It gives Niagara Children's Centre great pleasure to present this year’s Dr. William J. Orr Tribute Award to the Rotary Club of Welland.   The Selection Committee unanimously agreed that the Rotary Club of Welland embodies the full spirit of the Dr. Orr Tribute Award.  The committee felt it was particularly fitting to recognize your Club as part of your Centennial celebrations and close to 100 years of supporting children with special needs.

Dr. Orr has a special place in the Centre’s history. A local physician, Dr. Orr was instrumental in establishing the Centre.  Dr. Orr was also a Rotarian for over 60 years. He unselfishly gave of himself, volunteering at clinics before the Centre was established, while relentlessly pursuing his dream of a Children’s Treatment centre for Niagara, which was fulfilled in 1964.  Dr. Orr became the founding Chairman and the Centre’s first Medical Director. He continued to serve as the Chair until 1970. Dr. Orr served as Medical Director for the next 30 years until 1994. Throughout his 30 years as Medical Director, Dr. Orr did not accept a salary.   In 2014, to commemorate the Centre’s 50th anniversary, the Board of Directors approved the introduction of the Dr. William J. Orr Tribute Award, to honour the amazing legacy of Dr. Orr.   This prestigious award recognizes outstanding dedication to supporting the mission and vision of Niagara Children’s Centre and positively impacting the quality of life of children and youth with disabilities, in the Niagara Region.  Dr. Orr passed away in March of 2018, at the age of 97.  

In your 100 years of service, the Rotary Club of Welland has had a special focus on improving the lives of children with disabilities and supporting their families. That support includes not only Niagara Children’s Centre since our inception in the 60’s, but many years spent supporting Easter Seals Ontario and its Camp Lakewood for children with disabilities. 

As early as 1924, Welland Rotary, together with the Port Colborne Lions Club arranged for a Toronto doctor to come to the Region for an open clinic for who were then referred to as “crippled children”.  Between 1931 and 1954, members sponsored 27 free clinics for “crippled” children, including one in 1952 for 48 children.

In 1946 the Club held a Christmas party for families that over 200 people attended. These social events provided an opportunity for families with children with disabilities to connect with each other and form lasting friendships. 

The Club was a dedicated supporter of Easter Seals Ontario dating back as early as 1940, making several donations and contributing over $10,000 towards the opening of Camp Lakewood in Niagara in the 50’s and an additional $10,000 in the late 90’s to keep it operational. 

Prior to Camp Lakewood’s opening, Welland Rotarians sent up to 18 children to the Easter Seals’ Camp Woodenden in London for a 3 week camp experience.

Camp Lakewood, located in Wainfleet was a focal point for Welland Rotary’s volunteer activities and fundraising.  Children with disabilities from across Niagara were able to attend a camp in their own community, which promoted important friendships between peers and provided the experience of a fun summer tradition. Camp Lakewood operated from 1948 to 2001.

In the late 1950s, the Welland Rotary Club participated on a committee established to investigate the feasibility of a full-fledged Crippled Children’s Centre for Niagara.  The committee recommended that a full five-day program be initiated to provide educational opportunities and therapeutic treatment. In 1964, the Niagara Peninsula Crippled Children’s Society was incorporated, chaired by Dr. Orr.  The Society’s Charter members were Dr. Orr, the May Court Club, and the Rotary Clubs of St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls.  A large campaign began to raise funds to operate a new Centre. A site for the Centre was procured and a capital campaign was initiated with a $100,000 goal to be raised by the Niagara community.  The Rotary Club of Welland contributed $12,500 to this campaign and another $52,236 was contributed between 1967 and 1982 towards other capital improvements. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the club financially supported a music program at the Centre providing children with disabilities access to instruments and musical experiences.  

In 1989, over $5,000 was donated to purchase automatic entrance doors in memory of former Centre Board chair and Welland Rotarian Les Ruttle. This donation honoured the strong relationship between the Centre and Club while improving building accessibility.  

In 1992, the club raised $50,000 for the Centre as part of a 5 year-long capital campaign to support our building expansion. Between 2000-2020, another $53,000 was raised to support various projects, equipment and therapy programs. This has allowed our clients – children across Niagara – to access the tools and therapies they need to shine. 

Last year, our Centre served over 5800 children, including 880 from Welland and your Club’s impact is felt every day.  Whether it’s a communication device to trial to ensure that a child has the best option to suit their communication needs, or a specialized gym and treadmill for pediatric use that allows a child to slowly and steadily strengthen their body, or special lifts for the pool and medical clinic that allow a child to participate more easily and safely. Each donation has strengthened our ability to meet our mission of helping children and youth reach their full potential.

The relationship between Niagara Children’s Centre and Rotary Club of Welland is deeply imbedded in both organizations and goes well beyond financial support.  Welland Rotarians have served on our Board of Directors and Senior Leadership including:

  • Board Chairs (Les Ruttle, Vaino Raun, Vic Kerschl, Ken Janzen and Don Thorpe)
  • Board members (Peter McDowell)
  • CEO (Tim Wright)

Three of your members- Vic, Ken and Don are currently serving on our Board.

In 2014, you joined us as one of our founding members to celebrate our Centre’s 50th anniversary, bringing together Rotarians from across Niagara, past and present to connect with current and former clients and celebrate all of our incredible accomplishments for children with disabilities. 

Our special partnership often includes regular visits to the Centre for your Club meetings and tours – when we’re not experiencing a global pandemic of course – and having Centre families attend Rotary meetings to share their stories. 

Earlier this year you received Centre parent and last year’s Dr. Orr Award recipient Sara Pot with open arms at a meeting to learn more about her family’s journey with the Centre and how vital your community support has been. 

You have been our supporters, volunteers, caring community members and most importantly our friends.  Your Club’s history of involvement demonstrates you are truly deserving of the Dr. Orr Tribute Award in recognition of your outstanding dedication to our Centre and the positive impact you have made on the quality of life of children and youth with disabilities, living in Niagara for almost 100 years.

Congratulations and thank you.  It is now my pleasure to formally and virtually present the award to President Graham and all Club members.