Posted by Sue Jones on Nov 09, 2018
The Rotary Club of Jamestown held a very special meeting Monday evening at the National Comedy Center amid flashing lights and laughter, to tour the completed Center and share with their members the special area “Comedy as a Tool for Social Progress” named by the Club with their recent $20,000 donation. Coincidentally, it was one year ago that the Club announced their naming donation to the Center!

The evening was highlighted by the surprise presentation of Community Paul Harris Fellow Awards to Tom Benson, Chairman of the Board of the National Comedy Center and to Journey Gunderson, the Executive Director of the NCC and the Lucy Desi Center.

Past Community Paul Harris Fellows include: Daniel Bratton, George and Jane Campbell, David Carnahan, Stan Lundine, Roger Tory Peterson, Gary Lynn, and Dennis Webster to name a few.

Greg Jones, Foundation Chairman of the local club announced the recipient of the 255th Paul Harris Fellow in the usual secretive manner by telling the group the recipient is a lifelong resident of Jamestown and a graduate of Jamestown High School. To help fund college costs at Jamestown Community College, this person got up in the middle of the night to start work at 4AM loading UPS trucks in Falconer before attending class.

In 2002, this person joined many area residents in shaving their heads to raise funds in support of Tom Buttafaro’s Youth Basketball Program at the YMCA. At that point, Jones revealed the recipient to be Tom Benson, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Comedy Center.

It is for his dedication, work and leadership in bringing the Comedy Center to life in Jamestown, NY, that the Club honored Benson with his Paul Harris Fellow.

Tom Benson is a 1975 graduate of Jamestown Community College and received its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1992. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 1977and became a Certified Public Accountant in New York State in 1979, a Certified Forensic Financial Analyst (CFFA) in 2005, a Certified Valuation Analyst (CFA) in 2006 and a Certified Merger and Acquisition Professional (CMAP) in 2009.

Tom has seventeen years of extensive and varied public accounting experience including twelve as a partner with Buffamante, Whipple, Buttafaro, PC from 1982 through 1994. He founded the Vineyard Group, LLC in 2004, after gaining ten years of valuable hands-on experience in key operating positions with manufacturing firms both domestic and international. However, his favorite job of all time was being coach of the Little Hoopers at the YMCA.

Tom’s single greatest achievement remains persuading Sue to say yes to his marriage proposal. They have three wonderful daughters and sons-in-law, two grandsons and twins – a grandson and granddaughter due in January.

The evening’s second surprise Community Service Paul Harris Fellow was awarded to Journey Gunderson, the Executive Director of the NCC and the Lucy Desi Center. Again Foundation Chairman Jones gave hints of the award recipient without naming her. He referred to first meeting the recipient when she was sitting in his exam chair (Jones is a retired optometrist) and he asked her that age old question, “Which is better one or two?” Her immediate answer was correct, “neither - they are both the same”. Based on that rapid, correct answer he knew this young lady would end up doing something special in life. Interestingly when asked by her parents, Bob and Wendy, what she wanted to be when she grew up her answer was “either a doctor or a cat”.  Fortunately for the Jamestown community she became neither a doctor nor a cat, but rather became the Executive Director of the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, and the National Comedy Center.

Ms. Gunderson, who is a graduate of Bemus Point Central School, continued her education at Ithaca College where she obtained her degree in communications and sports media, magna cum laude. At Ithaca College she was on the volleyball team, named a NCAA tournament participant student athlete and was on the Ithaca athletic advisory council. Somewhere along this path she also placed second in the regional surfing contest of Montauk Long Island. Over a five year plus time frame, Journey held several management positions at the Women’s Sports Foundation before returning home. Journey is married to Jason Michael Toczydlowski and they are the proud parents of two boys Oscar and August.

To become a reality and a success the National Comedy Center needed its Tom Benson but it equally needed its Journey Gunderson. Journey is the face of the NCC and the Lucy Desi Center, and is equally comfortable meeting with big name entertainers such as Dan Aykroyd and gaining his support for the Center well as meeting with comics and their agents enticing them to come to Jamestown and perform at our annual celebration of comedy.

The Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Award represents a $1,000 contribution in each of the recipient’s names to the Rotary Foundation to assist Rotarians all over the world carry out their goals in their six areas of service. When a person is recognized, they are presented a Certificate signed by the Rotary International President and the Chairman of the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation, a lapel pin and a medallion.

There are over 1,300,000 Rotarians worldwide in over 33,000 clubs. The 100 members of the Rotary Club of Jamestown will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding next May. The Club sponsors local community projects as well as international projects and welcomes 2 foreign exchange students to live in the area each year while sponsoring 2 students to travel and study abroad each year.

Rotarians the world over work hard every day to fulfill their foundation’s six avenues of service which are:

The foundations six areas of service are:

•             Peace and conflict prevention/resolution.
•             Disease prevention and treatment.
•             Water and sanitation.
•             Maternal and child health.
•             Basic education and literacy.
•             Economic and community development.

Jones spoke to the success of one of those programs specifically.

In 1988, members of the Rotary Club of Jamestown reached into their wallets and pulled out in today’s dollars over $117,000 to support the new Rotary International program to eliminate polio in the world. It was called Polio Plus and at that time it was just Rotary against Polio.

After 30 years of bold action, historic achievements, and sometimes discouraging setbacks, Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have nearly brought polio to an end. The other partners of the GPEI are the World Health Organization, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The results have been monumental. Thirty years ago, the paralyzing disease affected 350,000 children in one year. Because of massive vaccination campaigns around the world, cases have dropped more than 99.9 percent, to only 20 reported so far this year. Polio, which was endemic in 125 countries in 1988, now remains so in just three: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. More than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated, and more than $14 billion has been invested in the fight to eradicate the disease worldwide. Rotary has also committed to raising an additional $50 million a year over a three-year period for eradication activities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match up to that amount 2-to-1, which could bring the total as high as $450 million.
Left to right: Greg, Katie, Journey, Tom and Joelle.
Katie pins Tom as a new Paul Harris Fellow while Joelle looks on.
Greg presents Journey with her Paul Harris Fellow certificate.