As a 30-something businessman in 1974, Bill St. Clair joined the Rotary Club for job networking.
What he discovered was a worldwide network of people reaching out to those in need.
Now, the Gainesville resident is one of three district governors in Georgia, overseeing 70 Rotary Clubs and 3,300 like-minded professionals.
St. Clair began his term July 1, and has started visiting the clubs in District 6910 and planning a project to install a septic tank at a Haitian hospital.
He'll serve for one year.
"It's an all volunteer organization. Therefore you can't tell anybody to do things," he said. "You just encourage them in the right direction."
When St. Clair first joined Rotary Club, he was an operations manager at a factory in North Carolina that made work gloves. He has served in the Army in Missouri and South Korea and worked for the Norton Co., an industrial business, in Japan, Brazil, Luxembourg, North Carolina and Flowery Branch.
St. Clair moved to Gainesville in 1978 and joined Gainesville's club soon after.
The club focuses on helping others, most recently through organizing teams to build wheelchair ramps for low-income families.
St. Clair has helped on these projects, which usually take about six hours. At one home, St. Clair watched a woman cry as she maneuvered along her new wheelchair ramp, the first time she'd been out of the house on her own in a long time, St. Clair said.
"I just said, ‘Geez, if I can put in six hours of work and have someone react like that, it just makes your heart flutter. It really does,'" he said.
Rotary Club President Martha Nesbitt, who first moved to Gainesville in 1997, said she was struck by St. Clair's enthusiasm and involvement with the club, particularly his involvement with international conferences.
"We just kind of fondly call him Mr. Rotary," she said with a laugh.
St. Clair has traveled to Rotary Club conferences in Glasgow, Scotland; Singapore; Barcelona, Spain; Brisbane, Australia; Chicago and Salt Lake City.
"He's a wonderful person to work with," Nesbitt said. "He's got great human relation skills. He's always upbeat."
Now St. Clair has the opportunity to organize international service projects of his own.
As district governor, he is working on a $100,000 project to provide a septic tank to a hospital in Pignon, Haiti.
"They have a septic system, but it's overflowing," he said.
The funds for the project are split evenly between the district, the international Rotary fund and money from other Rotary Clubs. St. Clair is working to gather that money now. He expects his visits to Rotary Clubs in his district will take him until after Thanksgiving.
St. Clair had to train for two and a half years before he could become district governor.
Rotary Club has 1.2 million members, and St. Clair is one of 530 district governors worldwide.
"Rotarians are amazingly similar throughout the world," he said.
St. Clair served as Rotary Club president in Gainesville from 1997 to 1998, the club's 75th anniversary in the city. He received the Governor's Award for exceptional service for his term.
He was the club's secretary beginning in 2001 and has served as the district's AIDS Awareness chairman.
"It feels good to be a part of so many solutions," St. Clair said.