Erik Grunwald joined the Rotary Club of North Raleigh in 2001 after a member of his church invited him to lunch one day. It was shortly after the 9-11 attack on our country. At the time, he reported that his “life really had no community involvement beyond church”, and this attack on our nation opened his eyes to helping others. With two grandfathers who were Rotarians, it seemed a perfect fit for him to join this group of business professionals trying to make a difference in the world. While visiting the club, he saw first hand how Rotarians interacted with each other while making the guest feel welcomed.
At that meeting, he listened to the members give updates on numerous club projects both locally and internationally, which impressed him. These people were gathered for more than just lunch every Wednesday, they were “making our world a better place”. He knew at that point, he wanted to be a part of this organization.
Since joining Rotary, he has developed a greater sense of community awareness both locally and abroad. “I was naïve and pretty ignorant before joining Rotary”, he explained, “I made assumptions like polio was long gone when it wasn’t”. Like many people, he assumed other people would be there to take care of the needy. Through Rotary, his eyes have been opened to the many opportunities to partner with others to improve lives. “I love to tell stories and Rotary provides me with volumes of materials”.
His most memorable Rotary experience came in December of 2005 and the Hurricane Katrina Relief efforts. The club, which had developed a strong partnership with the Guatemala Literacy Project and in essence, with Guatemala, had purchased a used ambulance to refurbish it and send it to a community in Guatemala. The ambulance was prepped with Spanish lettering for a Guatemalan hospital, but because of political pressures in Guatemala despite the efforts of NC Senator Elizabeth Dole, the ambulance sat on a runway at Pope Air Force Base.
When Katrina struck the Gulf coast in August, the ambulance had a new purpose. Clayton Rotarian Jim Lee got the ambulance road worthy under North Raleigh Rotarian Ed Cody’s supervision. North Raleigh Rotarian Dr. Rich Adelman and other medical Rotarians donated supplies and equipment for the ambulance as the club decided to donate the ambulance to Waveland, Mississippi. Waveland was ground zero for the devastating hurricane and the city lost all of its vehicles in the storm. The only question remained was; how to get the ambulance to Waveland. Erik was asked if he would be willing to drive the ambulance to Waveland. “Sure”, he responded, “I love to drive”. Little did he know what was in store!
Past President Matthew Kane was to fly down in advance to meet with the members of the Rotary Club of Biloxi and brought a slightly used Rotary bell since they had lost their bell in the floods the accompanied the hurricane. They made tentative plans and at 7 am, he left for Biloxi. Heading through Atlanta, he nearly got on the wrong freeway so he did something that he always wanted to do…he flipped on the emergency lights. “It was like Moses himself parting the Red Sea!” Erik recalls. Soon, they were on the correct route to Mississippi. “To this day, I often wonder what the yielding motorist thought as my speeding ambulance went by with its Spanish lettering”.
Driving along I-10 in Alabama, the damage from Katrina began to show. Four months later debris was still strewn along the road and the further west you traveled, the worse the damage was. “By the time I reached Mississippi, there were few signs or lights”, commented Erik. He was directed to the church by Matthew, using landmarks where they slept thanks to donated bunks from a California-based company and bedding from another organization.
The next morning, a lady from South Carolina prepared a wonderful breakfast and it was off to work. It was then that Matthew Kane informed him that they would be hanging around a few days to hang sheet rock.
“Each morning we rode through a war zone of destroyed homes and businesses! The National Guard was on patrol and we displayed special signs on our vehicles to gain access to our home restoration. Nearly every building that was still standing had a tarp pulled over what had once been a roof! Each day made me realize just how important it is for people to volunteer to help each other out. We can’t just depend on the government to fix everything. In Mississippi, we partnered with churches, Rotarians and many volunteers from all around the country!”
They were invited to attend the Holiday party of the Rotary Club of Biloxi at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant located in a home, built in 1737. They listened to the stories of survival and rebuilding while they shared a Rotary dinner. “It’s remarkable what these people went through”. When Matthew presented the Biloxi club with their new Rotary bell, it was a symbolic beginning to make everything right again after Katrina.
Erik has been highly involved in the club as a board member, Community Service Chair, Past President, Co-Chair of a district conference and currently serves as the club’s Rotary Foundation Chair. Additionally, he is always working to raise funds for our district conference.
“I personally got to know him better when I served with him at the Asheville District Conference when our club hosted a hospitality suite”, remembers President Steven Nelson, “It was during this process that I learned a great deal about this man and began to consider him a friend”.
Erik was born in California and his father was an US Marine Corps fighter pilot who was lost at sea when he was three years old. In some ways, his love of cars developed from his father’s passion for cars.
His mother moved the family back to her hometown, Germantown, Ohio. His mother became the editor of the local newspaper. He graduated from Miami University (Ohio) in 1981 and shortly thereafter, embarked on a career in sales. A natural salesman, he initially sold oilfield equipment in Texas and Louisiana before moving to Raleigh in 1983 to sell printing products. In 1986, he married his wife, Crystal and they have three children.
Katie lives in Washington DC and works for The Washington National Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Harrison graduated from Wake Forest University and currently works at Raleigh Dermatology while applying to medical school. Eliza is a senior in high school and is interested in nutrition or nursing.
He started Cardinal Business Forms in 1997, employing 5 people and distributing printing materials throughout 7 states. He enjoys travel, cars, swimming and water skiing.
Erik has shown to be a true Rotarian through his service and commitment to the community. “(I)t’s our members and their friendships that keep me returning”! announced Erik when referring to his association with the Rotary Club of North Raleigh.