Nigerian Past District Governor Pearl Okoro is one of five women recognized by Rotary International (RI) for her work to eradicate polio worldwide, so her visit to Utah for our District’s World Polio Day Dinner on October 27, 2021 created a lot of enthusiasm – and raised $11,000 for the End Polio initiative.
District Governor Judy Zone was thrilled her northern California classmate was willing to ‘share’ Pearl and her husband Kingsley with Utah, and so many Utah Rotarians stepped up to host our guests. Her visit began with an October 25 lunch with Salt Lake Rotarians and our District Governor-elect Jose Velasco, and dinner with DG Judy, her husband John, District Foundation Chair Scott Leckman and his wife Kay, as well as several Millcreek Rotarians.
The next day the Okoros were on to Park City, hosted by Park City Sunrise Club President Stacy Lippert, Lola Beatlebrox, and Karen Nielsen.
When Pearl toured the People’s Health Clinic in Park City, it was clear she was in her element. A world leader in the fight to end polio, Pearl understands the boots on the ground battle for universal health care. “Thank you for all you do,” she said with energy to every caregiver at the People’s Health Clinic where the uninsured of Summit and Wasatch Counties receive medical and dental care at no charge.
“I feel like I’m meeting a rock star,” said Dr. Mairi Leining, the clinic’s Medical Director upon meeting Pearl. “If the world had more advocates like you, we would have all these communicable diseases.”
The Okoros also visited the Park City Museum, sat in the Skier Subway, visited a Territorial Jail cell, and marveled at the Kimball Brothers stagecoach. A stroll up and down Main Street to see historic buildings, boutiques and art galleries was next.
For Pearl and Kingsley, our snowy skies and freezing temperatures were a shock. They live in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where the temperature in October is usually a humid 86. That’s why a heated Hot Rocks bench in front of the No Name Saloon became a welcome resting spot.
Pearl belongs to the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt. She was instrumental in raising the number of polio vaccinations in the Nigeria through advertising—television, radio, posters, and handouts with messaging to allay people’s fears about the vaccine.
No visit to Park City would be complete without a session on the bobsled simulator at the Utah Olympic Park’s Alf Engen Ski Museum. Museum Director and Sunrise Rotarian Connie Nelson kindly arranged for tour and our guests experienced the vertigo of the bobsled run as well as the rush of downhill skiing.
The day ended with dinner furnished by Sunrise Rotarian Maureen Dunn of Done to Your Taste Catering and a cozy fire at the home Stacy and John Lippert.
The morning of the World Polio Day Dinner, Millcreek Club President Julie Jones and Millcreek Rotarian Karen Hansen toured the Okoros around downtown Salt Lake. They admired the incredible Utah fall colors and Salt Lake’s various buildings. Pearl was particularly interested in Temple Square and was so gracious to the young missionaries who showed the group around. She enjoyed heartfelt conversations with several at each venue and throughout the grounds. Although the Temple is currently undergoing a major renovation for seismic strengthening, the group was able to tour the historic Assembly Hall, the world-renowned Tabernacle and the LDS Conference Center. In the Tabernacle, they were treated to a brief organ recital and to a “pin drop” demonstration of the remarkable acoustics of the space. Pearl and Kingsley admired the many paintings and sculptures in the Conference Center, watched a video about the seismic renovation process being done on the Temple, and basked in the sun on the observation deck with a stunning view of the city’s western horizon, including the Great Salt Lake.
They lunched with Julie, Karen and DG Judy and then on to the main event at the Cottonwood Country Club, where 130 Utah Rotarians from all over the state and their guests heard presentations from District Foundation Chair Scott Leckman, District Polio Plus Chair Rachael Palmer, and of course, Pearl herself.
It was a whirlwind visit! We are grateful to the very generous Utah Rotarians who made contribution to End Polio to match the dinner cost, as well as other donations that evening, and the 19 Utah Rotarians who joined the Polio Plus Society in association with the event, pledging to donate $100 annually till polio is eradicated from the face of the earth.