catching the vision
Story by Susan O'Connor; Photo by Dero Sanford
Behind every great project are individuals who are vital to its success. They dream the dream and then execute the details.Jake Morse is just such a man.
A walk through Craighead Forest Park reveals projects inspired and executed by Morse — Centennial Park and Fort Rotary — award-winning playgrounds that are unique to Jonesboro. Countless individuals contributed time, energy and money to both efforts, however Morse was the original go-to person, in from the ground floor, laying a firm foundation for success, though he would modestly disagree.
“Jake Morse is a person that can catch a vision really easily,” said Jason Wilke, director of Jonesboro Parks and Recreation. “He understands and believes in collaboration. He knows how to be patient and wait for collaboration to happen. He also saw these projects through from start to finish from Rotary’s standpoint.”
A Rotarian since 1979 and an engineer, businessman and entrepreneur by trade, Morse helped found Jonesboro University Rotary Club in 1981. Rotary’s focus of service is what pulled him in.
“What we’re all about is service,” he said. “That is what Rotary is about — in a word. It was really obvious to me that this was an organization that made good things happen, not just in Jonesboro, but in our Rotary district and internationally, as well.”
In the fall of 2002, Morse was contacted by Glen Estes, Rotary International’s president at the time, about planning a special service project to honor the organization’s centennial anniversary in 2005. Morse was set to be governor of District 6150 during the centennial.
“The idea was a project with lasting, if not permanent benefits to the community,” Morse said. “It occurred to me to check and see if the other clubs wanted to do a project together.”
Jonesboro has three Rotary clubs, Rotary Club of Jonesboro, the oldest service organization in Jonesboro chartered in 1919, Jonesboro University Rotary Club and Jonesboro Metro Rotary Club. A meeting of the club presidents was called concerning a centennial project, and the outcome was extremely positive.
“It was spontaneous, instant,” Morse said with enthusiasm. “It was apparent that everyone wanted to work together. It was great.”
Morse said that for years there had been talk in Rotary about a project at Craighead Forest Park, so a playground was the agreed upon plan. Ideas flowed in from all three clubs and an exploratory committee was formed.
The ultimate outcome was Centennial Park, a $750,000 collaboration between Rotarians, the City of Jonesboro, Jonesboro Parks and Recreation, Craighead County and Arkansas Parks and Tourism. Donations and in-kind contributions came from all of the above, as well as individuals in the community. This special playground won state, multiple-state and national awards and continues to be a boon to the city.
Just last year, Fort Rotary opened at Craighead Forest. Also a project of the Jonesboro clubs, the playground recently received the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s award for best park in 2009. Nestled in a grove of pine trees, the unique fort-themed playground is a beautiful attraction for the children of Northeast Arkansas. The final price tag was about $350,000.
“Throughout both of these projects, the city council and mayors and the parks department have been super,” Morse said. “I can’t say enough about all their help. This has not been simply a Rotary project, it has been a city and state and parks and tourism project.”
For example, Morse noted that the city developed and executed a plan to prep the site, which involved removing trees, planting trees, building retaining walls and more.
But building world-class parks is not the only effort made by local Rotarians. The clubs each have a major annual fundraiser to support all kinds of projects.
“We try to do a variety of things in the community,” Morse said, “because everyone doesn’t benefit from parks.”
In Northeast Arkansas, Rotary supports Meals on Wheels, soccer, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Make a Wish, educational scholarships, NEA Food Bank, CityYouth Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Shelter Box, Heifer International and more.
In February, the Rotary Club of Jonesboro held a region-wide sports show at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center, the annual fund-raiser for the club. The Jonesboro Metro Rotary Club will hold a wine tasting and art auction later this year.
Jonesboro University Rotary Club’s annual event, the Pot O’Gold, is slated for March 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Holidome. This is the 28th year for the fund-raising dinner. Business sponsorships are available, and tickets can be obtained by contacting James McDaniel at 870-919-3838.
Rotary is always looking for new members, Morse stressed. “Every Rotarian is expected to invite people to join the organization.”
Interestingly, there are 1.3 million Rotarians in 30,000 clubs in 160 countries. Rotary works with the World Health Organization, Unicef and the Center for Disease Control. Since the 1980s, Rotary has immunized more than two billion children worldwide against polio. Though eradicated in the U.S., the disease is still prevalent in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
To get active in this worthwhile organization, the Rotary Club of Jonesboro or “noon club” meets on Tuesdays at noon at St. Bernards Auditorium. The university club or “morning club” meets Thursday mornings at 7 at the Holiday Inn, and the metro club or “evening club” gathers on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.