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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bike lanes are a growing need

It’s hard to know where to begin.

The most logical place is the sorrow.

But it’s not merely sorrow over the loss of Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Charles "Chip" Henry.

It’s sorrow, too, that I never got to meet him. In death you learn so much about how people lived.

As an area resident, I only knew Henry as a judge. But his impressive past, which included work in the Peace Corps, will remain for me a footnote in a horrible story about the way he died.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d love to sit and listen to him tell the story of how he met his wife in South Africa all those years ago.

The sorrow extends to knowing how difficult these weeks will be for those who worked with Henry.

Their respect for the judicial leader speaks volumes about the man he was, starting with their desire to go to work the day after he died.

They easily could have closed the court, using their grief as a crutch. But, citing Henry’s work ethic, they went in and performed their jobs.

The sorrow extends to the future, with a look to the past. Henry’s work to reduce auto crashes involving teenagers and to create a mental health program at Ravenwood Mental Health Center are bright spots in a career spent policing area children.

Henry’s efforts to not only adjudicate but improve the lives of youngsters is incredibly impressive. Here’s hoping whomever follows him onto the bench will keep that vision moving forward.

As I acknowledge the sorrow over Henry’s death, I, too, must admit the fear.

Henry’s death, which occurred on a bicycle as he rode along Rapids Road in Troy Township, elicited a gasp when I heard the news.

Sure, I was shocked at the identity of the victim. We all were. Those kinds of incidents always happen to "someone else." Rarely do you know the person when you hear the name.

But, a bicycle rider getting struck by a car brings such fear to mind.

I know I’m not alone here — I’m sure we all worry when we see bicyclists pedaling along the roadway with the traffic.

My response is probably the wrong one, but it’s based on concern.

I go out of my way to avoid getting too close, because I always figure they’re as scared of me as I am of them. But, in doing so, I sometimes cross into another lane, or into oncoming traffic.

I’m risking getting hit so I don’t hit them. Who’s right? Who knows.

Over time, I’ve slowly come to the realization that bike lanes are a necessity. But, respect for the bike lanes is even more a necessity.

As what once was the rural part of Northeast Ohio now is becoming more and more populated, and that brings people out into the community.

Some go for walks, others head out for a run, and more are biking.

Runners and walkers have the sidewalks to complete their exercise. But bikers are forced to compete with traffic on the roadway.

I don’t begrudge them their corner of the road to get their exercise in. In fact, I admire their bravery as they complete their fitness routines.

I just wish they had someplace where they not only could get in a good ride, they’d know they were safe doing it.

At the paper, the first question we ask when we hear an idea such as this is "who is going to pay for it?"

I don’t have the answer. I know necessary services can’t be cut. But I also know how necessary this space has become.

Here’s hoping that after we get used to the sorrow and overcome the fear, we focus on the safety of cyclists everywhere and find a way to provide them a safe place to pedal.

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Twitter: @lauranh

Friday, May 20, 2011

Refreshing new biz for local kidz

“I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good good night”

Sitting there, listening to the Black Eyed Peas belt out their 2009 hit song, I got the same feeling.

Only, it wasn’t about tonight.

It was about today. And the future.

Yes, I realize that today is Judgment Day — the day many have proclaimed to be the end of the world.


It’s also Opening Day!

Not for baseball. That was more than a month ago. Pay attention, people!

No, today is Opening Day for a brand new kind of entertainment venue in Lake County.

And, sadly, I can’t go there!

I’m too old.

At 11 a.m., Stagez opens to serve its public — those in middle school and high school.

Kerrianne DiLorenzo Simon and Lisa Keller, who are family friends of mine, have created a special spot for area youngsters to hang out that is free from the pressures the children of today face.

There’s no alcohol. There are no adults who don’t work there. They can’t come and go as they please.

In other words, those who head to Stagez, 7597 Mentor Ave., Mentor, with their friends can dance, play a few games and have a snack.

Anyone who scoffs at the safety pledges from the staff can actually see them in writing, on the club’s handouts for parents, and on the website, at

“The police will be called, in a timely manner, anytime management or staff has information to believe a crime has been or is about to be committed and/or whenever a threat of or act of violence occurs on the premises or off premises in areas that would be considered in view or earshot of the establishment.”

If parents are concerned, they can stay and check out the action via a closed-circuit television in another room. Off-duty Mentor Police will be on hand to patrol inside the facility, including the bathrooms and in the parking lots.

Simon and Keller have thought of everything, which is what happens when you spend 14 months planning.

Even the name was a big undertaking.

Simon said as the pair came up with ideas, people would point out that they were either taken, or inappropriate for one reason or another.

When she was driving to visit her husband at work one day in Painesville, she passed Stage Avenue. She did a double-take, and thought it was a good idea, because those the club serves are going through different stages in their lives.

“We can do everything here,” Simon said Thursday at a pre-opening party. “Bereavement parties, baby showers ... we can lead you through all the stages of your life.”

I asked why they opted for the unusual spelling.

“Anything with a Z is cool these days,” Simon said with a laugh.

Those who attend the club receive a $5 discount if they apply for a “Back Stagez Pass.” It costs $15 to enter without the pass.

Simon said the pass is intended to get the parents involved.

“We have their contact information if there is trouble,” she said.

Parents must accompany youngsters on their first visit to be able to use the pass. Then, if there are problems, they get a call to head to Stagez to pick up their child.

I asked Simon whether she worries about becoming a baby-sitting service. She shook her head and said no.

“If they behave, then I don’t mind,” she said. “If they don’t, we have (their parents’) contact information.”

If my 90 minutes mingling with a crowd of all ages are any indication, kids will love the place.

Stagez has a great sound system and a huge dance floor ready for youngsters to take over.

Those of us old enough to remember the Cosmopolitan and Utopia in Willoughby will understand the reasons Stagez is different — the youngsters aren’t exposed to alcohol or the bad influences of the older generations that came with the movement from room to room.

The new club has nights set up to accommodate each group — Friday nights are for middle-schoolers; Saturdays are for high school age kids. The rest of the time, Wednesday and Thursday nights and during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday, it’s the two groups combined.

Here’s hoping my friends are successful. Goodness knows we in this area need some new businesses to lead us into the future.

“I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Heights changing with the times

I’d better start growing.

Normally, I don’t really feel all that short. Until other people come around.

Then they remind me.

I’m a shrimp.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in elementary school, I was in the back row of pictures. I stood on the top step of the risers during choir concerts.
Then the strangest thing happened.

The rest of the kids kept growing, and I started looking up.

Sadly, it’s about to start happening again.

When I became an adult, I got used to being the short one. I just started wearing high heels a lot.

When the younger generation started coming along — like my nieces and nephews — I got the altitude bug again.

It’s a heady feeling. You walk tall, because you’re about 4 feet taller than the little kid who’s toddling along.

Then, suddenly, you look up, and there they are!

Or maybe that’s just me?

About a month ago, my 13-year-old nephew Nikolas greeted me at a family party with a deep voice and about 4 inches of new height since the last time I saw him — early January.

He’s even taller now, according to my sister-in-law, who said he’s reached 6 feet tall. It doesn’t seem like he’ll be stopping anytime soon.

Then, last weekend, my sister-in-law Eileen warned me before my niece Sarah came downstairs when I arrived at their house in Connecticut that she’s now taller than the older niece, Erin.

The 9-year-old came downstairs, took off her shoes, and proceeded to touch my chin with her forehead.

I’m in big trouble! Cuz I’m so little!

The girls obviously take after my brother, who is 6-foot-4. But Eileen is 5-foot-7, so she’s throwing some height into the mix.

I’m 5-foot-4.

The only solace I can take is that as the younger generation gets bigger, the older one is getting smaller.

I’ve seen my mother lose a few inches over the years, and a few other senior citizens suddenly are at eye-level when they used to require a peek skyward.

All those years of milk drinking obviously didn’t prevent the bone loss that’s brought them into my view.

But, it’s refreshing that as one set goes up, another comes down.

Too bad, though, because it would be so much easier if I could do the moving. But, I guess it’s not so bad that as one group moves out of my view, I get to focus on those who are moving into it.

Looks like I should make some new friends, huh?