By Vicky Branton

The Daily Iberian

Good food has always been a reason to gather around a dining table with friends and family — at the noon hour or after work. There was a time when finding a good balanced, hot meal was only found at a rare dining spot and often associated with a sleeping establishment, or someone’s home. In 1929, something significant happened in our country and the need to support one another was greater than many of the other national tragedies. That was year the New Iberia Rotary International club was established. They are celebrating 90 years today at the weekly noon buffet speaker meeting at the Ramada Inn. Rotary is now combined with the Optimist Club for luncheons every Wednesday and the New Iberia Kiwanis meet at the same location for a speaker meeting on Thursdays. Members and their guests can be assured of a good, hot meat served up by the staff chefs at the hotel chain which serves many of the convention and organization events in the Teche Area.

Coordinator of the Rotary luncheon speakers is someone well acquainted to serving up tasty dishes. Joanie Kraker has been a recipe contributor to The Daily Iberian Cookbook and annual cookoff throughout the more than 60 years it has been published. Started during the 1950s as part of the Sugar Cookery promotion for the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival annual fall festivities, Kraker identified recipes were so commonplace, her Hummingbird Cake recipe was scratched from competition and inclusion the last few years — just when I wanted to publish it today. Last year the cookoff was cancelled due to the number of cooks who have retired from competition, passed on or just don’t cook the way families did when the series started a half century ago. However, there were still enough first place winning recipes by Kraker the past four years, that they are featured today in honor of her club’s 90th anniversary. Plus, she said at the last cookoff, she was retiring unless she could become a permanent judge. Hats off to you top chef, thanks for cooking so many things for so many years. A brief visit with the newly installed Rotary president, Ricky Huval, filled in some of the mystery about who the New Iberia Rotarians are and what why they gather weekly.

What is today’s significance, August 7?

It’s been 90 years since the Rotary Club has been founded in New Iberia. We’re all excited because the new district governor is coming today to visit us and he will be able to address our anniversary. We’ll discuss plans with him about what we hope to accomplish this year. Secondly, 90 years of Rotary being here. We’re looking to do something special.

How long have you been involved?

I first joined Rotary in 1998, 21 years. This is my second time serving as president. I attended the national convention for Rotary when I was first president in 2010. There were 210 countries and each one carried their flags in from around the world. I was in awe. We come here, join a club, our little community, and we know we are a part of a bigger organization, but that experience, seeing all those flags from different countries let me know how far and wide Rotary belongs. We reach out to the community, we serve the community in different fazes and raise money for different things and naturally we enjoy the fellowship as professionals. I’ve been to the district meetings, and we’re all pulling in the same direction to serve southern Louisiana and of course all of the U.S., but when I got over there and saw different countries, it was something to see. I realized walking around, the different things that Rotary touches lives in so many ways.

What are some of the international activities involving the club?

Our mission is to provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional and community leaders. On the global level, there is this thing to get clean water into countries that don’t have clean water. They’re loosing their kids because of this problem and Rotary is providing that for these people. Polio, we’re pretty close to eradicating polio throughout the world. Bill Gates is giving and challenging every club to give. A story was told, if I remember it right, where two countries had been at war with one another for years. Both countries had Rotary members. At one of these international meetings, I’m guessing, these two country representatives got together and realized they had common interest in resolving the conflict between their countries. They brought the nations together and these two countries are no longer fighting. When you hear things like that — all of us are trying to do the same thing, in all of our clubs. If people would focus on the positive instead of the negative we can accomplish a lot more.

Isn’t Rotary involved with education in some way?

Every senior class from every school in Iberia Parish gets to select a senior who exemplifies Service Above Self, which is what we try to do. Each of these seven students receives a scholarship from Rotary and J.P. Thibodeaux, a past member, was always about education. Chris Daily also, so we have these two awards combined now and every student gets $750. This year we have the Wayne Clay Service Above Self. I can’t begin to tell you what he has done for this club. Everyone that comes in looks up to him because of the example he sets. He never says no. I’ve been knowing him for over 50 years and at the schools where I was involved, Wayne’s kids were there and we’d do 2,000 spaghetti dinners. A lot of things within the community like St. Francis diner and other agencies that have needed help from time to time.

When you see the need, you address it rather than have

a set annual project?

Correct. Like when we had that train derailment here. Wayne Clay came up and said we need to feed all those first responders. We look around to see how we can help someone not only physically, but helping in other ways, and to thank them — the first responders, veterans, law enforcement. Things like that.

How many members do you have?

Right now we have 28, a couple of possible new members. There is no age, but you have to be graduated from school, but there is a club affiliation for school age. Any professional we’re looking for potential new members.

How long has the luncheon been combined with The Optimists?

Probably about a couple of years. At one time we had 80 to 90 members at a separate luncheon, but most got older and passed away. Now there are so many things to do in the community without being a member of these clubs.

What are you looking to do this next year under your leadership?

Well, we hope to increase membership this year. The Rotary International always has a theme which connects all of us together. I was thinking about all the people I’ve gotten to know on a personal level and most of them it’s because of Rotary. There’s so many things it does for each of us. And of course it’s family, we are a network to help one another. We’re reaching the community to help as well. Locally we raise funds for the Foster Care Christmas in December. We have a Christmas party for them and Santa passes gifts to them paid for by Rotary. We have one major fundraiser a year and that is Wayne Clay’s Famous Red Beans, Sausage and Rice Dinner in the spring.

For those interesting in more information about Rotary International, visit their website or Facebook page online or attend the luncheon at noon each Wednesday at the Ramada Inn on LA14 near U.S.90. If you don’t know a member who can bring you as their guest, tell Joanie Kraker, Vicky Branton said to look her up. For more of Kraker’s award winning recipes, visit this story online at Iberianet.com or The Daily Iberian Facebook.

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