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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, February 24, 2012

Story of bike ride shows off ties that bind

I probably shouldn’t brag.

But, if you know me at all, you know I’m going to.

Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Perhaps I should explain.

In the two weeks since I wrote about Michael T. Rae using his skills as an ordained minister to raise money for his participation in the Police Unity Tour bike ride, he’s had quite a haul.

In that same two weeks, the Mentor resident also been getting a lot of other media attention, including a Cleveland radio station that wants him to be a guest on a weekend public affairs show.

Trouble is, he’s done that show before. Twice.

And he said he’s managed to raise a total of $1 from those guest shots.

In the two weeks since my article, he’s sold five autographed books on eBay and received $350 in donations.

Take that, radio station I won’t disclose.

Nyah, nyah, nyah!

What I will share is how this story has shown me what a small world we’re living in.

Yes, that’s a good thing.

Small in this case means amazingly interesting. I was tempted to say ironic, but I don’t want to get into a debate over the definition.

One of the first examples is that one of the first people to reach out to Rae after the article ran was the wife of an area police officer who was killed in the line of duty.

John Apanites died April 7, 1969, while interviewing suspected shoplifters at a Petries store in downtown Cleveland. He was shot during a scuffle over a weapon while waiting for a patrol car to arrive to take the suspects to the police station.

Apanites was survived by his wife, Jackie, and two young children.

His daughter, Barb, is a Wickliffe High School graduate and was a classmate of mine in Kent State University’s journalism school during the late 1980s.

But the small-worldy-ness of this example goes back many years to my mother frequently talking about this young police officer who died one night downtown, leaving his wife to raise their two children. They had never met, but my mother felt a kinship because their children were about the same age.

Barb was five days shy of her first birthday when her father was slain.

Jackie Apanites later remarried one of John fellow narcotics officers, and Richard Hlivak helped raised the children as his own.

Barb Apanites said she referred to John Apanites as her “first dad” or “my other dad” when she was growing up.

“I don’t have any memories of my first dad,” she said. “(Hlivak) raised me. He was there for all the moments of my life.”

Hlivak served as a pall bearer during Apanites’ funeral, and told Barb just before his September 2011 death that taking over for her father was difficult.

“He said he didn’t feel that it was a fair or a good trade,” she said. “He had such respect for him and felt so badly that we missed out.”

I told Barb that during my interview with Rae, I mentioned to him that about 15 years ago, I traveled to Washington with a friend on vacation and stopped at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. I remember telling my friend that our classmate’s father had been killed in the line of duty and that I wanted to see if his name was listed in the printed registry at the memorial.

Sure enough, John Apanites Jr. was listed in the book. We sat down and reflected for a moment on her loss, so many years before, and went on our way around D.C.

Then, all these years later, Apanites’ widow sees my story about a law enforcement official taking part in a memorial bike ride and sends him a $100 check.

“I commend you and all the others on the Police Unity Tour. Ride safely and know that what you do is most appreciated,” she wrote to Rae.

Rae now plans to wear a memorial wristband bearing Apanites’ name during the Police Unity Tour in May.

I gave Barb a call this week to thank her for a kind comment she left on the story, and asked what she’s been up to these past few years.

Small-world moment No. 4: Barb works as a probation officer in Cuyahoga County, serving as an investigator who prepares reports on those who apply for expungements.

Before that, she worked as a tutor in Mentor, teaching English as a second language. And, after college, she worked in New York City in children’s book publishing.

But it was the investigator position that gave me pause. I told her that she definitely needs to get into contact with Rae, who serves as an inspector attorney for the United States Postal Service.

It’s a thrill to bring these folks together. Here’s hoping that Rae’s efforts will continue to bring attention to those who have given so much and those who so sadly have been left behind.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

See numbers fall throughout this year’s contest

This column was published Feb. 4, 2012: 

I’m never going to get used to it.

Most people can’t walk up to someone and ask them how old they are.

You also risk a slap in the face if you ask them how much they weigh.

Yet, I do both.

I was reminded how unusual this is about six weeks ago, when I emailed the contestants from Lighten Up in 2011 to ask for a update on their weight loss.

A few didn’t respond. I can’t say I blame them, I’d have, too — especially since I’d put on a few pounds myself in those intervening months.

As I sat in my office one day, I started reading people’s Facebook posts.

I saw one from the champion of Lighten Up in 2011, Michael Kadlub, who was celebrating the arrival of his new workout program.

I started typing.

“Gonna send in your answers to the questions I sent out, champ? Looking forward to seeing what you say!”

It took him a few weeks, but he filled out all the blanks and included a little needle at the end of one answer.

“(Don’t you know it is not politically correct to ask about weights during the holiday season)”
Of course I laughed.

It is what most people consider their biggest secret.

I have had people come up to me in the grocery store, telling me of their weight struggles. One time it happened in the chip aisle. I had to laugh at the irony. What were either of us doing there?

That number certainly is my biggest secret. I won’t even let my doctor tell me!

But, when you run a weight-loss contest, those numbers are just that — numbers.

At the start, they’re big numbers. At the end, they’re small.

Over the first three years of Lighten Up, our participants have lost 1,076.85 pounds. I have to admit, I’m pretty darn proud of them.

They work hard, they suffer and they celebrate.

And, so do I.

When those lower numbers pop up on the scales, I’m as happy as they are.

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to a new crop of your neighbors who have signed on to share their personal struggles with their weight.

When I met them on Jan. 29 at Slim & Fit Personal Weight Loss & Fitness in Concord Township, I told them they’re brave.

And I mean it. How many of us would be willing to have our weight published every month for six months?

Not many.

I just wish I were more like this group of 15 determined souls.

Sure, I say I need to lose a few pounds. Sure, I know what I need to do to make it happen.

Heck, I’m going to be lecturing them over the next six months about eating right, exercise, how to handle stress and good snacking practices.

But, as testimony to how much of a challenge that will be for me, I give you exhibit A.

After the weigh-in, and before my husband and I hit Giant Eagle on Sunday afternoon, we stopped at Panera so we wouldn’t shop on empty stomachs.

Not so bad, right? As if!

An order of soup in a bread bowl later, and I’m feelin’ the guilt so many do when they realize they’ve sabotaged their diets for the day.

To quote Jaime Brenkus of Slim & Fit: “SO WHAT? Make up for it at the next meal, or the next day.”

Exactly! So I told my husband that we’d be having a light dinner that night, to compensate for the fact that we ate too much for “lunch.”

And, we did it! Hooray for us!

And, hooray for those 15 contestants in Lighten Up, who will be making me proud for the next six months — and long afterward.

Don’t miss the updates as they continue their journey through the first half of the year.
Twitter: @Lauranh

I’m getting the message across — the hard way

I guess I should start with an apology.

Or a clarification.

Either way, I need to reiterate to about 20 sixth-grade girls from Lake County that Justin Bieber didn’t get arrested for punching a 12-year-old who jumped on stage at Great Lakes Mall.

No, Bieber wasn’t really at the mall. No, you didn’t miss a free concert last Friday night.
It was all made up.

It’s not as menacing as it seems when you read that over. I had good intentions when I made up the story.

When one of the leaders of Leadership Lake County’s 6th Grade Junior Leadership Academy called and told me how glad she was that I agreed to speak, I was touched. Then she suggested that I plan an activity for our young visitors as part of their annual visit for “communications skills day.”

After an initial discussion of what communication is and why it’s important, they broke into three groups that then rotated through a few words-on lessons.

One stop was a tour of the building from General Manager Brian McCloskey. He had the cool job of showing them the gigantic rolls of paper on which The News-Herald is printed. These tours are quite popular, and we see groups of Scouts and even senior citizens walking around from time to time.

The paper is always the highlight, though. One roll of that paper is about as big as a Volkswagen Beetle.

Another stop involved a lesson in communications skills. The students retreated to our cafeteria to try out what they’d learned in the earlier discussion with some hands-on activities.

The last stop, though, was with me. That’s where the trouble started.

Last year, when I spoke, I gave them a history of my career and took their questions about journalism. Even I’ll admit it was boring. I have met me, and I know I’m not really all that entertaining.

After hearing that the students wanted to learn about what a reporter does, I started thinking.

I immediately opted against sending them out to cover breaking news. So, I decided to create an “event” that they could “cover.”

Anytime you use that many quote marks around random words, you know there’s trouble. So, here mine:

I decided to make up a story rather than to use something from Friday’s headlines. Ours were either a little too graphic, or would require too much explanation.

Because the students are tweens, I centered on Justin Bieber.

The girls love him, so I made him the performer at a surprise concert at Great Lakes Mall. The boys hate him, so I made him a villain.

Oops No. 1: The girls were upset that they missed the concert. (In the story, he showed up at the mall the night before to perform. Area residents had been encouraged to go to the mall because all the stores were having a massive sale.)

Oops No. 2: The boys were outraged that he’d punch someone their age. (In the story, three youngsters stormed the stage, complaining that there was no entertainment for them. Bieber got mad, and he punched one of them. In the story, he was arrested and charged.)

Oops No. 3: Forgetting to tell the first group that everything on their handouts was made up. (After the initial hysterics, I made sure to say it MANY times to the second and third groups.)

As I walked around the newsroom to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing and was doing the interviewing exercise I’d planned out, I listened to the questions they asked the characters I’d developed as witnesses to the fake event.

“Do you think Justin Bieber should be fined more than $1,000 for punching a kid?”

“Were you afraid Bieber was going to punch you, too?”

Later on, once the group had gathered together to go over the assignment, I asked what they thought the lesson was.

“To ask questions.”

“To have confidence.”

“To listen to what they say.”

All great responses. And, while all were definitely part of the process, none were what I was after.
“I want you to remember to never let anyone off the hook.”

That proclamation was met with confused faces.

“If we just let people say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you’d never find out anything that you need to know. So, we have to follow up.

“Whether it’s your friends, or your parents, or your teachers, I want you to remember to never
let anyone off the hook. Make them answer your questions in a way that gives you the information that helps you understand what’s going on.”

I made sure they understood what I meant, and they all nodded in agreement.

So, be prepared, everyone. A bunch of inquisitive youngsters are coming your way.

It’s OK, you can blame me. That is if they’ve gotten over the Bieber shock.
Twitter: @Lauranh