Since 1976, The Rotary Club of Key West has funded the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display, with recent support from the Key West International Airport. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

At school board meetings in the late 1990s and early 2000s, board member and longtime Rotarian Pat Labrada would glance at a small, laminated card before casting a vote during contentious debates. The card contained just four questions:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Since 1943, the 24-word test has guided Rotarians’ decision-making principles in all things. 

But what IS Rotary?

The Rotary Club of Key West, the overarching Rotary International and Key West’s Sunrise Rotary and Sunset Rotary counterparts, represent much more than the Four-Way Test. It represents a worldwide community of people who believe in service over self.

“When I joined The Rotary Club of Key West in 1980 — wow, it’s been more than 40 years — I was 27 and one of the youngest members by far,” Labrada recalled. “Back then it was known as the ‘Old Farts Club’ and ‘The Checkbook Club’ because we self-funded everything we did. We didn’t hold fundraisers for anything; the members would just open their checkbooks to get something done.

“Even Key West’s Fourth of July fireworks that Rotary has been sponsoring since 1976 were initially self-funded by members,” Labrada said. “We’d even build the mortar boxes and shoot them off ourselves under the supervision of fellow Rotarian Pete Smith, then later, Karen Thurman.”

In 1995, Labrada became the club president and ushered in an age of fundraisers that exponentially increased the Rotary Club’s financial ability to help both locally and internationally.

Volunteer Rotarians manned beer booths during Fantasy Fest to raise money for its scholarship program that started around 1990.

The local club’s scholarships for Key West graduates have grown from $500 scholarships to more than $25,000. 

“Interviewing the kids who applied has been one of the highlights of my Rotary experience,” Labrada said, adding that his trip to Chicago in 2005 for Rotary’s 100th anniversary was another highlight. “We had a parade that included Rotarians from all over the world, and one city worker in Chicago told me, ‘This is great; it’s like the Olympics.’ And I told him, ‘It’s better, because there’s no politics in Rotary.”

And there isn’t, Labrada emphasized. Despite welcoming members from all over the political spectrum, club members leave their beliefs at the door. “We don’t bring up politics, or even mention a candidate’s name. Rotary does its best work because politics is not involved. It’s about service above self and will always be that way.”

What does The Rotary Club of Key West do?

Alton Weekley, co-owner of Fausto’s Food Palace and a hugely involved Rotarian, easily ticks off projects supported by Key West Rotary club: Bayview Park improvements, Overseas Highway cleanups, Everglades National Park protection, dental care for low-income kids, July 4th fireworks, the welcome sign to Key West  and scholarships are all projects that were initiated or supported by the Rotary Club of Key West, Weekley said. 

“Our dental program for children has spent tens of thousands of dollars, raised by our annual golf tournament, for kids whose families can’t afford treatments,” Weekley said. “We’ve also helped the high school band with its upcoming trip to London. We work with the Metropolitan Community Church distributing meals with their ‘Cooking With Love’ program.”

Reflecting on what being a Rotarian means to him, Weekley thought back on 34 years.

“During my first tenure, from 1975-1991, I improved my leadership skills, learned how to better work with groups to recognize and help meet the needs of Key West,” Weekley said. “ I have gained a broader perspective of the world and how fortunate we are to live in America. I have had the opportunity to provide financial support to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti, provided emergency aid to victims of natural disasters around the world, and perhaps more importantly contributed to Rotary’s International’s goal to eradicate polio. 

“My recent trip to Melbourne, Australia is proof that learning about other countries and cultures makes us better individuals,” Weekley said. “And Rotary exemplifies that lesson in everything it does.”

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.