“Carleton students learn to be active in the community,” says Charlie Cogan, senior assistant dean of admissions and director of international recruitment for the College. “I guess that’s how I got started in volunteering.”
Cogan, an enthusiastic man who radiates energy and goodwill, graduated from Carleton more than 20 years ago, but his commitment to volunteering has never ceased. Recently his efforts were rewarded when he was awarded the Marston Headley Service Above Self Award for outstanding service to the community and to the Northfield Rotary Club. The award is named for the late Marston Headley, another Carleton graduate and a long-time member of Rotary who was one of Northfield’s most dedicated citizens.
Cogan, a native of Kirksville, Mo., did his first major volunteer work—and acquired his first extensive international experience—while serving in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, for three years in the early 1980s. While there he met and married his wife, Nalongue. Later they returned to the United States so Cogan could study the history of Africa and the Middle East in a Northwestern University doctoral program. He also worked for Catholic Relief Services in Togo and studied borderland communities between Ghana and Togo as a Fulbright research fellow.
Togo also figured in Cogan’s entry to the Rotary program. He joined Rotary in Evanston, Illinois, in part to get help establishing a serology lab in that country in memory of his brother-in-law, Raphael Bilimpo Bomane, who had died in Togo from a misdiagnosed case of hepatitis B.
The serology lab project was brought to fruition in Northfield, where the local Rotary chapter managed to raise $35,000 thanks to Northfielders’ generosity plus that of other regional Rotary clubs and the organization’s matching grants program. Today that serology lab has the equipment necessary to diagnose hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases affecting thousands of people in the region.
“Rotary is a good way to get people together to help others,” Cogan says, although he admits the organization has another draw. “With Rotary I have more control over a project, and the money we raise can have a bigger impact,” he says. “It’s almost instant gratification. Plus it’s a great outlet for my energy.”
Since then Cogan has led two trips to Togo to do polio vaccinations and dedicate several well projects, also funded by Rotary. During this period Northfield Rotarians have led efforts resulting in projects totaling more than $150,000 in the developing world. Now Cogan and the Northfield Rotary are working with Books for Africa to acquire and ship 22 tons of schoolbooks to South African children, which will be distributed by Rotarians in Durban, South Africa.
Although it was Rotary’s international interests that drew Cogan to the group, he says, “You can’t be in Rotary without getting involved in community projects.” Locally Cogan has been active in the Connecting Kids mentorship program, the Northfield Human Rights Commission, and the Jeff Amerman Pavilion project. He also is president-elect of the Northfield Rotary Club.
Cogan and his wife, Nalongue, a nurse at Northfield Hospital, are the parents of John, 19, Raphaela, 7, and Pascal, 3. With two small children at home, juggling his family commitments with his work at Carleton and his volunteer work can be “a real balancing act–one that is still being fine-tuned,” he admits.
Nevertheless, being recognized by his own Rotary club is rewarding, says Cogan. “It gives me the sense that people value what I’m doing.”