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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, August 24, 2012

Too much attention on slowdowns on area roads

I had to laugh.

Luckily, I wasn’t driving, so I was able to take in the full message of the sign. It was, after all, blinking a message that was nine screens in its entirety.

“Don’t text and drive”

“Be aware of students on roadway”

“Pay attention”

It’s the last part that garnered the laughs.

How does this auto repair business visible from State Route 2 expect me to “pay attention” if they’re flashing a sign at me each time I drive by?

Sure, I suppose I could ignore it, but the lights and movement on the sign are distracting, so they naturally catch your eye as you approach.

It’s not as dangerous if you’re traveling east. All lanes of traffic are open as you venture into Lake County.

But, for those moving westbound, this sign is just about at the start of the warnings for condensed lanes for a repaving project where Route 2 merges with Interstate 90.

So, in reality, the sign telling us to pay attention is actually taking our eyes off the road just when a potentially dangerous merge is being announced.

It’s just another sign of roadway armageddon.

Many here at the paper laugh when I use that term to describe the seemingly never-ending road construction that has plagued our area’s roads for years on end.

Usually about once a summer, I write a column when I finally cry “uncle” because of construction that just keeps popping up.

Here I am, writing this year’s version.

It might be because over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent more time on construction-clogged area roads than normal.

Or, it just might be that the omnipresent orange barrels that signal traffic backups are reproducing at an alarming rate of late.

Everywhere I travel.

The most recent collection popped up this week on Lloyd Road in Wickliffe. The southbound lanes are the first receiving resurfacing, so I have to find another way to get on the highway each day.

Then, when it was time to exit Route 2 over the past couple of weeks, I had to remember to be in the center lane of the Vine Street exit ramp, so my left turn ended in the proper lane, because the left lane was closed due to a construction project I never quite figured out. Until late Wednesday, traffic was diverted so that random rectangles on Vine Street could be replaced every few feet or so.

At the risk of sounding like the kind of conspiracy theorist that I probably actually am, I’d say it was construction for the sake of construction because it’s summer in Ohio.

But, it’s the project on Route 2 that really set me off on this rant.

I looked it up this week, and the widening project on Route 2 began in April 2007.

It’s been five years.

And, they’ve yet to complete the sections that comprised Phase 2.

Well, to be more precise, they’re re-doing them because the concrete cracked not long after they put it down. But, isn’t that just another way of saying “it’s not done yet”?

Because they’re still working on a section that was supposed to be finished about four years ago, I have to admit I don’t have that much confidence the others will be problem-free.

The project now stretches out in to the eastern end of Lake County.

So, if you happen to live in Madison or Perry, and you work in Cleveland, you’re dodging barrels the entire trip.


All I can say is there’s nothing I can do about it, but Route 2 had better be the most beautiful roadway in America when this work is finally done in about 10 years.

Ten years, you ask?

That’s just my estimate. Looking back on stories we wrote in 2007 as the project was starting, Phase One was supposed to be completed before Winter 2007. Phase One involved the area from the Interstate 90 split to Route 91.

Phase Two traveled from Route 91 to Newell Creek, which meets the highway about a third of the way between Route 306 and Route 615.

Phase Three moved from there to Route 44. Phase Four moved from the Grand River to Route 20, which is the highway’s ending point in Perry.

Got it?

If you’re like me, the one thing you’ve got is one big, long, stinkin’ line of orange barrels that have been in place for yeeeeeeeeeeeeears.

Yes, it’s created a lot of jobs. Yes, it’s going to be a nice, wide road when it’s done. But, geez, it’s taking a really long time.

I know. You want me to stop complaining.
I know there are worse problems to deal with in life.

But, this is my once-a-summer rant against road construction. I feel your pain.

Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Yearly.

See you next summer.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Only candy rained on Lake County Fair parade

They always say you should try new things.

Don’t be afraid, they say. Give it a shot, they say. You won’t know if you like it until you try, they say.

They’re kind of a pain, aren’t they? 

I guess it’s not so bad if they challenge you to leave your comfort zone once in a while. 

Lately, my job seems to offer constant challenges to mine.

A few weeks ago, I was piloting a lawn mower on the turf at Classic Park in Eastlake. 

A few months ago, I did a P90X workout with a bunch of the contestants in the Lighten Up weight-loss contest. 

Take that, Paul Ryan. You’ve got nothing on me!

This week tops them all, though.

First, there was the parade. 

On Tuesday night, The News-Herald took part in the Lake County Fair parade that stretched from Harvey High School to the fairgrounds. 

Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose drove the van, and I walked alongside Community Engagement Editor Cheryl Sadler. 

We knew we were in trouble when we got to the parade stepoff lot at Harvey and discussed our strategy with the various candidates for office on the November ballot. 

No matter who we talked to, we heard we didn’t buy enough candy. 

A slew of them offered us some if we ran out. And we did.

Halfway through.

Trouble is, I didn’t know how far in front us — or behind — Maureen Kelly, Judy Moran, Dr. Lynn Smith or Jason Wuliger were.

So we just couldn’t bring a bucket up — or back — and ask for a few pounds of Tootsie Rolls.
They had plenty, too. 

Our strategy for next year’s parade is that we’re going to start buying the candy now. It’s not like it goes bad, right?

I believe it’s laden with a little something called “preservatives” that will keep it tasting sweet and delicious for years to come. 

But, after we ran out, we still had about a mile to walk to the fairgrounds and we had nothing to offer the kids who were begging us for some treats. 

After a while, I just stopped making eye contact. I’d wave a little, kibbutz with Cheryl and wish it wouldn’t be considered rude to climb in the back of the van to take a little nap. 

A couple of nights later, we took part in a coronation. 

It’s always been our contest, but this year we actually got to stage the Commerce Queen event at the Fair.

I was lucky enough to be up to my elbows in it from the start, and just before the crowning, got to meet the three finalists. 

I couldn’t have gotten a better introduction to the pageantry than to have spent time with Chris Yano, Beth Heeter and Patricia Kelly.

Each one of these Commerce Queen finalists would have been a spectacular choice. They all love their jobs, they all adore the people they serve and they are all incredibly dedicated to their employers. 

Yano spends countless hours working to ensure that no senior citizen in Fairport (or beyond) is lonely. 

Fairport Harbor Senior Center programs there run the gamut from brain-teasers to physically challenging exercise classes. There’s something for everyone, and everyone is welcomed with open arms. 

Heeter’s customers at Chase Bank in Mentor-on-the-Lake are like family. She helps them with problems and fixes mistakes they make in their financial affairs. They trust her, because they’ve known her for so many years. “I believe nice gets nice,” she said. 

And, nice she is. 

Kelly has a legion of fans at Shamrock Cottage in Mentor. They appreciate her knowledge of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh goods on sale in the shop, and for her Irish soda bread. A sign of how beloved you are is whether kids like you. 

“Kids call her Grandma,” said one of her biggest supporters.

I’d say we did well in our first year as the host of the Commerce Queen.

When it came time to place the tiara atop Yano’s head on Thursday, it was so fun to see her reaction. She was thrilled because of the support she got from her seniors, and giddy because of the love she felt from the family snapping pictures at the fairgrounds. 

They say a smile is worth a thousand words. 

In this case, it’s the same word — joy.

Twitter: @Lauranh

Saturday, August 11, 2012

MC Sign's president makes a lot of youngsters happy, once again

When Tim Eippert walks in a room, he makes people very happy.

This is especially true when he enters the cafeteria at MC Sign Co. in Mentor on a particular night in August.

The company’s president has had it happen over the past five years and shows no signs of stopping now?

And, really, why should he when he’s on this much of a roll

Eippert walks to the front of the room, sidesteps the lectern standing by and addresses the amassed crowd.

Then, he hands out a ton of money.

Why wouldn’t they be happy, right?

But Eippert is quick to tell you he’s just the mouthpiece for the group involved in MC Sign’s annual scholarship program.

To date, the company has awarded $125,000 in scholarships to graduates of Lake Catholic and Mentor high schools.

“Out of all of the things I have to do in my daily workplace, this is the best one of the year,” Eippert said Wednesday during the 2012 scholarship event. “It’s one of the really fun things I get to do. I get to stand up here and take all the credit, but I have very little to do with what has happened over the years with our scholarships.”

Eippert said a committee gathers to read through the submitted applications, taking care to ensure they’re anonymous during the judging process.

The scholarships are 100 percent funded by the company’s Drive for Knowledge golf outing at Stone Water Golf Club in Highland Heights.

“All the money that we generate at the Drive for Knowledge event goes to this cause, so the money that we raise goes exclusively to scholarships going to freshmen going to college,” Eippert said. “It’s not the only money we raise. We have a very strong philanthropic culture here, so we do a lot of other things throughout the year. We raise money every month for a different charity, so we do a lot throughout the year.”

Among other company fundraisers is a periodic “jeans day,” in which staff pays money to be permitted to wear jeans to work. The money then goes to charity.

But the company saves its biggest fundraiser for its own back yard: scholarships to students of the two high schools in Mentor.

“The reason we limit it to Mentor and Lake Catholic, and the reason we’ve done that the last five years, really goes back to being a Mentor-based company,” he said. “We only do about 3 or 4 percent of our total business within about 100 miles of Cleveland, so we don’t have a lot of customers in the community, but we have a lot of employees, and friends and a lot of people that support us. So for a nationally based company to be able to get the kind of support that you see here from the community is really, really wonderful.”

And it keeps growing.

“It’s an exciting year for us, because it’s our fifth year,” Eippert said Wednesday night. “We had a goal this year to try to surpass the $100,000 mark total in those five years. In 2008, we gave away $20,000, in 2009, we gave away $15,000, in 2010 it was $25,000, and in 2011 it was $27,000. We wanted to give away more this year, so our goal was to give away more scholarships.

“This year, we had a great outing. I’m proud to say that we did surpass and had our biggest year ever. So we went over the $100,000 mark and raised a total of $37,800 this year. In 2011, we were able to give away 10 scholarships in the amount of $2,700. And, since we wanted to give away more this year, we’re able to give away four more. So, tonight, we’ll be giving away 14 scholarships in the same amount, of $2,700 this year.”

Over the years, MC Sign has awarded 48 scholarships to graduating seniors — 22 from Lake Catholic and 26 from Mentor.

The youngsters who win the awards tend to be at least a bit stunned by the size of the scholarships. Missing this year were the audible gasps I’ve heard the previous two years when I attended the event. But, you couldn’t miss the wide eyes from their parents as they turned to each other with big smiles.

They have a lot to smile about, too.

These youngsters who are heading off to their freshman years are full of promise and big dreams. They get up, introduce themselves and share their intended major and college with the crowd.

Wednesday was a first for me, as it marked the first time I saw a young man get up and announce his intention to become a priest by attending Borromeo Seminary and John Carroll University.

The 13 other majors ran the gamut of specialties, from medicine to education to engineering to high tech IT careers. There was even a pharmacy major.

The smiles keep coming during MC Sign’s annual event. Employees are thrilled to discuss how they worked through the 25 applications and deeply involved discussions about common picks and how they narrowed when down.

And parents are just as happy to engage with each other about the fears they face in the next few weeks and pride they feel in send off such successful kids.

I wish these youngsters the best as they embark on their college lives. And, to MC Sign, keep up the good work and thanks for letting me be a part each year.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Fair queen isn’t shy about her love for county

“I love this county!”

Megan Muzic of Leroy Township makes no secret about the fact that she appreciates all Lake County has to offer.

“I love this area. It’s a great place. I love these people, too.”

That’s why the 2012 graduate of Riverside High School plans to return here after her graduation from veterinary school in six years.

It might sound like a long time to you, but, to Muzic, it’s nothing.

Educational accomplishments roll off her tongue like song lyrics do for some of us.

“I got my associate degree when I was 17, before I graduated from Riverside,” she said. “When I get to Findlay in a few weeks, I’ll be a junior. I’ll get my preveterinary degree in two years. I’ll go to Ohio State, most likely, because they don’t have a veterinary program at Findlay.

OK, then. Let’s go!

Oh wait, Muzic has a little something to take care of first.

The 2012 Lake County Fair queen will perform her duties at the event that starts Tuesday and runs through Aug. 19 at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Painesville Township.

Crowned Aug. 5 in the 4-H Building at the Fairgrounds, Muzic has the honor of being the first Lake County Fair queen.

There formerly was a 4-H queen, but this is the first time the 156-year-old fair has had its own royalty.

Girls taking part in the pageant are all members of 4-H, and went through an interview process with Cindy Adams of PNC Bank; Willoughby Municipal Court Judge Harry Field; and Perry School Board member Sueann Sines.

Finishing as the first runner-up was Shannon McCauley. Second runner-up was Meredith Voegtler.

All three girls must attend the fair during its six-day run.

That won’t be a problem, because they’ll be showing their animals there anyway.

It’s a longtime habit for Muzic, who said it all started with a bunny when she was a little girl.

Now, she’s a member of Barnyard Kids, and is involved in market steer, market hogs and market rabbits.

“I’ve just been in clubs my whole life,” she said. “This is my first year with a beef steer, and it’s just been really cool.”

Muzic said her family got involved in farming before she was born.

“My parents lived in the city when they were kids, and they moved out here when they got married,” she said. “I got involved in rabbits when I was a kid, and it just kind of rolled into lots of other animals. When I was in fifth grade, Christmas, I got a horse, and it just kind of flew into market animals and everything.

“They’re all at my house. I have a horse, too. I have a horse, pigs, cow, rabbits. It’s not like a full blown-out farm. It’s like, one horse, a couple pigs. I really like it.”

Muzic said she is gearing up for the difficult task of parting with her steer during the fair auction.

“It’s going to be hard,” she said. “I’ve done pigs before, and you get attached to pigs, but a steer is so close to me, he’s like my horse. He comes over in the morning and lets you pet him in the morning, and it’s going to be really hard. I wrote my ‘thank you buyer’ letter two days ago, and I was like ‘I can’t do this!’ ”

The girls competing for the fair queen title weren’t strangers when the contest started.

“I love those girls,” she said after her victory ceremony. “We’ve been in 4-H together since we were little.”

She was a little surprised by a couple of the perks that come her way as the queen.

Not only will she preside over this year’s fair, she’ll also compete in the Ohio State Fair queen contest early next year.

Then, there’s that other thing. As the reigning queen, Muzic will host next year’s queen ceremony at the Fairgrounds.

“I was a little intimidated,” she said after learning the detail during Sunday’s ceremony.

Asked what she was more nervous about, hosting or taking part in the state fair contest, she didn’t hesitate.

“Probably hosting,” she said. “I’m good with people, but I just get nervous in front of crowds.”

One thing that doesn’t intimidate her is large animals. In fact, that’s her career goal. 

“I’d like to open my own practice, that’s my goal,” she said. “I want to work with large animals, non equines. I really like the beef, pigs. I get more of a thrill working with them.

“They’re big, they’re strong. You can’t outpower them, you have to outsmart them. You can’t rough-house a cow to stand there and take a shot. You have to reason with them, pretty much.

Muzic said she hopes one day to work at the Lake County Fair as a veterinarian. She said they have a big presence.

“They’re on call, so if an emergency happens, and they come to take pee samples from the grand champions to make sure they’re not on steroids,” she said.

“I just think that’s really cool. I took a lot of chemistry at Lakeland, and I’m so into that. Like, this chemical and this chemical makes this, that’s a big part of vet school, and I’m excited to jump into it.

Muzic’s sparkling blue eyes shine brightly when she looks to her bright future with animals.

If you head to the fair this week and spot the brown-haired beauty in the tiara and white sash, do yourself a favor and congratulate her on this high honor.

She’ll dazzle you with her joy for the fair, and for its place in your back yard.

She loves it here, and here’s hoping she finds her way back after school to make a lifetime of difference in our area.
Twitter: Lauranh

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tough to say goodbye to LaT’s riveting talks

I was going to start with the definition of “off the cuff.”

But it included the word “extemporaneously,” so I figured I’d avoid that cliched way of starting a column, because if you have to use two definitions, your device just isn’t worth the trouble.

So, now I’ll just start writing about Steve LaTourette.

You’re probably wondering, though, why I was going to discuss the phrase “off the cuff.”

It’s because I have never known a better “off the cuff” speaker than LaTourette.

Over the years while working for The News-Herald, I’ve seen LaT, as we’ve come to call him in a lazy shorthand, in a lot of situations.

He’s spoken in front of big groups. He’s spoken to little groups. He’s spoken to our editorial board.

He’s been interviewed on television. He’s sat down with us at Lakeland Community College for candidate interviews.

The man needs no windup. He needs no setup. Just utter a phrase, step back and listen.

It’s a skill lawyers possess that most of us don’t.

Unless you walk up to me and say “George Clooney,” you’ll be lucky to get a couple sentences out of me before I start stammering and saying “uhhhhh” while the flop sweat forms on my brow.

Say “George Clooney” and I’ll talk for days. I might even offer a few visual aids.

When LaTourette has visited our editorial board over the years, we’ve had the same strategy as we prepared for the meetings — come up with some topics and just let him update us on the issues.

One of the longest in recent years, of course, was health care. But he’s also discussed the Iraq war, Cash for Clunkers, Social Security and earmarks.

It’s always an impressive scene. LaTourette hears the topic, accesses the information in that big brain of his and just spills the facts and his take on the issue.

We sit back, take notes and I walk away impressed that he’s the human version of those jukeboxes you used to find on the tables in diners.

Two years ago, he showed me his recall ability stretched beyond the political arena.

At an event before Fairport Harbor’s Mardi Gras Parade, LaTourette agreed to tell a joke on video as part of The News-Herald’s celebration of National Joke Day.

We walked outside the Hungarian Culture Club on High Street in Fairport and he proceeded to tell me a joke about three evangelists who are “dispatched to heaven,” as he called it, after their limo crashes.

I’ve had a front-row seat as LaTourette has held court a few times over the years at Lakeland when his panels have gathered to meet and assess the students who hope to get appointments to U.S. military academies.

Before we sit down and meet the students, LaTourette greets us and thanks us for taking time out on a winter Saturday and helping him by giving him our recommendations.

Then, he starts answering questions.

Frankly, that’s what I’ll miss most when LaTourette retires when his term ends in December.

He’s quick with a quip and tack sharp; he’s also so smart and so prepared that he leaves you mesmerized.

I’ll miss those moments when I got to sit down on his behalf and meet the students who wanted to lead our nation’s military effort.

I just hope whoever follows LaTourette will still need the help in that regard.

But, until then, I’ll remember the good times and wish our LaT well as he starts his new chapter.

Remember, Steve, anytime you want to discuss current affairs, I’m all ears.
Twitter: @Lauranh