Program Report – Blake Strayhorn and Habitat of Durham

Ah, the sweet smell of fresh cut lumber and the music of spinning saws and rhythmic hammers under a crisp blue sky.  Another Habitat House is coming.

Don Stanger, who is not only our club President but also the Board Chair of Habitat for Humanity of Durham, introduced Blake Strayhorn, the new President/Executive Director of Habitat to update us and announce that the Rotary Board had approved the  sponsorship of another Habitat home here in Durham. Blake is also one of the newer members of Rotary.

Since 1985 Habitat of Durham has built 280 homes under their model of providing affordable housing for worthy potential homeowners. This year it expects to complete 16 homes and there are currently 25 applicants on the waiting list for participation in the program.

As both a real estate agent and participant in the last two Rotary “builds” I’m amazed at the quality of the homes. They are kept affordable through sponsorships like ours, sweat equity from the purchasers, 0% financing and energy efficiency.  Typical payments are a little over $500 per month from owners with typical incomes of between $20,000 and $25,000.  Habitat not only builds homes but does renovations and fix-ups with the same purposes in mind.

Blake shared with us a video (see it at that was introduced at their annual Foundation Breakfast in May that does a great job of showing the motivations of donors and volunteers and what Habitat means beyond building houses. It also perfectly illustrates the “Pay it Forward” theme that Habitat adopted for this year as the home owners featured talked tearfully about the gratitude they felt for the help they were getting and their commitment to reach out an help others.

The video and Blake’s excellent presentation provide a tantalizing taste of the benefits of Habitat but I don’t think you can experience the real substance of Habitat without actually showing up in your grungies for one of the construction days.  On my first time on the job my initial impression was actually kind of negative. Anyone who has ever used a framing nailer attached to an air compressor…or even seen one used…knows immediately that this is not the most efficient way to build a house. In fact, it can be a amusing watching a little 98 lb lady with a three dollar hammer tap-tap-tapping a 16 penny nail into a wall plate.

But you soon understand that efficiency isn’t what it’s all about. The number of houses is just the most visible metric of the program and the easiest to quantify. Much more important is what the houses mean to the owners and the community.  Most Rotarians are at least middle class earners and their choice of a home has more to do with preferences in style or neighborhood than anything else. For most of the Habitat clients it’s much more basic than that…it’s safe shelter that they can’t be forced to leave if they meet their obligations. And with a 2% foreclosure rate it’s clear that most do. The fact that the homes are nice is just gravy.

Habitat investments in neighborhoods are often the spark that encourages further development. Again that’s easy to see. What’s less visible is neighbor helping neighbor and the mutual concern for each other that develops and not just among neighbors on the block but in the neighborhood of man.

It’s also good for Rotary. I’ve been a member of this club for many years but if I had to point to a moment when I really became a Rotarian, it was during that first day or so swinging a cheap hammer with my fellow club members. There may have been a wide, wide range of construction skills but there was plenty of big, big hearts.

Rotary Minutes – Brantley DeLoatch

President Don announced that in preparation for our the big celebration of our Centennial right around the corner that he had scanned two previous histories of our club, one that spanned the timeframe 1915 to 1955 and the other from 1955 to 1990 and had them posted on our website.  When introducing Brantley DeLoatch (Brant) for his Rotarian minutes, President Don noted that Brantley was mentioned in both of those books. In fact, Brantley joined Rotary in January of 1946, the same year I was going vertical and taking my first baby steps.

Brantley got a whoop from Anna Jones when he mentioned his origins inNorthamptonCountywhere she was also born and raised. Like most men of the Greatest Generation Brant’s career was interrupted by World War II. I’ve known Brant for a while but one thing I learned is that he got his navy training at Notre Dame. Brant spent a fair amount of his time at the podium sharing his war time experience including a chance reunion on a golf cart in Pinehurst with a Marine who was rescued from the South Pacific when Brant navigated the battleship he was assigned to on a mission into those treacherous waters.

Many of us here in the high tech Research Triangle Area might be forgiven if we don’t fully appreciate the importance of agriculture to the economy of this state. It’s massive and Central Carolina Farmers Exchange was the hugely successful Durham farm co-op that Brantley managed until its merger with Raleigh based FCX in 1980. His influence in the agribusiness community propelled him to positions of influence in a number of organizations including his alma mater NC State. I first met him when he served on the board of Central Carolina Bank. He also served on the boards of Duke Hospital, Durham Regional, the RDU Airport Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and the Durham County Commission.

Brant and his wife Geri have 5 children and a bunch of grandchildren. If you ever get a chance to ring the Salvation Army bell with Brant, don’t pass it up. It will be one of the nicest hours of the Christmas season for you and he might tell you how he tracks down wood to heat his home in the winter. Seriously.


Rotarian and historian Allen Cronenberg and President Don are already working on documenting events and preparing for the Club’s Centennial. President Don has scanned two books that were written to record our history through 1990. Other documents are being unearthed that will also be scanned and posted. To access the two books we’ve created a page to catalog the documents. You will find the page at ‎ or on the drop down menu under the “About” tab on the primary navigation.

Program Report: Dr. Deborah Tippett – Connecting To the Millennial Generation

Credit Durham native Deborah Tippett with smart use of the cardinal rule of great presentations. Know the audience.

She’s known hers for years. In an outstanding academic career atMeredithCollegeas an award-winning professor, department head, author and teacher-of-the-year, she has no shortage of experience with young people. And she has built on her career in academics as an expert on “Millennials,” the population of more than 100 million people born between 1982 and 2002.

As this week’s featured luncheon speaker, however, Dr. Tippett spoke to an audience composed almost entirely of Baby Boomers (52-69), Gen-X (31-51) and the Silent Generation (70-87). The most prominent and perhaps only Millennial generation representative was visiting guest Emily Stokes, daughter of her Boomer dad, Bill Stokes. Absent Emily, this was an audience most of whom, under guidance from our speaker, recalled their defining generational moment of childhood as the assassination of President Kennedy or evenPearl Harbor. This was a lunch group who not so long ago defined “text” as the material between two covers of a book.

In a presentation entitled “The New Millennials and Rotary,” Dr. Tippett cautioned, first and foremost, that generational studies are broad-brush in nature and not representative of individuals. [Read more…]

Rotary Minutes – Sheridan van Wagenberg

It’s difficult to imagine the always well put together Sheridan in something as informal as  hip waders but she did admit that she was a fly fishing snob only enthusiastic about fly fishing in Jackson Wyoming.  Ditto for oil painting or boating…you can’t do those in a business suit, can you?

But you can’t really be a snob in Durham and Sheridan is a Durham native through and through who attended St. Mary’s Country Day School, Hillside High and UNC where she majored in psychology.  Such a degree leads naturally to a career in banking. In Sheridan’s case that meant  being one of the specialists at NCNB that manage wealthy people’s assets. For the youngsters in the crowd NCNB used to be the big bank headquartered in Charlotte that gobbled up Bank of America and liked that name better.

Like others in the audience, Sheridan left the comfort and status of big banking to strike out on her own. In her case it was to start a photography business that she ran for a number of years. In 2009 she spotted an opening to manage Caring House and found her true calling helping adult cancer patients and their caregivers receiving treatment at the Duke Cancer Institute.  She told the story of how she had dressed in her best business attire for her interview only to be interviewed by Rotarian Bob Yowell in decidedly less formal attire. Bob must have been impressed because not only was she hired, he sponsored her for Rotary about the same time in 2009.  Judging from the picture below from the Caring House website she was not kidding about loving her job.

Sheridan raised two children, Trey who is now 26 and Cabell who is at UNC.  Sheridan recently remarried after being a single mother for many years and traded her maiden name of Townsend for van Wagenberg. Sheridan is part of the current Durham Rotary Board and has chaired the Million Meals effort in recent years. 

Program Report – DPS Chief-of-Staff Dr. Lewis Ferebee

Rotarian David Reese, Director of the East Children’s Children’s Initiative, introduced Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Chief of Staff, Durham Public Schools, by reminding us all that today is the first day of school in Durham County. Thousands of students are in their classrooms even as we sat and got ready to listen to him speak.

Dr. Ferebee started by saying that he stands on the shoulders of many, and that, in the Rotary spirit of Service above Self, he lives by the motto “To whom much is given, much is expected”.

At DPS the focus on literacy is because literacy is the foundation of all learning. Up until third grade students learn to read, after that they read to learn.

Literacy is the main focus of President Stanger’s term, so our Reading Rangers program is intended to play a role in Dr. Ferebee’s search for a community volunteer program. When a student is reading below grade level, engaging community volunteers becomes an important way to teach reading skills as well as a love of reading for life. Studies show that a significant relationship with an adult outside the home can make a huge impact in a young person’s life. Therefore a community group such as Rotary is a great partner. [Read more…]