Rotary Minute – Nancy Marks


Editor’s note: Nancy Marks is a Paul Harris Fellow who has achieved Major Donor Status.  In this minute she uses the opportunity to champion a passion and a career in education of great importance. This is her second Rotary Minute. She delivered her first Rotary Minute a little over two years ago. It was also remarkable in its own right and provides more of her biography and passion for Rotary. You can find it here.  -JZ

For those of you with whom I have not had an opportunity to visit, my name is Nancy Marks.  I have been a resident of this vibrant community for only about 4 years but I have a had a 60 year loving relationship with all things Rotary.

I would like to speak with you for just a moment about a small area of one of my other passions – education.  I was fortunate to live most of my adult life in Wilmington, NC, and for over 30 years I had the best job in the world as a senior high school counselor whose sole responsibility was to see that every child and his responsible adult understood college admissions, financial aid, and the competitive scholarship process, and that they believed that it was a realistic goal for them.  We proved that it can be done.  With an annual average graduating class of over 500 in this large public high school, reflective of every socio-economic and racial group in our community, over 90% of our students went on to some type of post-high school training every year.  Folks, we need not only to graduate them, we need to send them on.

In North Carolina, there is no excuse not to do so.  We are blessed with a great bounty of higher education opportunities.

We have:

  • 17 outstanding public universities, from Cullowhee to Elizabeth City to Wilmington,
  • 38 excellent private institutions spread out all over the state,

and – in every setting and size you can imagine –

  • 58 of the finest community colleges in the country – one within driving distance of every North Carolina resident!

They will take you where you are, regardless of your lack of attention in high school, give you the background courses you need, and give you superior technical and vocational training – or prepare you for the first 2 years of any 4-year degree program.

But, please understand, the admissions, financial aid, and competitive scholarship processes are an institution unto themselves.  There are documents to complete, deadlines to meet, courses and tests to take, and like every other institution, there are written and unwritten rules – any one of which might change on a regular basis.

So, this is not something the English teacher, or a coach, or the school secretary, can do.  Nor can the school counselor with 6 other jobs, who rotates with each class and only does this every 4 years.  As you are well aware, it helps to know those admissions and financial aid people and to have their numbers on your speed dial. There simply has to be at least one experienced person in every public high school whose only responsibility is to provide this information and  assistance, and to help set expectations for our children that they can and should go on for additional education.

Sadly, this is no longer the case in my former school and probably not here.  There are some wonderful not-for-profit groups in this community working hard to fill in the gaps.  But, every one of our children deserves this assistance.  Not only for their future, but also for ours.  A well-functioning democracy needs a well-educated, fully-employed work force.  And, it is my experience that individuals with a job, making enough money to take care of their family, are engaged citizens.  They take care of their children, they join civic clubs like Rotary, they pay taxes, and they vote!!

So, what do I want you to do?  I want you to be aware and to advocate.

Do you have a family member in public school, or a neighbor?   Do you know a principal, a superintendent, a school board member, a county commissioner, or maybe a state legislator?  Ask them if there is such a person in each of our public high schools, and if not, why not?  I want you to use your clout!! For the economic and cultural future of us all, especially in this day and time of rapidly changing job skills, we need to educate all of our children.  And, I believe with all my heart that an investment in quality education and a good job are a lot less expensive and lot more satisfying than any of the alternatives.

Rotary Minute – BC Dash – September 26, 2016

bc-dash-minuteIn his own words, BC Dash’s Rotary Minute.

Born in Rudyard Kipling’s Indian jungle, I grew up studying English literature, Philosophy and Economics, then obtained a Master’s degree in management of international business from CEI, University of Geneva, Switzerland (now IMD International, Lausanne).

I worked for ALCAN of Canada in India for 15 years and was Marketing Manager for packaging products for food, tea and pharmaceuticals.

I moved to the USA and was Administrator for Management of all the State Mental Health facilities in the greater Chicago area. Then at University of Illinois at Chicago, as Assistant Vice Chancellor, I had fiscal oversight of fifteen multidisciplinary research centers supporting programs in collaboration with industry.

I founded RAM International Inc,, a consulting house, to explore opportunities in globalization of industry and am currently promoting joint ventures in alternative energy and environmental technologies.

I have been involved in Rotary for over 20 years and settled in Durham for 12.

Rotary’s humanitarian projects, local and global, have been primary areas of my attention.

Our daughter and her husband live in Phoenix, AZ; our son teaches at Duke University Medical Center and has 2 children, a boy and a girl.

Harvey Sellner Minute – September 19, 2016

harveyFollowing is Harvey Sellner’s Invocation from Mother Theresa and is Rotary Minute. 

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”
Mother (St.) Theresa
When I did the Rotary Minute last time I talked about my former career as an aerospace engineer doing systems work and in R&D, where I got to be a part of an era of space exploration that will probably never be duplicated. I also talked about starting a non-profit devoted to providing safe drinking water and was a part of getting Rotary involved in the immense problem.
5 years ago a friend and ag professor introduced me to the concept of sustainable agriculture, and I realized there were just a few people working on this at the fringes in development, yet this technique is so powerful that it should be the long-term goal to ease the world’s hunger problem, particularly in Africa and Asia where 80% of the food is grown by smallholders.
So how can this be? Where are the giant companies with large research budgets and their marketing departments seeing an immense market? The answer turns out to be that they have chosen to focus on monocropping, which is undeniably more efficient in the short term; that is with a 20 or so year horizon. With monocropping, farmers get on a treadmill where they must buy large equipment, consolidate farms in order to pay for the equipment, buy exotic seeds and special fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. The problem is that the topsoil erodes a little bit each year, and that pesticides and herbicides become less effective each year as resistant plant and bug species evolve to adapt. Every year the treadmill goes a little faster and so on until the inevitable happens; the topsoil is gone and the bug and weed problem is totally out of control*.
The problem in a place like Africa is that farmers can’t buy the equipment in the first place let alone the exotic seeds and the huge investment in fertilizer, herbicides/pesticides, and even fuel for the big machines. Consolidating farms means people are driven from their villages to the large cities to find work. In the end, the farmland is converted to desert.
With sustainable ag, farmers make use of nature and improved techniques to make their small farms much more efficient. Using these techniques a farmer can have 2-3 times more yield from his field, particularly in dry years. Ploughing is reduced or eliminated and weeding is greatly curtailed, meaning less time spent doing some of the hardest work.
The key to adopting sustainable ag is retraining farmers and ag extension workers. It is a well-known concept developed and refined over the last 30 years and promoted by the UN – FAO and others. Howard Buffett, Warren Buffet’s son is heavily into sustainable ag, and wrote a fascinating book for the lay person entitled “40 chances” that follows his adventures in sharing it around the world.
I plan to have a presence at the Hunger RAG booth at the RI convention in Atlanta. If you are interested and are attending the convention, I ask for your help in spending a little time manning the booth.

Rotary Minute: Ernie Mills Jr.

Earnie Mills JrAs happens a lot these days, members are using their Rotary Minute not so much to talk about themselves but about causes dear to their hearts. Ernie Mills Jr., who hosted this meeting and also assumed sergeant-at-arms duties, welcomed the club to the Rescue Missions headquarters on East Main Street at Alston Avenue. At the entrance to the room he also had a table set up with information about their volunteer opportunities.

The primary opportunity he wanted to talk about was an upcoming back to school event coming in August. Ernie shared that this event was inspired by the tragic events at Columbine back in 1999. Since then the event for them has grown to where they provide school supplies and book bags for up to 4000 children annually.

More information about the event and all the other volunteer opportunities at the Rescue Mission is available on their website at

Ernie Jr. is the son of Ernie and Gail Mills, the founders of the Durham Rescue Mission and now works in the development area of the organization as Stewardship Officer.

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.

[Read more…]

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.