John Ockenfels and Peter Teahen flew around the world in a single-engine airplane and lived to tell about it, but perhaps what is more interesting than their journey — although that, too, is quite the story — is the cause that spurred their flight, because it is one that Rotary has continued to fight for nearly four decades.
Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years, according to the national organization’s website. Ockenfels and Teahen, who are both lifelong Rotarians, made polio eradication the benefactor of their flight around the world, which lasted from May 5 to July 30 of this year.
During the Newton Rotary Club’s meeting on Sept. 19, Ockenfels shared his experience piloting a 1977 Cessna T210M single-engine airplane around the world with his cousin-in-law as they raised money for and spread awareness about polio eradication. The flight raised more than $1 million to end polio.
Jamie Grout, president of the Newton Rotary, said, “Polio eradication has been a major emphasis of Rotary International since the late 1980s. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Rotary and provides a 2-to-1 match for each dollar raised by Rotary.” So a $1 donation becomes a $3 donation.
To show their support for the Flight to End Polio, the Newton Rotary presented Ockenfels with a $1,000 donation towards polio eradication, which will become a $3,000 donation. The check would end up going to the Rotary District 6000′s Humanitarian/Educational Foundation, which is a 501(c)3.
Looking back on his experience, Ockenfels recalled a moment on their journey where they were interviewed by the press. Teahen was asked if he still had hope that he will see the end of polio in his lifetime after everything he had seen in places like Karachi, Pakistan. Teahen paused before answering.
“No, I don’t,” Teahen said.
From that point there was an immediate response from the room, the reporters perked up and so had Ockenfels and the other Rotarians. Teahen spoke again.
“No, I don’t have hope. I believe. I firmly believe that in the very near future we will see the end of polio in the world. You’re going to have to start telling folks they need to believe, not just have hope. Hope is a wish. Hope is something you think might maybe happen or somebody else is going to do.
“If you believe, you’re fully invested.”
When the two pilots went to a district conference at the next stop in India, they told the same story about their journey thus far and started talking about believing. Soon enough, Ockenfels said the people in the room stood up and began chanting, “We believe! We believe!”
Ockenfels said, “That is infectious. And it really changed our scenario. That became our mantra for real on this trip. We believe we will end polio.”