Lakewood Ranch Herald

Ranch Rotary ready to uncork Winefest

With only weeks until the Suncoast Winefestival at the Sarasota Polo Club, members of the Lakewood Ranch Rotary met recently at the Lakewood Ranch Country Club to finalize details of the event.

The sixth-annual Winefestival is slated for Nov. 10.

"We’re in the last stages," said Bill Rempe, club president. "We start about one week after the last one and we prepare right up to the minute we open the gates."

Everything seemed to be in place; but there were still a few administrative duties to be done and last-minute sponsors to be secured. Details, details, and more details, Rempe said.

"It’s like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade," he said. "It requires everyone in the club to be involved." Rotary Club was started more than 100 years ago by Paul Harris, and a club was formed in Lakewood Ranch in 2001, according to Rempe. In six years it has grown to more than 75 members, and "exemplifies" the club’s motto, "service above self," he said.

"Rotary is the opportunity to work with fellow Rotarians and have a common goal to serve our community and work to help those less fortunate," Rempe said.

The idea for the Suncoast Winefestival was conceived by one of the early members, said Stella Olinger, public relations chair for the event. The club had tried other fundraising efforts that proved not quite as successful.

"It’s been fine-tuned and refined," Olinger said. "It’s great when you see it all come together. It’s been a huge success."

Last year’s Winefestival netted more than $135,000, according to Denise Hearn, a past club president and chair for the event. In the last five years the event has generated more than $416,000.

"It gives us the chance to give back to the community and Rotary projects worldwide," said Hearn.

The money has helped purchase a transport van, bookshelves and computers for charities like Meals on Wheels Plus, S.M.A.R.T., the Women’s Resource Center of Manatee County, the Manatee County Food Bank, and the Florida Blood Center.

But the Lakewood Ranch Rotary isn’t just about the Winefestival, said Olinger. Locally the Lakewood Ranch Rotary raises money through an annual golf tournament, collects food for the Manatee County food pantry, donates dictionaries to third graders, collects and distributes toys for children and toiletries for seniors through its Christmas "Shoe Box" program, and cleans a two-mile stretch of Lorraine Roadas part of Manatee County’s "Adopt-A-Road" program.

Through the Rotary’s Ambassadorial Scholar program, the Lakewood Ranch club helped Lei Ling, a 31-year-old woman, fulfill her dream of studying at the Ringling School of Art, according to Hearn. And in August, they opened their homes and hearts to help an 18-month old Belize boy get the medical care he needed to repair a hole in his heart, she added.

"When he left he could run," said Hearn, who provided a home for the boy and his aunt through the procedure. "He didn’t know he could run. Because of his heart, he had never run before."

Rotary members have helped build a Habitat for Humanity House, and have sent Shelter Boxes to aid people in countries affected by natural disasters. Internationally, they are continuing to eradicate polio worldwide, a project Rotary International has been involved in since 1979, and are helping provide clean drinking water for third world countries.

"It’s a very powerful organization," said Olinger. "Our intent is to make a difference. We don’t just want our name on the wall."

If you go

The Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club meets every Thursday at noon at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. For more information, call 870-0002, or visit their Web site at

For information about the 6th annual Suncoast Winefestival, visit