Photography by Kathy Wagner
In the four years Pat Kemmer has been event chairman, the Chilly Open has gone through major transformations.
First, it moved to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Now, in 2013, it’s changing its sponsor and its name.
What hasn’t changed is the purpose of the “open,” organized and coordinated by the Sunrise Rotary Club of Westerville: raising thousands of dollars to help a dozen organizations or programs in and around Westerville, in central Ohio and even in a couple of foreign countries.
After a modest beginning on the grounds of the Anheuser-Busch brewery 17 years ago, the open has become a major event. Organizers expect to top the $2 million overall mark this year. The Chilly Open has become one of the biggest one-day Rotary charity drives in the U.S., Kemmer notes proudly.
Initially, it was the Wendy’s Chili Open, named after its primary sponsor, and was staged the first weekend of February as a sort of pitch-and-putt golf outing – usually on frozen turf, if not ice and snow. That weekend remains the designated time for the event.
Wendy’s dropped out as sponsor for 2013; from this year on, the event will be known as the Chilly Open, Presented by Kroger, which is itself a strong booster of the zoo. That has made for a comparatively easy transition, says Kemmer, since the event itself will change little.
That’s better than could be said for the transition to the zoo four years ago. All the club’s members, who now number 95, are involved on a dozen committees that handle all sorts of matters, from lining up restaurants to serve patrons to entertainment, from sponsors to assigning 300 volunteers event day. The club is the leader of every aspect of the open, though it shares proceeds with others that play major roles.
Kemmer calls the burdens of the move “huge” in terms of time spent and logistics necessary. “We had to change every process,” he notes.
Golf, for example, is at Safari Country Club, the zoo’s neighboring cousin, and is handled by Dublin AM Rotary, which keeps proceeds from it for its own programs.
So how did it go in the first go round at the zoo? “It came off smooth as silk,” despite a 14-inch snowfall that nearly crippled travel to and around in the Columbus area, Kemmer says. Only one of 22 restaurants was unable to make the show, which drew a surprisingly robust crowd of 2,400.
“We knew at that moment that this move was for the best,” Kemmer says. The turnout despite the severe weather proved that “because of the enormous interest in the zoo, we knew it would grow,” he adds.
And it certainly has, with attendance going up each year. Turnout this year is expected to exceed 3,500, and backers anticipate the event will net about $250,000, a 25 percent jump from 2012. That will push total collections, now at $1.9 million, well past the $2 million milestone.
The club’s foundation determines where all proceeds go, but it doesn’t disclose amounts recipients get. Some proceeds go to large organizations such as the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Westerville Area Resource Ministry, Mt. Carmel St. Ann’s for neo-natal care, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Flying Horse Farms and Buckeye Ranch. The club’s foundation gets a share, too, for its own use. Some benefactors in the Westerville area include Westerville Special Olympics, Leadership Westerville, Challenge Day, anti-bullying programs in high schools and the Elementary School Leadership Summit. Then there are the international beneficiaries, which include a malnutrition clinic in Honduras and an orphanage in Mexico.
Kemmer got involved a year after he joined the club, served as event co-chairman for three years and agreed to become chairman “in a weak moment,” he says with a laugh. It’s a team effort, of course – “All members are on deck,” he says, and help carry the load. One key to the event’s success is finding sponsors, who pay $500 to $25,000 and in turn receive free advertising and ticket allotments based on their contribution.
Kemmer, project manager at Franklin University, has leeway from his job – “an understanding employer,” he says – to devote countless hours to the open. Planning begins in July, but the showdown begins a couple months ahead of the event with frequent committee meetings. Then, “From two weeks out, that’s about my life,” he says.
When it’s over, he looks forward to “weekends when I can do some things I want to do.”
He’s being assisted by Pat Knott, who will become Open chairman again when Kemmer gives it up and moves up to become club president in mid-2014. As all club members do, he will continue working on the outing. He finds it enjoyable because “we get to go to the zoo a lot.” And “It’s a true family affair now.”
Knott, also a former club president, has told Kemmer that being club president is easier than being Open chairman. “I hope he’s not lying to me,” Kemmer jokes as he discusses the changeover.
The chairman has to find his successor. How did he convince Knott to do the job again? “I got him in a weak moment,” he says in a less-than-serious tone.
Duane St. Clair is a contributing editor. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presented by Kroger
Location: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Date: Feb. 2
Time: Noon to 5 p.m.
Cost: $40 per person ($35 in advance); zoo members get $5 discount per ticket, children 12 and under free. Zoo admission included for the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking is $5.
Highlights: Free food served by 30 restaurants in Water’s Edge Events Park; daylong entertainment by the Debits; many childen’s activities; raffles, including $5,000 for groceries for a year from Kroger; auctions, including behind-the-scenes tour with Jack Hanna, zoo director emeritus, as well as collectible items, trips, event tickets and more.
The Polar Bear Open Location: Safari Golf Club Date: Feb. 2 Time: 8 a.m. to noon. Cost: $80, including golf and Chilly Open admission