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One Woman's Opinion

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Chuck Ylonen was “Mr. Rotary”

Urbanna, Va.— I have most regrettably reached the age in life that when I go away for a few weeks on vacation, I know that upon return, someone that I cared very much for will have passed away. It happens every time I leave town. I guess this phenomenon comes with age.

It was no exception last week when I returned from a trip to read of the death of Chuck Ylonen. His passing is a great loss to his family, friends and church. But it is also a great loss to Middlesex County and the Middlesex Rotary Club.

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
I knew Chuck as “Mr. Rotary.” He was a most generous man who gave to many charitable organizations, but perhaps he never gave to any group like he gave to the club that he held most dear in his life—Rotary International.

He served Rotary in so many ways, as fundraiser for the Paul Harris Endowment, as club president, as district governor (at a time when the district took in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia), as a director, as grand advisor, “Godfather,” “Top Banana,” “Big Daddy” and in every other capacity too.

There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his club. “A Rotarian never says no when he is asked to work on a Rotary project,” he used to tell me dozens of times (before asking me to head up another project).

Chuck personally sponsored and financed many dozens of Rotarians for the prestigious Paul Harris Award that helped to build over a million members at $1,000 each in order to create one of the largest endowed charitable forces in the world. He gave tens of thousands of dollars to build up his club over his lifetime, simply because he believed ardently in the Rotary principle: “Service Above Self.” It is this kind of individual commitment that has built Rotary around the world into a tremendous network of community boosters.

I was a charter member of the Middlesex Rotary Club who had retired  years ago simply because I could not make the early morning breakfast meetings each week. But Chuck wheedled and wheedled me until I agreed to come back into the club. Because of him, I enjoyed another few years of Rotary service (I am now again retired). Chuck was awfully good at getting people to do more than they thought they could do. An excellent recruiter for Rotary, he probably personally brought in half the present members of the club.

He used to greet me as I stumbled into Tuesday morning breakfast, still half asleep, and say, “Good morning, Princess!” It made my struggle to get up so early and go to The Pilot House meeting worth the while. But, one day I heard him call the next new woman member, “Princess.” It turned out “Grand Pop” called all his women Rotarians “Princess,” and because of it he
brought in a lot of great female members into the club.

I loved him. He had a gentle way about him that was so pleasant to be around. He might have thought someone who did not agree with his position on the board might have had “a brain so small it could not fit into the head of a flea,” a favorite expression of his, but the unsuspecting opponent never knew it. He killed any opposition to his ideas with old-fashioned charm.
Chuck was a self-made man who made his fortune in the grocery business in Richmond, starting out with one store and working up to a small chain. He treated his customers just like he treated his fellow Rotarians. (He was probably calling all his women customers “Princess.”) That man was a charmer if there ever was one that walked the pike.

He never rested much even after retiring and moving to his waterfront home in Hartfield with his amiable wife Jean. He worked not only in Rotary but in many other areas in the county, such as Middlesex Public Library, Middlesex YMCA and Lower United Methodist Church. He struggled with severe health problems but that was never an excuse for him to take it easy. He gave every drop of energy to the betterment of Middlesex County until he literally could not give even one more drop.   

Chuck Ylonen will be remembered and cherished for many years to come for all the good that he did. So, “Mr. Rotary,” Chuck Ylonen, thank you and Godspeed to you and yours.
Just one of your many “Princesses” bidding you a fond farewell.  ©2009 

posted 04.22.2009

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