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New Hampshire Stories: Laconia Rotary Club and the ‘University of Whales’

by Anura Guruge


Getting inducted into Laconia Rotary (in Sept. 2001, I think), by the late Kinney O’Rouke, wearing my ‘Granite State Ambassador’ (GSA) shirt, the first thing that Kinney got me into.

University of Swansea

University of Swansea, across from Mumbles Beach with its amazing long (I think 2 mile) tidal ebb-and-flow. No we didn’t use the beach much. During term time it was usually too cold.


Laconia Rotary Park with the historic Belknap Mill in the background, where Laconia Rotary has their meetings (on the 3rd floor).


“New Hampshire Stories” sets out to chronicle noteworthy, but mostly amusing, events from my 3 decades in New Hampshire.
Check the CATEGORY ‘New Hampshire Stories’ or do a SEARCH using sidebar search box for ‘stories’ for other posts.

How I met the once bestriding Kinney O’Rouke in the parking lot of the Laconia CVS and how me got me involved in ‘Granite State Ambassadors‘ (GSA) and Laconia Rotary were described in this July 14, 2012, post. So I won’t revisit that again. If you want the background, please read that post.

Kinney who was President of Laconia Rotary at the time ‘fast tracked’ my induction. I had to fill in a questionnaire about my life and meet with a 3 person ‘Induction Committee’ who wanted to ensure that I had integrity (and took regular showers). Anyway, since Kinney wanted me (and that was mainly to boost his recruitment score) they agreed to have me, integrity be damned.

I was not the first non-white that had been inducted. Dr. Prabhkar K. Shetty, the renowned Ophthalmologist from Gilford, had been a member for a longtime. But, I was by far, the most exotic person they had inducted and that was what Kinney wanted. As Kinney emphasized from the start, we were going to have fun and that fun started with my induction ceremony.

Birthdays are a BIG deal at Laconia Rotary. Around the time of your birthday you are supposed to bring in an item that is then auctioned, at the weekly lunchtime meeting, to raise money for the Club. The goal is to sell your item for as much as you can. So some get very creative and I remember items selling for $300. So, as part of the induction they announce your birthday. Based on a comment I had made that I knew somebody that was born on that day, Kinney announced that my birthday was ‘April 1’ — thus trying to set the tone that I was a clown, if not a fool.

Right after the induction meeting, Kinney tells me: ‘You are ON for the next 2 weeks. You are doing the presentation. Just tell them about your life‘. Another brilliant Kinney move. Each weekly Rotary meeting is supposed to have a ‘meaningful’ (hopefully educational) 20 – 30 minute presentation. As with the Birthday Auction each member is supposed to find speakers to fill these slots — again some setting out to excel (and keeping their speaker secret until the meeting). Once when it was my turn, I got Philip McLaughlin who had just finished his term as the Attorney General of NH. (Yes, they were impressed. Philip, a Laconia native, wowed them.) So, by getting me to fill in 2 slots, right away, Kinney, as President, didn’t have to worry about whether those two meetings were going to have speakers — that always been a challenge. [If he didn’t have school, e.g., Summer, Matthew, who was 8-9, used to attend the meetings with me, kids being encouraged to attend. At one of the meetings the speaker did not show up. I bribed Matthew, who had just come back from ‘Global Finals’, to talk about Destination Imagination (DI). I can’t remember what the bribe was, but I know it was expensive. He must have been 9 at the time. He got up on the podium. His face just about cleared it. So, he is now facing 100 adults. He, hesitated for a minute, but then launched straight in. He got a standing ovation. For the next 2 weeks I would meet people in Laconia or Gilford who would say: ‘I heard about your son’s speech at Rotary‘.]

So, per Kinney, my brief was that in my 1st slot, I had to talk about my ‘early’ life and that the 2nd slot should be about my experiences in high-tech.

Ed Engler, Laconia Daily Sun

Ed Engler at our wedding, January 1, 2003 — looking very happy, as he should.

So, as instructed, I did my first presentation talking about my life in Ceylon, growing up in the U.K. and going to school there.

As per rote, the proceedings of all the Rotary meetings are documented and posted on the Web. In those days, given his professional credentials, our official chronicler of all matters Rotary was Ed Engler, the Editor/President of the Laconia Daily Sun. Ed is a great guy. Very nice, very obliging. But, as anybody who is familiar with the Laconia Daily Sun will know, Ed and his lovely crew don’t waste too much time about accuracy.

The meetings are on Thursday. The report of the proceedings get posted by Monday. So given that I was still new and curious, I checked what dear Ed had said about my presentation.

He had done a decent job covering my time in Ceylon, Buffalo, Paris and London, but then said: ‘he got his first degree from the University of WHALES’!

I am not exactly thin, but I am NOT that fat.

I called Ed up and asked him what that was all about. He says: ‘That is what you said, right? University of Whales‘.

Yes, I know I have an accent, ironically part of it Welsh undertones. So, Ed had heard my: ‘I went to Swansea, University of WALES’ and interpreted it, without ever thinking to check, that I had gone to the ‘University of WHALES‘.

Following that start, just for the fun of it, bottles of “Whaler’s” rum became my trademark auction item at Laconia Rotary.

Destination Imagination (DI) New Hampshire, Appraiser Conflicts of Interest Bothers Me

I have a long, and until now very positive, history with New Hampshire Destination Imagination (NH-DI). All 4 of my kids have taken part in DI. Consequently, I have been involved one way or another with NH-DI since 1996. My son, who did NH-DI for four-years, won State twice, in 1999 and 2001, and went onto DI Global Finals in Knoxville, TN.

Last year I was an Assistant Team Manager. This year my wife and I were both Team Managers. I was also an Appraiser and appraised at the Sanborn Regionals (Kingston) on March 17, 2012. My wife and I both attended DI Team Manager training workshops this year, and I, in addition, did the online Team Manager and DI Appraiser training offered by the ‘DI University’. [That our 11-year old ended up as the Gnome at Kingston was a bonus.]

So, I have no axe to grind with NH-DI. I have been a great proponent of NH-DI and have enjoyed being a part of NH-DI.


So what is my gripe?

When my elementary team competed on March 10, 2012, at the Kearsarge (N. Sutton) Regional Meet, in the ‘Coming Attractions’ challenge, I was shocked to see that two of the appraisers were from our school! One of them had even attended our last dress rehearsal the week before and had spoken at length with the kids about their performance.

Until that point it had never crossed my mind that NH-DI permitted such Conflicts of Interest.

Right after their performance the kids (ranging in age from 8 to 11) asked me how it was possible that they were judged by two of their teachers! They found it incongruous.

We did not do well in the challenge, mainly due to stage fright. But, we came 4th out of 10. Here are the results. Given the blatant Conflict of Interest we feel that there should be an asterisk next to our placing! We don’t feel good about it because we know of the Conflict.

So there is my issue. Plain and simple. NH-DI should let all concerned know, from the get go, that it is possible to have Conflicts of Interest when it comes to appraising. That is it. Period.

I just want transparency. NH-DI should publish a list of all the appraisers and their affiliations. That way everything is all above board.

Yes, many sports employ ‘partial’ judges and Olympic ice skating and free style skiing comes to mind. But, the affiliations of the judges are always disclosed.

To me, having these secret conflicts of interest totally undermine the integrity and credibility of NH-DI.

In my opinion, it is not fair on the kids. They put a lot of effort into the competition. Let them have a perfectly level playing field — SANS suspicions of Conflicts of Interest.


What have I done?

Right after the competition, on March 14, 2012, I e-mailed Jim Heedles the Regional Master for that event. I also contacted, via e-mail, Kara Swedlow, the NH-DI the Affiliate Director. They, for obvious reasons, want to play down this issue. I also tried AskDI@dihq.org but they just referred me back to NH-DI!

I have also spoken, by e-mail and in person when I attended the March 17 event, with a number of NH-DI officials. All of them expressed ‘surprise’ at what I had to say and ‘promised’ to look into it. But, nothing has happened — and I can fully appreciate that NH-DI does not want their results and reputation to be compromised.


The young lady coordinating my appraising on March 17 had asked me via e-mails whether I had any conflicts of interests. I informed her that I had none at the meet that I was officiating — but told her what had happened at the March 10 meet. She assured me that they try very had to avoid such conflicts.

So imagine my shock when one of the appraisers I was judging with, on March 17, informed us that he was a teacher at the school that had just performed — and he had appraised!

I spoke with the coordinator. She was aware of it, but said that the teacher had assured her that he did not know any of the kids in that team.

Come on! All I am asking for is transparency. With DI there should never be any doubts or suspicions that the kids did not get a fair shake of the stick.

Thanks for reading this. I feel much better now that I have got this off my chest.

Anura Guruge