Rotary Minute: Mark Higgins

MarkHigginswebFrom Animal House to Art Collector.  A good humored delivery has marked many of these Rotary Minutes, so what kind of humor should we expect from the leader of Hall-Wynn Funeral Service and Crematory? Not what you might think. Imagine if you will Mark in an impeccable blue suit and helmet on his motor scooter, Zorro. Or a bunch of college guys making a dorm of the basement of a mortuary. Only once did my eyes catch the eyes of a table mate with the question “what did he mean by that?” when Mark declared that he collected art but mainly he collected people. But he was quick to clarify with a Eudora Welty quote, “I work at keeping my friendships in good repair.”

Mark, we’re glad you chose Durham as a place not to grow up in.

Below is the full text of Mark’s Rotary Minute.

“Where did you grow up?” I am often asked. Answer: I haven’t done that yet. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Or, to the question, “where are you from?” Answer: My 3 siblings and I were born in Evanston, IL on Chicago’s north shore, where we lived until I was 12, when my father, a Time Magazine exec, was transferred to Pittsburgh, so I was raised in both wonderful cities. Clueless about career, I figured liberal arts were safe, so I went off to Hope College in Holland, Michigan and majored in Communication. Within weeks, I was in the chow line with a fellow student in uniform, and learned he was a paramedic with a local funeral home that ran a sideline ambulance service. They employed college students to man evenings and weekends. With a possible job opening, I was invited to stop by and go on some calls. At 18, lights and sirens sounded like a blast, so by Thanksgiving I took training and was hired, moving into the basement of the funeral parlor with 5 other students (think, Animal House) to the utter horror of my parents, though quickly buffered by the news they’d be saving on dorm cost. Shortly thereafter, I became intrigued by the upstairs activity of the funeral home and thus began my career discernment. By sophomore year, I was settled on coming into this profession, visualizing myself in a human service endeavor where I might make some difference to people in crisis. Upon graduation I sought an internship in Greensboro, as I had a slew of friends down this way from having been a camp counselor below Charlotte through college summers. I then completed studies at Pittsburgh Institute of Funeral Service and re-joined the firm in Greensboro. A year later, I took a position with the leading Int’l trade association in my field, moving back to my native, Evanston, IL. I stayed 10 years as a consultant and Marketing Director, but with a lingering desire to one day have my own business and work again as a practitioner. During that decade I made incredible contacts, covering 46 states and 8 of 10 Canadian provinces. I am blessed to have friends just about everywhere.

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Program Report: DPAC New Season – Bob Klaus

BobKlausWebCarver Weaver gave General Manager Bob Klaus a quick introduction so he could get down to business with his introduction of the 2013-2014 Durham Performing Arts Center season. The details of the season are much better shared on the DPAC website at http://www.dpacnc.com than recounted.

Bob, it turns out, is a bit of a showman himself and grabbed the portable mic to conduct a quiz of the audience’s trivia knowledge of DPAC. Although he wasn’t met with the exuberance of Bob Barker or Drew Carey on the Price is Right, it was pretty clear our full house was pretty engaged.

Among the things we learned was that our cost to build a first class performance center was $48 million contrasted to Orlando’s pending investment of $300 million. There are officially 2712 seats in the auditorium, slightly less than the plans and slightly more than for Broadway shows when the orchestra occupies some of the orchestra. The first headliner was B.B. King. The highest grossing musician was Neil Young ($350K). Jerry Seinfeld was the best drawing comedian. Wicked sold 168,363 tickets. Last year the economic impact to Durham was a positive $43 million and the facility finished with a Pollstar ranking of #5 in competition with many larger facilities in larger communities.

In responding to questions, Bob predicted that this season’s big blockbuster would be the Book of Mormon that was written by those irreverent guys that created SouthPark on television.

In chatting with Secretary Elect and Communications Committee member Mark Lazenby after the program, he posed a question that didn’t get asked because of the time constraint. Mark, who is the true public relations pro among us, observed that DPAC is “punching above its weight” and wondered why.

I think there is a clue in Bob’s response to another questions about the contrast between DPAC and the big venue in the Capital City. What’s it called now? It was the Progress Energy Center, but Progress Energy is no more.  As inelegant as you might think DPAC sounds when you pronounce it as a word, it is far better in my humble opinion than some corporate sponsorship name.  Anyway, Bob’s response talked about the focus on booking professional touring acts, that is, concerts, shows, comedians, etc., and not, with the exception of the American Dance Festival, local performance groups like the NC Symphony. Than and the role of Neiderlander and Bob’s leadership, I think explains a lot.

Poor Shelly Green, leader of our Convention and Visitors Bureau who should know everything, missed the first of Bob’s trivia questions and deprived her table of the tickets Bob was passing out for correct answers. It was about who first conceived the idea for a large performing arts center in Downtown Durham.  The choices were DDI President and Rotarian Bill Kalkhof, former Mayor Nick Tennyson or former city economic development chief and Rotarian Alan DeLisle. The correct answer according to Bob was Bill Kalkhof but he sort of admitted that was based on the earliest documentation that he could find and all three were involved very early.

Mark and I agreed that maybe the program committee should convene a panel or maybe prevail upon Bill and Bob to elaborate more at another time on why and how DPAC came about. Maybe include Shelly and her old boss and mentor Reyn Bowman.  It’s a truly remarkable economic development story. If you are reading this on our website, leave a comment with your thoughts.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Program Report: Dr. Eric Becoats – Durham Public Schools

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From left to right Dr. Julie Spencer, Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Dr. Eric Becoats, Dr. Stacey Wilson-Norman, Y.E. Smith Principal Letisha Judd, Neal Middle School Principal Jill Hall and COO Hugh Osteen.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent and Rotarian Eric Becoats brought his brain trust as guests for a status report on the schools. Introduced by CountyCommissioner and Rotarian Ellen Reckhow, Dr. Becoats gave an encouraging report on the continuing improvement in the academic achievements of the 32 thousand plus students including greatly improved end-of-grade tests and the fact that we no longer have even a single school classified as low performing. Graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down.

In the last thirty years we have seen many changes in our school systems and many, many superintendents come and go.  And although there are still many challenges, this was one of the more positive reports that we have seen. One of those challenges is literacy.  Our Club has taken on the role of organizing the Reading Rangers to tutor in the schools because of a frustratingly high rate of illiteracy among our students.

As often happens, some of the most meaningful insights came from Dr. Becoats in response to questions. One dealt with why a family with the capability to send their children to private schools should send them to DPS and a similar question about attracting white residents back to the school system so that the school population resembles the population as a whole.  It’s unfortunate that we still have to measure things that way but that’s the reality.

The short answer was that the system has to make it attractive. The obvious institutional things that the system is doing such as creating magnet schools and specialized curricula for niche interests, are extremely important. But there is something else that is a little more subtle that seemed to come out in the response to Melissa Mills’ testimonial about her daughter moving easily from the Durham Public Schools to Stanford.  It has to do with community commitment and involvement.

I’m a proud Reading Ranger on Monday mornings at Y. E. Smith but I’ll admit I wasn’t convinced that either the classroom teachers or the administration would welcome a bunch of know-it-all Rotarians into their classrooms with a minimum of training. But what I have gotten out of the experience has been more than what I expected in terms really helping and getting to know the three young students that I have been working with.  Maybe I’m helping them and I do get my warm and fuzzy feeling from their smiles, but maybe the teaching assistant in the classroom could be doing it just as well.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the real importance of the program is just being there. I had a similar feeling working on a Habitat house the first time. I knew that a couple of experienced framing carpenters with nail guns could run circles around a bunch of amateurs with hammers putting together the pieces of a home. But being in the classroom (or on the job site for Habitat) gets you more involved and more committed than the alternative of paying more taxes to try for the same outcome…and you get better results.

Our schools cannot fail if the community supports them. The kids that, for whatever reason, have parents that cannot be actively involved in their children’s education need those that can, to be involved even more. Since I began tutoring, I’ve probably spent more time in east Durham than I have in the previous 28 years combined. It has made me realize that the community is much broader than I ever imagined and made the idea of diversity much less scary. Y. E. Smith is amazing. The reason that we need to support DPS whether we are white or black or have “options” is because the kids need it, the community needs it, and our souls need it.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Rotary Minute: Carolyn Aaronson

CarolynAwebThe general reaction at the table were I was sitting as I took a few notes on Carolyn Aaronson’s Rotary Minute was to wish me good luck on writing it up. The same thing was running through my head until right at the end when Carolyn pulled up a breadbox sized container and opened it to reveal the thousand tiny cranes she had created. The legend goes that whoever creates a thousand origami cranes will have their wish come true, but as Carolyn pointed out, there are no promises about when.

Carolyn pledged that after the meeting she would be at the doorway so everybody could have one of the cranes in the hopes that it would make their wishes come true. This tells us all that we need to know about Carolyn.

First, she creates beautiful things. Besides the cranes she showed us examples of her fabric art and the flower drawings that she is now creating.

Second, she is a warm and generous person. Her contributions of time and money to various rotary projects are well known, the latest being raising a substantial sum for club projects from the sale of valentines that she created.

Third, Carolyn marches to the beat of a drum and bugle corps heavily influenced by reggae, or, said another way, Carolyn is not your typical Rotarian. On the contrary, Carolyn is an example of the type of member that will keep Rotary from being a moribund institution.

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I got my crane and my wish is that Carolyn stays an active member of the club at least as long as I’m in it.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Rotary Youth Exchange – 2013 – 14

RotaryYouthExchangeAfter a very successful year in which the Durham Rotary Club hosted an exchange student from Belgium and sponsored two students who studied abroad, we are now at the point when we are about to receive a new exchange student for 2013 – 14. Our Rotary District 7710 requires that those clubs that send exchange students out, host an exchange student who comes to our district. With that in mind, we are currently seeking host families who will welcome our 2013 student into there homes for a three or four month period beginning in late August of this year.
The student whom we are sending out will be going to study in France next year. Our incoming student is a 17 year old girl from Brazil. A host family is not expected to pay for the incoming student, though there will be some expenses, i.e. meals, vacation with the family, etc. The student will be enrolled in a Durham school and the host family will need to see to the school-related needs of that student while he/she attends school. Our club will provide a monthly allowance for the incoming student that is intended to cover normal expenses such as entertainment, personal needs, etc. The family of the incoming student is responsible for most of the expenses incurred by the student while he/she is in this country plus air fare, insurance, or any Rotary sponsored trips, etc.
This current year three of our club Rotarians have opened their homes to our exchange student: Newman and Ann-Louise Agiuar, Janene and Peter Tompkins, and Aubrey and Scott Howell. We are grateful to them for reaching out and including the exchange student in their family. Two of our host families were themselves exchange students and felt the need to welcome a student into their homes. Anyone of them would be happy to talk to a fellow Rotarian about being a host. One of the things most often heard from a host is how much it meant to have their own children engaged with a student from another culture.
Please consider becoming a host family for our exchange student next year. Contact Dallas Stallings or Vandana Dake if you would like to serve in this position during Rotary year 2013 – 14.
Dallas Stallings, Student Exchange Committee

Program Report: Cree, Innovations in Lighting – Greg Merritt

GregMerrittCreeWebGreg Merritt, Vice-President for Marketing at CREE Industries, a Durham founded and headquartered business gave the club a very “enlightening” presentation on the company’s leading role in innovative lighting solutions for residential, industrial, and public uses.  CREE also manufactures semiconductor components for power and radio frequency products.

 Greg, who studied at the University of Virginia and California-Berkeley, joined CREE in 2006.  He and President Don became acquainted when Don gave Greg a tour of a Durham Habitat house.  Greg was impressed by what he saw, so much so that CREE not only donated recessed LED lighting for that home but, in a display of generous corporate citizenship, provides all recessed lighting for Habitat houses throughout the country.

CREE’s origins go back to the late 1980s when NC State University students founded the company and manufactured its first product, a blue LED.  From its initial five founders and employees the company now has 6,000 employees worldwide in design, development, production and sales.  Anticipating sales of over a billion dollars this year, CREE has rung up an enviable 22% annual growth rate since 2002.  CREE’s products—lighting and power solutions—employ semiconductors made in North Carolina.  In a major role reversal, Asia—China in particular—is CREE’s biggest market.  Growth in Asian economies is outstripping supply of electricity, forcing more energy efficiency.

Greg gave us a number of examples of why the LED revolution is occurring especially in this era of sustainability.  CREE technology could reduce power consumption on the U.S. grid by roughly 10%.  About 22% of electrical output in this country is consumed by lighting.  Because of energy lost in transmission, power plants must produce twice as much electricity as is consumed.   Because of its inefficiency, Edison’s bulb—the incandescent lamp—should be called a “heat bulb’ rather than a light bulb.  Recent innovations have produced LED lights that are about 17 times more efficient than standard incandescent lights and nearly as large a margin (with the added bonus of being silent) compared to fluorescent tubes.  Stores could save 65% on their lighting bills by installing LED lights.  LED street lights consume one-fourth as much electricity as standard bulbs—plus they don’t contain mercury or other undesirable materials.

Los Angeles is engaged in the largest LED project in the world.  When completed, the county will have retrofitted 140,000 street lights producing an annual savings of approximately $10 million in electricity costs.  Several corporations, including Walmart and McDonalds, have introduced LED lighting in some locations.

Although upfront costs of LED lighting are significantly higher than conventional lighting those costs can be recouped in a few short years.  Additionally, the long life of LED bulbs—generally decades—means lower replacement maintenance expenses.  Interestingly, some insurance companies are offering discounts on automobiles with LED brake lights.  LED lights come on immediately, saving one-sixth of a second—roughly a car length in braking time—over conventional brake lights.

In the question and comment period following Greg’s presentation several club members applauded CREE for its commendable record of community service and for providing hundreds of Durham citizens with employment.

  Submitted by Allen Cronenberg