It is hard to imagine a University of Washington dental school graduate and member of Rotary International would meet three other alumni in his Utah community through a worldwide organization that comprises of about 34,000 clubs.
That’s what happened for Wally Brown ’63, ’73.
Through their local Rotary clubs near Salt Lake City, and their common goal of serving as district governor for the organization, Brown was able to meet Gene Banks ’72, a business school graduate, Fred Berthrong ’72, a student in the nuclear engineering program, and Jerry Summerhays ’72, who was behind him in dental school.
“It was just another way for us to get acquainted,” Brown said. “We had a lot of interesting experiences to exchange. ‘What were you doing there Fred?’ ‘What were you doing Wally?’ It’s another fun thing that brings us together.”
Brown first met Summerhays in dental school between 1958-63. Summerhays was in the undergraduate dental program and Brown spent some time as a teaching assistant for one of Summerhays’ classes.
After school, they went their ways; Brown went back to Salt Lake City and got involved in Rotary, and Summerhays pursued his specialty practice in public health service in San Francisco.
It wasn’t until 1990, when Summerhays moved to Utah and was invited to join Rotary club, that he and Brown reunited.
“It was a fortunate coincidence because that relationship opened up a communication for a relationship,” Summerhays said. “[Now] we are the best of friends.”
Eugene Banks came into Brown’s life more directly through Rotary. Banks worked as a general manager for Merrill Lynch in downtown Salt Lake City and would attend the local Rotary meetings for the Sugar House neighborhood.
Banks eventually moved into Brown’s neighborhood, and both men and their wives became good friends.
“[Gene] was very busy and wouldn’t sometimes be able to attend the downtown city club so he would come to Sugar Town,” Brown said. “Our wives became well-acquainted and just talk and we saw each other a lot. I don’t know what the specific thing was but somewhere along the way we realized we had been there at the same time.”
Fred Berthrong was the last thread to a string of similarities between these four men.
Brown, after serving as district governor for his Rotary district, found himself on the nomination committee for future district governors. Berthrong, an active member of his Rotary club in Logan, north of Sugar House, was a nominee for the upcoming district governor position.
Berthrong had moved to Utah at the end of the 1960s after finding the Mormon Church and serving in the navy. He got involved in Rotary and was nominated for district governor for the 2007-2008 year.
“It was kind of an interesting unfolding of coincidences,” Berthrong said, who got to know Brown closely throughout his term as district governor.
Education came up and Brown and Berthrong found the commonality of University of Washington. Berthrong said he always had good feelings for Brown and considers him to be like a brother.
“Once you get over that ‘aha’ experience, it’s not something you dwell on,” Berthrong said. “But it comes up in conversation every once in a while.”
Summerhays, who will work as district governor in the 2012-13 year, Brown, Banks and Berthrong have acted as constant support for him.
Brought together by their humanitarian work, and coincidentally tied to the University of Washington, these four men have become lifetime friends.
“When you think of going to Ecuador or somewhere else, who do you think of?” said Summerhays. “I call Gene, I call Fred and Wally. Everyone one of these guys…they help me.”
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
Fred Berthrong is currently in Chile with his wife, doing humanitarian work through Rotary.
Jerry Summerhays will spend the next year serving his term as a Rotary district governor.
Gene Banks, recently, has spent time travelling back and forth from Hawaii. He will continue to work with his local Rotary club to help others.
Wally Brown is currently serving on a Rotarian mission in East Africa. In March, he received a Presidential Volunteer Service Award by ShelterBox USA and President Barack Obama for his work in 2011 to provide shelter and warmth to those suffering from disasters all around the world.
–Mary Jean Spadafora