Rotary Minute – Ellen Cassilly

Ellen Rotary Minute webEllen is a relatively new Rotarian and an accomplished and well known architect around town.  Her invocation was particularly moving especially for so many of us who helped serve meals at Urban Ministries or the Rescue Mission during the Centennial Year. So here it is with the Minute in here own words.


In honor of all of the mothers who have fed us all of our lives and Father Daniel Joseph Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and activist, who passed away a few weeks ago, I will let his words be our invocation.

Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starving man,

and the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.

Hope that you might have baked this bread or bought it

or even kneaded it yourself.

For that look on his face,

for your meeting his eyes across that piece of bread,

you might be willing to lose a lot,

or suffer a bit,

or die a little.

Ellen’s Rotary Minute

Many of you know that I am an architect and have had my office, Ellen Cassilly Architect, at the corner of Foster and Corporation for the last 18 years designing a mix of commercial and residential projects, some in the downtown core including the pavilion in Durham Central Park and Full Steam Brewery.

For my Rotary minute I’d like to tell you about a different but related aspect of my life.

About 10 years ago my husband Frank Konhaus and I started the process of designing and building a new home for ourselves. The project’s working title was Cassilhaus, a contraction of our two last names. The program was a bit unusual and included an apartment to house a visiting artist residency and a gallery space for an exhibition program.

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Rotary Minute: Minna Ng

Ng MinuteIn her own words…

Hello everyone! My name is Minna Ng. I’m a Chinese American, born and raised in Brooklyn NY, first in family to attend college. My father, born in China, was a bartender and waiter most of his life, finished 6th grade, and my mother, born in Hong Kong, finished high school and worked her way up from being a seamstress to a pattern maker in the cut throat NYC fashion world.

I started out at the local community college, earned my associates degree while working, transferred to City College in Harlem NY and earned my biology BS degree. After 3 years working in a research laboratory, I got myself into graduate school, earned a PhD in Psychology, with a focus in brain sciences. I have been teaching for the last 9 years, most recently, at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, when I moved here to Durham last year. In addition to teaching, I also run outreach events between the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the greater community, including the upcoming Brain Awareness Week (March 28–April 3). Please tell everyone about it and come. Choose from a range of educational activities for all ages about the brain.

This semester, I’m also teaching (in my spare time – who needs to sleep, right?) at Durham Tech because community colleges are special places, and where I got my start. In fact, it was just 2 months into my move here to Durham last year when I met Carver Weaver, my Rotary sponsor, at the MLK Meal Packing event at Durham Tech. Thank you, Carver.

With my remaining time, I’d like to thank the wait and kitchen staff for making our weekly meals so wonderful. Please let us all give them a thankful round of applause: Nikki, Sandra, Rhonda, Tianna, Ron, and Chef James. Thank you all.

Rotary Minute: Christopher Gergen

ChristopherGergenMinuteWebChristopher Gergen, who we may know best as the creator of the Durham Rotary Innovation Fellows Program, provided a Rotary Minute today the ticked through many other initiatives he has been involved in, many with a similar theme often described as social entrepreneurship.

As an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fellow himself at Duke, Christopher is also the CEO of Forward Impact a program to unleash the impact of the potential next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.

This work includes launching community-based strategies to develop and scale high-impact entrepreneurs including Bull City Forward in Durham, NC, Queen City Forward in Charlotte, NC, Moore Forward in Moore County, NC, HQ Raleigh, and Think House – an entrepreneurial living community in Raleigh.

Forward Impact also helps schools, universities, and communities develop transformational entrepreneurial leadership experiences with partners such as the Center for Creative Leadership, where Christopher is Innovator in Residence.

Forward Impact also consults with state and national clients including helping launch and scale the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, Carolina CAN, and the NC Charter School Accelerator.

Christopher is co-author of the nationally acclaimed book Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives and co-authors a bi-weekly column on social innovation for the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer titled “Doing Better at Doing Good.”

Christopher was recently selected as a 2013 Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and serves on several local, state, and national boards including the NC Museum of Natural Science’s Citizen Science Council, Duke’s Nasher Art Museum, and the National Center on Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

In 1999, Christopher co-founded SMARTHINKING that became the leading online tutoring provider in the United States before being acquired by Pearson Education in 2011. Other ventures include starting a coffeehouse/bar in Santiago, Chile and “Entrepreneur Corps”—an AmeriCorps*VISTA initiative that placed 400 full-time business volunteers for a year of service in over 90 non-profits.

Previously, Christopher started LEAD!, a leadership, entrepreneurship, and service program for Gonzaga College high school students in Washington, D.C. and is a founding board member of the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School also in D.C.

Further experience includes serving as Vice President of New Market Development for K12 Inc. and Chief Operating Officer for New American Schools. Christopher received a Bachelor of Arts with honors from Duke University, a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the George Washington University, and his M.B.A. from Georgetown University.

Christopher is a third generation Durhamite.  His grandparents moved to Durham in 1936 when his grandfather became the chair of Duke’s Math Department, a position he held until his retirement thirty years later. His dad spent the first three years of his life on Monmouth Ave where Rotarian Barker French now lives and graduated from Durham High in 1959.

Christopher grew up in Washington, DC but came to Duke as an undergrad. He returned again to Durham six years ago with his family and now lives in Trinity Park where his kids go to Watts Montessori.

Rotary Minute: Melissa Mills

MelissaMillsMinuteWebMelissa Mills lightened up her post-invocation Rotary Minute by breaking into song…something she has been doing a lot lately…see dedication of the Barada Habitat Home.

Rotary Minute: Chris Combs

ChrisCombsMinutreAfter offering an invocation during the 100 birthday celebration of the Durham Rotary’s first meeting that prayed that “we’d be good stewards of the legacy and continue on with a genuine desire to serve others while remembering that you’re the source of that desire” Chris Combs delivered his Rotary Minute. In his own words:

Please have a seat and continue eating.  Guy Solie and Melissa Mills told me that part of doing the Rotary Minute is designed to answer the question, “Why are you here, and what inspires you about Rotary?”

I thought about that question and it took me to the memories of attending the funerals of my grandparents over the last 15 years.  What’s vivid to me are the memories of the hundreds of people who came into the churches and into the funeral homes to pay their respects.

I caught a glimpse into the impact that they had had on their neighbors in the towns of Carr Creek, KY and Roanoke, VA.

I heard from the students that they had taught who went on to earn the first college degree that their families had ever seen.  I listened to the basketball players my grandfather coached who didn’t know their own dads, so they looked to him for direction and guidance.  Service above self.

I was reminded of how, shortly after they were married, both of my grandfathers left their brides to put themselves in harm’s way so they could fight the Nazis and the fear that Morton Combs felt as he rode across the English Channel towards Normandy during the great invasion on D-Day + 1.  Service above self.

I heard about how, after the war, during times of peace my mother’s father, Sam McNeil, consistently carved out time to stay involved in the community despite just launching his small business.  Service above self.

I rode down the street named after him in Roanoke for his civic efforts in founding Blue Ridge Public Television to advance education, the years he spent on the school board in Roanoke, and his years as a Rotarian.  I listened to his friends recall his efforts towards founding a chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the 1960s.

I’m proud to be in this club to honor what they stood for throughout their lives so I’m glad that I got to share this with you today on the day that we’re honoring what was started here in Durham 100 years ago.

Rotary Minute: Jodee Nimerichter

JodieMinuteJodee Nimerrichter is the Director of the American Dance Festival, one of the first major festivals with roots in Durham and still one of the greatest. Every summer ADF makes us the center of the dance world. Jodee joined our club in 2010. She used her Rotary Minute to explain how her connection to another Rotarian resulted in something wonderful for the Dance Festival. In her words:

Rotary has been extremely meaningful to me because of the wonderful relationships I’ve made with some of the extraordinary individuals in this room. One that stands out is my acquaintance with Arthur Rogers that began over what I thought was going to be a simple lunch to get to know that super nice guy that was about to become the Rotary President.

Turns out that over that lunch, he told me he was developing a building at 721 Broad Street.  He cescribed it…two stories, glass walls, ceilings that reached 1 feet, no support columns in the space… All I could think was this would make incredible dance studios for the American Dance Festival. He said the top floor wasn’t yet spoken for  and little did he think that I would ask him if he would condo  the building so I could do a capital campaign to secure the festival’s first permanent year-round facility. Four months later, we signed a contract. Now, thousands of local dancers of all ages have the opportunity to take classes and rehearse in our beautiful home…the first time in ADF’s history.

Thank you Rotary for the introduction to amazing people who go above and beyond to make great things happen fur this community and the world.