Alan Plater travelled 100 kilometres to Niagara-on-the-Lake last weekend to Pedal for Polio and to honour the memory of a longtime friend.
Plater, of Simcoe, Ont., was a classmate of Ron Mergl's at the University of Guelph, where they both studied veterinary medicine. Their lives afterward followed similar but separate paths.
In NOTL, the Rotary Club renamed its Pedal for Polio fundraiser in honour of Mergl, who died in 2020. So Plater, who has been a Rotarian for 27 years, brought his wife Yvonne and daughter Emma to town to help pay tribute Saturday to his old friend.
“This one's special to me. Ron Mergl, was a classmate of mine. I graduated with him from Guelph in 1985,” Plater said.
Mergl, a longtime Rotary Club member in Niagara-on-the-Lake, spent years helping organize and raise money for many of the club's projects. He was a particularly vocal advocate for polio vaccines.
Mergl and Plater have an abundance of similarities. They both graduated from Guelph with a veterinary degree and became lifelong Rotarians, both travelled all over the world helping distribute and inoculate people with the polio vaccine.
Plater’s been to West Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon, among other nations, to work with Rotary programs.
“We go out into the community and give oral vaccines to children. It’s an incredible experience,” he said.
Plater and Mergl weren’t able to spend much time together in the years preceding his death, so Plater saw the ride as a way to honour and do something significant for his deceased friend.
“Hearing about his passing, that brought back a lot of memories. We had the same interests in Rotary, which was really kind of neat. If they do the ride again next year, I’ll be here,” he said.
Plater has already passed down his penchant for charitable work to his children. His daughter Emma participated in the ride and has also travelled around the world helping distribute the polio vaccine.
By the end of the post-ride barbecue on Saturday, the club had already raised more than $30,000. The fund drive will continue through Oct. 24 and the amount raised will be doubled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
If the Rotary Club raises $100,000, the Gates foundation will add $200,000.
Rotary has been organizing programs against polio since the late 1970s and the disease has been eradicated in 99.9 per cent of the world.
“There’s only two cases in the whole world, one in Afghanistan and one in Pakistan. We’ve never been that low,” Rotary Club district governor Frank Adamson said in an interview.
“We’ve got to be free for three years after that to be declared polio-free and then nobody else needs to get a polio shot anywhere in the world.”
With all the work Rotary has done vaccinating people around the world it should come as no surprise that Adamson and the Platers encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
“The information is out there and the technology is not new with these mRNA vaccines. It’s been around for 10 years,” Plater said.
The mRNA vaccines were originally developed a decade ago to combat diseases such as SARS and rabies.
“We were ready to use them, we just needed to fill in the blanks,” he said.
In fact, Rotary Club members have been instrumental in delivering COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, Adamson said.
“It’s just another vaccination and we’ve been doing this since 1985. We’ve got lots of people on the ground,” he said.
Rotary is also helping pay for transportation and storage, he said.
One tenacious Rotarian on the scene was John Maurice, former president of the Fort Erie chapter.
He was out on the 30-kilometre ride when things went wrong.
“I wiped out,” Maurice laughed.
“I was watching for traffic because we were riding with traffic and all of a sudden I went up on the sidewalk and, lo and behold, there was a post there.”
Maurice was a little bloodied but finished the ride in true Rotarian fashion.
“We’re survivors,” he said.