Lake Country Faces: McLean serves as Rotary district governor

Bob McLean said Rotary International got its name in part because they would "rotate" from business to business for their meetings. Ironically, something on the wall at Lakes Latte in Pequot Lakes resembled the club's logo. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

For Nisswa's Bob McLean, a small-town upbringing instilled in him a sense of community over self, and those values are what led him to join Rotary International.

McLean grew up in Hillsboro, North Dakota, as one of six children.

“I'm tied for second,” McLean Jokes about his twin, whom he says looks nothing like him.

His parents were about as personally tied to their hometown as they could be. His father was the local physician and his mother had advanced nurse training. McLean said the town was a safe place to grow up and just be a kid.

“It was a great place to grow up, similar to Pequot Lakes,” McLean said. “We took our bikes to peewee baseball. We took our bikes to swimming lessons and we took our bikes downtown. Once we were old enough to leave the block we had a whole world to explore on our own.”


In Hillsboro, McLean witnessed how community members and business owners can work together to build a community and care for it.

“When you grow up in a town of 1,200-1,300 people, you really have to rely on each other,” McLean said. “There's not a huge publicly funded safety net. In our community, it was pretty much driven by volunteer service. The public swimming pool was built by the community. The ambulance service was all citizen volunteers. At one point, Hillsboro probably would have been one of the best places in the country to have a heart attack because just about everybody was a trained EMT. They did a superb job of identifying what those core things are you need in a community.”

McLean's parents were part of that community, and so were his grandparents. His paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and his maternal grandfather was a county sheriff. You could say he was born into keeping busy and contributing.

“In high school I was student council president,” McLean said. “When I didn't make varsity basketball I stormed into the superintendent's office and volunteered to be his assistant coach, because he was the junior high basketball coach. You just didn't sit around. If you had something you could do or offer, you were just expected to go do it.”

McLean went from Hillsboro to St. John's University in St. Joseph for his undergraduate degree in business with a minor in psychology. Then he moved on to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for an MBA in business. He moved on to work for West Publishing, one of the largest legal publishing firms in the country.

About 22 years ago, Thomson Reuters acquired West Publishing, and while McLean felt that Reuters was a good company to work for, the corporate environment wasn't his cup of tea. That's when he came to the lakes area and joined the Hunt Utilities Group family.

“Though they were in a completely different industry, the relationship with the customer base was actually very similar,” McLean said. “Hunt Technologies had a really intimate relationship with the electric cooperatives and it was privately held. I thought they had a very positive, unique culture.”

McLean said one of the biggest differences was the very casual work environment. For West Publishing, McLean was always expected to dress with a suit jacket and, except for casual days, to wear a tie. At Hunt Technologies, he said if you wore a tie, they'd likely cut it off.


In addition, McLean, who was used to a more aggressive work environment, woke up earlier than all his coworkers, and that's why he wound up in Rotary as of June 1999.

“The Central Lakes Rotary Club met at 7 in the morning,” McLean said. “No one got up at 7 in the morning in that group.”

It wasn't long before he became club president - only three months, as a matter of fact.

“I got the distinct impression that everyone had already served as club president at least once so three months into being a member they asked if I wanted to be a club president,” McLean said.

What he experienced as club president ignited his passion for the group. He had missed the district conference, but decided to take time out to attend the Rotary International Convention in San Antonio and get better acquainted with the club.

“You could say I hooked up to the fire hose and took it in because I was so impressed with what they do and how they are advancing so many aspects of better relationships between businesses professionals, community leaders and others,” McLean said.

McLean has had his hands in many projects with Central Lakes Rotary Club.

“In Pine River, we got a little playground put in,” McLean said. “We also team up really well with the Pequot Lakes Interact Club. Both in Pine River and Pequot Lakes we have a great STRIVE program. I think that is such a great program. The kids have great talent and capability. They just need a little extra refinement, mentoring or encouragement and they can do great things.”


The club has also been involved with international projects, including creating a water processing system in Guatemala. The community mindedness McLean learned growing up is alive and well in his participation with Rotary. This year, after serving as club president twice and having served in virtually every other position available, McLean was selected to represent Rotary District 5580 as district governor.

The district is 174,000 square miles and includes all of North Dakota with a northern boundary of Ontario, an eastern boundary of northwestern Wisconsin and a southern boundary of Little Falls. He is one of only 530 district governors globally and represents 64 clubs of the 35,000 international Rotary clubs.

McLean was selected by a committee of his peers. He was nominated by members of the Central Lakes Rotary Club and voted on by a committee that included past district governors and selected members.

As district governor, he oversees and represents the clubs in his district. As such, he has responsibility over clubs in a large area.

“In the end, the buck stops here,” McLean said. “The district governor is the one person that Rotary holds accountable. The most important element of Rotary is the club, and within the club the most important of all is engaged Rotarians. As important as I feel Rotary International is, their job is to help us succeed and our job is to help our club succeed.”

The position is an honor to McLean.

“I feel genuinely honored,” McLean said. “Especially knowing that there were so many other candidates that were good candidates. I have been part of Rotary and involved at the district level long enough to have a pretty realistic expectation going into it that I knew what I was going to be involved in. So far I haven't been too surprised.”

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
What To Read Next
Get Local