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Gordon Shurtleff takes Rotary on the road

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By Kathy Day

Call Gordon Shurtleff a collector, a clown, a gardener and a Rotarian and you’d be right on all counts.

It makes the former president of the Torrey Pines (Golden Triangle) club proudest, though, when the Rotary label is applied because being a member of the international organization with the motto “Service Above Self” is in his blood. He lives — and travels — for meetings and has a perfect attendance record over more than 40 years. In fact, by the time this story is in print, he will have visited more than 205 different clubs.

Shurtleff embodies what he says Rotary is all about: “goodwill and friendships and sharing the passion of Rotary.” More than that, he added, it’s about extending the Rotary family and sharing ideas and learning about other clubs and people.

He shares his enthusiasm by bringing in new members and offering ideas on how to make the clubs he visits better.

His most recent stops were on his way Santa Rosa to spend the holidays with family and friends where he and his wife Penny lived for 24 years. One of the first women to join Rotary in 1987 and now a member of the La Jolla Rotary who recently organized a League House holiday gathering, she met Shurtleff through friends in 1969 when her son Anthony was 7. Today her husband speaks of him as any proud papa would his own son.

Listening to him talk about his life and his loves, one can relate to his success in business. From the days learning the temporary staffing business from his father in New Jersey to his successful launch of Liberty Staffing in Santa Rosa with Penny, his job was making contacts and friends and helping others.

He and Penny live in Mount La Jolla East, surrounded by a garden of roses, succulents and ferns that he lovingly tends.

His home is a veritable collectors’ library with one room and adjoining sunroom full of everything from original photos of Marilyn Monroe and Bob Hope — personally autographed to “Gordon Shirtless” — to thousands of marbles (including some listed in a current Morphy’s Auctions catalog). There’s also memorabilia from annual fishing trips with the eight “Jersey Boys” who have been friends for more than 50 years.

“I’m a nostalgia freak,” he proclaims proudly, opening a sliding door to show off an airbrushed image of the original Coca-Cola logo.

Look around and you’ll see original cartoons done by Charles “Sparky” Shultz, a friend from the Santa Rosa days, and vintage glass his mother collected. Then there are Murano glass clowns and photos of his days as one of the Distinguished Clowns of Santa Rosa.

“We were business people, doctors and lawyers,” he said, laughing. “I was the one with the bulbous red nose that one little boy twisted until my own nose was bloodied.”

You understand more about his love of Rotary when he takes you into his garage — the Banner Room — with its immaculate checkerboard floor and carefully hung Rotary banners. He can instantly point to the one from his first club in Edison, N.J., and to one from Burbank, which was the one that marked his personal goal of visiting 200 clubs.

This accomplishment earned him the “Up Front” feature for this month in “The Rotarian,” the organization’s members’ magazine. In it, he says, each club has its own personality. “I love learning about each club.”

Now, he says, it’s on to 250. (Along the way, he’s been in 10 states and four countries and 52 of the 62 clubs in San Diego’s District 5340.)

His fellow members can’t say enough good things about him.

Don Yeckel, another past-president of the Torrey Pines club, said, “Gordon’s done anything but mellow with age. Over the past 27 years I have interacted with countless Rotarians in club, district and international activities. I have never known anyone as consistently enthusiastic about Rotary as Gordon Shurtleff. He is one-of-a-kind. I am a better Rotarian for having known him.”

— Rotarian Rob Weinberg of Rancho Bernardo contributed to this story.

If you go

■ Who: Gordon Shurtleff, Rotarian

■ What: Join him at a meeting of the Torrey Pines

(La Jolla) Rotary Club

■ When: Noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays

■ Where: Rock Bottom Brewery, 8980 Villa La Jolla Drive

■ Website: torreypinesrotary.org