By Randy Bretz
It was fifteen years ago that Gretchen Bren (currently a member of Omaha Night Rotary) took the job as administrator of Omaha’s Downtown Rotary and because of that, she attended a Rotary Foundation seminar which focused on Rotary’s dogged determination to rid the world of  polio. “I don’t know what it was about that seminar,” she explained. “But when I left, I just knew I’d been called to take action.” And that she did.
In early 2008, Gretchen found herself attending a Rotary Large Club Conference, and that further seated the idea in her mind. That conference not only served to encourage her, but it was there that she met Ravi Ravindran, a future President of Rotary and he encouraged her to participate in a Rotary vaccination trip. Less than a year later, she was on a plane headed to Nigeria to help with a Rotary polio mass vaccination effort.
It's hard to guess just how many vaccinations Gretchen has administered herself, it’s even more difficult to consider the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, she’s facilitated as a result of the fifteen National Immunization Days she’s helped with in Nigeria and other countries.
So that, in a nutshell, is a look at Gretchen Bren’s passion to eradicate polio. Then there’s Gary. He’s a member of Rotary (the Omaha West Rotary) as well, and a leader in his club and his district which includes around 40 clubs in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. “Ten years after Gretchen’s first vaccination trip, I was serving as Governor of District 5650 ( It was a demanding but rewarding challenge,” he said. “And, being a partner in a small business, I was working lots of hours as well.” Gary’s one of the founders of Turner Technology in Omaha. All those hours coupled with the combined stress and chicken dinners that go with the Rotary position, Gary gained weight and his body paid the price.
“Our District, like so many across the United States, sponsors bicycle rides as a way to have a bit of fun and raise money to help with Rotary’s polio eradication goal.” So, in 2019, Gary dusted off his bicycle and rode eight miles. “I don’t remember how much money I raised” he said. “But I do know that I was so out of shape it took me an hour and a half to ride just eight miles.” But, those eight miles were just the beginning.
Since that first ride, Gary’s participated in multiple rides and raised lots of donations to End Polio in the world. “In 2021 I teamed up with two other men and we raised $21,000 as part of a Ride to End Polio.” Maybe there’s something in the water that Gretchen and Gary drink, because Gary decided to ride in the Tucson, Arizona called “El Tour de Tucson,” the biggest bicycling event in America. Oh, and this is no eight mile ride. In November 2022, Gary Bren took part in ”The Century” ride which totals 102 miles.
Now, while you’re sitting back in your chair being amazed, let me drop two more facts on you. Gary Bren is somewhat past his mid 60’s, and the El Tour de Tucson ( isn’t exactly a flat course. “The Tucson event, which started about the time Rotary decided to attack polio, has several peaks that are about 1,000 feet higher than the starting point. “I was one of 8,000 riders from all over the world, riding for a wide variety of charities. Oh, and my time to ride the hundred miles was just under seven hours.”
By now, no doubt, you’re impressed with these two people who have done so much to support Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio. But wait, there’s even more. As a former Governor of Rotary District 5650, Gary has gotten to know quite a few people, and visited every one of the clubs in the District several times. “I decided, since I was going to really push myself on the Tucson ride, I’d really push my fellow Rotarian to pledge money for each mile I rode. In the end, I had pledges of $34,500 from Rotarians and people I know through my work, our District added another $20,000 and with matching grants from the Gates Foundation and others, the total raised for Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio was $193,000.” Phew, sit back and let that sink in.
So, these two people, Rotary members in Nebraska, Gary and Gretchen Bren have raised an estimated quarter of a million dollars and helped vaccinate an estimate one million people. And, they’re not done yet. They’re an inspiring couple with a singular purpose, doing what they can to help rid the world of polio and along the way, leave a legacy that inspires others.