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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, April 26, 2013

'Coffee with a Cop' sweetened with a community-building message

Anytime you have the chance to sit and talk to a police officer, do it.

Especially if it’s a police officer who works in your town.

Because they’re on the move every day, they know what goes on and where it’s going on and aren’t shy about sharing the details with residents.

What follows is usually a quite familiar sentiment:

“Be our eyes and ears in your neighborhood.”

I got my chance last week, and walked away realizing that even though they were discussing my hometown of Euclid, their message could be applied anywhere.

Euclid Police Department this month started what’s known as “Coffee with a Cop,” a gathering that will take place every other Tuesday at a couple of establishments in the city. The first Tuesday of the month, they’re at Cortina’s, a restaurant on Euclid Avenue just east of East 222nd Street. The third Tuesday, they’re at Lakeshore Coffeehouse, on Lakeshore Boulevard, just west of the intersection of East 222nd Street and Babbitt Road.

On hand last week at Lakeshore Coffeehouse were Euclid Police Chief Tom Brickman, Capt. Ralph Doles and Officer Ed Bonchak.

Bonchak, who is married to News-Herald Staff Writer Jean Bonchak, works in the city’s Community Policing Unit. Doles is in the city’s Traffic Division.

When it came time for questions, I realized mine were the same as most other residents — and they probably mirror a lot of yours, as well.

When I cornered Doles, I went right for a biggie: How big a problem is heroin in Euclid?

I know it’s been a growing problem nationwide, and arrests are mounting across the area.

“I think the biggest drug of choice in our city is still marijuana right now but it’s there, no doubt about it,” Doles said of heroin. “We have areas we’re flooding with police officers and yet we’re still seeing it. ... So, what we’ve told the officers, and we’ve made some good pickups on this, is even though it’s the buyers, and the buyers don’t have anything, that they stop and say, ‘Can I help you with anything?’ The fact is, ‘Hmmm, you’re from Lake County ... You’re from Madison ... What are you doing here in Euclid? Are you looking for something?’ I think it’s rather obvious what they’re doing. So police make the contact, and police make the stop.”

Doles said that’s how Euclid Police made the arrest of the mother and son who were later convicted of killing a 77-year-old Madison Township resident.

“As with any crimes we have in Euclid, we need people to report everything they see,” Doles said. “I would rather get 10 calls on something that’s nothing, than miss something that could have been something we could have prevented or stopped.”

The trio talked a lot about the city’s use of a program called Blackboard, which updates residents with emergency information such as water main breaks, or road closures, or, in the case of an incident a few weeks ago, lets them know a criminal suspect escaped from Euclid Hospital while undergoing treatment after her arrest.

Residents on hand last week are happy with the program, but urged Brickman to add a second step to the Blackboard process — an announcement when a suspect has been re-arrested.

Brickman said his department has been learning a lot since they started using the program and will be making some changes.

Doles urged those on hand to sign up. They can receive emails, phone calls or text messages for incoming news.

“They’ll notify you when things are going on,” he said. “Say your garbage is delayed a day, it’ll notify you. So you don’t ever need to think again, ‘If I watch my neighbor’s yard and he puts his garbage out, mine’s going to go out.’ So you don’t have to worry about it, because it’ll notify you. Say there’s a boil alert because of a water main break, we’ll notify you.”

Blackboard is found on the city’s website,

The presence of gangs also had residents’ attention, but the police officials on hand said there’s no need to worry.

“We have seen a group of wannabes,” Doles said. “A group of kids, it’s like I’m Slovenian, and we have SNPJ, and we’ve had SNPJ forever. It’s a social group. It’s a place to go meet and do your stuff. When grandma was still alive, she’d speak Slovenian to her cronies. This is what they’re doing, they’re just getting together with their social group to have fun. Now, the question is, what is their goal with that social group. Is it just to get together with friends, or is it to do criminal activity? That’s where we have problems.”

Brickman said a key element of the gang culture is missing — money.

“In terms of a financial system and guns being distributed — we really don’t see that,” he said.

Bonchak said police are alerted by graffiti, which police document, take a photo and remove within 72 hours.

“We have a kid problem, not a gang problem,” Bonchak said. “We have a lot of kids in a small area.”
All three police officials stressed the need for residents to pay attention to what’s going on and communicate with their neighbors.

“We need strong neighborhoods,” Doles said. “We need it where my neighbor and I talk to each other. Look, I don’t have to know what you’re doing every minute of every day. But, you respect me, I respect you. You watch out for the neighborhood, I watch out for the neighborhood. But that’s where we’re going to keep this city good and strong. The neighborhood associations are very big in this city. Keep those strong. Talk to your neighbors, get out of your comfort zone. Go across the street and say hello.”

During the question-and-answer session, which also touched on a rash of bike thefts (“People spend 200 to 300 dollars on a bike and don’t spend the $3.50 to buy the little lock,” Bonchak said.) and a variety of issues the police said haven’t been reported to police thus far, I realized their message wasn’t unique to my city alone.

Each of our hometowns can use a little more vigilance and a little more communication. Telling police what we see is key to them solving the problems we stumble upon.

It’s up to each of us to make it happen.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 19, 2013

If we spend a few minutes, we might help cure cancer

Today, I call on everyone reading this to join me in helping to find a cure for cancer.

Bold statement? Yes.

True statement? Yes.

I’m asking you to register to take part in what’s called Cancer Prevention Study 3, which is a longterm American Cancer Society study that “helps researchers better understand the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that cause or prevent cancer.”

When I say longterm, please don’t misunderstand: This is a study that runs at least 20 years.

It’s worth the effort, though, when you look at the results of the previous Cancer Prevention Studies.

Yes, in case you wondered what the 3 in CPS3 signified, it means that there were two previous studies of this kind conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Americans likely are very familiar with the results of CPS1, which was the first study to link smoking to lung cancer. It was conducted from 1959 through 1972.

CPS2 detailed the link between cancer and obesity and other lifestyle choices. CPS2 started in 1982 and is ongoing.

Now, it’s time for CPS3.

And, that’s where you come in.

The previous incarnations of this study have involved upwards of 300,000 people across the United States.

For the first time, residents in Lake County are being actively recruited to join the study and, as the American Cancer Society’s slogan says, help provide more birthdays.

I’m going to be honest with you — this study involves a needle.

But once you get past that, it’s smooth sailing.

Those who sign up fill out a questionnaire that takes about 20 minutes, and submit to having a blood sample drawn. The blood is stored and only studied in the event that you later report you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

That brings me to the duration part of the study. Participants also pledge to fill out questionnaires that are sent out every two or three years. They ask about your lifestyle and health developments since the last time you checked in. Those updates take about 20 minutes.

Officials from the American Cancer Society stress that a longterm committment is “vital to the success of the study.”

Gauri Wadhwa, ACS’s heath initiatives representative for Lake County, said that in previous studies, it became clear that those in their 20s didn’t make good test subjects, because they were still very transient and weren’t often diagnosed with cancer. She said those older than 65 often had trouble calling on memories from their younger years to recount how active they were or other lifestyle issues.

Wadhwa said that explains why those sought for CPS3 are ages 30 to 65.

Those taking part also cannot have been diagnosed any type of cancer other than basal or squamous cell skin cancer.

Before I started writing this, I registered for an appointment to begin my study participation. The registration is simple, and is easily accomplished online at There you’ll find six enrollment sites that will be hosting events from June 26-30. There’s a final one on July 13 at the Western Lake County Relay for Life.

You can also call 888-604-5888.

If you live in Geauga or Eastern Cuyahoga counties, you can register at the same website.

I want to stress that you must register for these appointments; you cannot simply walk up that day and expect to sign up.

I’ll be at the Lake County General Health District at 8:30 a.m. June 26.

When I heard about the study, it was a no-brainer for me. Of course I’d take part.

I’m the daughter of a man who died from colon cancer. His four brothers also died of cancer, each about a year apart in the time that surrounded my dad’s death.

Cancer also killed my mom’s brother.

I’m sure many of you have stories just like this in your lives. You know the tragedy of cancer firsthand. You know the pain it causes not only to its victims but to those left behind.

And, you, like me, would give anything to never have to endure it again.

Now’s your chance to try to help ensure it doesn’t happen for countless families like ours.
Go to and register for the study.

Together, we just might be able to change the world.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mentor Chamber's 'showcase' proves again to be a truly tasty affair

As I’m writing this, I’m still full.

And it’s almost 24 hours after I wandered around Mentor Civic Arena sampling food at the Mentor Restaurant Showcase.

I still can’t even think about eating.

Well, unless someone mentions Jimmy’s Backyard BBQ. Or Skye Restaurant and Pub. Or Beach Club Grill.

Or, well, any of the 17 other eateries that showed off their flavors at the second annual event sponsored by the Mentor Chamber of Commerce.

I’d promised myself I’d be good — that I’d remember an old diet mantra that says when you’re tempted with a lot of food in one sitting, say, at a party, you should only take the things you don’t have available every day.

That was a lost cause when I dipped into Great Harvest Bread Company’s platter of cold-cut-type sandwiches. I opted for the roast beef. I figured its blue cheese made it a little more exotic.

Whatever you call it, it was terrific.

And so it began.

I tried to trick Old Carolina Barbecue Co. into revealing the location of their future Mentor restaurant. They were too smart for me, because all they’d divulge is that it’s on Mentor Avenue.

“Can you say if it’s east or west on Mentor Avenue?”


OK. Start speculating. I certainly did, as I settled on the fact that my first meal at (insert your guess here) Mentor Ave. will be topped with the peppery-mustard sauce.

Wherever it is.

A spin around the rink (ice removed, thank goodness) led me to Chop It Salad Company, which just recently opened in Great Lakes Mall. The Santa Fe Salad, nicely laid out on plates, caught my eye.

Loaded with black beans, cheddar cheese, olives, corn and a tasty dressing, it spoke to me: “You will go to the mall for a little shopping after a good lunch!”

And that’s precisely what Kevin Malecek, president and CEO of Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce, wants me to hear.

As one of the biggest proponents of the restaurants in the Chamber’s drawing area, Malecek has been one of the drivers behind the Showcase.

He knows that the a few nibbles at an event like this can turn into some big business for some of these smaller places that don’t necessarily have a corporate advertising budget behind them.

This week’s event was bigger and better than the 2012 debut in several ways.

“We had about 200 people here, between general admission, some of our VIP ticket holders and then all the restaurant personnel,” Malecek said. “Last year were were probably between 140ish to 150ish.”

The Chamber, with help from its presenting sponsor Lake National Bank, added a VIP hour before the Showcase opened to the public. The VIPs enjoyed a wine tasting and had first dibs on the eats from the participants. They also served as judges for the event.

For the second year in a row, Beach Club Grill, on Johnnycake Ridge Road in Concord Township, was voted Best of Show in the cuisine category. Honorable mentions went to Lakeshore Eatery on Lakeshore Boulevard in Mentor (also for the second year in a row) and Jimmy’s Backyard BBQ, a newer Mentor spot marking its first year in the competition. Jimmy’s is located on Mentor Avenue.

Malecek said the Chamber worked with the city of Mentor on this year’s event.

“We actually this year partnered with the city and sent out an invitation to basically every locally owned restaurant in the Mentor area to invite them,” he said. “Not just the Chamber members. We actually solicited them for Chamber membership, but also said, ‘Hey, if you don’t want to do it, we’ll have you be in the showcase for $100.’ But most of them who were not in the Chamber chose to join because it’s obviously a great way to let people know that they’re there.”

The event took place Wednesday night, which coincided with the beginning of a three-day stretch of rain that has plagued Northern Ohio. The rain draw attention to one of the bigger changes to this year’s event.

Location, location, location.

Last year’s debut Showcase took place at Mentor Beach Park, which had parking in its paved lot for about 50 cars. Spillover was on a grassy area next door. Imagine walking through that during a thunderstorm.

Malecek said Mentor Civic Arena was popular with guests.

“I think that this offered a lot of options in terms of spacing, in terms of the uniqueness of the venue,” he said. “We got a lot of comments from people who enjoyed that, and we have room to expand if we have to. And the parking situation, which at Mentor Beach Park was a little challenging. It’s a great location to have it, but this allowed us to have more people, more restaurants and not as many issues relative to the park.”

Malecek said the event will definitely take place in 2014, and he’s hoping for growth again.

“I think we’d love to see more restaurants, to be in the 25-to-26 area, and to bring up attendance,” Malecek said. “I think the word-of-mouth — people seem to have a really good time at this event — and the restaurants get a chance to show off what they’re doing, so I think it’s only going to improve.”

At Wednesday night’s feast, when I realized it was time for dessert, I headed over to Confectionary Cupboard’s table. The Center Street bakery was serving cupcakes from two towers, and I couldn’t help but think that my tiny Bride’s Cake (almond cake with almond frosting) was the perfect way to end the evening.

A little frosting on a terrific event that showcased some of the best the Mentor area has to offer.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rutgers right to send bully coach, insensitive AD packing

During my dazzling athletic career, I did a lot of running.

Some of it was for training purposes.

If you ask any coach, he’ll tell you that preseason runs are a great way to get rid of the kids who aren’t really all that interested in sports — the ones who are trying out for the team because their friends are, or whose parents are forcing them. Long runs in the heat of summer were the way my volleyball coaches dumped the dead weight from the team.

I’m still not sure why I stuck around, or how I actually made the team, because all I could do was serve. I couldn’t set. I couldn’t jump. And, well, I hated to run.

But I did the best I could to keep up and somehow for five years made the volleyball team in both junior high and high school before I quit after 11th grade.

Running also serves as a good punishment during practice. Laps are a coach’s friend, as they send those who can’t remember a play or who lose a showdown off for couple turns around the gym.

The really bad mistakes brought the call for the dreaded “suicides.” These involved sprints to and from the various lines painted on the gym floor, culminating in the sprint to the opposite wall and back.

If you made a mistake that resulted in the entire team performing suicides, you were really in trouble — with the coach and your teammates, who would much rather have been on a water break while you were running.

I’m guessing Mike Rice wasn’t big on running.

Nah, the former Rutgers coach had his own special way of getting his point across to his men’s basketball team.

He’d just throw a basketball. At the players’ heads.

Or, he’d call them names.

In case you missed it, Rice resigned on Wednesday after ESPN aired footage from some of his basketball practices at the New Jersey school. In the footage, the coach is seen heaving countless basketballs at his players’ heads, legs and bodies. He’s seen pushing the players around, often using a forearm to the throat. He’s seen grabbing them by the jerseys and pulling them toward him to scream in their faces.

And, he’s heard countless times calling them names, including some that could best be described as homophobic.

I don’t know Rice at all. I’ve never met him or spoken to him.

But, I feel safe in saying that Rice is a bad guy. He had no respect for the young men who played for him. And, frankly, he had no respect for the school for which he coached.

In the hours after he was fired by the college — only after a public outcry at the video that was first aired on the ESPN program “Outside the Lines” — Rice seemed to apologize.

“I want to tell everyone who’s believed in me that I’m deeply sorry for the pain and hardship that I’ve caused them.”

Would have been nice if he’d told his players he shouldn’t have hit them. He shouldn’t have tried to humiliate them. He shouldn’t have abused them.

But, surprisingly, Rice isn’t the worst guy in this situation.

No, that title goes to now former Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.

The college fired him on Friday morning, days after he tried to explain away the fact that he’d ignored the hours upon hours of tape showing this abuse in his gymnasium for months before slapping Rice on the wrist by suspending him for three games this past December.

Only after the tape was made public by ESPN did Pernetti finally decide it wasn’t acceptable behavior.


Yet another case of someone being sorry because it’s the popular thing to do.

According to The New York Times, Pernetti didn’t have a background in college athletics when he was hired by Rutgers. He was a former television executive who handled sports broadcasting.

He then, above anyone, knows the power of sports on television. As a human being, he should have known the value of respectful treatment by authority figures.

It’s good that he’s not in the position to have the responsibility to protect the athletes at a major American university any longer.

The Scarlet Knights get to start over. And, hopefully, the school’s athletes will feel safe returning to the court next fall.
Twitter: @Lauranh