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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.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

$3 a small price to pay for dinner with Clooney

I’ll be the first to admit that I waste a lot of money.

When I was a kid, it was magazines. I’d often get two copies of a periodical, because I knew that, over time, I’d wear the ink off the pages from flipping through the same articles over and over, and I didn’t want to miss out on the stories about Richard Hatch (the one from “Battlestar Gallactica,” not the guy from “Survivor”) and Shaun Cassidy (star of “The Hardy Boys”).

As I got older, sports stars joined my periodical obsession. I still remember riding my bike to the drug store on the morning of my first day of high school to pick up the new Sports Illustrated, because there was an article about the Browns’ new linebacker inside.

When I got to the store, I saw Tom Cousineau on the cover! At the register, the clerk asked if I realized I had two copies, and I nodded.

Oh, to not care what people think anymore.

Over the years, the waste has taken on different forms, depending on what I’m obsessed with at any given time.

Clothing, of course, is a big one. We’ve already covered my recent cardigan addiction.

In case you’re wondering, I wore a cardigan sweater to work for 32 consecutive days during March and April, before I got so sick of it that I gave up. Mind you, I just went back into the pile and wore some of those that I had work a month before, but it was refreshing. It was almost as though they were new!

But I’m not here to talk about clothing. I’m here to talk about money.

(That might have been one of those situations where Jim Collins would say “digress.” But I’m not sure.)

It’s easy to waste money. The opportunities are everywhere.

When you’re at the grocery store waiting in endless lines, magazines and sugary snacks are temptations. At Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, customers ready to make their purchases have to wind through a sea of merchandise on their way to the registers.

The goods are all low-priced, which makes it seem like you’re hardly spending any money at all.

When you’re weak like me, it’s really difficult to resist. So, I have a ton of ear bud-type headphones, Danish cookies and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds after spur-of-the-moment pickups while waiting to “Proceed to Register No. 3.”

The other day, though, an unusual offer caught my eye from an equally unusual source — Huffington Post.

I was sitting here at work, minding my own deadlines, when a tweet showed up touting the chance to have dinner with George Clooney for the small cost of $3.

Dinner? With George Clooney? I’m in!

The dinner, for the winner and a guest, will take place at Clooney’s home in California.

As it turned out, though, the $3 was a donation to Barack Obama 2012, the president’s re-election campaign.

I sat back and thought about it, and said to myself, “why not give it a shot?”

I upped the ante, and donated $5, hoping to improve my chances. I’m thinking, every Clooney fan is going to give $3. I want to stand out.

What really is standing out, though, is the number of emails I’ve gotten since then asking for more money.

I got two within five minutes after I clicked the OK button on my entry. One of those even had a link at the bottom in case I wanted to make another donation.

Who are these people? And, how many people have they trapped in this donation cycle?

This was officially my first donation to a political campaign.

I should admit that I know I won’t win, because as part of the donation, you have to disclose your employer and your job title.

If they pick out my card and see the words “managing editor,” how fast do you think they’d pick another name?

It feels a little weird to have donated to a candidate.

My donation isn’t an endorsement of Obama any more than it would be if Clooney had signed on to feed a Romney supporter. I’m an undecided voter, and, the way this campaign is going, probably will remain so for a long time.

So, wish me luck. If I win, I’ll write a column about my dinner with George Clooney.

When I lose, though, you’ll be stuck with one about something dumb I picked up while waiting in line to buy another cardigan.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 20, 2012

No better proof of Nowackis’ goodness

Very few people can pinpoint the moment in which they made a difference in someone’s life.
But, you can count Denis and Sheila Nowacki in that elite group.

The Painesville Township residents have experienced it a few times over the past seven years.
Fifteen times, to be exact.

The most recent time was April 14 at Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites LaMalfa in Mentor.
On that night, it happened four times.

The Nowackis are the parents of Andrew “Ace” Nowacki, a Grand River police officer and U.S. Marine who died Feb. 26, 2005, in Babil Province, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded as his convoy was passing by.

His parents vowed to honor his legacy, establishing a scholarship fund in his name with the goal of continuing Nowacki’s mission to educate as well as serve.

The scholarships to any publicly funded school go to young men and women who hope to work in the fields of criminology, fire science, emergency services or law enforcement. The awards are full scholarships, paying for the winner’s entire education.

Two of the awards presented last Saturday went to people who will begin their work at Lakeland’s Police Academy on May 14.

Anthony Palcisko of Willoughby and Jessica Newsome of Painesville Township were thrilled to be counted among the winners, but both admitted before the ceremony that the speech that’s required of winners had them a little on edge.

Palcisko, who is a graduate of Cleveland State with a bachelor of criminology and sociology, is anxious to get started in the academy.

He said he’s wanted to be a police officer since he was a junior in high school, for what he says are the usual reasons.

“I would say the excitement,” he said. “It’s kind of a change of pace, doing something different every day, and, it sounds a little corny, but helping people, having compassion for people.”

Newsome said a high school class sparked her drive to become a police officer.

“In high school, I took a joint vocational program for law enforcement, specifically for the forensic science, and I loved it,” she said. “To get into that you have to go to school, you have to go to the academy and get certified for all those things. It’s actually what made me realize it was what I wanted to do, because we had to go and figure out crime scenes. They would set up everything in the classroom, they even had a separate house for the school and you had to figure out what was what in the crime scenes, which was really cool.”

Newsome is a perfect embodiment of the Nowackis’ mission to offer opportunity to those who need a boost.

In a video produced by The Lakeland Foundation, Sheila Nowacki makes the scholarship committee’s priorities clear:

“It has to be a full scholarship,” she said. “They have to show financial need, but they don’t have to have the best grades, because that’s not what this is about. So their motivation for going into (law enforcement) has to be from the heart, as Andy’s was.”

Though Newsome was an excellent student before graduating in 2009 from Mentor High School, she makes no secret of the fact that financial pressures kept her from pursuing her education after graduation.

“I was never able to go to the academy because of money,” she said. “I’m pretty independent, no one pays for any of my things, and with the scholarship, now I don’t have to work as much and I can put all my time and effort into school and graduating and then I can get a good job.”

Newsome points those who come after her to the opportunities she found in researching scholarships.

“I never knew scholarships like this were even out there. I have friends out there who are a couple years younger than me, who are in high school, and I’m like, look at the scholarships and grants — write a paragraph. This is what a paper did for me. And now i’m going to college. For free. It’s crazy.”

She wasn’t shy about sharing her appreciation for the Nowackis last Saturday night, either.

“Your entire family has changed my life forever,” she said. “If there’s ever a brief moment when you question if you ever made a difference to anyone, please know that you made a difference to me.
Thank you for supporting me and trusting my professional qualities.

“I never had the privilege to meet Andy, but I know I have big shoes to fill. I will be the best I can be to carry on his legacy. Andy has truly made my dreams come true.”
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sorry to say farewell to those who’ve inspired

I’ve been inspired.

It happens a lot. Usually it involves kids doing neat things, or adults making extreme sacrifice in the face of tragedy or need.

But, sometimes, I’m simply inspired to think.

Once you get over your fears of what I might be thinking about, you’ll be happy to know that lately, I’ve been thinking about some of those who have inspired me during my life.

Why is it that thoughts of this type only come at the end?

No, not my end. (At least I don’t think so!)

No, “the end” in this case means the end of the line for some of my most cherished educational influences.

The month of May will mark both the final goodbye for my beloved elementary school, Roosevelt in Euclid, and the retirement of two professors at Kent State University who had the greatest impact on my career in journalism.

It’s going to be a tough month.

On May 24, I’ll walk the halls of Roosevelt for the last time. I should admit, it’s been quite a while since I was inside the old girl — back when I was first out of college and it was my polling place on Election Day.

Dad, Mom and I walked the block and a half from our house to the front door of the school and headed up the stairs to the gym to cast our votes on Nov. 5, 1991. I remember thinking that the steps that once seemed so big and tall as I walked in a single-file line to see Mr. Kapostasy were now so easily ascended.

The nurse’s office, across the hall from the gym, still had the pleather couch that I so many times laid on as I faked illnesses in attempts to go home and play, rather than learning about math and English and art. Mrs. Prince eventually got too smart for me, especially after my mom became a teacher’s aide at the school.

But the places I’ll remember most fondly when the building is torn down once it’s replaced by one of the four new elementary schools that Euclid voters decided to build with help from a state fund are the classrooms where I was inspired (there’s that word again) to enjoy words and current events.

I’ve written before about Mrs. Murray’s fifth-grade class, which I had in 1977-78, when I “stayed over Jody’s house” while off from school because of the Blizzard of 1978.

Murray busted me for my incorrect wording — drawing a little house in red ink, with a bed on high stilts over the top.

Her note asked if that was an accurate depiction of what I’d done while visiting Jody.

She knew it wasn’t, and I learned the value of saying what I mean, not writing the slang I’d use when talking with my young friends.

After Roosevelt, I moved on to Euclid Central Junior High, then Euclid High School and Lakeland Community College, before heading off to Kent State University for journalism school.

My first contact in Taylor Hall was Timothy Smith, a professor of journalism and former managing editor at The Beacon Journal in Akron. When I walked into his office for a counseling session a couple of months before my transfer, he told me to have a seat.

I noted right away there weren’t that many chairs. My parents got those. He pointed me to the church pew that sat along the wall near the door.

On our drive home, my father said I’d be in good hands. He also said I should start praying. I’m still not sure what he meant.

Smith became my adviser, and because he was about as gruff as anyone I’d ever met, he always got his way and no argument from me. I took the classes he suggested, and I didn’t challenge him when he forced me and my fellow students to come to our own decisions when we asked him, in his other role as the adviser for the college newspaper, for advice.

Sure, he called on his experience at the Beacon Journal. But he never told us what to do. It wasn’t his job.

Don’t get the idea he didn’t care. He did, more than we knew. He just knew that if he was going to mold us into the kind of journalists he was, he needed to start early.

Yes, we made mistakes. But, we owned them and learned from them. And, that’s all he could ask.

About 18 months after I met Tim, I walked into a class called “Reporting Practices” with Carl Schierhorn.

A veteran journalist who had worked for years at Gannett papers around the country, Carl was about as different from Tim as you could be.

Carl was thin and sometimes almost looked sickly. Tim was 6-foot-2 and weighed at least 350 pounds. Carl spoke so softly I sometimes had to lean in to hear. You could hear Tim making a point in class at one end of Taylor while sitting behind closed doors in the Daily Kent Stater office on the other end of the building.

On the first day of class, Carl handed out a list of campus beats and told us to rank our top three choices. I put down the sports beat as my first choice, because I had plans to become a sportswriter. I don’t remember what I listed second. Third was the campus library.

I got No. 3. I’m still upset about it, 25 years later.

Carl watched my lack of progress in RP over that semester, and gave me a smile when I walked into his “Basic Editing” class after Christmas break.

Our first assignment was to take a week’s worth of Daily Kent Staters and do a critique. Nothing was off limits — headlines, layout, cutlines, word editing.

He pulled me into his office a couple hours before class to show me my grade of 100 percent and told me my future was as an editor.

He was right. I was too timid to be a reporter and was at home in an editor’s chair, cleaning up copy and writing headlines and designing pages.

As it turned out, he had taken the same road in his career. That made it feel even more comfortable.

I wouldn’t begin to count the number of journalists who came after me in the 21 years since I graduated from Kent State.

But, I can guarantee that they all owe the same debt of gratitude to these two gentlemen who, in their own way, taught us how to write, edit, tackle tough stories and remember that the basis of any story is fairness and good reporting.

As I look back on the framework of my education over the years, it’s easy to see that I learned from the best.

I’m sorry to see all three of them go, and wish them well as they finally get a chance to rest.

Those you guided all these years will forever honor your words and remember your inspiration.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 6, 2012

While Talkin’ Tribe, area’s fans are impressive

The other night, I learned that Shelley Duncan isn’t an actress with a glass eye who once starred on “The Hogan Family.”

No, that’s actually Sandy Duncan, a 66-year-old, petite woman who for a long time flew through the air while playing “Peter Pan” on Broadway.

Shelley Duncan is a 32-year-old guy — though also blond, so you can see some of my confusion — who started Opening Day in left field for the Indians.

Oh, how far I’ve fallen in the many years since I was such a fan of the Indians that I scored games in a notebook while listening to Joe Tait and Herb Score on a transistor radio in my bedroom.

Back then, Duane Kuiper was at second base and Rick Manning was in center field, and that was all I needed to know to understand the world was OK.

Today, I just need to know that by the time you’re reading this on Saturday, April 7, that the season isn’t a total loss and that we’re not already waiting for next year.

I’ve had enough of that in my lifetime in Cleveland.

So have you.

I’ve decided all we need is a little optimism. And a few victories.

That’s some analysis right there, huh? No one will ever mistake me for a color commentator on any sports broadcast.

No, I’ll leave that to the folks who entertained me Tuesday night in The News-Herald’s cafeteria.

That night, Indians beat writer Jim Ingraham held court with about 30 baseball fans, discussing all things Indians from this year, past years and the future.

It was hard not to be impressed with the level of knowledge among the fans who spent about 75 minutes peppering Ingraham with questions relating to the team’s lackluster offseason, its just-concluded spring training and what they should expect as the season kicks off.

Ingraham didn’t hold back.

If criticism was due, he gave it. If it was time to praise, he dished that out, too.

Looking on from the sidelines, it was fascinating to watch those who attended.

Some arrived in their fan gear — sweatshirts, jerseys and T-shirts. One man wore a Tribe hat that still had the Major League Baseball logo card attached. I almost asked him if he was going to return it if the Tribe didn’t start the season well.

There was a good mix of men and women in the audience. Just as thrilling was that so many of the ladies were asking questions.

And their questions were thought-provoking — about mindsets of the Indians front office, pitching matchups and even about Ingraham’s thoughts on Ubaldo Jimenez, who days before seemingly had intentionally struck a Colorado Rockies batter with a pitch.

Many of the fans expressed the same frustration that I led off with, wondering when the Indians will make the moves that all of us fans believe would help them win.

Ingraham reminded them that those transactions require money, and that the pockets of the Indians’ brass don’t really jingle when they walk.

If you want to check out the discussion, go to You also can check out your neighbors who attended the event in our slideshow at

I wish more fans would have had the chance to join us for this first-of-its-kind event here at the paper. That you didn’t means I had to eat far too many peanuts and far too much popcorn on “game day.”

I won’t hold it against you.

You’ll be able to make it up to me later on April 25, when we invite you to join us for a discussion about the Browns and the NFL Draft with beat writer Jeff Schudel.

To sign up for Browns Draft Talk with Jeff Schudel, call 440-207-0630 and leave a message with your name and the number of guests who’ll be attending, send that same information to News-Herald Sports Editor Mark Podolski at, or RSVP to the event on our Facebook page.

I expect big crowds and questions that will dazzle me just as much.

I’ll try really hard not to ask anything about the good old days with Bernie Kosar, Dick Ambrose and Hanford Dixon.

If I do, just tell me to shut up and eat some peanuts.

There’ll be plenty.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just a comment about new tool for our website

This column appeared in The News-Herald on Saturday, March 30, 2012. 

This week, I did something I’ve never done before.

I made a comment on a story on The News-Herald’s website,

To some of you, that’s a daily occurrence. But, for me, it’s been nearly impossible until now.

Let me explain: One of the more popular features on our site is the reader comments that are made after a story is posted.

Website users can make comments on the stories, and, if they follow a few rules, those statements will be attached to the stories that sit on our site.

The rules are pretty basic: No name-calling, no profanity and you aren’t allowed to libel someone. We also don’t allow you to advertise your business or websites you’re particularly fond of.

The comments are popular because they’re quite “entertaining.” I used those quotes deliberately.

Users either love the comments or hate them. There really is no middle ground.

People tell us they love them for numerous reasons — they’re interesting to read; they tell you what people think; people are entertained by commenters’ writing styles; and, because they’re so popular, there’s fresh content all the time on some stories.

People tell us they hate them for numerous reasons, too — they’re not very interesting; people don’t care what anonymous people think; the spelling, grammar and punctuation are atrocious; there are too many people with too much time on their hands spending all day making comments on the stories.

There have been times in the past that I’ve been tempted to comment on stories. I’ve wanted to answer questions, or even ask them of other commenters when they seemed to have information that could further our work on a story.

But, the process didn’t really lend itself to doing so.

That all changed on Tuesday.

And, what brought it about is a new platform that allows us to become actively involved in the conversation with site users.

I started immediately.

There was concern minutes after the new platform went live, because existing comments disappeared.

We didn’t know that was going to happen, or we’d have warned you.

Our users were worried that we had deleted them. Goodness no, I told them. They’re all coming back, and you’ll be able to directly comment on those that are already there.

Trust me, we wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of reading each comment individually only to have them deleted in the transfer. We’d be more upset than you if that happened.

Oh, and before you ask: Yes, we’re still reading the comments before they’re approved.

The new platform has many features that will improve the experience of the user.

As I said above, you can now respond directly to a comment on our site. Before, if someone wanted to comment, it was posted sometimes 50 comments after the initial post. Under our new system, two commenters can get a debate going.

Another advantage is that users can filter the comments in different ways. You can see them in order of most recent first, or in order of which ones have the most “likes.” Or, if you like it the way it used to be, you can read them in the order in which they were posted by readers.

One change you’ll notice is the comments are no longer hidden. They are, however, kept at the bottom of the stories, so if you don’t want to see them, don’t scroll past the box where you can make your comment.

Another change is that you must supply an email address when you’re submitting your comment.

The email doesn’t appear on the site. But it’s necessary if you want to post a comment.

But, the biggest change for us is, as I said at the top, that we’re going to be joining the conversation.

You’ll see our comments listed using our names. It might be me, or Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose, or a staff writer, editor or photographer. We’ll be answering questions, and even asking them.

We’re looking forward to some great conversation.
Twitter: @Lauranh