When Dr. Dan Little of Brookings accepted the position of District Governor nominee for Rotary District 5610, he was looking forward to the two years of extensive training that would prepare him to lead 40 clubs throughout all of South Dakota and parts of Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. That was in 2018.

Fast forward to the first day of his District Governor term, July 1, 2020, and the world looked much different.

“Everything changed in March, when most clubs suspended their meetings for at least a few weeks due to COVID-19. However, now about three quarters of the clubs are back to weekly gatherings, even if they are held virtually. The work of Rotary continues,” said Little.

Rotary International began in 1905 in Chicago, when Paul Harris and three other businessmen started meeting regularly to share ideas and network, “rotating” their meeting locations among their four offices. Now Rotary International membership tops 1.2 million with more than 33,000 clubs in about 200 countries. The organization is divided into 34 zones (Brookings is in Zone 29) and 531 worldwide districts. Each district has a governor, and this year’s governor for District 5610 is from right here in Brookings.

Little, a consulting veterinarian, provides expert opinions in complex scenarios regarding dairy, swine, beef, poultry, equine, small ruminants, practice management, and personal injury. Many of his current forensic investigations relate to alleged feed mixing and contamination concerns. He believes his background as a vet has helped him respond to the current challenges facing Rotary.

“Veterinarians use systematic problem solving to make decisions – possibly followed by another decision.” he said. This type of problem solving has come in handy as he helps guide his district through unprecedented times. “When faced with concerns or obstacles we must pursue the discovery of the root cause before we can effect positive change,” Little continued. “The ‘positive change’ work of Rotary has not stopped in these COVID-19 times. In fact, our mission and goals are more relevant than ever.”

Little notes that the Rotary International theme for 2020-21 is “Rotary Opens Opportunities.” Those opportunities include taking advantage of technology in ways not considered prior to the pandemic. “COVID is forcing us to adapt to the digital age. We have been stretched out of our comfort zone, but like a rubber band, I do not expect that we will ever go back to all of our past behaviors,” said Little. “Zoom and digital tools improve the ability of young professionals to participate in Rotary activities, so one unexpected result might just be membership for those who hadn’t previously been able to attend a more traditional, in-person, lunch meeting.”

Little grew up on a dairy and swine family farm near Faribault in south central Minnesota. He received his B.A. in Biology from Gustavus Adolphus College, his M. S. in Physiology of Reproduction from Texas A&M University and his DVM from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine before establishing a veterinary practice in southeastern Minnesota in 1984. 

His practice has focused on a systems management approach to food animal medicine. In addition to providing on-farm services to diagnose and prevent health challenges, he has also provided technical support to companies that desire to develop, market and implement biotech solutions in livestock systems. He has presented at national and international professional conferences and is a published author in scientific journals and industry magazines.

Although Rotary district governors are charged with the ultimate decision-making and leadership of their districts, Little ultimately sees his role as more of a “facilitator.”

“I view this position as an opportunity to be a team leader, providing the clubs in District 5610 with the Rotary International tools they need to meet their individual club goals,” explained Little. “We have tremendously talented and passionate Rotarians throughout District 5610.”

Although Little has been a Rotarian since 1994, he said he really understood the importance of membership when he joined the Brookings club after moving to Brookings in 2002. “I realized that I was immediately accepted and trusted in a new community of Rotarians.” Little subsequently served as president of the Brookings club, then as assistant governor and ultimately received the required training at the district, zone and international levels to prepare for his year as district governor.

“It’s a big commitment – one I entered into very seriously – but it’s a tremendous honor. The opportunity to be a leader in an organization where you can contribute locally but have an impact globally is humbling.”

Little remembers the first time he heard a former district governor challenge members of the Brookings Club to join the Paul Harris Society; the DG explained the global nature of Rotary’s work, but also emphasized that it was important to remember that behind each dollar donated, there was an individual, a real person, who benefitted. Little is proud to be a Paul Harris Fellow and a member of the Paul Harris Society.

Paul Harris Fellows are those who have contributed (or have had donated in their name) at least $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation, the organization that provides funding for local and global projects supporting Rotary projects involving health, economic development and peace. Last year, the Brookings Rotary Club achieved 100 percent Paul Harris Fellow status. Paul Harris Society members pledge to contribute $1,000 per year to the Rotary Foundation.

The reach is expansive; in 2018, the Rotary Foundation distributed more than $86 million to causes that reflect Rotary’s mission, most notably its continued quest to eradicate polio. “As recently as 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. Now, we are down to 72 isolated cases, with pockets of infection in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’re remarkably close to total eradication,” said Little.

In addition to club members contributing to global causes, Rotarians exemplify their motto of “Service Above Self” by participating in local, club-level projects. Recent projects supported by the Brookings club, for instance, include a community food drive to benefit the Brookings Food Pantry, collaboration with the Brookings Area United Way to create the Born Learning Trails in two parks for area families to enjoy, the purchase of gift cards for all employees of area assisted living facilities, and the gift to the City of Brookings of a clock that was recently installed in the downtown area to commemorate the club’s 100th anniversary. As Little visits other clubs in the district (“a requirement of my job but also a great privilege!”), he learns about their projects, similarly organized to improve their communities and address the unique needs of their areas.

“These are the types of projects that attract people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences to Rotary,” said Little. “What does a Rotarian look like? One who cares about others and chooses to invest personal time in making the world a better place for people they may never even meet.”

Little is also a private pilot and a member of the International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians. His wife, Pat, is a retired real estate broker and provides business management services for their family businesses. They have six children and nine grandchildren within three hours of their home near Lake Campbell south of Brookings. They enjoy traveling, golfing, hiking, and spending time with family.

Article written by: Kay Norton, Brookings Rotary Club