Paving the way: Nictaux woman pioneers as first female Rotarian in the region

Heather Killen
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Dianne Hankinson-LeGard holds the distinction of being the first female president of the Middleton club, serving from 1996 to 1997and has earned the distinctions of past international chair, and is a Paul Harris Fellow.

This year marks the 25 anniversary of the first female Rotarian in this district.

Dianne Hankinson-LeGard, of Nictaux, was the first woman to sign up in District 7820, an area that covers Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador and the French islands of Saint Pierre & Miquelon.

While today it seems obvious that a community service club with a motto of Service Above Self should be open to women, Hankinson-LeGard says that when she first signed up in January 1989, a few members were not keen on the idea of including women among their ranks.

“One man asked me who I thought I was,” she said. “He told me it was a men’s club. Another man was so angry that he got up and left and never came back.”

In her previous career, Hankinson-LeGard was an officer in the armed forces, joining as a WREN and serving for 13 years, so she wasn’t inclined to back down from a fight.

In addition to her military career, she had earned two university degrees—from St. Mary’s and Acadia-- and was not easily dismissed.

The idea of admitting women into Rotary International was first debated in 1976 when a club in California admitted three women. The controversy generated by this move caused Rotary International to revoke the club’s charter after it refused to remove the women from its ranks.

An appeal was made to the United States Supreme Court and the decision to permit women to join Rotary was upheld. Still, the idea that females could join in this district wasn’t widely accepted until 1989.

At that time Hankinson-LeGard said she was serving as the executive manager of the Annapolis Valley Affiliated Boards of Trade, a regional business association that represented 500 members of BoTs from Windsor through Yarmouth.

She said she first heard about the Rotary Club business meetings through her assistant and decided to get involved. She joined the club almost as soon as it became open to women.

She added that a few of the members were very supportive of her during the first few years, but overall it took time to be generally accepted. Another woman who signed up in this district around the same, quit under pressure from the male members.

“When I know I’m right, I stand my ground,” she said. “I said I am the executive manager of the AVABT, why shouldn’t I have a voice in Rotary?”

She maintained her membership through the first years and holds the distinction of being the first female president of the Middleton club, serving from 1996 to 1997.  Over this 25-year membership, she also earned the distinctions of past international chair, and is a Paul Harris Fellow. Greg Coldwell, district governor, formerly recognized Hankinson-LeGard as the district’s first female Rotarian.

“On Jan. 11, 1989, Dianne Hankinson-LeGard was inducted into the membership of the Rotary Club of Middleton, thereby becoming the first female member of the Rotary in District 7820. Since that day… women have served in every capacity at the club and district level, including District Governor,” he wrote.

 “I invite all District 7820 Rotarians to join me in celebration of the engagement of women in the fellowship of our clubs and our district. They truly light up Rotary.”

For more information on the Rotary Club and its community projects, visit http://www.rotaryclubofmiddleton.com

 

Organizations: Rotary International, Rotary Club of Middleton, Annapolis Valley Affiliated Boards of Trade United States Supreme Court

Geographic location: California, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia Prince Edward Island French islands Windsor

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