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History and Purpose of Southwest Rotary PETS

Southwest Rotary PETS has been serving Rotary leaders across the West for over four decades. Many Rotarians assume that PETS (Presidents Elect Training Seminar) started as single district meetings and then merged into multi-district events.

Actually, the opposite is true.

The very first PETS was held in Newport Beach, California, in April 1978, and it was a joint effort of the six Rotary districts in Southern California. It was the brainchild of Jim Vanderburg, who was the incoming district governor for District 5320 at the time, and he was quickly supported by two of his Rotarian friends, Joe Jordan of District 5260 and Carl Schwab of District 5320. The three of them were instrumental in developing a program to recognize that incoming club presidents deserved more orientation and preparation. Hence, the idea of a multi-district PETS was conceived, and they presented the idea to the other incoming district governors from Southern California.

The first PETS was highly successful with some excellent speakers, including Clem Renouf, the incoming president of RI from Australia; Bill Walk, a past RI president; and John Dalton, a past RI director. In fact it was so successful that a complete account of the first PETS was featured in the September 1978 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

The districts in Southern California continued to support the PETS through annual meetings to train incoming club presidents. This training was required before incoming club presidents could take on their leadership role, and the first multi-district organization, Southwest Rotary PETS, has conducted a PETS meeting every year since 1978.

The international assemblies for incoming district governor s were still held in late May or early June at that time, and Jim Vanderburg told several of his colleagues about the PETS event during the 1978 International Assembly in Boca Raton, Florida, USA . The wisdom of better training for incoming club presidents was immediately recognized, and the re were two new multidistrict PETS held the following year in 1979. One in Missouri called Show Me Rotary PETS, and one in Northern California now known as Far West PETS.

The new one in Missouri was held in Jefferson City during early March of 1979. All four of the Missouri districts were involved in starting the new PETS organization, and the first Show Me Rotary PETS was organized by DG Alan Hoener along with the assistance of the other three DGs in Missouri. Alan was a member of the Webster Groves club, and he served as chair of the multidistrict PETS for a second year to assure its success. He did it so well that the Show Me Rotary PETS organization has conducted a PETS meeting every year since its inception in 1979, and it has been very active in helping to establish several more multidistrict PETS organizations thru the years.

Additional multidistrict PETS organization were formed in the early 1980s, and the training sessions for club presidents were so popular and effective that in 1988, the RI board mandated that a PETS be held in every district every year. The board action occurred while the PETS founder, Jim Vanderburg, was an RI director, but he left the board before the new requirement was fully developed and implemented. As a result, most districts decided to meet the requirement by planning and conducting single district PETS meetings.

In the 1990s, the RI board encouraged the PETS to be single district events. But fortunately, Rotary is a grass roots organization, and the number of multi-district PETS organizations continued to grow in the USA. Now, most of the districts in the United States are members of multi-district PETS organizations, which currently number more than 20. It is estimated that more than 90% of the club presidents elect in the USA are now trained in multidistrict PETS.

In 1999, the leaders of multidistrict PETS organizations were invited to an idea exchange meeting in Evanston by Ken Morgan and Ray Klinginsmith. The meeting proved to be so valuable that the multi-district PETS l eaders formed a PETS Alliance, which now conducts annual meetings in July of each year. The PETS Alliance also has encouraged and supported the creation of multi-district meetings in countries outside North America, and multi-district PETS have now been successfully held in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Sweden.

2021 marks the very first year that Southwest Rotary PETS has gone completely virtual. The COVID-19 pandemic required all Rotary events to convert to a virtual format, for the health and safety of attendees and presenters alike. The virtual format will retain much of the learning and experience of the in-person PETS, while giving the opportunity for presidents-elect from other districts to join in the certification program. 

PETS has come a long way since the first one in Southern California blazed a path for others. And it happened in typical Rotary fashion through a good idea at the local level that was appreciated and adopted by other Rotary districts. The concept of PETS has clearly passed the Four Way Test, and continues on in Southwest Rotary PETS.