Rotary club

Past president Nancy Kerr (far left) with some of the new Telluride Rotary members welcomed into the club recently, including (left to right): retired orthopedic surgeon Hill Hastings, folk singer Emily Scott Robinson, Telluride Truffle owner Patty Denny, Tomboy Butcher owner Sadie Farrington and Telluride Schools Superintendent John Pandolfo. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Lavender Smith)

There was a lot of swagger, and numerous professions of good will, on display for the cameras at the summit meetings in Europe this week.

Meanwhile, far away from the spotlight, the arm of an international service group has been improving Tellurideans’ lives for decades.

The group is the Telluride Rotary Club, part of Rotary International, and its motto is Service Above Self. Loosely translated, that means “we leave our egos at the door and do what is best for the people we are serving.”

Telluride Rotary has a new president, freelance writer, professional running coach and author Sarah Lavender Smith and — perhaps fittingly, for a running coach — Lavender intends to cover a lot of ground, and cannot wait to get started.

In fact, she already has: the group’s first official, in-person meeting in more than a year was scheduled for last night, at La Cocina de Luz. With its bracing margaritas and killer apps, it was just the sort of convivial setting you might choose if harnessing positive energy, and optimism, in pursuit of worthy projects were your goals — and your new term (like all TRC president’s terms) was brief, from 2021-2022.

“The Telluride Rotary Club has a long and proud history” in the box canyon, Lavender Smith noted (the club was founded in 1945). For that matter, so does Lavender Smith’s family: her great-great-grandfather was businessman Charles Painter, who arrived in town from Ohio in 1880, and her grandfather was the award-winning historian David S. Lavender, a Telluride native and prolific chronicler of the American West.

“I have deep roots in Telluride. I’ve been a part-time resident for years. I spent all my summers here,” Lavender Smith said. “I remember my Dad loved being a member of the Telluride Rotary Club when he was alive. When my husband and I relocated here in 2019, I really wanted to get more involved with the community, and give back to the community. I never expected to be asked to be president of the Rotary Club. I’m really excited and enthused about the club’s potential.”

The club managed to do a lot of good last year, even during lockdowns. “Credit should be given to (outgoing president) Nancy Kerr, who took the iniative to use some of our club’s money and make local grants regionally in response to COVID-19,” Lavender Smith said. The funds went to the local school district, to pay for at-home PE equipment; to Telluride Distillery, to make hand sanitizer, “and we bought an important piece of equipment for Norwood’s new ambulance.”

All this, and — as Lavender Smith pointed out — Telluride Rotary isn’t, essentially, a financial-gift-giving organization. Its core mission is service. “We try to give small grants to projects that need an extra boost, and help with hands-on volunteering,” she explained. “Both through our meetings and and networking and the speakers in our meetings, we bring people and ideas together. We try to get out in the community as often as possible.”

Several younger members have recently joined the Rotary Club “because they see the benefits of networking and giving back,” Lavender Smith said. “We’ve got a board of six; four are women. We’re pretty split, gender-wise. There’s good energy.”

There’s also a raft of good works planned. “I’m eager to re-start the Youth Exchange Program” — a foreign-exchange program sidelined by COVID — “which will take some internal rebuilding and recruiting new host families after being on hiatus last year,” Lavender Smith said. “It’s also my goal to reintroduce Telluride Rotary’s golf tournament, which was last held in 2018.

“I’d like to host a scholarship luncheon.”

One of Telluride Rotary’s existing programs is in collaboration with the Wilkinson “to fund and run the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in San Miguel County.” The initiative is free, and open to anyone with children at home up to age 5. “The library mails a new book to these children’s homes once a month, at no cost to the family,” Lavender Smith explained. “The program serves nearly 150 children, and anyone can sign up through the library.”

In a polarized world, Rotary International is adamantly apolitical: “We’re open to new members of all ages and backgrounds,” Lavender Smith stressed. “We’re nonpartisan, and non-religious.” The club has been a world leader in helping to eradicate polio; through its campaign End Polio Now, each financial donation will be tripled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In short, ‘Rotary’ is not what it once was. “When my dad was a member, this was more of an older white man’s club,” Lavender Smith said. That’s changed: its membership has diversified, and the mission considerably expanded. “Climate action and education have become very important goals, and we recently collaborated with the library, Sheep Mountain Alliance, EcoAction Partners and the Telluride Ecology Commission to offer a Forest Health Forum” over several weeks in May, Lavender Smith noted.

“We’ll be at the Telluride Farmers Market on Friday, helping to spread the word about summer community cleanups; we’re committing to one of these in August. I hope people will stop by our booth, learn more about what we do, and say hi.”

The Telluride Rotary Club meets the first and third Wednesday of every month at La Cocina at 5:30 p.m. throughout the summer.

To learn more about the Telluride Rotary Club, visit, follow the organization on Instagram @telluriderotary and Facebook, or email