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Hudson Rotarian will lead group to Czech Republic and Slovakia

Rob Howard displays some of the gifts his Group Study Exchange team will bring to the Czech Republic and Slovakia next month. They include pins, flags and booklets of information on Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Hudson Rotarian Rob Howard has been selected to lead a Study Exchange Group on a four-week tour of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Howard and the four other non-Rotarian team members from Minnesota will be staying with host families for three- and four-day periods as they travel through the two eastern European countries.

"It's really about understanding people and developing these familiar bonds," said Howard, a North Hudson resident and senior design architect for Pope Architects in St. Paul.

He's excited about being chosen to lead the group, which entailed a daylong interview process with eight other candidates. Last year, he was picked as the alternate to lead an exchange group to Latin America.

"I've always had a strong interest in people. The opportunity to meet all these great people in other cultures who love to do good is what it's all about," Howard said.

He also will be searching out projects in the Czech Republic and Slovakia that his own Daybreak Rotary Club and Rotary District 5960 might want to support.

The program is an exchange between the Rotary district covering western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota and Rotary District 2240 in the Czech and Slovak republics.

A team from the Czech Republic and Slovakia is currently visiting communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Last weekend, the two teams met up at the District 5960 conference in St. Paul.

The team members from Eastern Europe are print, radio and TV journalists and have been visiting newspapers, radio stations and TV stations in the area.

The members chosen for the team sponsored by District 5960 are Ann Meier, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota; Tricia Mensing, a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual; Deb Most, the interim director of the Minnesota Social Service Association; and Jamie Hopkins, a management analyst for the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

The team will be studying Czech and Slovak institutions, businesses and culture. The itinerary will take them to Prague, Brno, Olomouc, Brecla-Valtice, Hluboka and Plzen in the Czech Republic, and Zilina and Bratislava in Slovakia. They leave May 10 and will return June 8.

The Rotary Foundation, Rotary District 5960 and individual Rotarians will cover their travel and living expenses.

Howard has been a member of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary since 1994 and is a past president of the club.

He and his wife, Carole, an early childhood special education teacher in south Minneapolis, have three grown children.

Their daughter Laura (Howard) Frisvold lives in North St. Paul with her husband, Mike, also a Hudson High School graduate. Laura ran this year's Boston Marathon and, along with Mike, heard the blasts when the terrorists' bombs exploded.

The Howards' son, Jonathan, is married and has a three-month-old daughter. They live in Spring Valley.

Their daughter Meredith is a freshman at Minnesota State University-Mankato, and will be transferring to the University of Minnesota next fall.

Howard said his family's involvement in hosting international students opened his eyes to the value of cultural exchange programs.

Carole and her sister will be joining Howard at the end of his Rotary tour, and they will spend time together in Croatia.

"We've always had the travel bug," said Howard, listing Italy, France and Scandinavia as some of the places they have visited.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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