History of Mid-America PETS
by Ed Hardesty, PDG, District 6110
Prior to 2005, Rotary Districts 6150, 6170, 6190, and 6110 were each conducting a single District PETS. Each District had individual strengths. Each District had a different format for PETS. While each of these Districts was doing an excellent job in training its future club presidents, none of the Districts could accomplish individually what could be accomplished by forming a Multi-District PETS.
In late 2002 current, past, and future leaders of these Districts began to communicate about the possibility of forming a Multi-District PETS. We initiated correspondence with Districts that had experience training club presidents in a Multi-District format in events like Show Me PETS in Missouri and Lone Star PETS in Texas. We discovered that about 65% of club presidents in the USA were being trained in a Multi-District format, and that the Multi-District PETS movement was rapidly growing in popularity. We discovered that a consortium of Multi-District PETS organizations met each July at Rotary International Headquarters in Evanston to interface with RI staff on issues impacting PETS and to network with each other to share ideas, successes, and failures. We were invited to attend the Multi-District PETS Alliance meeting as guests to learn about Multi-District PETS and to help us decide whether we should consider forming a new Multi-District PETS.
In July 2003 I attended my first Multi-District Alliance meeting, along with DGE Jake Morse, PDG Jerry Brackett, and DGN Marilyn Hummelstein of District 6150 and PDG Jane Molloy and DGN Bob Molloy from District 6190. We were amazed at what we experienced! We saw top Rotary leaders, including RIPE Glenn Estess, General Secretary Ed Futa, and Foundation Manager John Osterlund address the group and seek their input. We saw RI staff members responsible for writing PETS curriculum visit the meeting to provide information and seek feedback. Most importantly, however, we saw experienced PETS leaders from throughout the country sharing information with each other on issues such as dealing with facilities, contracts, keynote speakers, discussion sessions, facilitator training, and District sessions. I asked Glenn Estess why he supported the Multi-District PETS concept. He replied, “You can do everything that you are currently doing in a single District format, plus things that you could never accomplish alone”. Foundation Trustee and PETS Alliance co-founder Ray Klinginsmith told me, “It’s the sizzle! You cannot create the excitement with 40, 50, or even 75 PE’s meeting together that you can with you have a meeting of several hundred”.
We left that meeting determined to pursue a new Multi-District PETS organization for our Districts. We began to meet in Little Rock to determine how we could create a new Multi-District PETS. The core group consisted of the class of 2005 – 2006. I was a part of that class, along with DGN’s Marilyn Hummelstein of District 6150, Linda Schuck of 6170, and Bob Molloy of 6190. Also meeting with us in those early days was DG Dick Wieland of District 6800 in Memphis. District 6800 eventually left our group to form a new all Tennessee Multi-District PETS that would be called Mid-South PETS. We looked at Policies and Procedures from existing Multi-District PETS organizations and relied heavily on Carolina’s PETS as we began to put our guiding documents together. We had not even thought of a name for our organization, but at one meeting, PDG Jake Mosrse of District 6150 presented a handout that used the name “Mid-America PETS”. We asked Jake where he had found the name “Mid-America PETS”. He said, “I didn’t know what to call us, so I just used that. At some point we will have to come up with a name.” We decided that Jake had just named the organization! Each District had to convince its leadership to join the new organization and had to conduct a vote of the clubs in the District, but that was accomplished, and we officially became Mid-America PETS.
From the dreams of a few Rotary leaders, we had created a new organization with one purpose – to provide the best possible experience for our presidents-elect. We asked PDG Travis Adams of District 6170 to be our first General Chair. Travis proved to be a skilled leader who masterfully navigated the unknown waters in putting together our first event at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock on March 11 – 12, 2005. At our initial event we had speakers that included Dr. Mouzon Biggs, who had spoken for many years at Lone Star PETS about each RI President’s theme, Foundation Trustee Ray Klinginsmith, RI General Secretary Ed Futa, and RI Vice President John Germ. As we experienced the excitement of that first event, those of us that had worked to create the organization could not keep from looking at the top Rotary speakers, the ideas that were being exchanged in the discussion sessions, the networking that was taking place throughout the event, the bonding that was taking place in the District sessions and saying to each other, “We could never have done this alone, but together anything is possible.” We knew that not one person from that lineup of speakers would ever agree to attend our single District PETS.
After two years at the Peabody we moved our event to Ft. Smith. We have continued to improve the experience for our presidents-elect and have created lifelong friendships as a result of the relationships forged through Mid-America PETS. Today over 95% of presidents-elect are trained in a Multi-District format and the movement is expanding to other countries. Mid-America PETS continues to evolve. Our friends from District 6190 eventually moved to Ole Man River PETS in Mississippi and, in 2019, District 5750 joined our organization. COVID forced us to conduct virtual events in 2020 and 2021. Although those events were well received, we were happy to be back in person at the Holiday Inn in Springdale in 2022. After the 2023 event in Springdale, we will be back in Ft. Smith beginning in 2024.
In 2011 I chaired the Multi-District PETS Alliance. As I contacted RI leaders and executives and Multi-District PETS leaders from throughout the country to ask them to take a leadership role at our annual meeting at RI Headquarters, I could not help but reminisce about our beginnings and the fact that Mid-America PETS has matured into one of the most respected Multi-District PETS organizations in all of Rotary.
Updated August 10, 2023