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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 23, 2013

Nightmare! Topic slips away after a great dream

Jim Collins was right.

If only I remembered that about 4 a.m. Thursday, when I awoke from a dream and said to myself, “that would make a great column.”

When I first started writing this column about five years ago, Collins gave me some great advice.
“When you get an idea, be sure to write it down.”

He said that if I was ever stumped for something to write about, I could turn to the list of ideas and pick one. Or, if I came up with one in the middle of the night, I’d be able to remember it.

As I said — right again, Jim.

Since then, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember what I could have dreamed about that was so interesting.

I tend to have dreams that draw elements from a variety of areas of my life together.

Earlier in the week, I dreamed I was on death row and set for execution the next day. I have no idea what put me there, but the guards were very sad that I was going to be dying the next day. I must have been a fun inmate.

I unfortunately woke up before I had the chance to pick my final meal.

That dream might have been sparked by a recent poll we listed on our editorial page, asking how readers wanted the state to change its execution protocol later this summer. The state is forced to do so because the drug it’s been using for lethal injections is no longer available.

Pentobarbital has been the drug of choice since the state abandoned its three-drug cocktail because it was deemed cruel.

I think Thursday’s dream was about a much lighter topic, though.

I know it wasn’t the royal baby.

While I’ve been as fascinated as anyone about the birth of Prince William’s first child, I don’t understand the brouhaha that seems to have accompanied the arrival of the first official photos of the little bundle of joy.

Apprently, some in British circles are outraged that the first photos came from the parents of the Duchess of Cornwall and not from a professional photographer. They complained that the pictures didn’t give a clear view of the baby’s face and that they weren’t lit properly.

What’s the big deal? You folks are going to be following this poor kid around for 70, 80, maybe 90 years. You’ll get your shot of his face. Let the kid grow into his newborn diapers before you start running his life with ridiculous expectations.

I don’t think my dream was about back-to-school, either.

While I’ve been remarking as much as anyone about how fast this summer has gone by, I don’t mind the move of area kids back to class very much. It means I can go back to the mall and shop again. It means sales on clothing at said mall. And, it means Friday night football is that much closer!

The only downer for back to school this year is that the first days of school coincided with the release of the state’s report cards for last year.

Talk about pressure for the new year.

I doubt I dreamed about the upheaval over the change of dates for area festivals this summer.

I had the pleasure last weekend of attending Concord Township’s new Uncorked event, which sort of served as a kickoff to its popular Community Days event that for years had been on Labor Day Weekend.

I heard some grousing over the move, which officials said was due to competition from the Great Geauga County Fair and other huge events taking place that weekend every year.

The pressure eased when the Cleveland National Air Show was canceled as a result of the sequester cuts, but Geauga’s fair is an unstoppable force as it approaches its 191st year of continuous operation.

Concord Township found success with its new dates. The weather was beautiful, and it attracted great food and entertainment to its Town Hall setup.

Mentor didn’t have as much luck with its Beach Fest on July 27 at Headlands Beach State Park. Heavy rain early in the day kept quite a few people away, but later on attendance picked up.

This weekend marks CityFest and a classic car cruise-in at Civic Center Park, which are a celebration of the city’s 50th birthday.

These festivals combined to replace the city’s It’s Better in Mentor Days that took place in September.

We’ll have to wait a while for a true report card on the changes. (How’s that for keeping a theme?)
But, it seems that officials might be on to something.

The new elements — the beer-and-wine tasting in Concord Township and the beach theme in Mentor — draw a different clientele than the older festivals did, and seemed to create a lot of excitement.

Here’s hoping they catch on and the crowds keep coming.

After all this, I still don’t know what I dreamed about. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

I’m pretty sure it was a good idea.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Concord Township uncorks a terrific summer event

Concord Township officials got it right.

Oh, so right.

Their first "Concord Uncorked" event, which took place Friday, Aug. 16, at the Town Hall complex at Ravenna Road and Route 608, was pitch perfect all night long.

I'm not sure how early they put in their order for perfect weather, but the sunshine, cool temperatures and no wind were a great backdrop for an event that should become a summer staple.

Billed as a sampling party for area wines and craft beers, the event gave neighbors the chance to catch up and for visitors to sample the hospitality found in one of Lake County's gems.

Under the sampling tent were wines from such producers as Ferrante, and beers that ranged from the light, fruity Shock Top Shandy to the Roo Brew Litigation Lager.

To go along with the drinks were some of Northeast Ohio's most popular food trucks, which serve up meals all around the Cleveland area.

I headed straight for Zydeco Bistro, and was floored by the jambalaya. Some serious flavor was packed in that bowl loaded with shredded pork and sausage. The flavor wasn't melt-the-roof-off-your-mouth heat. Rather, it was a terrific blend of spices that rose up slowly. As a cole slaw connoisseur, I had to try the hot pink Zydeco Slaw, which blended red and white cabbage with carrots in a vinegar-based dressing. I'm a fan of dry cole slaw, and this was outstanding. If you don't like vinegar, though, you might want to beg off, because this one has intense flavor.

In the background throughout the night was music from steel drum band The Raybans. Another perfect touch. Everyone's been to an event that's pretty much ended when the band that's a little too loud and a little too electric begins to play. They were spot-on for a gorgeous summer night.

The evening ended with a little show by Concord Township Trustee Christopher Galloway as he handled a prize ceremony that included a 50/50 drawing and a large auction. He knew he had a trapped audience, because winners had to be present to collect their prizes, but he kept what could have become a paint-drying moment light and quickly paced.

It was fun to see Galloway and his fellow trustees, Paul Malchesky and Connie Luhta, working the crowd. I'm just hopeful that they heard as much praise as pitches for work within the township.

They certainly deserved it for this event. I wasn't sure what to expect when it was first announced, because how many people really want to stand around in a parking lot all night?

Turns out that a lot of them do, and they had a great time doing it.

Here's hoping that Concord Uncorked 2, in Summer 2014, will be as much fun as this debut edition.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, August 16, 2013

A few new friends made this a royally great week

This was one of those weeks when I realize how lucky I am to have the job I do.

Sure, there are the normal headaches that come with working in an office or with the pressures of deadline.

But, when you get to sit down with three ladies who love their jobs, and whose bosses and customers love them back, it offers quite a boost.

I was lucky enough to do so in preparation for the crowning of The News-Herald/Lake County Fair Commerce Queen at the fairgrounds in Painesville Township.

We took the stage Thursday night and introduced the crowd of friends and family to these wonder women, and I wanted to share their stories with you.

As I said then, this honor is a special one, because it celebrates a woman who goes out every day and does her job with a smile. She is courteous to those with whom she comes into contact and does her job with skill. This honor pays tribute to those who go out of their way to provide good customer service.

So, now sit back and meet customer service at its best in Lake County.

Jackie Pshock
2013 Commerce Queen
It’s clear Jackie Pshock feels the same way about her customers at Yours Truly in Mentor as they do about her.

I got to talk to Pshock this week while she was on vacation with her husband, John, in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and during our chat, she admitted that the discussion about her job and history at the restaurant was making her wish she was working.

The Madison native who now lives in Kirtland said she joined Yours Truly about a month after it opened in 1997, earning a job after an interview with Jeff Shibley, a partner in Yours Truly.

Pshock, who works full-time at the restaurant, is usually on the early-morning breakfast shift.

“I love my customers,” she said. “I think of them more as my friends now. We start a conversation before I even have a chance to ask them what they want to drink.”

She said the long list of regulars makes it a comfortable place.

“It’s not like work. It’s like going to see family,” she said.

Pshock was nominated by her boss, Jeff Shibley.

“Jackie is server perfection,” he said in his nomination letter. “She makes a personal connection with each and every guest at Yours Truly. On her first day of work many guests came in and requested her station. When I asked her how they knew where she was working, Jackie stated that she called all her regulars and told them where she was working. Jackie amazed me on her first day in 1997 and has not stopped amazing everyone since.”

A customer posted this comment to the online contest site.

“Jackie is the type of person that goes above and beyond for all her customers. She truly loves her work and the people she meets. How many people can say that? If the title of Commerce Queen means an outgoing, caring, genuine, and all together real person then Jackie deserves this title!”

Tammy Weglicki
If you have the chance to meet Weglicki, you’re definitely going to have a DYNAMIC day.

The partner in a 3½-year-old convenience store named Dynamic Duo on Chardon Road in Willoughby Hills is a bundle of energy who greets all her customers by name or with a familiarity that comes with good customer service.

Weglicki and her husband, Rodney, opened the store after losing their jobs in the closure of another, similar store. They decided to parlay their experience in the business with Tammy’s bourgeoning knowledge of wine and spirits into a neighborhood place that’s really taken off.

The pair are consistently broadening their menu, and Weglicki boasts that they’re just about ready to serve their 17,000th corned beef sandwich.

The operation is a true family affair, with Tammy’s sister also on staff.

The Mentor resident said the business is booming, with sales of 30-plus cases of wine a week.

“People enjoy coming out, because they’re just not a customer,” Weglicki said. “We’ve built friendships here. A lot of the comments I’ve read on the Internet, people called us family, and you know what, we are family. We treat everybody the same, with the highest respect, and people keep coming back.”

And her customers notice it. Here’s a comment from one who voted for Weglicki online:

“Tammy goes above and beyond to service all customers, she is so friendly and positive, and it shows when you meet her, she wants to know you and demonstrates it every time you come in the store. The store offers more than value and this does not come easy these days.”

Laura Corrigan
Second runner-up
“Do you remember Radar O’Reilly?” Spence Klein, the CEO of Beacon Health, asked me when I stopped by his office early this week. He then pointed at Laura Corrigan and said, “he’s got nothing on her.”

Corrigan serves as an administrative assistant at the agency that was created when Neighboring and Pathways combined in July 2012.

She’s in charge of many office functions and works with the board of directors as it makes plans for the agency.

Corrigan had a mix of emotions when she found out she was nominated.

“It was a combination of ‘what?,’ and I’m bashful, so it was like, ‘who did that!?!’ One fun thing with this is that it gives people something to laugh about and joke about.”

Corrigan has a lengthy history working with social service agencies in Lake County, working for 10 years at Crossroads before joining Neighboring in 2008.

“Beacon Health does so much wonderful work for people,” she said. “... This place has so many wonderful employees working for it who give so much.”

Corrigan said she’s thrilled to see how much her coworkers think of her and her work with them.

“It makes me feel good, but I also have to struggle with embarrassment with the attention, because I don’t look for attention, to be the center of attention,” she said. “But then I also feel good to hear the things that people appreciate.”

She said she’s a good fit for the type of office work she does.

“I’m very organized,” Corrigan said. “I think one of my gifts is I remain calm. There can be a lot of things going on, but I remain calm, but you do what you have to do, and if you want to collapse later, you do that.”

Corrigan said she lives by a very simple adage in her dealings with her coworkers and the public.

“I care about people, and I think the Golden Rule is important, it’s how I live. I like to think of what things are like for other people.”
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mentor company's good work rolls into a sixth year of big rewards

It was easy to excuse Tim Eippert.

The president of MC Sign in Mentor had stood before the group assembled in his company’s cafeteria, speaking about what MC Sign does, where its work takes place and about an initiative that’s very special to members of his staff.

Then, he started handing out scholarships.

Suddenly, just after reading the third name, Eippert stopped.

He looked out at the group and laughed.

“I just forgot one of the most important things,” he said. “Does everyone know you won $2,500 tonight?”

“No!” came from one of the moms sitting in the audience just as everyone assembled broke into the loudest cheer of the night.

Eippert makes no secret of the fact that he has the best job of those involved in the company’s annual Drive for Knowledge golf tournament.

About two months after the tournament at StoneWater Golf Club in Highland Heights, he gets to stand up and hand out a lot of money to a lot of deserving high school students.

MC Sign’s been in business since 1994, moving to Mentor in 2002.

Eippert, an Ashtabula County native, said the company employs 160 people, and 125 work in Mentor. The rest work in a manufacturing facility in Bluefield, Va.

The company is international, and Eippert points out that only 3 percent of business is conducted within 100 miles of Mentor.

He said 40 percent of the business involves the call center for the company.

With their focus so far outside this area, it’s even more impressive that employees at MC Sign devote so much effort to helping local residents.

Eippert lists a lot of charitable work that regularly occurs at the office, including a weekly jeans day that requires a $2 fee for participation. The boss doesn’t seem like he’s much of a participant, though, as he pointed out Wednesday night that his outfit of dress slacks and a button-down shirt was as casual as he gets on the job.

But, that’s OK, because it’s clear his employees have it covered.

This year marks the sixth time MC Sign has awarded scholarships to graduated seniors from Mentor High School and Lake Catholic High School.

The funds come directly from that annual golf outing.

Eippert proudly lists the totals from the previous years’ outings as he explains the event that involves the company’s clients and vendors.

In 2008, $20,000 was raised. In 2009, it was $15,000. In 2010, they raised $25,000. In 2011, $27,000 was collected. Last year, it was $37,800.

This year was a showstopper.


And, because the committee that manages the scholarship program wants to keep growing, they decided on more scholarships, rather than bigger awards.

Thus, this year 17 graduates received funds for their educations. Last year, it was 14.

Eippert and committee members say every dime raised at the golf outing goes into the scholarship fund. Any overhead is handled by the company.

This year’s recipients were much like those from years past. Lots of technology careers, including a few types of engineering. Two young ladies are headed to speech pathology studies. There’s a guy who’s going into nursing, a young man who plans to study criminology, a woman who wants to study political science, and a few who plan to enter education. Physical therapy and exercise science also were represented. And I put my fist in the air to celebrate the journalism major.

The one who got the biggest set of ooohs and ahhhs was a Lake Catholic grad who will be attending Johnson and Wales University to study baking and pastry arts.

The biggest laugh of the event was reserved for the moment Eippert realized a young lady from Mentor was planning to attend his alma mater, Kent State.

Earlier, he’d joked that anyone going to his college would get double.

The pair shared a high-five and then Eippert, ever the company man, said, “just kidding.”

After the event concluded, as families talked and their children discussed their impending departures for school, I teased Eippert that I, too, had attended Kent State.

We shared a laugh, and discussed how impossible it would have been for us, at their age, to get up and introduce ourselves to a crowd.

Here’s hoping that confidence will just keep on growing as they move to this next phase of their lives.

The winners
The following students from Lake Catholic High School and Mentor High School received scholarships from MC Sign in Mentor: Rachel Baucco, Mentor High; Molly Brown; Mentor High; Frederick Buse, Mentor High; Andrew Denton, Mentor High; Caelyn Eppler, Mentor High; Albert Giebel, Mentor High; Leila Mansour, Mentor High; Maureen Mierke, Lake Catholic; Hanna Mikulandra, Lake Catholic; Sarah Noviski, Mentor High; Cullen O’Donnell, Mentor High; Allison Pfeifle, Mentor High; Matthew Schaefer, Mentor High; Ryan Smerke, Lake Catholic; Justin Smith, Mentor High; Ashlyn Woods, Mentor High; and Amanda Wynne, Lake Catholic.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fair's royalty anxious for crowning moments

When you’re at the Lake County Fair in a few weeks, you might have to look really quickly to see them.

They’ll probably seem like blurs darting around the fairgrounds in Painesville Township.

But, as busy as they’ll be, there’s no doubt Meradith Voegtler and Natalie Pachinger will be smiling ear to ear both as they’re competing and waving to the crowds.

The two 4-Hers are showing animals in the fair and serving as the 2013 Lake County Fair queen and court.

Voegtler, of Perry, was crowned as the 2013 queen after serving last year as second runner-up. Pachinger, of Mentor, will be her first runner-up.

Both girls have long histories in 4-H in Lake County but have taken different paths.

Voegtler said she has been a member for seven years, joining with her brother after seeing her friends in the group. She said she was leery of the market experience, which requires sale of animals after you’ve raised them, and instead started with crafts and photography projects.

Later on, she went into the animal fields, starting with rabbits, then pigs, and is involved with chickens and horses at this year’s fair.

She said she, like last year’s queen Megan Muzic, plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Muzic just completed her first year at University of Findlay.

“It’s something we’ve been around for so long,” Voegtler said. “Not only is it something we like, but we’ve learned from it. It’s a responsibility. I mean, you learn how to deal with money, you have to have your animals taken care of. Your vet comes out, and you learn from that. It’s something you’re proud of, so why not go into something you love.”

Voegtler has a unique reason to be thrilled to have won this year’s crown.

“I always wanted to be somebody someone could look up to,” she said. “Last year, I had second runner-up, and there were all these little kids, and they thought it was really cool. And I think it’s more of a reason for them to look up to me and makes me more of a role model.”

She’s going to be spending a good deal of time with Pachinger this year.

“I am very thankful for this opportunity,” Voegtler said. “Last year, I came in second runner-up, which was awesome, because I got to meet a whole lot of new people. And this year, I thought there were going to be more people, but I’m glad I can do this with Natalie.”

Pachinger also will be involved in the fair’s horse shows.

She’s been riding since she was very young, taking after her mom, who also rode most of her life. She said she’s never had formal lessons in riding, instead having direction from her mom.
She now teaches youngsters just learning to ride.

She’ll be enjoying her final 4-H year at the fair, before heading off to Ursuline College in a few weeks to study nursing.

The 2013 Mentor High graduate will play lacrosse at Ursuline, stretching a career that started in eighth grade. She also played basketball for the Cardinals.

Pachinger said she plans to stay involved in 4-H after she completes her activities later this month.

“Lake County has given me awesome opportunities,” she said before the queen was crowned Thursday night. “Growing up here is awesome. We’re very fortunate to grow up here. We have many options and I would like to see more kids getting involved with community service, and kids getting healthy, active.”

Pachinger said she hasn’t completely ruled out veterinary medicine. She said she deliberately picked nursing studies, because so much of that curriculum is what she’d need in veterinary studies, if she decides to make the switch.

Don’t miss a chance to say hello to this dynamic duo if you see them at the fair, which runs Aug. 13-18 in Painesville Township. One place you’ll almost certainly see them is at the crowning of the 2013 News-Herald Lake County Fair Commerce Queen on Aug. 15.

They’ll join us on stage as we place a crown atop the head of this year’s winner.

Take a minute to talk to them, and enjoy the enthusiasm for their hometown, for the Lake County Fair and for working and living in an environment that strives to mold good citizens and stewards of our future.
Twitter: @Lauranh