News & Notices

News from the club and its members and notices.

Program Report: Mayor Bill Bell – Poverty Initiative

BellReckhowTwo weeks ago, I did a flattering write-up of the boffo presentation Scott Selig of Duke gave about their partnership with the city to revitalize Downtown. Last week I walked out of our meeting with City Manager Tom Bonfield and complimented him on the good job the city did helping everyone in my neighborhood clean up after the tornado.  This week walking out to my car thinking about how to spin Mayor Bill Bell’s presentation about his poverty initiative, I got my reward for all this sucking up to “the man”…a parking ticket on Chapel Hill Street.  I guess I should be happy the city is doing something about “the PARKING PROBLEM” in Downtown Durham that Scott Selig so joyously proclaimed.

Here’s the real rub. As many know, Selig’s presentation, and our Rotary Club by association, got some very positive but unsought attention on the editorial page of the Herald-Sun. Serendipity. During the same period the club’s communications committee has been struggling to get coverage, any coverage, on the recent Books on Break distribution of books to every kid at Y.E. Smith, capping the end of the second year of the Reading Rangers program. Let’s face it, poverty programs are not as sexy or as much fun as celebrating the apartment boom or the growing brain trust of “the most productive people in the world” in our community. This underlines just one of the problems that makes any effort to make a dent in poverty difficult.

After an introduction by Rotarian and County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow outlining Mayor Bell’s almost 40 years of service to the community on both the County Commission and City Council, including long stints as Chairman and Mayor, the Mayor himself posed the question about “why now” to focus on poverty. Much of his own reputation is built on his attention to solving our crime problem. His answer is revealing and ties back to the positive things that get the press attention. The answer is that Durham is now more aware and more confident in its ability to handle the problem.  Hell yeah! If we can reshape the whole economic base of the community around RTP and transform a downtown in serious decline into today’s Downtown Durham, we can certainly make a dent in poverty.

A friend of mine who used to be heavily involved in workforce development in Durham once explained to me that Durham’s original economic base of low skill manufacturing jobs left behind a legacy that included more than our share of poor people as those industries disappeared. The Mayor shared that a UNC study of the state’s major urban areas showed that Durham has 8 of the 18 poorest census tracts, but none of the worst. The initial focus will be on tracts 31 and 32 in Northeast Central Durham that overlap with our Reading Ranger partnership with the East Durham Children’s Initiative. Organizationally, the Mayor has established several task forces, each co-chaired by either a Councilperson, Commissioner or School Board Member.  Members of the community will be the other co-chairs and the initial activities have focused on listening to community members about their needs.

At the end of her introduction, Ellen Reckhow, described Mayor Bell as a “cool” guy. This brought a few chuckles. Dapper maybe, but I’ve always regarded Mayor Bell as a serious and pleasant person but maybe a little dour. It is hard to imagine him waving his arms in enthusiasm like Scott Selig did during his presentation. With almost 40 years of leadership under his belt, Mayor Bell’s place in Durham’s history is well established, so he must be applauded for undertaking this problem, which could take generations to solve, cool or not. He will need a lot of help and Rotary will, no doubt, be right there with him. There are at least two good reasons. The first is the economic reason. Poverty is a dragging anchor on the rest of the community and correlates with the need for more police, more jail cells and more social services. More important to Rotarians who are committed to the motto “Service Above Self,” and especially evident to everyone who has worked on the Reading Ranger program, these are our neighbors and real people, not just statistics, who could use a hand.

Now about that parking ticket…Oh well. It’s not the first and probably won’t be the last.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Books on Break Caps Reading Rangers Second Year

Books on Break thank you 2 In early May 2014, the Durham Rotary Club partnered with Book Harvest and Y.E. Smith Elementary School to offer “Books on Break.”

Every student selected 10 books each to take home right before summer break. More than 50 volunteers distributed 4,070 books to 407 pre-K-5th graders over three days. The students were ecstatic and the volunteers really enjoyed serving as “personal shoppers” to help students select their books. It was a lot of fun! Books on Break is designed to help combat summer learning loss, help students arrive back at school in the fall ready to learn, and help develop a love of reading.

Books on Break capped the second year of a volunteer tutoring program created by The Durham Rotary Club to promote student literacy at Y.E. Smith Elementary School year with good results and plans for growth.Books on Break Debra

“We’ve been at it nearly 24 months, and we think we’re in a good position,” Todd E. Taylor, vice president of Durham Rotary and founder of  “The Rotary Reading Rangers” project, said.  The club is partnering with the East Durham Children’s Initiative to pair individual, trained volunteer tutors with select K-5 students at Y.E. Smith.

Books on Break Wendy Jacobs“Ultimately, we’ll expand into other schools,” Taylor said.

This year, the rangers had nearly 40 tutors who volunteered more than 525 hours of one-on-one support to more than 30 students.  School Principal Letisha Judd said some students have shown measurable reading progress of up to a full school year.

The Rangers program is open to all interested people – with or without Rotary affiliation – who are willing to be trained and are willing to volunteer a minimum of 1 hour per week at the school.

The Rangers are backed by other Rotary clubs in Durham and across the Triangle region and District 7710, home to 46 clubs.  Rotary has contributed more than $24,000 to Durham literacy and scholarship programs, collected over 54,000 books to give to local children, and provided nearly $100,000 in school supplies and donations to area programs.Books on Break Vol

Books on Break, a cornerstone program of Book Harvest, made its Y.E. Smith debut May 6 with the help of volunteers from Durham Rotary.  Overall, about 60 volunteers served as personal shoppers for more than 400 students who filled summer book bags provided by Rotary with 10 books each.

To learn more visit

Submitted by Mimi O’Brian and Mark Lazenby

Books on Break Thank you 1

Program Report: Judge Mark Davis – The Biblical Influence on the Law

judgemarkdaviswebOur guest speaker Mark Davis, serves as a judge with the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Introduced by member Keith Burns, we learned he is a two-time Tar Heel, with an exaggerated sense of his tennis abilities. He is currently up for re-election, but what struck me most about Keith’s introduction was when he described Davis’ swearing in, stating that the Chamber was so packed that people had to wait outside, showing how respected he is among his peers. He is also a Rotarian, a member of the downtown Raleigh club.

Judge Davis was here to speak about the biblical influences on our legal system in the United States, despite the separation of Church and State. He focused on three areas of interest: how different types of judges came to be in the bible, how biblical law is or is not apparent in US Law, and the similarity of the process of judging a case.

The first point, in short, was summed up with a story that Moses was so busy adjudicating all of the laws handed down to him in the Five Books of Moses (The Old Testament) that he was working overtime. His father-in-law suggested that other judges handle the less important cases, and Moses could focus on the larger, more important ones. So, too we have trial judges, appellate courts and eventually a supreme court to hear cases at the state and federal levels.  He also mentioned that this was the first recorded evidence of a father-in-law giving sound advice.

I won’t go through all Ten Commandments here, but Judge Davis did note that many commandments are reflected in civil court, such as adultery, and that bearing false witness is not a crime, unless you perjure yourself (after swearing on, usually, a Bible). And of course the larger sins, such as murder, are well represented. But even keeping the Sabbath is reflected in Blue Laws, for the states that have them.

Most fascinating was linking how the biblical leaders determined the process of judging a case. For parts of the bible that were unclear, they turned to other parts of the bible for definition. Take for example, the Sabbath. The section of the bible stating to not work on the Sabbath really does not describe what constitutes work, so they turned to the section of the bible that referred to building the Tabernacle, which described in good detail what was and was not working. So too, judges today use other statutes to clarify a parts of a law and determine how to stand on a case.

And there were at least three guest clergy in the audience today. All in all, a very educational lunch!

Submitted by Deirdre Haj

Rotary Minute: Past President Kay Gresham

KayGreshamWebOne interesting thing about many of the Rotary minutes is that you often learn surprising things about people that you have known a long time.  However, in the case of Kay Gresham, the first woman president of the Durham Rotary Club back in 1997-1998, she attempted a complete image makeover.

Some aspects of Kay’s story were not surprising. We learned that she was “raised right” in the little community of Bethlehem NC, about 150 miles west of here near Hickory where her 92 year old mother still lives.  She got up early, did her chores and stayed out of trouble. Growing up she wanted to be a schoolteacher but ended up working for a bank for 18 years and then joining one of the predecessor firms of Morgan Stanley, where she has been since 1984 and is a Vice President and Financial Advisor.

Anyone that knows Kay is aware that she has been active in the Durham Community since moving here in 1976.  Kay barely mentioned that but it’s all documented there on her Linkedin profile. Besides Rotary she has been on many local boards including St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Durham Arts Council, the YMCA, Triangle United Way, Durham Tech, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, the Forest at Duke and the Durham Volunteer Center.

In spite of this wide diversity of community interests, we also know that Kay is a complete Rotarian. Her involvement began before women were admitted for membership through her husband Wade’s membership in the club. She told of finally joining as soon as a male colleague gave up the classification. She is the only past president I’m sure that many of us have ever heard say that they loved being president and would have loved to serve a second term.  At this point she made a plea to members of the club to serve if asked in the leadership of the club because it had been such a satisfying experience for her. She described going back to Hickory and helping childhood friends who were afflicted by polio and realizing how important Rotary’s work with Polio Plus has been getting “this close” to eliminating that disease from the world.

Here’s the surprise. We know Kay as a petite, charming, completely feminine professional. But who knew she is a total jock? She described running the hurdles for her high school track team and finishing one race by running through a hurdle instead of over it.  She recounted being a great fast pitch softball pitcher. When they switched to slow pitch she changed positions to catcher where she didn’t wear a mask and got her nose broken. She also played basketball in high school but didn’t put away her athletic tendencies with graduation. Not too long ago her husband Wade talked her into a 150 bike ride to Emerald Isle by convincing her that it was all downhill to the coast. She has been white water rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. She did admit that she would have paid anything at the end for a mule to ride out on but did make it out by foot. I was impressed. These stories add a whole new dimension to Kay’s image. I helped coach a high school track team for a few years and I’ve seen guys get tangled up with a hurdle many times but I’ve never seen a girl run through one.  Go, Kay, go!

Kay and Wade have been married for over 37 years and have one married daughter, Laura. They now live with two rescued dogs and two rescued cats in Durham.

Submitted by Kay Gresham

New Member: Debra Saunders-White

NewMemberDebraSaunders-WhiteWebMembership Chair Sheridan Van Wagenberg presided over the induction of  new member Dr. Debra Saunders-White, Chancellor of North Carolina Central University.  Dr. Saunders-White was sponsored and introduced by President Bill Ingram.

Dr. Debra Saunders-White Ed.D., began as the 11th chancellor of North Carolina Central University on June 1, 2013.

Prior to coming to North Carolina Central, Deb Saunders-White served as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Post-secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. She joined the Department of Education in May 2011 as the deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. Prior to her stint in Washington, she served as the Vice Chancellor for Information Systems at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  She began her career in higher education at Hampton University where she was vice president for technology and Chief Information Officer. Prior to entering higher education administration, Saunders-White spent 15 years with IBM.

She holds the Bachelor of Arts degree in History and African-American Studies from the University of Virginia the Masters of Business Administration from the College of William and Mary, and the Doctorate in Education in Higher Education Administration from George Washington University.

Saunders-White started her tenure with the goal of “Eagle Excellence,” or “E-squared.” Her priorities for ensuring student success and academic excellence include: retaining and graduating students in four years; raising critical scholarship funds; and providing innovative academic instruction that prepares and trains students to work in the global marketplace. At NCCU, Saunders-White aims to create “techno-scholars,” or technology trendsetters and leaders who understand how technology intersects with all disciplines—from STEM to the liberal arts, social sciences, business, education, law and nursing.

Saunders-White is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and a member of the Links Inc. She is the mother of two children, Elizabeth Paige and Cecil III.

Program Report: Centennial Planning Update -Immediate Past President Don Stanger


Past President Don Stanger checks his messages while Shelly Green, Craig Brown, Carolyn Aaronson and Melissa Mills work on their surveys.

Past President Don Stanger began his presentation with Durham Rotary Club 101: Our Ancestry. He showed how, in the beginning, there was us. And Downtown Durham Club spawned clubs in Henderson, Northern Durham, Burlington, and Chapel Hill, which begat some 12 clubs currently in the region. Still some debate over where Sunrise came from, though!

He reminded us that our centennial celebration will offer fellowship and service as well as fun. “After all, it is a celebration,” he said. “Let’s keep this in perspective!” The theme of our centennial will be “100 Acts of Service,” designed to inspire individuals and groups in Durham, the region, and the world – not just Rotarians – to become involved in community service during our centennial year. Events will kick off in January 2015 and culminate in a gala celebration in January 2016.

Surveys were distributed, and will be available online as well. The committee is polling the membership to create a matrix of relationships already in existence among our club members with local non-profit and charitable organizations. Efforts will also focus on building additional relationships outside the club to showcase some of the smaller, less prominent organizations in the community that are still doing great work but would benefit from partnering with our group. Finally, Don urged us to put the “centennial stamp” on events that are already part of our fundraising, marketing, and communications plan.

A member of the centennial planning committee was seated at each table, and the club broke into individual groups for further discussion. Members were asked to submit ideas for ongoing monthly acts of service, individual acts, and acts that would require group participation. Once the surveys are completed, the committee will assess all of the ideas and suggestions, building an inventory of potential ideas and evaluating what is needed for implementation. Then, the results will be presented to the membership.

In addition, ideas for a “capstone event” for the gala celebration are being considered, in which everyone involved could be recognized for their successful contributions to the community.

Prior to “Service Above Self,” Rotary International’s slogan was “One profits most who serves best.” If that is indeed the case, the Downtown Rotary Club members are gearing up for a very “profitable” centennial year!