- Perfect attendance means one thing to schoolchildren and quite another to longtime Rotary Club members Peter Ten Broeck, Christopher Rogers and William "Bill" Andrews.
Together, they have been attending local club meetings - without a miss - for almost 100 years.
The accomplishment speaks to the commitment, energy and enthusiasm for what the service organization considers a way of life: helping to improve circumstances for anyone in need, whether in the community, state, country or world.
Unlike schoolchildren, however, Ten Broeck, Rogers, Andrews and Rotarians everywhere have more than one chance to achieve perfect attendance.
They get credit no matter where they attend a meeting. They also have a chance to make up missed meetings in the week before or after their local group meets.
Andrews has attended meetings aboard cruise ships. Ten Broeck once went to a Rotary meeting in Africa. Rogers has attended Rotary meetings in Nashua, Bedford, Hollis, Peterborough and Merrimack.
"Rotary is a service organization where people in the community give back to the community," Rogers said. "It's service above self. When you join Rotary, you don't just show up every once in a while, you're encouraged to attend all the meetings and to participate as part of being a normal member."
Rogers, 61, hasn't missed a weekly Rotary club meeting in 24 years, and he anticipates reaching the perfect-attendance quarter-century mark by the end of June.
When he joined the local Rotary in 1979 at age 30, the Amherst resident was the youngest member. The only Rotarian he knew was his neighbor, the late Robert Niedrach, a former club president who invited him to his first meeting.
"You really should get involved with the community, get to know business people in the area," Rogers remembered Niedrach telling him.
From his first meeting, Rogers said, he was drawn in.
"What I was struck with was their friendliness," he said. "They reach out to new members, and there were no cliques. I was surprised at how welcoming they were and how they get you involved in projects from the start."
During several "fireside chats" Rogers attended, he learned from a seasoned Rotarian about the club's philosophy. Giving back to the community was key, and it couldn't be done without making a commitment of time.
He quickly found the return on the investment of time was well worth the effort.
"In my opinion, people join Rotary to give back to the community," Rogers said. "But the real reason they stay in is they have such a good time and for the friendships."
Achieving perfect attendance has required discipline and planning.
Accustomed to having a quick lunch at his desk, Rogers, who has served as president and treasurer of the board at St. JosephHospital in Nashua in addition to his Rotary work, has made the 75-minute lunch meeting a weekly appointment.
He said pride and pleasure, rather than duty, have kept him going back.
"It's not a 'have to.' It's, 'Oh, boy, this is a break,' " he said, adding that he gets "a sense of satisfaction" from supporting the club's charity fundraising projects, including a worldwide drive to wipe out polio.
Among Milford Rotarians, Amherst resident Ten Broeck, 71, is considered a perfect-attendance star. Ten Broeck hasn't missed a weekly Rotary Club meeting in years, and if he continues the streak through June, he will have made it to 44 years.
"My dad was a Rotarian. My son is a Rotarian. We have three generations," said Ten Broeck, a retired stockbroker who joined the organization when he was 27.
When he reflects on his years in Rotary, Ten Broeck said he traces a thread back to his childhood.
"I had a headmaster in prep school who told us, 'What you give to the community matters. I don't care how intellectually gifted you are. It's what you give back that counts,' " Ten Broeck recalled. "My dad used to quote Charlie Schwaab, the president of Bethlehem Steel, who said, 'A great man is great in his treatment of the little man.' "
Rotary hasn't been the only place where Ten Broeck has practiced those early lessons. During the more than four decades he has maintained perfect attendance, he has served on his town's finance committee; in leadership posts with the YMCA, American Red Cross, and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; and as an official at his Milford church.
In addition, he volunteers for a hospice program, for which he makes home visits and does grief counseling.
"I always found the time to work Rotary in," Ten Broeck said, adding that on days when he couldn't attend the local meeting, he would find a makeup one. "Now, you can go a week on either side (or) try to do it in the same week."
Through the years, Ten Broeck has attended meetings as far away as Paris, England and Africa.
He has been the recipient of the Al Kerr Award for raising large sums of money for Rotary charities, contributions the club has also recognized by presenting him with the Paul Harris Award, named for the club's founder, who began Rotary in 1905.
In the old days, club membership was exclusive. The organization set quotas: so many lawyers, so many bankers and so forth, Ten Broeck said.
Indeed, American author Sinclair Lewis satirized the type in his 1922 novel "Babbitt," a work whose title character, George Babbitt, is "smugly conventional," according to Webster's Dictionary.
The dictionary definition paints Babbitt as someone who aspires to business and social success while being indifferent to culture.
"In the old days, Sinclair Lewis may have been right," Ten Broeck said, describing the club's first members as "top people in insurance, business."
Time and the law have changed that.
"In 1973, I was president of the first club to allow women, by two votes," Ten Broeck said. " It was very, very close, but the Supreme Court made it mandatory, and the women are marvelous."
Andrews joined the Milford Rotary in 1970 while he was working for Hitchiner Manufacturing Co. If he makes a meeting every week all the way to June, he'll have 32 years of perfect attendance.
"I had five years where I missed one week," he said, pointing out that in "the old days," the rules about making up meetings were stricter than today.
A Milford resident for 46 years, Andrews taught social studies in Amherst for several years before going into industry.
"I was working in personnel, and it was expected," he said of his club membership.
During a talk with a mentor in the club, Andrews learned he could fulfill his attendance requirement anywhere he chose.
"I made up meetings in Barcelona, Spain; Cairns, Australia; Juneau, Alaska, on Princess Ocean Liners," said Andrews, 71.
A former schoolteacher, Andrews is sales manager for Johnson Precision in Amherst.
"You certainly make lifelong friends," Andrews said. "You have an opportunity to interact with a lot of people you wouldn't otherwise. It's not just giving back to the town of Milford, but to Amherst, MontVernon, Wilton, Brookline."
Andrews said he enjoys the charitable work and the social connections, including those with two former students, club "fine masters" he assists during the weekly Milford meetings.
"If somebody asks, I'd certainly start right from the beginning, encourage them, tell them it's a big obligation, that it's not a night-before club," Andrews said. "We sell Christmas trees. We have a 100-hole, one-day golf event, a senior citizens cookout, a pancake breakfast."
But like Rogers and Ten Broeck, Andrews was quick to point out that doing good and having fun are not mutually exclusive.
"I'm usually cooking the pancakes," he said, conjuring images of plain and blueberry cakes stacked on a plate during the annual fundraiser. "If I see a special friend, I double the size."
Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 594-6439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.