WILMINGTON — Sigrid Solomon has relished the role of trailblazer throughout her career.
Last month, Wilmington College’s first African American vice president began her year-long appointment as the first female, African American governor for Rotary‘s Ohio District #6670.
She recalled her first exposure to Rotary, the service organization in 167 countries that brings together business and professional leaders for humanitarian service and advancing goodwill.
In 1998, Solomon agreed to participate in a Rotary-led, all-female delegation to England for a group study exchange program. It was designed as a six-week collaboration between American and British professionals.
“It turned out this was during a time when women were not welcome in Rotary in England,” she recalled, noting that some British groups cancelled meetings with the delegation upon learning the entire American team was female.
It turned out that Solomon’s somewhat unusual name proved key in “us getting our foot in the door.” While Sigrid is a popular female name in Scandinavia, it also is a male name elsewhere in the world.
Her unisex moniker, coupled with Solomon, which sounds Jewish, caused some in England to think a man was on the team and, as such, the Americans should go ahead and present.
“They gave us an opportunity and, once people heard us speak, we were invited to speak at a big conference in Birmingham,” she said, adding that episode initiated discussions for a culture shift in England’s male-dominated Rotary organizations. Indeed, women had broken Rotary’s gender barrier in the United States beginning in 1978.
In spite of the obstacles for females in England, Solomon was impressed with Rotary’s “Service above Self” motto and its history of promoting peace and supporting education, along with fighting disease, providing clean water, growing local economies, and saving mothers and children.
“When I came back to the States, people started recruiting me to join Rotary,” she said. Solomon connected with the club in Abingdon, Va., when she was working at nearby Emory and Henry College.
“For me, it was an opportunity to provide service to folks in need. You’re giving of your time, talent and treasure to help others,” she added. “That’s how I’ve tried to live my life even before joining Rotary, so, when I found out about the organization, I felt, ‘That’s something I can believe in.’”
After coming to Wilmington College in 2007 as vice president for student affairs and dean of students, Solomon affiliated with Wilmington’s A.M. Rotary Club a year later.
“I was the first African American to join the club and now I’m the first African American female governor for our district,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome and exciting!”
The district governor is a voluntary position in which she expects to be “a resource” for the 49 individual clubs in the 3,000-member district — one of five in Ohio — which stretches from Bellefontaine to Centerville.
“I’ll visit each of those clubs over the next year and communicate with them regularly,” she said.
Solomon is no stranger to hard work.
In addition to her leadership roles at the College and with Rotary, she is in the homestretch of completing studies for a Doctor of Educational Leadership degree through Ashland University. Solomon plans to defend her “fast-tracked, fast-paced” doctoral program in May, a month before completing her governorship.
“It will be icing on the cake!” she added.
“People say, ‘Sigrid, you’re crazy for doing all the things you’re doing at the same time,’” Solomon said. “I look at it as many great things coming together at the same time. I try to tie all of what I do (professionally) together — because they intersect.”
Hosting the District #6670’s annual conference in late April is a major responsibility of a Rotary governor. Solomon is planning for Wilmington and Wilmington College to be the epicenter of the gathering of several hundred Rotarians.
“We’re going to give people a little taste of Clinton County,” she said. And what’s more appropriate for a service organization than to engage in a service project? The Rotarians will team with Wilmington College students in a currently undisclosed — yet county-focused — endeavor designed to benefit local children.
By the time June arrives, with her successful governorship under her belt, her newly minted doctorate in her pocket and another memorable school year in the rearview mirror, Solomon plans to gather with other district governors and Rotary members at the organization’s annual conference to be held in Honolulu in June.
There she may have time to reflect upon what she expects will have been an epic year in her career after having passed the torch of leadership to her successor as governor.
“In addition to its major service component, which is at the heart of it, Rotary for me has been professional development and networking,” she added in citing the exemplary quality of persons in the organization. Solomon looks forward to bringing in new professionals and setting the stage for Rotary to continue as an agent for positive change in modern society.
“You feel like you can be a mentor for someone and help pave the way for others.”