he later realized being part of such a club was worthwhile. He described it as a “terrific experience.”
He said he has enjoyed volunteering alongside fellow Rotarians for projects with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Davis quipped he has probably worked on 20 houses with the organization, and “they have only had to redo 18 of them.”
One of the most valuable things about being a Rotarian has been forming friendships with people because of his club connection, he said.
Anderson presented him with a trophy for being Rotarian of the Year, and the insignia denoting him as a Paul Harris Fellow for the third time since he has been with the club.
Paul Harris Fellowships are given to those who donate $1,000 or more to Rotary. The person who donates can either keep the honor for themselves or name someone else a Paul Harris Fellow.
Before the club honored Davis with his, Rotarian Alvin Word honored Forgey, corps administrator with the Salvation Army of Cleveland, with a fellowship of her own.
Word said he chose to give her the honor because of her service to both the club and the community.
“I was totally shocked,” Forgey said after accepting it.
She explained she was grateful for the honor, but she was even more grateful for the opportunity to serve in the first place. She said she only able to do what she does “by the grace of God.”
The club also welcomed a new member, Ty Young, who works in medical sales and with local nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Bradley County.