In the winter of 1972-93, Mrs. Sarah Hughes of
, sent letters to various newspapers in the
asking them to publish her letter which stated that she was seeking a family who would allow her twelve year old son to live with them for six weeks during the summer in 1973. She wanted to son to escape the war-torn strife of
for a few weeks. The only newspaper to publish her letter was the Minneapolis Tribune.
Mrs. Ruth Lerud read the letter and responded by inviting the son of Sarah Hughes to come for the summer. The
newspaper did a feature story of the visit, and after the story appeared, both the Lerud family and Sarah Hughes were deluged with offers to host children. A follow-up story in the newspaper included the concern of Mrs. Lerud that she was not equipped to handle the inquiries and that she would like some organization to take over the project. At this point, the Rotary Club of Hibbing, Minnesota began to think seriously about the project.
In November 1973, it was announced that the Board of Directors of the Rotary Club of Hibbing had voted to examine the feasibility of bringing five hundred children from
to spend six weeks of summer vacation with families in
. Sarah Hughes from Belfast, Northern Ireland and Ruth Lerud of Twin Valley, Minnesota, met with the Hibbing Rotary Board of Directors late in November 1973 to discuss the proposed Irish Children's Project.
The following month, Nancy Timmerman, wife of Hibbing Rotarian Tom Timmerman, was appointed Executive Director of the Rotary Irish Children's Project. Because of fundraising and transportation problems, it was decided to scale the project back to 250 children. The club was having an extremely difficult time chartering an aircraft to bring the children from
and return because of the oil and gas shortage crisis that had just hit the western world.
In February 1974, at a press conference at the Kahler Hotel, the Rotary Irish Children's Project was formally announced publicly. The purpose was described to the public and the fundraising effort was announced. A month later, the Timmermans left for
to coordinate the project with the Rotary Club of Belfast and to find a coordinator for the project in
. At the same time, it was announced that $20,000 of the $75,000 project budget had been raised.
When Nancy and Tom Timmerman returned from
, they were able to announce that David Russell, Headmaster of Finniston School in
, would serve as the coordinator in
. However, the club still did not have a plane to transport the children, and they were becoming concerned as time was running out.
The Rotary Club of Belfast agreed to provide security and transportation for the children from their homes in
but they said they could not safely transport more than 120 children. The project was then scaled down to that number plus four adult leaders. There would be sixty Protestant children and sixty Catholic children. The leaders were similarly allocated â¿¢ two Protestant and two Catholic. The ages of the children would be nine to twelve. The budget was also scaled back to $45,000.
Fortunately, the project was receiving coverage on the television networks throughout the
and funds were coming from a variety of sources â¿¢ from a retired man in St. Paul who sent the club two ten-cent stamps, stating that he was all for the project and wanted to help, to $100 raised by the youth of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Hibbing by sponsoring a pancake breakfast. The members of the Hibbing Rotary Club contributed $9,500, and there was participation by every Rotary club in the district.
The club was proceeding to screen the 750 prospective host families throughout
who had submitted applications to host a child. However, it was now late April and the club still did not have air transportation for the children. Then, on April 25th, Nancy Timmerman received a call from a man with British European Airways. She had met him when she was in Belfast and he was now calling to tell her that BEA could fly the children from Belfast to London, from London to Chicago, and from Chicago to Minneapolis on a Northwest Airlines flight on June 28th and return the children to Belfast six weeks later at a price the Rotary club could afford.
The selection of the host families was finalized by mid-May and they were notified that they were to be at the
airport on June 28th to pick up the children.
On June 27th Rotarian Don Drolson and his wife went to
to act as an advance party to get the children through the
. The plane arrived in
as scheduled, and was greeted by the host families, members of the Hibbing Rotary Club, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson and his wife, plus hundreds of well wishers. The three major television networks were there to cover the landing and soon the project and the Hibbing Rotary Club was known throughout the world.
On the 25th anniversary of the Irish Children's Project, the late United States Senator Paul Wellstone recognized and honored the project on the Senate floor on
July 6, 1998
. An excerpt of his remarks is printed below:
"The Children's Program of
was the first of its kind in the nation. It is now the blueprint of 25 other, similar programs throughout
which bring children to
for a summer of peace and understanding.
Something important is at work here â¿¢ Minnesotans are working to bring about peace, one child at a time. When the good people of
got involved in this program 25 years ago it was because they saw the need and stepped in to fill it. There were no Presidential Commissions or calls by Congress asking citizens to get involved. Rather, there were everyday heroes and heroines who tried to make their world better by opening their homes to a child from a troubled part of the world.
And they have succeeded."