Rotary Minute – Carolyn Aaronson

Carolyn Aaronson used her Rotary Minute to give a moving account a childhood that was beyond difficult. But the saddest part of the minute for many was her announcement that she had requested a leave of absence. Carolyn shared how she was deeply disturbed by the direction that the country had turned with the recent election and needed time to deal with that.

Since she became a member, Carolyn has been generous with her time, her money and her artistic ability. On this particular Monday, she was selling the beautiful hand-made valentines she creates. They were there for sale the following Monday as well, with all proceeds going to the club.

Carolyn will be missed even by those who didn’t share her political beliefs and more by those, like me, who do, but most of all by those who consider her a friend.

Carolyn, please join us again very soon in support Rotary’s goals of literacy, health, inclusiveness, world peace and friendship.

Program Report – David Baron, Founder of

Don’t just sit there – go to!

As a little boy with a lot of energy, David Baron too often heard “that’s not a toy.” Delicate things, dangerous things, and things his mother claimed were “just for looks” – he converted them into tools and toys. He broke things, and sometimes broke himself. So he decided early on that when he grew up, he wanted to change that and be able to say, “that’s a toy.”

As a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, he discovered that sleeping on a futon – particularly a cheap one – was way less than desirable. He found they broke, they were cumbersome, and they ended up in the dumpster. He was offended that the big box stores could get away with that, basically “tricking customers.” It hit him: that was the opportunity to make something better, and way more delightful. He was on track to become a successful manufacturing entrepreneur just a few years later.

Baron, CEO of, an e-commerce business based in downtown Durham that sells fun foam futons called Nuggets, is a native of Atlanta. Prior to Monday’s speaking engagement, his experience with Rotary was “a dedicated park bench on a corner in suburban Dunwoody, Georgia.” He appeared a bit taken aback by the size of his Rotary audience, but quickly warmed to his topic. [Read more…]

New Member – February 6, 2017 Geri Lail

Please meet and our newest member Geri Lail CPA and tax partner with Thomas, Judy and Tucker, Certified Public Accountants.

Leaders of Tomorrow Support Rotary Initiative

The Leaders of Tomorrow sponsored by the RDU Chapter of the National Black MBA Association lent their support to the Rotary Clubs of Durham by assembling take-away gifts for the attendees of the upcoming Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Appreciation Luncheon.  On February 19, invited guests will be treated to lunch, entertainment and a raffle for prizes in recognition of the tireless efforts that caregivers put forth every day.  The lunch is jointly sponsored by the Downtown Durham, Southwest and Sunrise Rotary Clubs of Durham.

During their most recent monthly meeting, the Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) assembled gift boxes of truffles for luncheon guests to take home. Rotarians Emily Page and Marion Johnson organized the event as a service project for the youth group.  LOT participants were introduced to Alzheimer’s disease and to Rotary before they joined an assembly line to create the gifts.

The RDU Leaders of Tomorrow group is sponsored by the RDU Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.  Rotarian Marion Johnson is one of the Directors of the LOT program.  Each year, some of the older LOT members participate in the National Black MBA Association’s national business case competition.  Downtown Durham Rotarians may remember the LOT team from their presentation to the Club last year.  That case competition team placed 3rd nationally and received scholarship prizes for their achievement.

Rotary Minute: Past District Governor Newman Aguiar

A frequent recurring nightmare is being lost in a place suddenly unfamiliar and filled with busy people you don’t know. Maybe you’re seeking family, maybe your home or maybe just a lost wallet.

When Newman offered his Rotary Minute on Monday, there seemed to be a little less confidence in his voice than we usually expect. He told me later that he didn’t often share his personal story. We all know Newman as a successful businessman, a leader of this club and our district, and, indeed the community where he has served in many ways, often hand-in-hand with his wife, Ann-Louise.

Newman was the middle child in a family of five. His family immigrated to New York from India in 1985. Trying the slow down the brain drain, India was only allowing emigres to take $20 each with them when they left the country. So, the seven of them arrived with $140 to make their way in America. Newman’s dad was a high court judge in India but couldn’t practice law here and took a job on the New York subway as a conductor.

In his late teens, Newman assumed some of the responsibility for supporting the family and set out, with little luck, to find a job. When he figured out there were opportunities in data processing he studied and immersed himself in that field. An attractive young woman doing the hiring for a law firm in the city gave him a chance and hired him to do data entry, which was about as low as you could get in the data processing hierarchy. This same young woman later promised the management she would supervise him when she recommended him for another position that had opened up. As anyone who knows Newman would realize, he was all over it and later became the data processing equivalent of a hero, dumping an expensive purchased system and building its replacement. He and the young woman that hired him became good friends and eventually the couple we know so well today.

Apparently, there are enough people in this country who thought American had become a bad dream and found it so troubling that they elected a man who promised a massive wall on our southern border, a ban on Muslim immigrants and a more aggressive stance towards the rest of the world. Now the other half of the country is in awakening from a fitful sleep and seeing their nightmare unfold. Our tradition welcoming and being enriched by immigrants and our freedom to practice whatever religion we believe is being challenged. The invitation to share in the American dream inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,” is being questioned.

I’ve had a few Muslim clients over the years and, to tell you truth, I’ve found Baptists to be scarier. But I’m coming around since my daughter got involved with a local Baptist church. They have been working to resettle immigrant families here in Durham and were ready to welcome a Syrian family when this recent ban went in place. That family is now in limbo.

Thanks for sharing your story Newman, and for having the courage to live the Four Way Test and Rotary’s commitment to international good will and peace, in spite of your tough start in America.

Program Report – January 30, 2017 – Justice Willis Whichard

It is rare enough that we have one of the most significant figures in Durham’s history present to the club but even rarer still to have two in a row. Last week it was Dr. Ralph Snyderman who guided the Duke Medical Center as Chancellor for 15 years and this week Justice Willis Whichard.

Not only do these men still walk among us, both are Rotarians and Club members and both not only had an impact on Durham and North Carolina but on their professions.

Rotarian, lawyer and retired judge Nancy Gordon introduced Justice Whichard, who she described as a colleague, mentor and friend. Justice Whichard, as many know, is the only person to serve in both houses of the State Legislature as well as sit on the State Appellate Court and Supreme Court, where he was “incredibly well respected” according to Gordon.

When he left the bench at the Supreme Court level in 1998 he served as the Dean of the Campbell University Law School until he retired in 2006.

This background would have given him numerous topics to share with us but what he chose to talk about was his time after retiring from Campbell on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary. This was especially timely because on Monday we got the word that our new president would announce his nomination to fill the vacant ninth seat on the United States Supreme Court the following evening.

Justice Whichard went through the process the committee uses to evaluate anyone that the President appoints to the Federal Judiciary. In involves reviewing opinions, background, and interviews with others in the profession that have dealt with the nominee. Integrity is always a big issue. Membership on the Standing  Committee is an honor but also a major commitment of time.

The history of the committee goes back 64 years to the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and only one president, George W. Bush, suspended the use of the committee to vet judicial appointments.

Justice Whichard, recounted that he had pretty much thought he was finished with his term when US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly a little less than a year ago, on February 13, 2016. When President Obama nominated Merritt Garland, the committee went into high gear to do the evaluation, which could only be described as honest-to-God extreme vetting.

Judge Garland passed with flying colors.

I don’t know Justice Whichard well, but the times I have encountered him or heard him speak, he seemed as even tempered and fair minded as you would expect a judge to be that had risen to his level of respect and prominence in his profession.  Nevertheless, I think I detected a hint that he was a tad peeved when he recounted that a jurist like Merritt Garland who had served his country and profession so well for so many years, who when nominated for the highest bench in the land, was denied even a meeting with any of the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, much less hearings or a vote on his nomination.

Since I don’t trust my failing ears to get everything into my notes I often resort to Google to check things out.  What I found was a page on the ABA website about the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. There were three things there that were very interesting. The first was the explanation of the Well Qualified rating given Judge Garland. What was surprising in such a formal document was what were called a “few representative comments.”  Three that stood out for me were “Garland’s integrity is off the scales;” “Garland is the best that there is. He is the finest judge I have ever met. There is no one who is his peer;” and really, can you do any better than, “He may be the perfect human being.” This is a 26-page document that goes on and on like that until you get to page 22 where they list the distinguished jurists and law professors that participated in the evaluation. You can find Justice Whichard on page 25.

The second interesting thing is a 30 page “backgrounder” describing the evaluation process. We got the condensed version from Justice Whichard but just skimming the document gives you a sense of how thorough these evaluations are.

Finally, there is a short video clip of President Eisenhower thanking the Standing Committee for its service in 1955. Like Justice Whichard, I remember Ike too.  I have a short clip somewhere of him at the first political rally I ever attended. I was six or seven and my grandfather had taken me and shot the film.  I like Ike… and Justice Whichard too.

Submitted by Jay Zenner