Rotary raises $21,000 to eradicate polio

Close isn’t good enough for Karen Kirkman when it comes to eradicating a life-altering disease. A member of Apple Valley Rotary, she’s worked with other members to put together a fundraiser for polio eradication.

“So many people think polio has been eradicated, but it’s not,” she said. “We are really, really close.”

On Sunday, Jan. 28, Apple Valley Rotary hosted its first ever Polio Plus spaghetti dinner and silent auction at the Apple Valley American Legion Post 1776. Kirkman chaired the event, but she said it was a combination of club and community members who helped her pull it off.

“Everyone was enthused and the momentum built as members came in with donations, sold tickets, and promoted the dinner,” she said.

Rotary served dinner to 168 people and raised $4,700. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tripled everything the club raised, so the event raised $14,100.

The American Legion donated $2,000, which the Gates Foundation tripled to $6,000. In total, the club has raised $20,100 for polio eradication efforts.

Several honored guests attended, including Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland, District 196 Superintendent Jane Berenz, Legion Post Cmdr. Carla Tappainer, former mayor Mike Garrison, first vice president of the Legion Bob Nelson and state Rep. Anna Wills, R-Rosemount.

District 5950 Polio Plus Chair Tim Mulcrone and Rotary President Wayne Hilbert made remarks.

Many of the hosts and attendees are passionate about eradicating polio because they’ve seen firsthand how the disease can forever change someone’s life.

“In talking to different people at the dinner, polio has touched so many people,” Kirkman said. “Everyone knows someone.”

Finding a cure for polio doesn’t make many headlines in the U.S. because it is so rare, but the disease is still a major issue in other areas of the world.

“While no longer an issue in the U.S., until the globe is polio free, the risk is not over,” said Rotarian and City Council Member Clint Hoopaw. “In 2017, polio was down to two countries and 22 cases. Unfortunately, those countries are the hardest, and most dangerous, to reach.”

Rotarian Tasha Wells was also inspired by the proximity to eradication.

“I got involved because we are so close,” she said. “I feel like we just need a strong push. I think sometimes we lose focus on diseases when they aren’t rampant in our own communities. Polio is almost gone, but it’s still there.”

For Kirkman, polio eradication is personal.

“My initial interest in this cause is because my dad was a victim of polio,” Kirkman said.

He survived, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life and had to retire early after contracting post-polio disease.

“He was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “He ended up coming out of the paralysis. He was in an iron lung and I remember him telling me ‘I didn’t know if that is how I would spend the rest of my life.’”

Kirkman said she couldn’t have organized the event without the help of community member Bill Tschohl.

“Bill took an active interest and sold tickets, promoted the event, brought in numerous silent auction items and helped with the organization of the day,” Kirkman said.

Tschohl was a 22-year member of Apple Valley Rotary and publication chairman for six years before retiring from the club in 2016.

In November 2017, Tschohl connected Kirkman with Lindsey Green, general manager of the Apple Valley Legion. Together, they selected a date and a menu.

“From the start, Lindsey and the leadership at the legion were enthusiastic about the dinner fundraiser,” Tschohl said.

Table arrangements, ticket sales, silent auction items — Tschohl helped her work through each detail, and he committed himself to selling dozens of tickets and collecting many silent auction items.

This work was personal for Tschohl too. Tschohl was completely paralyzed by polio in 1950 when he lived in Mankato. He spent time in an iron lung at University Hospital and nine months at Sheltering Arms for treatment and recovery.

While at Sheltering Arms, he watched fellow young patients have hot packs put on their limbs before doctors stretched them.

“Many ended up with braces or didn’t make it,” Tschohl said. “Visits by parents were very limited.”

Today, Tschohl remains passionate about eradicating polio throughout the world, and was happy to work with the club, as “Rotary International continues to be the heart and soul of polio eradication,” Tschohl said.

Both Tschohl and Kirkman remarked that the community came together in unexpected ways for this event.

“The community really rallied,” Kirkman said. “Pretty much everyone I asked for a donation from for the silent auction came through. It was really nice to see how positive the retailers and the community were for this fundraiser.”

Wells was impressed with the depth of community involvement. From the youngest leaders to the most seasoned, Apple Valley residents came together to make the event happen.

“It was really nice to see Mayor Mary there. We had a lot of support from the community,” she said. “We had a involvement from our interact students — some of our high school students working at the event and they were wonderful.”

Kirkman’s co-workers at MidCountry Bank helped her organize the silent auction, and the company donated 150 cupcakes to the event so the attendees could have dessert.

“The people I had talked to seemed to really enjoy the event,” she said. “We had really nice silent auction items. The food was amazing — it was all homemade. I heard nothing but positive comments.”

She’s hoping to work with Rotary to put something together for World Polio Day on Oct. 24. She’s also interested in making the dinner an annual event, and is in conversation with other club members about ways to build momentum.

Contact Amy Mihelich at