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Issue Date: January 2009

Most Interesting People 2009

Marcia fudgeMarcia Fudge
Age 56 | Politician

Why she’s interesting // Cleveland’s new congresswoman, Marcia Fudge, decisively beat out several contenders to succeed her friend and former boss, the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones. The former mayor of Warrensville Heights campaigned throughout Greater Cleveland in a 1937 Jaguar and a 1929 Model T.

Her campaign transportation //“I like antique cars. I have friends who collect old cars, so whenever I’m doing something, they generally give me a ride. The car catches people’s eyes.”

Accomplishments as mayor //Helping to attract more than 3,000 jobs and 200 new homes to Warrensville Heights

High school classmates //Fudge, former Cleveland mayor Jane Campbell and Cuyahoga County commissioner Peter Lawson Jones all graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1971.

Witness to history //When Fudge was 10, her mother took her to the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. She remembers the crowd was so large, men stood in the Mall’s reflecting pool to see the speeches. When Martin Luther King spoke, “People were in tears. Some of us were almost numb, because you couldn’t imagine a person that could command the attention of so many people and make everybody feel we were going to be better as a people.”

The most important things she learned from Tubbs Jones //  “She never, ever stayed angry. She might fly off the handle every now and then, but then she was just done with it.”

Bible passage that guides her //Fudge says Proverbs 31:8-9 defines her work: to defend the rights of the poor and needy and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

One way she aims to do that //Passing a children’s health care bill that President Bush vetoed in 2007. “Every single person in this city should have health care, especially the poor.”

Rick baronRick Baron
Age 51 | I’m a man who remembers everything

Why he’s interesting //
Rick Baron is one of only three people in the world known to have ultra superior memory. He’s being studied by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. Give him any date, and he’ll tell you the day of the week. He’ll also tell about any big news events and just about anything else you could ask about it.

Don’t be impressed //“It’s unremarkable. It’s as easy as it can be. If this was hard or brain-racking, I wouldn’t begin to do it. It’s just there. All I have to do is experience something. It just comes up.”

Bad memories, too? //Sure, but he has control over what he dwells upon. “I’m not overly emotional, no more than anyone else.”

OK, let’s test this out. How about the month of April 1972 //“Well, April 1 was a Saturday. It was the first time I was in Florida. My father drove us back in his Delta 88. Gil Hodges died on April 2. Charlie Chaplain came back to get an award at the Academy Awards. ... Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass was the big new song.”

And? //“Oh! Oh! Cleveland Magazine started!”

No stellar student //He was an average student in college and high school. Cs and Bs with a 2.75 GPA. “That’s the thing: It doesn’t work in all areas. I’m terrible in math. Algebra, geometry. I’m terrible in anything mechanical.”

Computers? //“I don’t even know how to turn on a computer. I don’t need to Google.”

Any technology? //He has an answering machine with a cassette. “I bought it Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2003. I’m low-tech.”

Maribeth flowersMaribeth Flowers
Age 17 | I’m astudent and zoo volunteer

Why she’s interesting //
She was selected by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to participate at a leadership camp in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. She spent a week there learning about polar bears and climate change.

Most memorable sight //Watching the Northern Lights dance across the Arctic sky

Now that she’s home //The Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School junior plans to put her knowledge to good use, starting with a reforestation initiative. “Education and reforestation are crucial to fixing the climate-change problem,” she says. “I’d like to plant trees around Cleveland city schools.”

Dream job //Wildlife officer or game warden

Animal Planet or Discovery Channel? //Animal Planet

College plans //Hocking College for wildlife science

Animal instinct //“I suppose animals are the biggest passion in my life. I can’t really explain it. Sometimes it feels almost innate.”

Biggest dilemma //“Right now, in the Arctic, 1,000-year-old ice is melting. Variations in the environment are natural, but those types should take place over thousands of years. We have lost 1 million square miles of ice in the past decade. That’s the size of Texas, Alaska and Washington state combined, and that ice is not coming back.”

George kwanGeorge Kwan
Age 42 | I’m a traditional Chinese dancer and Cleveland police officer

Why he’s interesting //
As a tactical training instructor for the Cleveland Police Academy, Kwan teaches the city’s finest the proper use of force. And for 29 years, he’s been performing the traditional Chinese martial art known as the Lion Dance throughout Cleveland with his family dance team.

Rooted in tradition //Kwan and his siblings learned the Lion Dance from their father, a Chinese immigrant. During performances, the “lion” wards off evil spirits, making room for good fortune, happiness, wealth and prosperity. A flawed performance, therefore, can bring bad luck.

But ... //A perfect performance is difficult to execute, due to the heavy weight of the costume. “It’s a cardiovascular nightmare.” As kids, Kwan and his siblings trained by carrying rice bags to build stamina.

A busy New Year //Kwan, who leads the team, performs the dance throughout the year for restaurant openings, weddings and cultural events. But the Chinese Lunar New Year is the busiest season by far, averaging 30 performances in two to three weeks.

Keeping kicks in the family //Kwan intends to pass on the tradition of the Lion Dance. He has two sons — an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. The oldest is almost ready to start performing. “We don’t start martial art training until about 8 — any sooner and your kid is kicking his friends at school.”

What he tells police recruits //“Excuses are the bricks that built the house of failure.”

Toby maloneyToby Maloney
Age 60 | I’m the vice president of business development for Mental Floss

Why he’s interesting //After Duke University students Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur approached him about their idea for a magazine called Mental Floss, he helped them get it published. Since then, Maloney has been instrumental in growing the Mental Floss brand, which now includes a Web site, book series and novelty gifts. The company was recently included on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States.

On getting involved //“I thought the potential was enormous, and I thought the idea for the magazine — blurring the lines between education and entertainment — was a clever idea for which there would be a market.”

Trival pursuits //“A golden retriever named Augie holds the world record for the most tennis balls held in the mouth at one time: five.”

Heavy traffic //In November, Mental Floss’ Web site had 800,000 unique visitors in one day thanks to being featured on Yahoo’s home page. The Web site sees an average of 2 million visitors per month.

Raising the bar //“I love Law School in a Box. My father always wanted me to go to law school. It’s pretty darn funny — where else can you have a mini bar exam with one of the questions being, ‘How do you make a white Russian?’ ”

The question he is still trying to answer // “Why do people act the way they do? When you find the answer to that, let me know.”

Spin cycle //An avid bike rider, Maloney logged about 2,200 miles this past year. “I belong to a bike club. There are three primary members — me, my wife and our next-door neighbor.”

Danita harrisDanita Harris
ge 42 | NewsChannel 5 anchor

Why she’s interesting //Besides anchoring the 6 and 11 p.m. news for NewsChannel 5, Danita and her husband, Brad Pratt, have started the Fresh Wind Ministry church in Cleveland.

Spreading the word //“I spend a lot of my time telling the news. We spread the good news of God at church, and nightly, I tell the sometimes less-good news at work.”

Getting over the eyeballs //Danita started her on-air television career working for Screen Scene, a show on the BET network. “I was excited and nervous. When you first get on TV, you have to get over the fear of there being a bazillion eyeballs on you.”

Otherwise, you might do something embarrassing //“The first time I interviewed Denzel Washington was March 11, 1993. I was such a fan of his, I stuck breath mints under my shirt. I didn’t have pockets, so I put them up my sleeve. After I finished interviewing him, I asked for a picture. As soon as I put the mic down, the mints fell all over the place. I was like, ‘Denzel is at my feet!’ I blew all my cool points right there.”

Favorite story //Despite interviewing many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Danita is most satisfied with narratives of a more serious nature. She is particularly proud of accounts she’s told about HIV/AIDS in black women and youth —a story she feels is under-covered by the media.

Her top 3 shows (besides the Channel 5 news) // Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing With The Stars and The Young and the Restless. (“I love Victor Newman. Nobody better call me when Victor is on.”)
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