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story.lead_photo.caption ( Sam Pierce)

Ashley Garringer joined the Jacksonville Rotary Club in February 2018, and by April of that year, she was named president-elect and served under former president Lauren Fowler.

“My new position at my place of employment encouraged me to get involved with the community and get to know some of the other business leaders in Jacksonville,” Garringer said.

Garringer has been president of the Jacksonville Rotary Club since July. The club recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. She said she was surprised to be named president.

“I was a little nervous about it because I wanted to represent the club well,” Garringer said, “because there are some charter members still here with us today. … To me, it signifies the importance of Rotary

“It is important to the community, and I don’t think we would still be here and continue year after year if it wasn’t for our founding members.

“They are the reason we made it 50 years, and I could see us making it another 50 years.”

Bryan Duffie, superintendent of the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, is currently president-elect for the club. He joined not long after Garringer did, and she said, “He has been helping me out this year, even though he is fairly new to it as well.”

“The desire to serve others in the community will always be a central focus of Rotary,” Duffie said. “Rotarians are ‘People of Action,’ and it takes dedicated individuals willing to give time and resources to follow through with action to make Jacksonville a better community.

“The longevity of the club is attributed to the Rotarians who are part of the club and understand that the focus of ‘Service Above Self’ endures as the guiding principle for success.”

Mike Wilson is one of the founding members of the local club and is still involved.

“The Rotary Club in general is well regarded by the members and the public as forces for good in their community, nation and the world,” Wilson said. “Back then, when we began, several of us wanted to be part of that effort.”

He said the club is still composed of leadership in the community.

“Men and women who were progressive and dedicated to community service — that’s been the constant thread of our club and others in our area,” Wilson said. “In many ways, our Rotary Club here in Jacksonville has been a leader in advancing education in our local community, … from the successful effort to form a separate school district, which took many years, and the joint education center with the Air Force and offering college courses to local people.

“The Rotary Club supported both these efforts, financially and with time and effort. That has been a big part of our continued effort and interest over all these years.”

Duffie said Rotary provides service to communities around the world.

“Rotary has impacted millions of lives through service initiatives such as providing clean water to developing countries, eliminating hunger through food programs, serving youth through RYLA, (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), Interact and Rotaract, and striving to eradicate polio from the world.

“Rotary clubs provide local service to help those in need, and volunteerism is important to any community.”

Wilson said that when the club began 50 years ago, it didn’t have any women members, but he said in about 15 or 20 years, that changed.

“Women have been a major factor in the success of work in the local club, which is true for any other civic club,” Wilson said. “Probably half of our members are women now. As women’s roles in business and community have grown, our club has grown with them.

“It has been a gratifying factor for us. Ashley is one example of that, but there are plenty of others.”

Wilson said the club has made an effort to recruit female members, and “it has proved to be widely accepted.”

“Ashley is always there with a plan of action,” Wilson said. “She has a good deal of enthusiasm, and she has the support of friends and colleagues. I think she has done a good job for us.”

“We have definitely become more inclusive,” Garringer said. “There was a time when Rotary didn’t even allow females, and now we have a pretty strong female representation.”

Jim Peacock is also one of the original members of the club, and he said one reason the club has lasted as long as it has is its strong recruitment effort.

“We’ve also had some of our original members stay with the club from the start, and we have made it a practice to try to recruit and get new members to join the club,” Peacock said. “We try to help them and their business and help them get acquainted with Jacksonville.”

He said Garringer has been an excellent president.

“She has been very helpful in getting things done, and she has spent a lot of time on things that matter,” he said. “She has kept the committees going and made sure they do what they are supposed to be doing.”

Garringer said there has always been a strong emphasis for the students in the community.

“It has been great getting to know other business leaders and the guest speakers that we have each week,” Garringer said. “We have had people from nonprofits, politicians, sports announcers and from the connections that you make with fellow Rotarians on a weekly basis — you learn a lot about what is going on in the community and the surrounding area.”

Garringer is originally from Lonoke, having graduated from Lonoke High School in 1999. She attended Arkansas State University-Beebe but did not graduate. She said she has considered finishing her degree, but her employer offers a lot of training opportunities that are directly related to her position.

She is vice president of administration for First Electric Cooperative in Jacksonville. She said she handles the human resources and benefits of the cooperative and the member service groups in each of the five district offices. She has been with the cooperative for 16 years and in her current position for two years.

She said if she had not been pushed by First Electric, she may not have joined the Rotary Club.

“It really is hard to say,” she said. “I know without the support, it would be hard to attend the meetings. I also do other civic-organization work within my community, and I am not sure I would have [joined Rotary], just because of the time commitment.

“I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity because it is a great organization.”

The Jacksonville Rotary Club meets at noon Mondays at Barnhill’s Steak and Buffet in Jacksonville. Right now the club has 39 members, but Garringer said they are trying to do a push for new members, as they would like to hit the 50 mark.

As president-elect under Fowler, Garringer said, she learned the day-to-day operation of things and learned about the history of the club and the direction it was headed.

“I learned about the different organizations in the community that we like to help out with, and I learned a little about it and Rotary International and the programs they offer,” she said. “We did a lot of fundraisers for polio, and it is mostly eradicated, except for like three countries.

“Fundraising for that was pretty interesting.”

In the spring, Garringer said, the club hosted a summer-reading program for all of the fourth-graders in Jacksonville, and last year, “we helped stock the food pantries on a weekly basis.” She said the club also handed out dictionaries to all of the third-graders.

“Basically, it is my job to keep our fellow Rotarians involved and informed of the service projects that we do within our group,” she said. “We help with fundraisers and determining what service projects we want to do for next year, as well as lining up the guest speakers and keeping that organized.”

Garringer is also vice president of the Century League of Lonoke, which she said is very similar to the Rotary Club.

“We do caring cabinets for the nursing homes in the area, and we help provide different items for those in the nursing homes,” she said. “I have been a part of it for four years after a friend invited me to join.

“That one is a really small group, but I do think we make a big difference.”

She said both groups have had a close impact on her and her family, as well as the community she grew up in.

“I want to support those who are near to me,” she said, “and I want to make a difference in the areas that I am in most often — it has grown into a passion.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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