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The new Rotary president also leaves club amid the controversy over a podcast episode

PMG FILE PHOTO - Doris Wehler resigned from her honorary membership with the Rotary Club of Wilsonville.

Rotary Club of Wilsonville leadership asked for honorary member Doris Wehler's resignation over comments she made in a recent podcast with former state representative Matt Wingard, and Wehler agreed to resign.

During the podcast, Wehler, who also resigned from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District Long Range Planning Committee, posited that some rioters should be killed, asked why Spanish is taught in schools and wondered "So how do we get the Black community to stop having babies that have no fathers?", among other incendiary comments during the podcast.

"For me personally I've had nothing but positive exchanges with her over the past 25 years," Rotary member Laura Lajoie Bishop said. "I feel sad that she's having to face the struggles from comments she made in the podcast. But they were her words."

Rotary member Curt Kipp said club leadership did not ask members to vote on what action the club should take prior to the decision to ask Wehler to resign.

"We did not want to put members in a position of voting up or down," he said. "It's too sensitive of a situation."

Amidst this controversy, Joseph Schwab, who took over as president of the club July 1, decided to leave the club. The Rotary hasn't identified his replacement.

Schwab said he listened to over an hour of the podcast. After that, he decided "this was not the kind of club I wanted to be a part of if we had members like this. I didn't wish to be a part of it and I resigned."

However, Schwab commended the club's decision to ask for Wehler's resignation and is considering rejoining.

"I've been pondering that (whether to rejoin the club) and some very fine people in the club said 'please come back' and in truth I am very inclined to do that," he said.

Wehler, who received the Rotary's 2003 First Citizen award given to a community volunteer, was named an honorary member after her husband Walt Wehler died in 2009. Doris was not a member before that but volunteered with the club as a Rotary spouse.

Lajoie Bishop said Doris was involved in certain fundraising efforts and was a key organizer in the club's Through A Child's Eyes event (providing an occasion for adults in custody and their children to spend time together) until last year, but she wasn't an active service member.

"Her presence will certainly be missed in some of the fundraising and service projects that we do in the Rotary but as an (honorary) member she wasn't involved in most of our service projects," Lajoie Bishop said.

Lajoie Bishop felt that Doris's statements don't define her.

""I think her words were hurtful," Lajoie Bishop said. "I think the words she used were bad but in my mind it doesn't make her a bad person."

At the same time, all Rotary members endorsed the club's decision to affirm the Rotary International Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement, which was passed in 2019. The statement reads: "As a global network that strives to build a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change, Rotary values diversity and celebrates the contributions of people of all backgrounds, regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Rotary will cultivate a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in which people from underrepresented groups have greater opportunities to participate as members and leaders."

Kipp said he felt that the Rotary was welcoming to all walks of life but acknowledged that the club is somewhat homogenous and that it will take steps to address this issue. He also mentioned that it's bringing forward a number of speakers to discuss topics related to diversity.

"I do feel like we've been welcoming but at the same time you can judge by our outcomes and the outcome tells us we need to make a stronger effort to understand these issues and to have it reflected in the ranks of the membership," Kipp said.

Like for many organizations across the world, Kipp noted that the Rotary has had a rough year. It has felt the economic impact of the downturn and has been severely limited in terms of the services it can offer as well as fundraising efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The podcast controversy added to the tumult.

"It's a very difficult time for us," he said.

However, Kipp added: "But we truly are committed to our purpose of service and fellowship and are determined to keep going through this rough spot until we get to calmer waters and push to move forward. In the meantime we're reaching out to the community to let them know what we're about."

Pamplin Media Group was unable to reach Wehler prior to publication.


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