20 Questions on the Coast: David K. Underwood, Col., USAF


An Interview with David K. Underwood, Colonel, USAF (Retired), Chair, Rotary Club of Freeport

By Michelle Jannazo

Good morning, Dave! How’s life in Freeport?

It is awesome! Freeport has the touch of a small town, but I continue to be surprised at the variety of car tags appearing in my neighborhood. I never thought I would see the number of new neighbors moving here from Ohio to California. I’m amazed at how fast Freeport is growing.

How long have you lived here?

I moved to Freeport in early 2021 and into a new home that summer.

What’s your background?

I served 31 years in the United States Air Force, first enlisted and then as an officer, where I retired as a colonel. To complete my working career, I was an executive at Okaloosa Gas District for 10 years. In the natural gas industry, I had the opportunity to watch Freeport’s exponential growth.

You’re also involved in Rotary. What is Rotary?

Rotary was founded in 1905 in Chicago by Paul Harris. It is a global network of 1.4 million members who unite to take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves. There are 46,000-plus Rotary Clubs world-wide. Rotary is known for its Four-Way Test, a nonpartisan and nonsectarian ethical guide for members to use for their personal and professional relationships. It states: Of the things we think, say or do, 1) Is it the TRUTH? 2) Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? and 4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? These principles provide Rotarians with a common purpose and direction and serve as a foundation of the actions we take.

Those are powerful words to guide your individual and collective actions. How long have you been a Rotarian?

I joined Rotary in January of 2005 and every one of my 18 years in Rotary has refined my character and opened my eyes to what things are possible to improve our communities and help others on a global scale.

How long has Freeport Rotary been operating?

We began our Rotary journey in Freeport with an orientation in September 2021. To begin Rotary in Freeport we established a Rotary Satellite Club under the sponsorship of Mid-Bay Bridge Rotary Club in Niceville. We are deeply appreciative of their support.

How many members are there now?

There are currently 12 members. Our goal is to grow to 20 members, enabling a formal charter from Rotary International.

Can anyone be a member?

Rotarians come from all walks of life. We have professionals, business owners, employees and retirees. If you desire community engagement and want to give back to the community, Rotary provides that opportunity.

What areas of the community does Rotary support?

Rotary International has seven focus areas. They are promoting peace, fighting disease, providing water and sanitation, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies and protecting the environment. Club members help shape the projects we pursue in the areas they are passionate about.

When does Freeport Rotary meet?

We hold formal meetings with speakers every other week. This enables us to plan projects or social outings during the month.

Where do they meet?

We currently meet at the Bay Restaurant across the bridge. We hope with time more meeting spaces in local restaurants will be delivered with Freeport’s growth.

Who have been some of your speakers?

We invite organizations to educate our club on what they are doing for our community. Noteworthy was Diane Freeman, the executive director of ABed4Me Foundation, providing beds to local children without one. Every one of our Rotarians volunteered to help deliver beds. We also provided donations to purchase beds. Civic leaders such as Mayor Russ Barly and City Planner Latilda Hughes-Neel have addressed us about the fast-paced growth in Freeport.

What organizations has Freeport Rotary supported?

We started supporting organizations on a small scale due to being a start-up Rotary Satellite Club. Our first donation was to Westonwood Ranch and we sponsored two tables at the Mayor’s Ball held by the Town Planters Society of Freeport. We worked with the schools to identify three teachers and their guests to have a seat at our tables. And, as I mentioned earlier, we have provided monetary support and volunteer labor to ABed4Me Foundation.

How much are the dues?

Every Rotary club has a different dues structure. Currently, our dues are $75 a quarter.

What is the Rotary Foundation?

This is the foundation aligned with Rotary International. It has existed for more than 100 years. To date the foundation has provided more than $4 billion to projects across the world. The Rotary Foundation helps Rotary members to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace by improving health, providing quality education, improving the environment, and alleviating poverty. For example, it funds Rotary’s signature project, which is eliminating polio across the world. We are almost there, with only two countries reporting cases of the wild virus.

How is the Foundation connected to our local chapter?

Through our dues, each of our Rotarians provides a donation to the Foundation through a program referred to as Every Rotarian Every Year. Our club can work with another Rotary club in another country to pursue a global grant project seeking matching funds from the Foundation. Locally, each Rotary Club across Northwest Florida has the opportunity to develop projects that receive Foundation district grant funds allocated through our Rotary District. You will find many Rotarians recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Foundation for donating $1,000 or more to the Foundation.

Does Rotary offer members opportunities to travel?

Many Rotarians join together to volunteer to work with projects within the United States and abroad. Rotarians across our district are involved in everything from building wheelchairs in Central America to establishing rural medical clinics in Africa. Our Rotarians are encouraged to attend the classes offered by the Rotary Leadership Institute. Some of our members are attending the next round of classes in Pensacola this month. They also have the opportunity to attend the local Rotary District Conference and the Rotary International Conference being held in Melbourne, Australia.

What are the goals for Freeport Rotary in 2023?

Our top goal is bringing 20 good people into Rotary membership. We hope to outgrow our Rotary Satellite Club status and be formally recognized as a formal Rotary Club by Rotary International this year. To enable us to give back to the community, we will formalize our fundraising and pursuit of donations.

How can people contact you if they’d like to be involved?

Simply send us an e-mail expressing your interest to freeportflrotaryclub@gmail.com . You can also visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FreeportFLRotary to see our schedule and visit one of our meetings.

What is your favorite thing about Rotary?

My “love language” is service to others. Rotary provides me the opportunity to make a difference locally and abroad. I have developed friendships across the world with other Rotarians. When you work together you can do amazing things such as rebuilding a small rural school building in Uganda for only $1,500.

Thanks, Dave. And thank you for your ongoing service. See you at Rotary!

20 Questions on the Coast is an interview series highlighting servant leadership in communities across the Panhandle.