According to a front-page story in the Sun-Star on Sept. 5, 1952 "only 12 cases of polio have been reported in Merced County this year."
That same story noted that "only" one polio death had been reported in the county during that period.
The next day, the Sun-Star provided a more national perspective to the epidemic. It reported that 3,559 new cases of polio were reported in just the previous week, eclipsing the previous peak week in 1949.
Polio eradication has been Rotary's top priority since 1985. Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to the polio eradication effort. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed an additional $555 million to the effort.
Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 1,000 reported cases in 2010. Compare that with the 3,559 cases reported in the United States in that one week in 1952.
The disease is now confined to four countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan). Rotary is committed to defeating the disease in these final frontiers.
So why purple? The significance of purple is that when an immunization worker gives a child the oral polio drops, she dips the child's pinkie in a purple dye solution to signify that the child has been immunized.
We have come a long way since 1952.
Rotarians in Merced and Atwater chose purple as a way to signify solidarity with the worldwide goal to "End Polio Now."
From March 21 to 26, local Rotary clubs will be working to remind us all of the work that has been done to date and the work that remains to be done.
Much of that education will be done in local high schools with informational materials and presentations designed to put polio eradication in a historical perspective.
March 25 has been declared "Purple Friday" in Merced, and every member of the community is encouraged to wear something purple that day in support of a world free of polio.
On the evening of Purple Friday, there will be a fund-raising reception at Mercy Medical Center that will feature a speech from legendary polio survivor Bob Mutchler, also known as "Motorcycle Bob."
Mutchler is one of the world's top marathon motorcycle riders. He has set many world records while riding to raise awareness of Rotary's efforts to eradicate this deadly disease.
The wine and cheese reception is $30 a person and runs from 6 to 8 p.m.
"Rotary Paints the Town Purple to End Polio Now" activities will conclude with a free walkathon on March 26. It starts at Mercy Medical Center at 9 a.m. Registration starts at 8 a.m.
Students from local high schools will walk alongside Rotarians and other community members as another visible show of support for Rotary's worldwide efforts. Purple T-shirts, shorts, socks and/or shoes are strongly encouraged.
For more information, call Mike Altomare at (209) 652-5928.
Mike Altamore and Tim O'Neill are members of the Sunrise Rotary Club. Carole Whitehill is a member of Merced Rotary.