History of Daybreak

“In the Beginning”—

Daybreak was a club that originated through the Cedar Rapids West Rotary, a club that approved a vision plan for the creation of a fifth Rotary Club in the Cedar Rapids metro area. This new club was to be one of the top priorities of President Elect, Ken Kolek. Ken approached the District 5970 Governor with application and concept for permission to launch a new club in the District. He was provided the requisite permission and appointment as Governor’s Representative for the formation of a new Cedar Rapids area club.

Ken assembled a team intended to direct the creation of this new club. The vision principles were:

  1. A breakfast club of rising young executives with “positive morning attitudes.”
  2. A primary youth focus, with a member-involved emphasis.
  3. A community business, younger “successor-leader” member focus, for a longer Rotary experience.
  4. A country club style of meeting experience.
  5. A younger club who accepted challenges unlike any prior club.
The team members Ken Kolek selected were Jerry Springston, Ken Rieck, Troy Cook, Paul Phelan, and himself, as well as Michael Ament as the first interim president of the new club effort preceding charter night. All members of the committee were from Cedar Rapids West at the time.  
Organizational meetings began in the lower level of Elmcrest Country Club in the fall of 1994. Joining the appointed organizational team were some of the recruited charter members which included Daryl Spivey, Chuck Burgmeier and Marvin Stallman. Twenty-eight (28) members were recognized as new members on charter night ceremonies held at the Collins Plaza Hotel, with President Ken Kolek as emcee.  Gifts were acknowledged from an estimated 20 clubs from around District 5970, including the four other existing Cedar Rapids clubs.
As a closing footnote, the April 1995 event underscored the first-time launch of a Rotary Club comprised of members who were mostly mid-level executives and entrepreneurs. This provided a more youthful, vision-based core of individuals as well as a stronger base from which to draw and grow future club leaders. That vision has been proven over 20 years of accomplishments and the quintessential Daybreak Spirit.

Polk School Memories 

When Daybreak Rotary was founded in 1995, the founding members rallied around a core mission concept:  Help kids, and focus a lot of energy and resources mainly in one worthy spot. With the passionate commitment of first-year President Daryl Spivey, that focus was Polk Elementary School.

Daybreak would serve as the de facto PTA for Polk. Members painted a map on the Polk playground, soon followed by a modern playground set-up as part of the Gearing Up for Kids program. Soon, each classroom also had play-as-learning games and other resources for each grade level. Plus, the Polk library space was soon burgeoning with donated books from Daybreak.
Daybreakers assisted teachers in the classroom and made personal friendships with kids as Daybreak members volunteered countless hours  as math, reading and general tutors.  When Polk Elementary school closed in 2013, more than 50 Daybreakers matched up through Big Brothers big Sisters, a partnership that continues today.

Gearing Up For Kids

Soon after our club’s founding, Daybreakers wasted no time in tackling big projects and engaging the skills and support of other Rotarians. A classic example of that is Gearing Up for Kids, a multi-year, metro-wide project to put new playground equipment on school grounds in the area.

“In 1997 we went to the principals of the area schools and asked them, ‘what can we do to help you?” Daybreak Past President Paul Phelan recalled. “We heard them say, almost unanimously: ‘Help us get new playground equipment for Title I schools.’” What we found out was that those things were usually funded via PTA support.  But in these schools, the PTA groups were pretty small or non-existent.”

Today, you can find bright, modern and safe playgrounds in schools from Taylor, Wilson and Polk, to a pair of elementary schools in Marion. Looking back, Paul Phelan estimates “at least $300 thousand” as a conservative estimate on the total value of equipment and labor for Gearing Up for Kids. He holds up his vintage mug with the Gearing Up logo and smiled. “We got all the clubs in town to work together. We got deserving kids playground equipment that will last for years. What’s not to love about that?!”

Inspiring College Dreams:  Legacy of Learning.

Since the club’s founding in 1995, Daybreak Rotary has held a philosophy of “focused support, bigger impact” for its philanthropic projects. For most of the first 20 years, that focus was Polk Elementary School. The club became the de facto “PTA” for Polk, in large part--supporting classroom programs, recreational activities and equipment/funding needs. Daybreak members also contributed hundreds of volunteer hours per year at Polk.

About 2002, discussions grew about encouraging not only school performance at the elementary level, but encouraging academics beyond high school. That focus led to the formation of the Legacy for Learning program. Study and planning led to the formation of an account with the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation in 2003, and a fundraising campaign that began in earnest that year—and continues to this day.

The program was designed to get young people to think about college and post-high school training while they were still quite young. Students were honored with “Legacy for Learning Awards” at their fifth grade graduation, with a promise of scholarship support after high school graduation. The program also encouraged mentoring and ongoing communication from Daybreak Rotary as well as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. This local non-profit group has long been involved with Daybreak in encouraging adult mentors via “Lunch Buddies” school visits. This involvement has often led to more official “community-based matches” and multi-year support with Legacy for Learning students.
Through Legacy for Learning, seven students have been supported with scholarships so far, beginning in 2014. Since the closing of Polk as a neighborhood elementary school, Daybreak leaders have worked with school faculty at Arthur, Garfield and Johnson STEAM Academy elementary schools, to choose one student per year as Legacy for Learning candidates.

Dave Evans: A Story of Inspiration

Dave Evans had relocated to Cedar Rapids with a young family and a new assignment with his employer, McGladrey & Pullen. Dave was working with a group of young scouts on a field trip exercise in southeastern Minnesota. The country is rugged and the trail challenges abundant. Dave was working with the boys on a routine mound crossing when he lost control of his bike, landing on the back of his neck.  This caused a severe trauma to Dave’s neck and spine that left him immobile. Dave was diagnosed as paralyzed from the neck down. His survival alone could be considered miraculous and an inspiration to others with similar injuries. What followed became even more extraordinary and inspirational. Dave was a relatively new member of the Daybreak Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids. It would have been understandable for Dave or his family to notify Daybreak of his intent to terminate his membership. He didn’t do that. Instead he chooses to retain and sustain his membership. There are no excuses from this man about unfair circumstances, no requests for special consideration. Dave has found ways to remain involved with his family and neighborhood, with his church, vocation and with his faith. He remained involved with community as well through Daybreak Rotary until his passing in 2018.

Remembering Greatness: Jon Cushing

For a young and vibrant club like Daybreak Rotary, the last thing we thought we would have to do is lose a member. But it happened, shockingly, on July 4, 2011. Longtime member and former President, Jon Cushing died in San Diego, California while on a family vacation. It was even more shocking to lose an avid runner and fitness enthusiast such as Jon. He was struck down with a heart attack, just 56 years of age. Jon was the club’s secretary, then as president in 2006-07. Following that year he also served as an assistant governor for District 5970. Beyond that, Jon Cushing was the epitome of Walk the Talk: He was a Lunch Buddy at Polk School, a fixture at Daybreak Day with the Kernels, a tireless worker on Gearing Up playgrounds and our inaugural Duck Race teams.
We fervently believe that the strong, willful spirit of Jon Cushing lives on through Daybreak Rotary. Through cooperative efforts, we dedicated a ball field in October 2012, serving young people in need at the Four Oaks Smith Center: The Jon Cushing Memorial Field. We also created the Jon Cushing Sunshine Fund, providing grants to area organizations who strive to improve the lives of young people. Thousands of kids a year are safer and wiser, learning arts and music, math and science through those grants.