Rotary Minute: Arthur Rogers – Hosting a Rotary Peace Fellow

Good afternoon Rotarians!

The holiday season became even more special for my family 11 years ago when we met Mayer Ngomesia. That year, I signed on to be host counselor for Mayer, a Rotary Peace Fellow from Cameroon. Though he only lived with us for a week or so before moving into his own apartment, he quickly became part of the family. Mayer made it a point to spend a lot of time at our house the two years he was at Duke getting his master’s degree. And he spent a decade of Christmases with us! Even after leaving Duke and Durham, Mayer would fly home, as he called our house, to be with us for Christmas, often arriving late on Christmas Eve- sort of like Santa Claus!

Last November, my son Henry and I traveled to Zanzibar, Tanzania to see Mayer get married to his wonderful wife Lolem. Now they live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and have other places to go for Christmas. We miss seeing Mayer at Christmas, but love knowing we have dear friends we can visit in far-flung places.

I’ve served at a host counselor for 3 peace fellows and I’m currently assisting Bumni with a 4th. It’s always a great experience and our club is well positioned to be a valuable resource for the fellows. Consider volunteering when you are asked this year and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be selected!

Rotary Minute: Blake Strayhorn

We’re feeling called to be bold these days at Durham Habitat.  With so many thousands of Durham neighbors living in need, we have to be.

I live in Old North Durham and my wife, Dell, and I have two boys, Will and Thomas, who are 26 and 24. Both boys went to Carolina and both live in the Triangle.  Younger son, Thomas, just moved back to Durham after serving a year with AmeriCorps, working for Denver Habitat.

I grew up in Nashville Tennessee and seems I’ve almost always had quirky cool jobs.  I started that trend when I worked for a vet in high school. Since it was Nashville, that meant rubbing shoulders with country music stars, both human and canine.  Y’all remember the TV show, Hee Haw?  One of my job responsibilities at the vet was to bathe Beauregard, the big bloodhound on Hee Haw, before he went on the set.

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Rotary Minute: New Member Kim Suarez

I was born and raised in a very small town in Eastern NC and attended Northampton County East High School which led to the opportunity to attend the NC School of Science and Math as I searched for a more dynamic educational endeavor. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill, graduated, and embarked upon a career in the pharmaceutical industry in Atlanta.  I spent some time living in different cities around the country; Pittsburgh, Louisville, Northern New Jersey. Ultimately, I was led to discover my passion for the nonprofit industry when I took on a new role with the American Heart Association managing social events and eventually as the Senior Director of Development in Orlando, FL. I returned to North Carolina a few years ago with my currently 13 year old daughter (Elena), and my 10 year old son (Peyton) to work as the Director of Development at Durham Nativity School. About 8 months ago, I accepted my current position as the Managing Director of Development at Teach For America working to help end educational inequity in Eastern North Carolina. I am really looking forward to being a member of the Rotary Club for many reasons, but I am especially excited to be a part of an organization that will allow and enhance my ability to give back to the community alongside my peers.

Rotary Minute: Judge Willis Whichard – On Leaving the Convention Center

Many years ago when I had the privilege of representing Durham in the North Carolina Senate, there was an occasion on which the City of Durham entertained the General Assembly.  The event was held in a tobacco warehouse on a very hot night in the late spring.  Subsequently many members of the General Assembly said to me, “I hope you get a civic center.”

We meet today in this civic or convention center for the last time, at least on a regular basis.  Only a few of us are old enough, or have been in Durham long enough, to remember when the city had no such facility and thus had to entertain distinguished guests in a hot tobacco warehouse.  The old armory across the street was called a civic center, but it was obviously quite ill-suited and limited for such a purpose.

In January 1980, the Durham Progress Group was established under the leadership of Duke President Terry Sanford, whose 100th birthday some of us observed last week.  Early in its deliberations that group concluded that a civic center-hotel complex in Downtown Durham was a major need in the economic and civic life of the community.  As a consequence, it initiated the formation of the Downtown Durham Development Corporation, the primary purpose of which was to develop a proposal for such a civic center-hotel complex.

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Invocation and Rotary Minute: Charlie Reece

Rotarian Charlie Reece, who is also a member of our City Council, used his Rotary Minute to recount an event that recently occurred honoring a former mayor. With the “amen” it also became our invocation.

Last month, we had a very special night at the Durham City Council, when all of the former living mayors of the city of Durham were on hand with William V. “Bill” Bell, the current mayor of the city of Durham, to celebrate the 98th birthday of former mayor Wense Grabarek, who served from 1963 to 1971. My colleague Council Member Eddie Davis read a lovely proclamation in honor of Mayor Grabarek, detailing his leadership during a period in Durham’s history rife with protests when he worked to bring people together and end racial segregation in hotel and motel operations, restaurants, employment.

Mayor Grabarek then delivered some really amazing remarks, and I’ve pulled a few excerpts that truly spoke to me and I suspect will resonate with many of the folks in this room. Mayor Grabarek really invoked the spirit of public service that animates so much of what we do together in Rotary, so I thought might make a halfway decent invocation for today’s meeting. Let’s see how this goes:

We’re all better than we are, and if we visit our conscience, we usually wind up at the right place.

In all the challenges that Durham has in the future, let’s put our conscience to work. We all have one. Think it through. We don’t need riots and bombings and killings. Let’s do it at the table. That’s my sincere hope.

When I was elected, I did what I thought I possibly could to improve all levels of our life in the city of Durham. And I felt that every time I had the opportunity, I had to really seize it, because that’s what you need to do, seize the opportunity. But rather, I look at it more really as a privilege, as a privilege to serve the wonderful people of the city of Durham.

In 1963, our country was rampant with riot. Today, our country is seriously, critically divided. In Durham, we decided that our diverse togetherness gives light to our soul. I hope that will ever be so in the future.

To which I think all of us here at Rotary today can say AMEN.
Last month, we had a very special night at the Durham City Council, when all of the former living mayors of the city of Durham were on hand with William V. “Bill” Bell, the current mayor of the city of Durham, to celebrate the 98th birthday of former mayor Wense Grabarek, who served from 1963 to 1971. My colleague Council Member Eddie Davis read a lovely proclamation in honor of Mayor Grabarek, detailing his leadership during a period in Durham’s history rife with protests when he worked to bring people together and end racial segregation in hotel and motel operators, restaurants, employment,

Mayor Grabarek then delivered some really amazing remarks, and I’ve pulled a few excerpts that truly spoke to me and I suspect will resonate with many of the folks in this room. Mayor Grabarek really invoked the spirit of public service that animates so much of what we do together in Rotary, so I thought might make a halfway decent invocation for today’s meeting. Let’s see how this goes:

We’re all better than we are, and if we visit our conscience, we usually wind up at the right place.

In all the challenges that Durham has in the future, let’s put our conscience to work. We all have one. Think it through. We don’t need riots and bombings and killings. Let’s do it at the table. That’s my sincere hope.

When I was elected, I did what I thought I possibly could to improve all levels of our life in the city of Durham. And I felt that every time I had the opportunity, I had to really seize it, because that’s what you need to do, seize the opportunity. But rather, I look at it more really as a privilege, as a privilege to serve the wonderful people of the city of Durham.

In 1963, our country was rampant with riot. Today, our country is seriously, critically divided. In Durham, we decided that our diverse togetherness gives light to our soul. I hope that will ever be so in the future.

To which I think all of us here at Rotary today can say AMEN.

Editor’s note: Here’s some coverage of the event from the Durham Herald Sun. The video is proceeded and followed by ads.  Unfortunately we don’t get any revenue from them.

Rotary Minute: John Cross

In his own words, this is the Rotary Minute of John Cross

Good Afternoon!  For those who do not know me, my name is John Cross and for those that do know me, you know this is going to kill me that I’m going to likely go over 1 minute.

I currently work at PNC Bank here in Durham on their commercial banking team, and have worked there for the past 13 years now, as it was and is my first job since graduating from college.  Outside of work, I have 2 daughters, 1 and a half and 3 and a half, so my free time is usually spent singing the Frozen soundtrack or chasing a blur of pink and purple around our neighborhood, as my wife and I live in Apex.

When I was on the Club’s website and saw the link to sign up to give the invocation / rotary minute, I thought “nah, I just did one, let somebody else get up here and practice their public speaking.”  Then I saw it again, and again, and well….. that was 3 years ago when I joined the club, time flies.

I spent my first minute talking about why I joined Rotary, and I’ll use this as more of a follow up to explain what I am doing with Rotary and what it means to my everyday life.  Unlike many others here, I am a first generation Rotarian in my family.  We did some research, and I cannot find any evidence of my family members being involved in rotary, be it parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc.  There were other service clubs they participated in, but think it’s neat to carve out a new path at times and exited to start this chapter.

Between work and the kids, I’ll typically find myself trying to wrap my hands around a different tornado each day.  These lead to varying degrees of stress and challenges over the course of a week, and certainly something different each time.

In my 3+ years as a member, I’ve come to realize that these Monday meetings are almost my reset to baseline.  When I step back and think of things that may be “problems” in my day, you come to realize how miniscule they are compared to other global challenges.

Whether it’s international issues such as Polio and clean water projects, or local efforts such as our 100+ acts of service last year which gave too many to list, our time here is special.  Rotary brings us all together and allows us to share our gifts, be it time, knowledge, or loose change and serve to solve problems and serve for others.

That is why I’m proud to start this tradition for my family, and to share with friends and family the good we do here locally in this club, but also as a much larger organization.

Thank you, and I appreciate you giving me some of your time today.