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Rotary Club of Bay City
International Night

International Night Tops Rotary Year

by Rob Clark

Rob Clark
Joined 2000
President 2007
Cuisine from around the world; buckets of fun; live entertainment; and all the Rotary camaraderie that a person can handle in one night. It's all wrapped into one glorious evening hosted by the Rotary Club of Bay City each October. It's called International Night.

Started in 1993 as a modest fund raiser for the club, International Night has turned into a community event not to be missed. Today, hundreds of club members and local guests attend the event and help the club raise more than $30,000 in one night for its major projects.

In recent years, the annual event has been held at the DoubleTree Hotel & Conference Center in Downtown Bay City. The evening begins with a social hour, during which time guests are treated to live entertainment, sample top-notch wine and beer from around the world, and have a chance to bid on nearly 200 silent auction items. Each year a new theme is selected for the event. Past themes have included "The World is your Canvas", "Rotary's Wide World of Sports", "Sing For Your Supper", and "Happy 100th Birthday Rotary!" The first International Night event was held at Bay Valley Hotel & Resort in Frankenlust Township. The fund raiser was later moved to Saginaw Valley State University. In each case, the evening's events were highlighted by a silent auction, various raffles, and delicious international cuisine. The focus has always been on the food.

In the early years of the event, librarians working for the Bay County Library System were charged with researching different foods from four countries or regions of the globe. In 1993, for example, the featured food was native to Hawaii, Alaska, Israel and Switzerland. The Alaskan menu included crab puffs, Yukon Jack beef, and goose with wild blueberry sauce. From Hawaii came smoked pork with guava sauce, mahi mahi with pineapple butter, and lime pie. Lox with cracked olives and caviar topped the selections from Israel, and Swiss steak, Swiss cheese fondue and Swedish meatballs made up the menu from Switzerland. In recent years, the club has relied on the on-site chefs to come up with a smorgasbord of goodies. A few years ago, the chefs hoisted the flags of New Zealand, Sweden, France and Brazil to find inspiration for the menu. The cuisine included braised lamb shanks, salmon with pickled cucumbers, coq au vin, and churrasco, a carved flank steak much like barbecue. Although fun, food, and follies rule the evening, the underlying purpose of the event has always been to raise money. In the early days, around $10,000 was raised for charities like Camp Rotary, Catholic Family Services, the Literacy Council of Bay County, YWCA Camp Meadows, and more. Today, the event raises between $30,000 and $35,000 annually.

During the past 10 years, money raised at International Night has funded club's major projects, which are commitments to pledge up to $250,000 over 5 years for a major community project. The first major project was the Young Adult Outreach Librarian Program of the Bay County Library System. The second 5-year project was a commitment to fund two Bay City beautification projects. First on the list was a $100,000 pledge to the Bay City Downtown Development Authority to create at least two pocket parks in the downtown area. [The club was actually able to fund three such parks.] The parks include historical vignettes, glass-etched images mounted on metal kiosks, showing how the land near the park looked 100 years ago, along with some background information. The remainder of the money, $150,000, was donated to help with renovations and landscaping of the historic Pere Marquette Railroad Depot.

Much of the money raised at International Night comes from the sale of items in the silent and live auctions. Items on the auction block in the past have included tickets to Michigan or Michigan State football games, a stay at a condo on Grand Cayman Island, and various hotel stays and golf packages. A significant portion of the money raised comes from corporate and patron sponsorships of the event. Sponsorship opportunities range from $175 to $5,000 and include recognition at the event and tickets for the evening program.