Loretta Butts, Rotary District #5240 Governor, told local Rotarians of her trip to Nigeria to help immunize children as part of the Polio Plus program.

Loretta Butts: Rotary moment comes
in Nigeria during Polio Plus visit

August 08, 2014
Santa Paula News

Loretta Butts had her Rotary moment in Nigeria, when a trip to immunize children against polio put her own safety at risk until a revealing conversation with a Muslim guard at the airport.

Loretta, a member of the Rotary Club of Atascadero and now District #5240 Governor, told Santa Paulans of her experiences at a recent meeting.

“Your new best friend,” is how Rosslyn Ray, Executive Assistant Governor Region 3, introduced Loretta to Santa Paula Rotarians.

A registered principal and independent financial advisor, Loretta, since moving to the Central Coast in 1989 from the San Francisco Bay area, has served as Chair of the San Luis Obispo County Commission on the Status of Women, among other committees.

She was also a founding member of the Friends of the North County Women’s Shelter committee.  

Loretta joined the Rotary Club of Atascadero in 1994 and since then has served on several of the club’s boards and as Treasurer and Rotary International Foundation Chair; she was also instrumental in chartering the Rotary Club of Templeton and served as its Charter President (2001-2003) before returning to her home club in Atascadero in 2005.

Ross said Loretta had the honor of being selected District Rotarian of the Year, is a multiple Paul Harris Fellowship recipient, a Benefactor and a member of the Paul Harris Society. 

A seventh generation Californian, Loretta’s husband, John, is also a Paul Harris Fellow as are other members of her family.  

Loretta admitted although, “I wore all the bling and the badges I was not a Rotarian... “

In 2005, when she returned to the Atascadero club, Loretta said she was asked to visit Nigeria for the Polio Plus Immunization Day.

The program, which strives to eradicate polio worldwide, had been suspended in Nigeria for 18 months due to rumors that the vaccine would sterilize the children 5 and younger the program targets.

Loretta spoke of making the journey with the late Rotarian Otto Austell, a leader in the Polio Plus movement who advised her to visit India instead because of the dangerous conditions in Nigeria.

But Loretta did travel to Nigeria, where Rotarians were introduced at the presidential palace and then to government and religious leaders to receive final sanctions for the immunization program. 

“The first village we came to had no advance notice,” the team would be arriving and they were told, “to leave immediately... “

The volunteers stayed in a heavily guarded compound to protect them from the “criminal element” in the region, but in spite of the challenges Loretta said administering the vaccine to children was an “incredible experience... “

When leaving Nigeria for home, “I was interrogated by an airport guard about immunization... I told him I had never seen polio, I didn’t even know about it as a child” as the disease had been eradicated in the United States.

Loretta’s statement had an unexpected impact: “He lost the bearing of a soldier,” and offered her his hand, an offer in Nigeria that can never be initiated by a woman.  

“He said, ‘thank you so much for being here... ‘ That was when I became a Rotarian, when a Muslin man and a Christian woman had that exchange at the airport... “

The experience, she noted, shows “it’s about us stepping out of that comfortable bubble,” and recognizing that it takes not only money to solve the ills of the world, but also goodwill and friendship.

When Rotarians “see someone with a Rotarian heart” she urged that they ask that person again and again to come to a meeting; Loretta said she had to be persuaded to attend her first meeting.

Loretta gifted Rotary President Chris Wilson with a global paperweight and noted, “Rotary can allow you to do things you only dreamed of... and you can have an impact,” not thought possible. 

Loretta urged all Rotarians who are veterans to attend the upcoming district conference for a special program she created to pay homage to those who displayed ultimate “Service Above Self” through military duty.

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