Rotary District Governor stresses engagement

Published 5:50 pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

As one of Rotary’s “water boys,” who delivered safe water to 200,000 in the Dominican Republic, local club members and their Interact counterparts at Union High School are familiar with Terry Allen’s story.

Part of it, at least.

District 6360’s governor shared the rest Thursday, along with recalling comedian Leo Gallagher and his Sledge-o-Matic, splattering watermelons on poncho-protected audiences.

On June 10, 2004, Allen, who has been a Rotarian with Berrien County’s Lakeshore club almost 40 years, since 1974, returned after an embarrassing absence intending to resign.

Instead, Allen, his club’s 1982-83 president, started down the road to seven trips to the Dominican Republic with BioSand filters which led to the White House last April for recognition as one of 10 “Champions of Change” for all of North America.

With the Dowagiac club divided into four teams intending to double membership from 31 to 62, Allen utilized his mind-reading skills to underline the “Engage Rotary, Change Lives” theme of international President Ron D. Burton, retired University of Oklahoma president, revealed in January in San Diego.

Allen, accompanied by his wife, Liz, whom he married in 1967, said Dowagiac represented his 38th stop and sixth this week. Dowagiac Rotary, like Niles-Buchanan, was chartered in 1920 to provide “service above self.”

Lakeshore’s first Paul Harris Fellow graduated from the University of Michigan and was senior engineer at Wolverine Tube Division of Universal Oil Products, 1972-74, then CEO of PEMCO Die-Casting Corp. in Bridgman from 1974-2003.

He currently owns Tall Oaks Consulting, which assists distressed companies.

He serves on the Lakeland Regional Health System board and received the Army Commendation Medal while with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Civil Affairs Corps from 1965-80.

Working for PEMCO, founded in 1946, for almost 30 years, the company grew to 237 employees and $37 million in sales, selling parts in China and Ireland as well as the United States. Dowagiac’s Du-Wel was a competitor.

Needing financing to launch a new program, “I made a couple bad decisions,” Allen admitted. “I went out to the marketplace to borrow $9 million. The day I put it on bankers’ desks was 12 years ago on Sept. 10, 2001. The next day, of course, (9/11) happened and nobody read anything on their desks, then the appetite for taking risks disappeared. You couldn’t borrow money to save your soul.

“We launched the project on a shoestring. I didn’t realize by doing that I was putting the company into a death spiral. We could not turn it around. I took a leave of absence from Rotary in 2003 to focus on trying to save the business, but I wasn’t successful. We closed the plant in September 2003. Liz and I lost everything we worked hard for in business, but managed to save our house and 401Ks — which at that point in time were really ‘101Ks,’ if you remember what the economy was like. I was 58 years old and didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

“And I knew I was not going back to the Lakeshore Rotary Club after that leave of absence. I couldn’t face the community with 237 people out of work, including Liz and me. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I’m not used to failing. I hadn’t been able to pay off all those creditors — and some of them were my fellow Rotarians.”

But his wife convinced him to return to at least bid farewell to longtime friends.

June 10, 2004, happened to coincide with Charles Jespersen and the late Dick Laney reporting on the water project.

“I go home and Liz says, ‘Did you resign?’ Not exactly, I said. And, by the way, I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it, but we’re going to the Dominican Republic in November. I was not a good student in geography and had to get out a map to look up where the country was,” Allen said. “I spoke no Spanish, had no interest in the Caribbean and don’t like hot weather. Nine years later, I’ve given more than 260 presentations on BioSand technology to Rotary clubs, church groups, schools and Interact clubs in six different states. More than $430,000 was raised and leveraged many times over using Rotary Foundation grants and from other people, saving untold lives by bringing safe water. Membership retention and recruitment are all about engagement. I was Dick Laney’s sponsor in 1976. On June 10, 2004, he returned the favor by keeping me in Rotary.”



keeps Rotary sharp


Sledge-o-Matic spoofed Veg-o-Matic, the “as-seen-on-TV” food slicer invented by Samuel Popeil and sold by his son, Ron Popeil, and Ronco (Pocket Fisherman) after debuting 50 years ago in 1963 at the Chicago International Housewares Show.

Allen brought out a Veg-o-Matic and claimed to be able to read minds because “right now every one of you is thinking, ‘Where in the heck is he going with this?’

“Now think about tools — a wood chisel, a lawn mower like your wife uses, an electric razor and a pair of scissors. If we wrote a single description for those things, I suspect it would sound like ‘a sharp edge surrounded by a bunch of other stuff.’ The sharp edge is where the mission is accomplished, where all of the work is done that creates value. All of the other stuff exists to position and support the sharp edge so it can fulfill the mission of that particular appliance.”

“The sharp edge of Rotary is your club,” he said. “That’s where all the work gets done that creates value. Everything else is there to support and position your club so you can do the work you decide your club needs to do, locally and in the world. My job as a servant leader is to make sure everything I do goes to insuring your club is as successful as you can be. Your job in the club is to make sure the sharp edge of Rotary stays sharp, effective, relevant and vibrant. Every club needs members, money and ideas to be successful. We don’t join Rotary to go to meetings, but to make a difference.”

Seven clubs along Lake Michigan’s “Sunset Coast” host the May 16-18 district conference at the yet-to-be built Inn at Harbor Village.