By Andy Rieger
Rotary International President Ron Burton was on the stage inside the opulent Rashtrapati Bhavan complex in February when India became the latest country to be declared polio-free. Beside him were India's prime minister, the minister of health and various other national and world dignitaries.
He brought with him Rotary International's highest award, the Award of Honour, for Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India. The event was attended by thousands and broadcast throughout the nation.
"At the end of the ceremony he came straight over to me and shook my hand and thanked me," recalls Burton. "This was the president of India." 
Burton, back in Norman this past week after a year as president-elect and then his presidential year, said he had to remind himself it was about Rotarians worldwide.  He became immediately recognizable to members of 34,000 clubs worldwide. His signature added thousands of dollars to charity auction items. Shirts, soccer balls and books arrived daily for him to autograph.   "I could walk into an airport and people would recognize you, he said. At the convention, they treat you like a rock star. It can be a big ego trip but you have to remember it's not about you. It's about Rotary International."
He retired as head of the OU Foundation and Jetta retired as a public school teacher. The year took Ron and Jetta Burton around the world, attending hundreds of Rotary functions. This past week, they bid goodbye to the Evanston, Ill., headquarters staff of 650, packed and locked the condo door and pointed the car back to Norman.  
"Living in a high-rise is nice but sometimes it's nice to walk out in your grass in bare feet," he said.  In Illinois, they missed chicken-fried steak and Mexican food but loved Chicago pizza and Italian food. They soon discovered there were no Braums ice cream stores. In Norman, they can do just about everything they need within two miles of their westside home.
As Rotary's president and first lady, travel was a constant. They were on the road about 250 days. During the bedlam football game, they were in South Korea listening to the end of the game at 3 a.m.  As president-elect in 2012, he was amazed at the world interest in the U.S. presidential election. "It's amazing how the world is attuned to what is happening here politically," he said.
World eradication of polio remains a top priority. It's down to just over 100 cases in three countries Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. A few outlying cases have popped up this year, mostly due to travel.
"We're going to continue to have those until we beat this thing and that's going to happen soon."  His goals for the year were to grow membership, contributions and family involvement. He believes membership is up by about 35,000 members to about 1.2 million. Contributions to the Rotary International Foundation's largest donor category are up.
Back in Norman, he'll be back to attending his own home club gatherings at noon on Thursdays and Jetta to hers on Tuesday evenings. He'll remain involved in Rotary International but gets a year to wind down.
"We always said we just wanted to leave the wood pile a little higher when we left and I think we did. It's just been an incredible year."