It all started on Thanksgiving day,  a long, long time ago, in a beat up station wagon, somewhere on Interstate 65 and Statethanksgiving, family, tradition Road 46 between Indianapolis and Nashville (Nashville, Indiana that is). My first wife, our two kids and I were heading to her mom’s place for Thanksgiving. The drive was going, well, it was going like you would expect it to go with two boys under the age of 10 strapped in a car in the days before iPods, Gameboys, iPads, and cars with DVD players. Even though it wasn’t a long drive, they were still bouncing off the ceiling. My wife was reading, and me? I was jamming out to Q95 (well, as jamming out as you can be with a wife and two kids in the car).

It was about noon. OK, to be specific it was straight up noon, when this song came on the radio, this song about Alice…and a restaurant, a song called Alice’s Restaurant (sorry Arlo, I had to do it). Here was this guy, playing guitar, telling a story, and singing (granted there was more storytelling than singing),  but it was captivating, not only for me but for the two banshees in the backseat, they quieted down and listened…for 18 minutes and 34 seconds they listened! It was AMAZING! By the time Arlo finished the last chorus, with the boys and I signing along, we were pulling into Nana’s drive.

A year later,  we were on the road again, in the same beat up station wagon, with the same two rambunctious kids in the Arlo Guthrie, traditionback, listening to the same Q95, low and behold they played the same song, at the exact same time! Amazing! What is the coincidence of that? (Ok, it wasn’t for another year or two that I realized it was a Q95 Thanksgiving day tradition to play Alice’s Restaurant at Noon, I was a REAL slow learner back then!)

Fast forward several more years. My wife and I were divorced (hey, as my youngest son, Brad, once said, “This isn’t Leave it Beaver around here, ya know?”), I was spending Thanksgiving with my girl friend and both of my sons were spending Thanksgiving with their mom. Although we had been divorced for some time, I still was not used to not seeing them on a holiday like that. I was kind of moping around, helping Carmen get dinner ready when the phone rang. It was my oldest son JT.

“Dad, are you listening?” he asked.

“Huh? Listening to what”, I responded (I guess I was still somewhat of a slow learner).

“Alice’s, are you listening to Alice’s?”

“expletive deleted!”

I immediately ran to the stereo, turned on Q95 and listened in. I think I even began to sing along. I am sure Carmen thought I was going a tad nuts. After the song was over, I started to explain the story to her…how it had become a Thanksgiving Tradition to listen, how the boys and I would sing along…all of it. She just looked at me, smiled and walked over to her CD Cabinet, reached in, and pulled out the CD “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie. If I wasn’t already smitten with her, I was now head over heals!

Fast forward about a decade or two. The tradition continues. Every year at Thanksgiving, no matter who is joining us, JT Arlo Guthrie, traditionand Brad, their families, our folks, and the occasional friend, we play “Alice’s Restaurant” and sing along. We even printed off all the lyrics so our folks could be sure and follow along. Dave and his wonderful baritone providing cover for all the rest of us who can’t really sing.

OK, so Arlo may not have ACTUALLY saved my life, but he without a doubt saved my Thanksgiving and helped us build a sense of family and tradition during a time of turmoil and transition. You can bet that at noon on Thanksgiving, we will be gathered in the family room, with Arlo pumping through our Sonos stereo, singing at the top of our lungs.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

It had been over 20 years since I had been on a hay ride. I daresay, that probably holds true for the majority of the participants at the recent #GWTS2014Summit…but let me start at the beginning. Leadership, Business, Management

A year ago, we put a twist in our annual budget and planning cycle. Many companies and departments conduct offsite planning “summits” and we had always done much the same. In 2012 we added something I had talked about doing for years. We invited some of our vendors to participate. To be invited, the vendor had to be a “strategic partner” (see “Three Keys to a Lasting Relationship“). So, after my management team had spent a day and a half reviewing business plans, trends in the industry, and trends in technology, our vendors arrived. We spent the remainder of the second day reviewing those plans with them, asking for feedback, and asking for general questions.  For the inaugural event, the feedback we received afterward was very positive, enough so to repeat in 2013.

Always looking to improve and listening to the feedback from the that first event, we made some changes to the format.

First of the changes…Twitter and the hashtags. As I talked about in a previous post, Twitter is my new way of taking notes at conferences (see I will never take notes again). I thought…”why not”. So, I created the hashtag and began tweeting first thing in the morning of day one. I encouraged my team to join in (though I must say NO ONE DID, ahem, are you listening?). I also sent a note to the entire department and our vendor partners suggesting they follow along with the activities through Twitter. Our day began in the Roosevelt Room at Fort Harrison State Park (ok, that is significant, but to find out why, you have to read a future post about my journey with Theodore Roosevelt).

Day one was focused on internal discussions with our management team. We reviewed business and infrastructure plans, however, we dedicated the meat of the day to open discussion, about the department, our company, and where we are versus where we want to be. Believe it or not we ran out of time!

As day one of discussions came to a close, it was time for another departure from the prior year. As I mentioned, last year the partners came at the end of day two. While the conversation was good, I believed it could have been better. So, this year, we had the partners join us for dinner at the end of day one (now before anyone reading this panics and thinks we bought dinner for 35 vendors, we did not, we asked that each vendor attending pay for their own meal. There, feel better?). The dinner was catered by the park at one of their shelter houses.

My team and I headed down to the shelter house while our guests began to arrive. Many had met the year before, or had been involved in joint meetings with us. However, there were some new faces to introduce to each other. This was one of the reasons for the shift to the end of day one…to get the introductions out of the way. Keep in mind, some of these vendors represented companies that were competitors of each other (not on our account mind you, but competitors in the market just the same). We had warned them all to put on their big boy and big girl pants for the event; it was after all about transparency and dialogue.

Gradually, the conversation began to shift from introductions into curiosity. Why HAD they been instructed to dress casually and wear outdoor shoes? Where we going to hike? Where we going to have a scavenger hunt? Maybe, a “vendor challenge”? (btw nice tennies, Steve!) Soon the sound of a large tractor could be heard in the distance. Since only two of knew what was happening, no one noticed. Moments later a large John Deere (Dave, picture our John Deere salute here!) tractor pulled into the parking lot next to the shelter house. It was pulling two large wagons filled with hay. Still, not many noticed.

I stood up on one the picnic tables to get everyone’s attention and announced, “Before dinner, we have a surprise for all of you! You may notice the two wagons behind me, everybody…follow me and pile in, we are going on a hayride”. At first the crowd didn’t move, as if they thought I was kidding. Me? Kid? I don’t think so…let’s go folks EVERYBODY IN!  Finally, 40+ of Indianapolis’ finest business people were piled in the two wagons and we headed out for a 45 minute tour of Fort Harrison State Park.

Business, Management, LeadershipAt first there was some awkward chit-chat and bemusement, I don’t think many of them could believe we were actually on a hay ride. The further along the pathways we traveled, the polite chit-chat gave way to laughter, spirited conversation and picture taking.  You could sit and watch the inner child come out. By the time, we were halfway done, there was debate about which wagon was the “cool, more fun wagon”. (Personally, I think the one I was in was the cool wagon!).

After the adventure, the dinner was served. I think the hay ride dominated the conversation at most of the tables.

The next morning as we gathered in the Roosevelt Room, the evenings activities had the exact effect we were looking to achieve. The greetings were boisterous, the conversation lively, and…the ice had been broken. We kicked off the meeting with a special guest and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions (www.historicalsolutions.com). Dan provides leadership training, team building, and executive coaching, all in the context of exploring history. Those of you who know my passion for Lewis and Clark would think we were twins separated at birth. Dan provided us with an historical perspective of our surroundings, in the Roosevelt room of For Harrison, the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison and an approach to planning, preparation and execution. There could not have been a more appropriate start to our day.

Next up, we reviewed the business and technology plans and highlighted our discussions of the day before with our partners. We then asked each partner to present their views on the trends they are seeing in their slice of the industry. I am sure it was tough, ask a bunch of business development people to get up in front of a room of 45 people and NOT SELL and only give them FIVE MINUTES, it had to be tough! (Ok, to be honest, next year, I am going to edit their slides beforehand and remove any of those “here is who we are, how much we sell, and who our customers are” slides!) Check out the Twitter hashtag (#GWTS2014Summit) to see some of the highlights from the round-robin presentations.

We spent the remainder of the morning in a group discussion of our projects, the trends, business issues, and our direction. In addition to some great thoughts, I believe there were several business connections made within the group and some ideas for additional areas of partnership with us were formulated.

Our partners left at the end of the morning discussion, we were then joined by our newly formed architecture team. We spent the next couple of hours diving into discussion topics specific to our technology architecture. By mid-afternoon, we were joined by the remainder of the team and we jumped into topics about process, team dynamics, and communication.

Overall, it was a very successful summit. We learned a a lot from each segment, solidified our roadmap, and potentially made some connections for business. We are already planning next year’s event and how to make it even better…hmmmmm, something like “Vendor Wipe Out” comes to mind….

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

December 24, 2019 – I wrote this post in 2012. At the time, we did not realize it would be the last time mom made donuts with us. She passed in July 2013. Today, we are mourning the passing and celebrating the life of my dad, L. Eugene Ton. Dad passed away this year on December 16. Despite the hurt in our hearts, Carmen and I honored the tradition and made nine dozen of the magical donuts, known as Grandpa’s Donuts. Even when it is difficult, traditions can bring the memories of Christmases Past to warm our hurting hearts. I hope you enjoy the post from December 24, 2012. 

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Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, I AM a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, I would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, I would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.

My favorite thing about celebrating Christmas are the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 40ieth consecutive year). Each year we attend the Christmas Eve service (though Baptists cannot stay up until midnight, so ours is at 11). And each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.

However, of all these traditions, my favorite tradition is making donuts with my mom, it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”.

My fondest memories about my Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines.  Every time without fail when he would come to visit, we would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of us kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in Brown Bobby Doughnut Machinethe back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! (The machines were actually called “Brown Bobbies”) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Bobby).

My great-grandmother has given the machines to him in the late 1920’s. During the Great Depression, my Grandpa would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He needed the extra nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.

On one of his trips to visit us in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, my mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.

Over the next couple of decades it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid 90’s, I was a new manager and wanted to do something special for my team. My mom and I rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes we discovered THE MACHINE! I donned my Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and we plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As we made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. My mom and I began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for almost 25 years, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.

For over 20 Christmases now, we drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. I don the apron and wave my hand over the machine testing the warmth just as he did. We decipher the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories about him that we have told for years.

When my wife Carmen and I were married in 2001, she joined in the tradition. She, my mom, and I would make the donuts. My dad had the difficult job of quality control (sampling the donuts as we made them!).

This year, my mom has been battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and my dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, my dad and I made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told the stories about Brown Bobby DoughnutsGrandpa. At some point, it occurred to me, I was truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making me an “official” Grandpa!

Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. On this Christmas Eve, take pause. Take the time during your traditions to remember. Remember your family, your friends. Remember your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Honor your traditions in “remembrance of them”.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

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I have a confession.

I am a groupie. I am sure many of you remember the 70’s and the “Dead Heads”, that group of hippies that followed the Grateful Dead all over the country. No, I haven’t been following my favorite rock band but I really AM a dead head because I’ve been following two dead guys all over the country for years!

Over those miles traveled, I have learned about history, our country, and, yes, I have learned about leadership. How these two men were able to lead their men (along with a woman, Sacagawea) across the un-explored continent and bring them home safely  can give us insights today into how to grow leaders, how to create effective teams, and how to create an environment of truth, transparency and candor. In my eBook, which you can download for free at the link at the end of this post, I explore ten traits of a leader using one of the greatest leadership books ever written, Lewis and Clark’s own journals.

A leader:

is Transparent

Many books today that discuss transparency focus on the outward flow of information to the marketplace. Some books will also encourage leaders to be open and honest with their employees. Still fewer books will talk about encouraging those employees to be open and honest with management. I believe leaders must first be transparent with themselves. They must look at themselves without any of the guises of self-deception. I believe the transparency that had been established between Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis laid a solid foundation for the planning of the Expedition. It was this foundation that led to William Clark being enlisted as co-captain with Lewis.

is Honest and Truthful

During the time that the captains were recruiting the members of the expedition they could of painted a rosy picture of a trip of adventure and romance across the country. Instead they were honest about the risks, the hardships, and the dangers of the journey. Today, whether we are recruiting new employees, or launching a new project, or discussing issues, we must be honest and truthful with our teams, our customers, and all of our stakeholders.

is Accountable

Accountability is one of the most difficult traits of a leader. For accountability to work, however, it must be combined with consequences. It is one thing to tell Joe he is accountable for a deliverable. It is quite another thing to hold him accountable by having consequences when he doesn’t deliver. Throughout their journals, especially in the early days of the expedition, there are many examples of the captains holding the men (and themselves) accountable. While I don’t suggest we use running the gauntlet, court martial, or even loss of whiskey privileges (seriously, I would never go to the extreme of denying someone their grog!) today, I do think we can learn lessons about laying down expectations and holding our teams accountable with fair and consistent consequences.

is Patient

With accountability and consequences, comes the fourth trait. A leader is also patient. The youngest member of the Corp was Private George Shannon. Shannon had a propensity for getting lost, not a good thing on a trek through the wilderness. Once while he was lost, he was able to feed himself by shooting a stick out of his rifle and killing a rabbit (resourceful might have to be added to this list). However, the captains were patient with Shannon and trained him. After the expedition, Shannon became a lawyer in Lexington Kentucky. I think, more than any other trait, we are called upon to be patient when others might “get lost” along the way. We train, we teach, we mentor, we do not adjust our expectations, or the consequences of accountability.

Seeks Input

Decision Point is one of my favorite spots along the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark Trail. It is there, at the confluence of two rivers, the captains halted the expedition to explore both channels to ensure they selected the right channel before proceeding on. They examined all the evidence and made their decision. How many of us have experienced managers that make decisions without gathering all the facts or seeking input from those around them? It can be devastating to morale and team energy, in the best case. Great leaders use the knowledge and expertise of those around them to make their decisions. They also take the time to explain their decisions. Why can be just as important as what.

is Committed

To be successful leaders must be committed to the mission. Our response to challenges will serve as positive and negative examples to those around us. If we explode in anger or frustration, or if we give up completely our teams will lose confidence in us and they too will give up. The journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery has countless examples of being committed to the mission. In fact, they used the phrase “we proceeded on” so many times in their journals I am unable to count them.

has Integrity and Character

Admits Mistakes

One story in the journals provides us with two lessons in leadership. Our captains were not perfect. While faced with the long trip back to St. Louis, the Corps needed canoes. Unable to barter for one, Lewis ordered some of the men to steal one. In my opinion and in reading between the lines of the journals, Lewis had to fall several notches in the eyes of his men. Not only did he order them to steal one, we have no record of Lewis ever admitting his lapse in judgement. It is interesting to note, he doesn’t even retell the story in his journal. Leaders must manage themselves with high integrity and solid character. A great leader will do this in their personal as well as professional lives (those photos on Facebook, may NOT be a good idea!). When we do stumble, or make a mistake, we have to own up to the mistake, take responsibility for the mistake and learn from the mistake.

is Flexible

Throughout the three and half year odyssey, the Corps only retreated one time. When faced with snow “deeper than the trees were tall” while crossing the mountains, despite being anxious to return home, the captains called a retreat. The Corps returned to the base of the pass and waited with the Nez Perce tribe for the snow to melt. They waited almost two months. This showed flexibility (and perhaps wisdom!). Strong leaders must know when to “proceed on” and when to retreat, regroup, re-evaluate and adjust the strategy.

Takes Risks

Leaders must not only be willing to take risks, but we have to create an environment in which our co-workers are willing to take risks. If our teams are afraid of harsh consequences or an explosive boss, we may be leaving significant discoveries on the table. The entire Lewis and Clark adventure was a lesson in risk taking. However, there are several examples, where because the captains knew and understood the mission, they made decisions to accept even more risk. One such time was on the return journey when they divided the Corps into four smaller parties to help accomplish the mission.

Upon their return, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were celebrated all across our young nation. The knowledge of our country, the native peoples, the plants and animals was expanded dramatically almost over night. Not only were these sciences advanced, but, as I hope you have seen, so to was our knowledge of the traits of leadership.

 

If you would like to read the entire eBook, you can download by clicking on the here.  Everything I Learned About Leadership – Ton

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

I have always been a believer in the power of a professional network. I am a member of several, both on-line and in-person. However, this power was never clearer to me than it was last week. Friday was the culmination of months of planning for the inaugural Sustain the White River Excursion. This “experiential workshop” was designed to raise awareness about the impacts that development has on the river and its watershed. Throughout a 10.5 mile canoe trip, five local experts (or as we called them, “Guides”) met us along the river to describe various impacts, such as storm water, waste water, fresh water filtration, residential impacts and even the history of settlements along the river. You can read more specifics about the event by going to the News & Events tab on our website at www.ConfluenceDynamics.Net.

What really got me thinking though was watching 34 area professionals (described by one guide, as a real all-star team) standing on the beach after canoeing 10.5 miles over seven hours and exchanging business cards and contact information. Relationships were forged over the course of the day that I believe will have a positive impact on the community and the river.

But, as I said, that was the culmination. The idea for this workshop occurred to me while sitting through various lectures held by the US Green Building Council’s Indiana Chapter. Several of these presentations discussed the impacts of development on the watershed. During one of these, I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to learn about these impacts, but from the perspective of the river…a river school of sorts?” I really wasn’t sure if anyone else would think it was cool, but being a long time River Rat I couldn’t think of a better way to see and feel the impacts.

Several weeks later, during lunch with a former colleague (read “in-person networking”), I mentioned the idea to her. She thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to plan and host the event. We went on to discuss other topics and since I was just launching a new business, she mentioned several people I needed to meet and to add to my network. A few hours later I had an e-introduction to Jennifer Roberts of Elements Engineering. Jennifer and I met over coffee and while she was very interested in my new business venture, what she really wanted to hear about was the “river school”. I guess word of my idea was spreading!

Fast forward a couple of months, I attended the Green Building Power Breakfast sponsored by the Indianapolis Business Journal and happened to sit at a table with Ken Remenschneider of Remenschneider Associates. Coincidentally, I had actually attended an event at Ken’s home several months prior, but had not met Ken. We got quite a laugh when I exclaimed, “I’ve been in your house!” Throughout the breakfast we realized that our networks intersected as he has done business with Jennifer for years. We agreed to meet in a few weeks so that I could explain more about my new business.

By the time we met for lunch, he had obviously spoken with Jennifer because he brought a map of Indiana so we could talk about the River School and weigh the pros and cons of various rivers on which to conduct the event. I guess I was committed now!

Ken, Jennifer, my wife Carmen and I began the planning process. I wanted to flush out the ideas and formalize the aspects of the River School. I also wanted their input as to who we should invite. Again, the power of networking, between my network and each of their networks we sent out invitations to what was now called the Sustain the White River Excursion. We had agreed to limit this first event to 30 people and within days we had all the seats filled…and then some!

One of the segments of the Excursion that I felt was key was to engage Conner Prairie Historical Park in some way. The Park sits on the banks of the White River and would be about our half way point. Being a history buff, I wanted to reach out to them, but didn’t really have any contacts in their organization. I turned to LinkedIn. There I found Ken Bubp, COO of Conner Prairie. Ken and I had actually met about three years ago at a Park board meeting. I noticed from Ken’s profile that he had recently joined the Green Group on LinkedIn. That was my in! Using LinkedIn, I sent Ken a note that I hoped would pique his curiosity about our event. Within a few weeks, Jennifer and I met Ken Bubp and Nancy Stark in the conference room at Conner Prairie. Not only were they supportive of the idea, they embraced the idea! An on-line network at work!

As it turned out, all of the Guides came through networking: Tim Stottlemeyer from the City of Noblesville, Katie Hodgdon of River Watch, Jim Willaert from Conner Prairie, Lou Ann Baker representing Veolia Water and Shaena Smith from Hamilton County SWCD.

One final example for today, Jennifer continues to e-introduce me and my business. One such e-introduction, led to a meeting with Kevin McKinney, publisher of NUVO a local newspaper. During the meeting with Kevin I explained about the Excursion. Come to find out, he was not only a River Rat as well; he was neighbors with Ken Remenschneider! He decided to join the event and asked if he could bring Rae Schnapp from the Hoosier Environmental Council…another organization that I wanted to reach out to but did not have a connection!

So there were all were. 34 professionals representing 29 different companies, organizations and municipalities, standing next to the river exchanging business cards…who needs golf for doing business deals when you have a river?

P.S. If you want to link up on LinkedIn send me an invitation to connect, I am always looking to expand my network! Who knows, next time, even you might be paddling a canoe during a workshop!

I have always been a believer in the power of a professional network. I am a member of several, both on-line and in-person. However, this power was never clearer to me than it was last week. Friday was the culmination of months of planning for the inaugural Sustain the White River Excursion. This “experiential workshop” was designed to raise awareness about the impacts that development has on the river and its watershed. Throughout a 10.5 mile canoe trip, five local experts (or as we called them, “Guides”) met us along the river to describe various impacts, such as storm water, waste water, fresh water filtration, residential impacts and even the history of settlements along the river. You can read more specifics about the event by going to the News & Events tab on our website at www.ConfluenceDynamics.Net.

What really got me thinking though was watching 34 area professionals (described by one guide, as a real all-star team) standing on the beach after canoeing 10.5 miles over seven hours and exchanging business cards and contact information. Relationships were forged over the course of the day that I believe will have a positive impact on the community and the river.

But, as I said, that was the culmination. The idea for this workshop occurred to me while sitting through various lectures held by the US Green Building Council’s Indiana Chapter. Several of these presentations discussed the impacts of development on the watershed. During one of these, I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to learn about these impacts, but from the perspective of the river…a river school of sorts?” I really wasn’t sure if anyone else would think it was cool, but being a long time River Rat I couldn’t think of a better way to see and feel the impacts.

Several weeks later, during lunch with a former colleague (read “in-person networking”), I mentioned the idea to her. She thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to plan and host the event. We went on to discuss other topics and since I was just launching a new business, she mentioned several people I needed to meet and to add to my network. A few hours later I had an e-introduction to Jennifer Roberts of Elements Engineering. Jennifer and I met over coffee and while she was very interested in my new business venture, what she really wanted to hear about was the “river school”. I guess word of my idea was spreading!

Fast forward a couple of months, I attended the Green Building Power Breakfast sponsored by the Indianapolis Business Journal and happened to sit at a table with Ken Remenschneider of Remenschneider Associates. Coincidentally, I had actually attended an event at Ken’s home several months prior, but had not met Ken. We got quite a laugh when I exclaimed, “I’ve been in your house!” Throughout the breakfast we realized that our networks intersected as he has done business with Jennifer for years. We agreed to meet in a few weeks so that I could explain more about my new business.

By the time we met for lunch, he had obviously spoken with Jennifer because he brought a map of Indiana so we could talk about the River School and weigh the pros and cons of various rivers on which to conduct the event. I guess I was committed now!

Ken, Jennifer, my wife Carmen and I began the planning process. I wanted to flush out the ideas and formalize the aspects of the River School. I also wanted their input as to who we should invite. Again, the power of networking, between my network and each of their networks we sent out invitations to what was now called the Sustain the White River Excursion. We had agreed to limit this first event to 30 people and within days we had all the seats filled…and then some!

One of the segments of the Excursion that I felt was key was to engage Conner Prairie Historical Park in some way. The Park sits on the banks of the White River and would be about our half way point. Being a history buff, I wanted to reach out to them, but didn’t really have any contacts in their organization. I turned to LinkedIn. There I found Ken Bubp, COO of Conner Prairie. Ken and I had actually met about three years ago at a Park board meeting. I noticed from Ken’s profile that he had recently joined the Green Group on LinkedIn. That was my in! Using LinkedIn, I sent Ken a note that I hoped would pique his curiosity about our event. Within a few weeks, Jennifer and I met Ken Bubp and Nancy Stark in the conference room at Conner Prairie. Not only were they supportive of the idea, they embraced the idea! An on-line network at work!

As it turned out, all of the Guides came through networking: Tim Stottlemeyer from the City of Noblesville, Katie Hodgdon of River Watch, Jim Willaert from Conner Prairie, Lou Ann Baker representing Veolia Water and Shaena Smith from Hamilton County SWCD.

One final example for today, Jennifer continues to e-introduce me and my business. One such e-introduction, led to a meeting with Kevin McKinney, publisher of NUVO a local newspaper. During the meeting with Kevin I explained about the Excursion. Come to find out, he was not only a River Rat as well; he was neighbors with Ken Remenschneider! He decided to join the event and asked if he could bring Rae Schnapp from the Hoosier Environmental Council…another organization that I wanted to reach out to but did not have a connection!

So there were all were. 34 professionals representing 29 different companies, organizations and municipalities, standing next to the river exchanging business cards…who needs golf for doing business deals when you have a river?

P.S. If you want to link up on LinkedIn send me an invitation to connect, I am always looking to expand my network! Who knows, next time, even you might be paddling a canoe during a workshop!

Valley Forge, PA.-The site of George Washington’s famous winter at Valley Forge soon will be home to the nation’s newest power plant. Approval was granted today for the construction of a 250-Megawatt Coal-fired power plant adjacent to the Valley Forge National Park. While the main generating station will not be on park grounds, plans call for four 300+ foot wind turbines and a 400+ smokestack to be located on park property near General Washington’s winter command. Water for the plant will be obtained from the Schuylkill River. Project Manager Tom Jackson, a self-proclaimed revolutionary war buff, states, “I don’t believe the presence of these structures will detract from the historical significance of the park at all. In fact, the steam and exhaust from the smokestack may add to the experience as you envision the smoke from the campfires rising above…”


Ok, now that I have your attention, let me tell you the announcement above is not true. But didn’t it raise some concern? Weren’t you thinking, “How could they do that to such an historic site?” What if instead, I had chosen the Gettysburg Battlefields, or the site of Mount Rushmore, or anyone of our nation’s historic sites? Would that move you to stand up and say, “No!”? What if I told you it was happening in Montana?

 
Over 200 years ago, Captains Lewis and Clark and their team of 30+ men, Sacagawea and her baby were making their way up the Missouri River on their way to the Pacific Ocean. After rowing, poling, and pulling upstream for over 2,000 miles and being away from U.S. civilization for over 14 months they encountered the Great Falls of the Missouri. The falls, while beautiful, were not one cascade as they had understood, but five and were a formidable obstacle between them and the way west. What they thought would be a minor inconvenience of a portage, was in fact over 18 miles and delayed them almost a month while they moved their gear around the falls. Pushing, pulling, and sometimes crawling while they transported hundreds of pounds of provisions in the brutal heat, across punishing prickly pear cactus. It was an epic effort like few others in American history.

 
It is here, at the site of a National Historic Landmark designating the location where the men of the Expedition left the Missouri River and began their toil across the Montana plains, that SME Electric is actually building a 250 Megawatt Coal-fired power plant. The Highwood Generating Plan makes provisions for the wind turbines and smokestack described in my hypothetical story above: they are to be located on and adjacent to the Landmark. In one of the few places left on the 4000+ mile Lewis and Clark Trail that one can still stand and see pretty much what they saw 200 years ago there will now be an enormous power plant, towering wind turbines, smokestacks… and tons and tons of coal ash. This unique site will be lost for eternity.

 
Several organizations are working to halt construction. Some due to environmental concerns, some due to historical preservation concerns, while some say the area just simply does not need the power the plant will generate. Rather than replicating that information here, please take the time to review the links below (I urge you to review the Great Falls Tribune link, it contains some excellent pictures, charts and maps of the area designated for the plant, as well as links to up to the minute news).

 
Links:

Montana Environmental Information Center
Preservationnation.org
Montana Preservation Alliance
Great Falls Tribune
Citizens for Clean Energy

Construction has already begun, but it is not too late to stop the destruction of this piece of our national heritage. I implore you to write your congressmen, your senators and others asking them to step in and stop this project. In addition, please write to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The National Park Service and the US Army Corp of Engineers.

Richard Opper, Director Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Karen Breslin, National Parks Service

US Army Corps of Engineers – Helena, MT – (406) 444-6670