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Issue Date: January 2005 Issue

Our Most Interesting People for 2005

They set the dance stage and the nightlife scene on fire -- and set themselves ablaze, too. They dress the stars and shoot rockets to the stars. They buck the political status quo and get buck nekkid in Playboy. Here's a peek at thos who pique our curiosity.
The Editors

Jeff and Ursula Allison
Ages: 40 and 35
Occupation: bar owners

Why they're interesting: They've opened the hottest new bar in Cleveland, the Garage Bar, a haunt for gearheads and rockers on West 25th Street in Ohio City.

Jeff's previous life: He played minor-league baseball in Miami and Salt Lake City, worked as a model, managed the Spy Bar and Mercury Lounge and co-owned Touch Supper Club with Ursula.

What Ursula did: Worked in retail for 11 years, joined Mercury as a bartender and co-owned Touch with Jeff.

Their roles at the bar: "He's the brains. I'm the frontman, the personality," Ursula says. "If I'm not here, it's always, ‘Where's Ursula? Where's Ursula?' I'm like the drug everyone's got to have."

How not to open a bar or club: "Too many people do one of two things," says Jeff. They copy a hot bar in another city and expect it to work here ("Is there anybody in Cleveland that likes it beside you?" he asks) or mimic a successful Cleveland bar. "I've always tried to find the biggest niche that no one was addressing."

The bar's signature drinks: Gas 'N' Oil, made of Blavod black vodka and RedFuel, a Red Bull-like drink; they settle into black and copper layers, look purplish-gray when mixed and taste sweet, like Kool-Aid. Also, the Espresso Injection, a "Starbucksy shot," is made of a Bacardi vanilla/coffee bean infusion plus half-and-half.

Inspired decor: Sheet-metal gas-pump replicas Jeff found on the Web became gas-pump taps. Double-stacked toolboxes in the pits at the Indianapolis 500 encouraged Jeff to build toolbox liquor stands. A striped Camaro at the Solon Car Show inspired the racing stripe on the Garage's bartop.

Their top-three Cleveland bars at which they haven't worked: Liquid/Fusion, the Velvet Tango Room and Johnny's on Fulton

Future plans: Have a baby together and open up new Garage Bars in other cities.

Something we can't live without: each other

Ursula's guilty pleasure: coffee

Jeff's work space: The Garage Bar

Richard Ambrose
Age: Turns 52 this month
Occupation: Cuyahoga County court judge

Why he's interesting: Remember former Browns linebacker "Bam Bam" Ambrose? Yeah, him. Well, now he's a judge who runs his courtroom the same way he called defensive signals back in the late '70s: He uses his head. Back then, his wits led him to 64 straight starts and a solid, 10-year NFL career. Now, his smarts have earned him a reputation as a judge who really does examine both sides of an issue carefully.

Campaign tactics: He was narrowly defeated in a bid to retain his seat, but is likely to garner another judicial appointment from Gov. Bob Taft. Ambrose printed a full Browns schedule on his campaign literature. Designed like a sports collectible card, it had a football photo on one side and the judge's robe photo on the other. "Most everybody kept those things for the schedule," he says, noting that not many were found on the ground after parades.

Favorite sports card while growing up: "The most sought-after card in any kid's collection at that time was a Mickey Mantle card."

Hobbies: A stamp-collector and builder of model airplanes and ships as a kid, he now prefers playing practical jokes on his three daughters. "They don't think they're funny," he says.

As a kid, he wanted to be: "A professional football player, but I was at a strange place in my life and I actually wanted to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Now that I know better, there is only one team: the Cleveland Browns!"

Loves living in: "Westlake. We've been there for 19 years."

Wouldn't love living in: Elizabeth, N.J. "I worked for Allied Van Lines when I was in high school and we had a delivery to Elizabeth — let's just say there are bad memories there."

Makes me happy: my daughters, Rachel, 19, and twins Karen and Kristy, 16

Makes me angry: Annie the dog (but only sometimes)

Michael Bennett
Age: 45
Profession: Cleveland Museum of Art curator of Greek and Roman art

Why he's interesting: Bennett discovered the museum's biggest acquisition in years in an art gallery in Geneva, Switzerland. "Apollo the Lizard-Slayer" may be a rare ancient Greek bronze, possibly the work of master sculptor Praxiteles.

Apollo sighting: "The moment I laid eyes on it, I knew this was the most important work of art I'd ever seen for sale. … I started to see these technical details, noticed the eyes inlaid with stone and the lips and torso inlaid with copper, and noticed hallmarks of Greek workmanship."

What he wishes he could know about the statue: "Is it the very statue that Pliny the Elder saw in the first century A.D.? How close to Praxiteles' workshop is it? How close to Praxiteles is it?"

His response to the controversy over the statue's sketchy ownership history: "We're doing a service bringing it into the museum. Now, everyone in the world knows where it is. … If it were in a private collection, only a select few could see it."

The allure of antiquity: "There's so much you can know about this subject because we have wonderful written documents. We have monuments that still survive that you can actually go see." Plus, it's relevant. "We're still basically living in its shadow," he says.

Nice work if you can get it: Bennett takes regular art hunts to New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Germany, Switzer-

land, southern Italy and Greece.

Three favorite Greek and Roman pieces in the museum (besides Apollo): 1. "The Emperor as Philosopher," a headless Roman bronze; 2. "Female Worshipper," a Minoan bronze from Crete; and 3. "Sleep and Death Cista Handle," a decorative container handle from present-day Tuscany that shows Sleep and Death carrying Sarpedon, Zeus' son, off to Mount Olympus.

What kind of Most Interesting People party guest would Apollo be? The polar opposite of Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy in Greek mythology, Apollo "might be somewhat aloof, pleasant enough, with impeccable manners — charismatic in kind of a quiet way. Dionysus might be more fun," he says.

Makes me happy: my wife, Joey, and son, Aaron

My favorite place: Twinsburg Fitness Center

Ted Batchelor
Age: 46
Occupation: Estimator/project manager, Frank Novak & Sons painting company

Why he's interesting: In 1976, the Chagrin Falls native began a decade-long tradition by setting himself on fire and jumping off the falls into the Chagrin River. On July 17, the former stuntman broke the world record for longest full-body burn (2 minutes, 38 seconds) during the annual Gathering of the Juggalos rock festival at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park. (He's awaiting confirmation that it qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records.)

The initial spark: "One night I had this bizarre dream that I was on fire and jumping off the falls. The next day, in school, we had to write a poem about a dream. So I wrote this poem about guys betting me that I wouldn't dive off the falls on fire. Before I knew it, people were betting me to do it."

Dressing for the occasion: Two sets of long cotton underwear, two fireproof hoods and a pair of cotton-and-leather gloves, all slathered in a protective heat-barrier gel; a cotton sweatsuit; two pairs of cotton pants and two long-sleeved cotton shirts; a long-sleeved cotton jumpsuit; and ski goggles. "Natural fibers don't melt, drip and burn me," he explains.

True love: "My wife actually applies the fuel — I try never to fight with her."

Hottest moment of his life: Being lit by Crimson, the naked goddess of fire, at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

Do his kids play with matches? "No. They're a little smarter than I am."

Guilty pleasure: cigars

Something for my time capsule: world-record time

Makes me happy: being on fire

Mike Burkons
Age: 29
Occupation: Attorney, entrepreneur

Why he's interesting: It may not rank up there with the whole solving-world-peace thing, but Mike Burkons has developed an idea that just might be his ace in the hole — literally. His creation, the ChariTee Hole-in-One Golf Monitoring System (second-place winner in the COSE Small Business Start-up Plan Competition), enables public golf courses to hold hole-in-one contests for extended periods of time, which hopefully will increase their volume. Manakiki is the first course to utilize the system, and Burkons has already had calls of interest from as far away as British Columbia.

How it works: Similar to a self-serve car wash, "you punch in a code at a kiosk at the hole," he says. "You take a shot. And there are five cameras to get it on tape. It's easy. No one can lie. And you don't need someone standing around a hole all day watching every golfer."

Feeling a need: Burkons saw how golf courses increased traffic when they held hole-in-one contests — and how business dipped when the contest was over. He figured there had to be a way to maintain the excitement. "The beauty of ChariTee is you don't need a special event anymore," he explains. "These hole-in-one contests can be every day, at any time."

The future: Burkons says he's hoping to have five to 15 more systems in place by the end of this year — all within 120 miles of Cleveland so he can watch over them.

When people ask him what he does: "I tell them I went to law school and then I had an idea."

His dream: "I want this to be a regular part of every public course. Heck, when carts first came out, people thought it was the end of golf."

What inspires him: The challenges of business and constantly solving problems. "There's no guidebook. I like being a pioneer."

Ever made a hole-in-one? Not even close.

Guilty pleasure: Texas Hold 'em

Something for my time capsule: college hockey photo

Hernando Cortez
Age: 39
Occupation: Artistic director of VERB Ballets

Why he's interesting: Born in Manila, bred in New York City and, now, raising the cultural bar in Northeast Ohio. Since coming to Cleveland in 2002, Cortez has been committed to taking VERB Ballets (formerly The Repertory Project) to national prominence. The hard work is paying off quickly, as Dance Magazine recently named the company one of its "25 To Watch in the Nation." "It's exciting," says Cortez. "Now, we have to live up to it."

The biggest difference between Manila and Cleveland: "In Manila, there are 50 million more people, 50 million more cars and a lot more sunshine."

World-class dance … in Cleveland? Cortez did a lot of research before he took this job. "I saw that Cleveland had incredible cultural components and I knew that, given time, we'd succeed."

He started Dancers Responding to AIDS more than a decade ago because: He saw a growing need to mobilize the dance community and raise funds to help colleagues with the disease. "It was the least I could do to help."

Five years from now: "I want to be talking about VERB Ballets being overloaded with touring. And that we're never in town enough. And that we have too many dancers coming to auditions."

His biggest fear: To die unnoticed

When all is said and done, he'd like people to say: "What a terrific body of work he offered the world."

All-time favorite ballet: "The Green Table," by Jiri Kylian

His favorite dance besides ballet: "Anything at a nightclub at 2 a.m."

Five words to describe Cleveland: "Supportive. Gray. Cultural. Welcoming. Did I say gray yet?"

Something I can't live without: martini

Makes me happy: hot sauce

Carmella DeCesare
Age: 22
What she's known for: 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year

Why she's interesting: What does it take for a nice Ohio girl to take her clothes off for the world? Quite a bit of mind-opening, according to DeCesare, who earned Playboy's highest honor last year. The folks at the magazine taught her that nudity is not bad. "It's not a disrespectful thing," she says. "It's how secure you are with it." Agree with DeCesare or not, you can't argue that her last 12 months haven't been interesting. Along with the Playmate title, she fell in love with Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia and embarked on an acting career.

What it's like knowing most men she talks to have seen her naked? "When it first came out, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.' My worst fear was going into the gym. … I thought I would walk in and they're all going to look at me like, ‘I saw her naked.' I was completely petrified." She eventually got used to it.

Her favorite body part: Her abs

Her least favorite: At 5-foot-7, DeCesare thinks she's too short.

Is Jeff Garcia a good kisser? "Absolutely."

How being chosen Playmate of the Year changed her life: "You can't act like the normal person because everything that you do is under a microscope," she says. "There's always going to be someone that's watching and half the time it's what you don't even do that gets put into the media, so you just have to be really careful of your surroundings and where you hang out and who you hang out with."

Where she can't hang out: The downtown bars

What really happened between her and Garcia's ex at one of those bars: At press time, she said she couldn't talk about the case before it went to trial, but offered this: "I don't think that if I were like a normal person right now that any of this would be happening. Unfortunately, you get to a certain point in your life at times and there are people who want to bring you down."

Does she read the articles in Playboy or just look at the pictures? DeCesare reads the first couple of pages of party pictures. "They're so fun to look at, especially when you've been to the parties."

Makes me happy: my love, Jeff Garcia

My work space: Von Dutch party I hosted

Capri Cafaro
Age: 26
Occupation: Politician

Why she's interesting: Politics is hardly the domain of young women, especially in Northeast Ohio. But Cafaro always has done what she wants, regardless of whether it's conventional or popular. She graduated from high school at 15, from Stanford at 19 and from Georgetown with a master's in international relations three years after that. After starting her own public-relations firm for nonprofits, she took on five-term incumbent Steve LaTourette in a bare-knuckled race that included many jabs from both LaTourette and the media about the wealth she was born into, as well as her father's role in the James Traficant bribery scandal. As a campaigner, Cafaro became known for her boundless energy, putting in 18-hour days and going door-to-door in the

farthest reaches of her district.

On being a young woman in politics: "I expected it to be a disadvantage, but it's turned out to be more of an advantage. I keep hearing from people: ‘We need fresh blood. We need a new perspective in government.' "

What her friends thought about her Congressional bid: They were supportive. Some even traveled from as far away as San Francisco to help her.

Campaign trail memories: Seeing a man driving a tractor while carrying a shotgun in northern Trumbull County and being chased by dogs while door-knocking in that same stretch of the county.

Her political role model: "I've always loved Andrew Jackson," she says, "because he was a populist and laid down the roots of the Democratic Party." But there's no one politician she aspires to be like.

What's next: Create an economic-development council for the region — and run for Congress again.

My work space: the campaign trail

Thomas Sayers Ellis
Age: 41
Profession: Poet, English professor at Case Western Reserve University

Why he's interesting: The Washington, D.C., native, who's been teaching at Case since 1996, has his first full-length book of poems — "The Maverick Room," a wild mix of narrative poems and verse evoking musical rhythms and sounds — coming out in January. It includes a 10-poem sequence about go-go, a funk-influenced dance music born in Washington in the late '70s with heavy bass beats and bursts of jazz and soul (not to be confused with early '60s go-go dancing).

On writing about music: "Writers tend to owe too much to the musical genre," he says. "So often, the poet has fallen back into this last-century place of celebrating the other arts." Instead of just describing or mimicking music, "you want to create something that is triggered by the musical energy," he adds.

The evolving artist: "My voice began in a very simple, linear place. My writing [created] narrative from experience: what happened to me, what I felt." Experiencing art and reading widely convinced Ellis he could be abstract, removing himself and relying on image and painterly devices such as sketching, brushstroking and collaging.

No purebred: "I don't feel akin to any one style, so ‘The Maverick Room' is mongrel and maverick."

The one thing in Cleveland he thinks most deserves a wider audience: The Cleveland Cinematheque. Film, he says, can be "the gathering place for all the arts."

Hear him read: Stop by his book party Jan. 19, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Legacy Village in Lyndhurst.

His next projects: Ellis recently finished editing "Quotes Community: Notes From Black Poets," an anthology of "600 fragments, comments, lies and aphorisms from black writers" that he hopes will be published this year. He and some friends are starting a new band of poets and musicians, Soul March, which should debut this spring.

Makes me happy: drums

Jere Hinton
Age: 70
Occupation: "Proprietor" of Molly Gallery

Why he's interesting: In 2001, Hinton turned his Lunn Road home in Strongsville into Molly Gallery, an art center dedicated to the memory of his late wife ( The gallery has staged art shows, poetry readings and performances of Hinton's plays for audiences topping out at 30 to 40. Local artists (as young as 2) displayed their works on walls already covered with Hinton's detailed murals that depict subjects ranging from the neighborhood to Dante's "The Divine Comedy." In August, Strongsville took Hinton to court for violating zoning laws by running a business in a residential area. He was fined $100 for a minor misdemeanor, but is appealing his case.

The verdict: The judge "started by saying, ‘It's great, an old guy like you doing this work. It's a beautiful thing, ta-ta-ta. However, I find you guilty.' Businesses should be in business areas, that was his conclusion," he says. He hopes to return to court to appeal in five to six months.

Some business: Hinton never took a cut of art sales, only asking artists to donate 10 percent to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. (In 39 years of marriage, he and Molly adopted two daughters and cared for 26 foster children.) Admission to plays and readings was free. Most expenses came out of Hinton's pocket.

Who complained? A neighbor who lives a half mile away, someone with whom Hinton has never spoken. Hinton's closer neighbors were willing to appear in court on his behalf, but his attorney (his brother Jim) thought they wouldn't be necessary.

Will the murals eventually fill the entire house? "Oh yeah. If I live that long."

Talent deferred: Hinton studied art in Liverpool, which is where he met Molly, a British nurse, in the 1950s. They married in 1959 and he brought her back to the States, where he worked as a city planning consultant for 40 years.

Liverpool in the late '50s. By any chance…? Yes, he attended art school with Beatle John Lennon. "He wasn't really that good an artist," recalls Hinton. "He was a wild sort of a guy. You have a nude model and he'd come in and pinch her ass, that sort of stuff. Finally, they threw him out. And that was the best thing that ever happened to him."

What does Molly think of the gallery? "She's smiling," he says.

Something I can't live without: my back yard

Dwight Hollins
Age: 45
Occupation: Assistant athletics director for general operations at John Carroll University

Why he's interesting: As a hoops player for Cleveland Heights High School, Hollins was told he didn't have the mental game for college. He dunked these discouraging words, graduated from Xavier University and served a short stint as a free agent for the Philadelphia 76ers, later playing on international teams. He eventually became head coach for East High School. As director of the Cleveland Academy of Finance school-to-career program, Hollins headed up a National Academy Foundation campaign drive that increased its scholarship and work-force development endowment fund by more than $1.5 million.

Hoop dreams: A stranger who regularly watched Hollins' 7 a.m. workouts in Cain Park approached him one morning to ask if he planned to attend college. When Hollins said no, the man offered to make a reference phone call to a college on his behalf under two conditions: He must read the newspaper every day and help someone else if he found success. Later that week, Hollins learned he'd gotten a scholarship from a junior college in New York. Though Hollins fulfilled his promises, he never heard from or saw the man again to thank him.

Star students: In his eight-year tenure as head coach at East High, Hollins graduated 97 percent of his players.

Pep talk: "Within each seed lies that which determines the fruit."

On the side: Through his organization, True Believer Inc., Hollins launched a nonprofit athletic and academic mentoring program this fall. T.E.A.M. (Teaming Education and Athletes through Mentoring) prepares athletes for the ACT test and exposes them to career opportunities.

World-class coach: As co-coach of Team Cleveland boys' basketball team for the International Children's Games, Hollins helped 10 area players bring home the bronze.

Makes me happy: my fiancee, Jacqueline Dalton

Ali Kazemaini
Age: 41
Occupation: Soccer instructor/coach

Why he's interesting: His soccer knowledge is immense, but his heart is bigger. About three days before last summer's International Children's Games, Kazemaini, an Iranian immigrant and soccer chair on the games committee, got an SOS call: The Afghan girls' soccer team had arrived without a coach. "I made some calls for them and without much luck," he says. "So I knew what had to be done. These poor kids had come all the way across the world; I decided to do it myself."

Diplomatic compromise: The Afghan girls' team played three games during the tournament, but since the team came over for cultural rather than sports purposes — "This wasn't really about soccer; it was about life," Kazemaini says — the coach worked out a deal with opposing coaches to mix the players up and scrimmage. "For tournament purposes, you can have the win," he proposed. The coaches all agreed.

Speaking the same language: "When I first met with the team, I said, ‘Do you speak Farsi?' and I think that was the highlight of the whole thing for them. Their eyes popped wide open when they heard me speak it."

Olympic dreams deferred: Kazemaini was a two-time All-America soccer player at Cleveland State and was the MISL Rookie of the Year in 1984 while playing for the Cleveland Force. He is currently the highly successful varsity soccer coach at John Carroll University. He was selected to the 1984 United States Olympic soccer team, but didn't participate in the '84 Games because of his citizenship status. Now, as president and founder of the Cleveland Soccer Academy in Willoughby (based at Lost Nation Sports Park), he runs a soccer school for all levels of ability.

His own gold medal: He has one child, a year-old daughter named Zari Gabrielle; Zari means "Golden."

If he wasn't so good at soccer: He might be a body-surfer or an airline pilot.

My work space: the soccer field

Makes me happy: my daughter, Zari

Olga D. Gonzalez-Sanabria
Age: 48
Occupation: Director of engineering and technical services, NASA Glenn Research Center

Why she's interesting: One of only three Latina executives currently at NASA, Gonzalez-Sanabria oversees the work of 650 people, including the 6,400-acre Plum Brook Station near Sandusky. In her 25 years at NASA Glenn, the chemical engineer by training has developed technical contributions sent into space aboard the shuttles, including key work on the nickel-hydrogen batteries that power the International Space Station.

The fork in the road: Gonzalez-Sanabria chose the engineering path at career day during her senior year of high school in Puerto Rico. It allowed her to combine science, math and working with others, but especially promised the desired opportunity for problem solving.

If she wasn't an engineer: She'd be a science teacher, but says she's just as glad now that she didn't. "I don't think I am as proficient or patient to deal with transferring knowledge at that level," she confides.

But doesn't dealing with federal bureaucracy require a hefty dose of patience? "Oh God…" (laughter)

The transition from hands-on engineering to management: "You always miss the hands-on work," Gonzalez-Sanabria says, "but there are periods in your life when you know you're ready to stretch and do things differently."

The next generation: The latest work at Plum Brook is testing and development for the James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled to replace Hubble in 2010) and the Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter.

In the blood: Both her daughters are engineers, too — one a Case biomed grad working toward a Ph.D. in polymers for application in the human body at UMass, the other studying to be a civil engineer at the University of Toledo.

Would she venture into space herself? "No. I don't even go on roller coasters. I am not a good friend of heights."

Any taste for Tang? "It's too sweet, too artificial."

Makes me happy: my collection of Nativity scenes

Guilty pleasure: shopping

Rev. Mark Hollingsworth Jr.
Age: 50
Occupation: Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio

Why he's interesting: Earlier this year, Hollingsworth moved to Northeast Ohio from New England to became the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. Serving more than 100 congregations in the state, Hollingsworth's support of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire has raised a few eyebrows in the pews. "The bishop's ministry is a ministry of unity," he says. "I think we're challenged to make as much room for one another in the church as there is room in God's heart."

What drew him here: "The diocese here represents the true breadth of the Episcopal Church. From liberal congregations to conservative to everything in between, I found it to be a unique challenge to balance the diversity of all our congregations," he says.

Does this place look familiar? Hollingsworth says he can understand why it's called the Western Reserve: "There's a very similar feel to New England."

Has the welcome mat been out? "The communities here have been remarkably welcoming, enthusiastic and supportive."

History will remember him as: "A faithful husband, loving father and servant to God."

His best trait: Patience and attentiveness to others

His wheels: A 1947 Harley-Davidson flathead

What gets his motor running: "Riding gives me the illusion of freedom and independence. Emphasis on illusion," he adds.

His favorite junk food: "I'm a big fan of Skor Bars. Let's just say I eat a fair amount of them."

Makes me happy: 1947 Harley-Davidson with my children Eli, 6, and Lily, 5

Tim Mack
Age: 32
Occupation: Athle

Why he's interesting: In August, this 1990 St. Ignatius grad and former Westlake resident captured Olympic gold, silenced his critics and earned the adoration of Northeast Ohioans young and old. He did it by clearing 19 feet, 6 1/4 inches to set an Olympic pole-vault record. And he wasn't done there. At a September meet in Monaco, Mack cleared 6.01 meters, making him one of only six men in the world to vault higher than 6 meters. While he currently lives and trains in Knoxville, Tenn., Cleveland still claims him as its own.

The Mary Lou Retton effect: Mack has a new legion of young fans. "I think you're going to see a big influx of pole vaulters from Cleveland in the next 10 years," he jokes.

Olympic-sized gift to himself: In his case, Mack says it'll be a boat, a Jet Ski or a 1988 old-school Porsche. Plus, he wants a bulldog.

What's next? Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and a few more records

Can he do it? He says he can, but it'll take "raising the bar," literally and figuratively. "You have to keep doing things differently to raise the bar. Every year, you have to do more than you did before. You can't get better results with the same amount of work."

Not always No. 1: "The little kids can kick my butt," Mack says of his gymnastics training, which teaches him flexibility and body positioning.

Favorite sports movie: "The Legend of Bagger Vance"

A golf flick? A "big-time" golfer, Mack says the sport teaches the same lesson as pole vaulting: "You have to be in the moment all the time. If you think too much, you're dead meat."

Podium thoughts: "It's a culmination," he says. "I thought about the people who had something to do with it, about my family and coaches who were a positive influence in my life."

Is pole vaulting a metaphor for life? Mack thinks so. "You have to have goals, do the basics all the time and keep taking the next steps. You have to learn to deal with failure and persevere."

My work space: The pole vault pit

Makes me angry: McDonald's

Makes me happy: Dave & Buster's

Steven Litt
Age: 48
Occupation: Plain Dealer architecture critic

Why he's interesting: Love him or hate him, there's no mistaking Litt's bold and unflinching voice. A leader in the PD's coverage of the arts, the convention center and lakefront development, he's working at the junction of many of our city's biggest issues.

His story: Born in New York City, Litt was an art major in college. He came to Cleveland through a succession of newspaper jobs, covering everything from cops to nuclear power plants. Has been at the PD for 13 years.

If he weren't a journalist, he'd be… "Maybe a documentary filmmaker or maybe a landscape architect."

Three favorite works of art: "The Gulf Stream" by Winslow Homer, "Primavera" by Sandro Botticelli and "Lavender Mist" by Jackson Pollock

What will become of our lakefront? "I have no idea. … The problem is the uncertainty. It seems to me that we have so many competing interests on the lakefront that they will cancel each other out and we will end up with nothing. Already, I can see our lakefront plan drifting in the direction of compromise and indecision … despite the very best efforts of the city's planning staff."

Latest project: Learning Italian

Where he lives: Shaker Heights — 15 minutes from both Severance Hall and the Cleveland Museum of Art, he points out.

Where he would never live: Las Vegas

Favorite architect: "The minute I name somebody, I think of somebody else. Life is so wonderful. There's so many things to choose from."

To what should Cleveland aspire? "I like what Peter Lewis is saying: We should try to be the best small or medium-sized city in the country. When we make an investment in the physical environment, it should be the best we can possibly make it so that it's a lasting impression. The big danger is to shortchange the future."

Makes me angry: no-fishing sign on Lake Erie

Something I can't live without: good wine to share with friends

Guilty pleasure: french fries

Mark Nolan
Age: 35
Occupation: WKYC-TV3 weatherman

Why he's interesting: When five feet of snow is on the way, there's no one we'd rather hear it from than him. As WKYC-TV3's chief forecaster and the weather guy for WMJI 105.7 FM's "Lanigan & Malone" show, Nolan has an awful lot of bad news to share. But he does it with such good cheer that we can't hold it against him. If he were fired tonight, he says, he'd stay in Northeast Ohio. He's lived his whole life in the area and his sunny disposition, keen eye for Doppler and love of Cleveland have him poised to be the next Dick Goddard.

Favorite season: Fall

So responsive: Nolan says he returns 99.9 percent of his e-mails and calls, including a recent query from a woman named Charlotte who wanted to know, on a Tuesday, if she should go forward with her planned weekend garage sale. Nolan called her back twice, counseling her to be prepared to move the sale indoors.

As for that 0.1 percent: "The mean, nasty ones."

Who's mad at him: The man watching "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" when a severe-weather warning cut in. Nolan tried to explain nicely, but the man wasn't buying it. "We were one e-mail away from meeting to slug it out," Nolan jokes.

Green Acres: Nolan lives on a 6-acre lot in Burton with his wife, Courtney, a local model who has graced Cleveland Magazine's cover twice. "She's Eva Gabor and I'm Mr. Douglas," he says.

Drift dodger: Nolan hires someone to plow his driveway and Courtney shovels the walk. "It's so funny," he laughs, "to see her out there in her Chanel wool cap and not-so-weather-resistant gloves."

His hobby: Restoring old cars. He's currently taking a welding class so that he can do all of the work himself.

What we can expect this winter: Average temperatures and below-normal precipitation

Guilty pleasure: chocolate

Makes me happy: my vintage Corvettes (1961 silver with red interior and black 1968)

Something that I can't life without: my wife, Courtney

Nick Nakon
Age: 12
Occupation: Artist

Why he's interesting: He's one of the lucky few who discover their calling at an early age. At 5, Little Nicky was drawing exact replicas of his favorite cartoon characters. He quickly moved on to acrylics and watercolors, and he's already been commissioned for portraits and photo replications. Art proved a positive outlet for Nick during his mother's illness. Karen Nakon lost her fight with breast cancer in 2003. Since then, Nick has auctioned his paintings to promote a foundation in her honor (

When's he setting up his studio? "I'm not quite sure if I want to be an artist when I grow up," he says. When his dad notes Nick's avid interest in online computer gaming, Nick agrees that he'd like to develop computer games someday.

His current favorite painting: "A beach scene with a lighthouse that I did for an auction for the clubhouse." His works usually sell for $300 to $350 apiece at auction.

A prolific producer: "He generates about 40 to 50 paintings a year," says his dad, Matt Nakon. "But I only let him paint an hour a week — he spends more time on the computer than he does painting. I want him to be able to be a regular kid."

Grand plans for the future: "I want to paint a mural, maybe make it a landscape — but no people!"

Why no people? A true artist, he's already tormenting himself with capturing the essence of the human face, and he won't show it off until he's gotten it perfect.

Currently: His school ordered two paintings for its lobby, and he has a backlog of three or four commissioned pieces.

Ending the interview early: "I still have homework to do," he claims.

Makes me happy: my dog, Tyger

Makes me angry: my sister, Morgan

Bob Rotatori
Age: 67
Occupation: Managing partner of Rotatori, Bender, Gragel, Stoper & Alexander

Why he's interesting: Rotatori's 30-year courtroom career has earned him accolades as a litigator. Lauded for his work in labor law, the former president of the Cleveland Bar Association spends days defending white-collar crime cases. But after hours, he doubles as Cleveland Bob, a show-stopper at Johnny's Downtown, where he entertains regulars with Tony Bennett hits.

Milk-carton memory: Rotatori's first big trial was the Helen Schmidt case, famous for the kidnapped 8-year-old girl whose face was printed on milk cartons for five years.

Stage name: Cleveland Bob earned his musical moniker during an Indians spring-training-camp trip to Florida. He was having 5 o'clock "coffee or tea" in the piano bar when someone in the group announced, "We have a great singer here: Cleveland Bob." Rotatori took the stage and the name stuck.

Just released: Cleveland Bob has doled out more than 1,000 of his CDs, but they aren't for sale. Look in the piano bench at Johnny's Downtown, where he keeps extra copies.

On backup: Rotatori spotted Tony Bennett — his personal first choice as backup singer — from the backseat of a cab in New York City. On Rotatori's orders, the driver mounted the curb, swerved 180 degrees and screeched to a halt next to the legend. "I remember Cleveland," Bennett told Rotatori. The two walked into a nearby bar, where Rotatori noticed a stack of Cleveland Bob CDs. Bennett listened to it and joked, "Don't quit your day job."

Cleveland's theme song: "Shhh … I'll Meet You in Cleveland," written by Mike Petrone

His own theme song: "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong

Fan support: Rotatori describes his most enthusiastic demographic as "Aunt Sadie and her friends who are out to dinner."

Makes me angry: Michael D. Roberts

My favorite place: Johnny's Downtown (with George Forbes) and the federal courthouse

Heike Robinson
Age: She politely declines
Occupation: Teacher for the Tech Prep program, a Mentor High class located at Lakeland Community College, and award-winning kayaker

Why she's interesting: Kayaking was her dream 10 years ago, her hobby five years ago and her realized passion today. An educator for 25 years, she found a unique way to teach her physics students about force, heat-flow, hypothermia and inertia when she went on an unaccompanied sea-kayaking trip in Antarctica this year with two other women and four men.

Unaccompanied? "Sometimes, the big cruise ships will let a few people kayak for a little while, if the weather's perfect," she explains. Robinson's group camped and kayaked alone for more than a week.

But they still had a curfew: "We had to check in with a boat every night [via satellite phone]. They were a little nervous about having us out there alone."

No escaping technology: A kayaking buddy of Robinson's hooked her up with a satellite phone, and his friend in California enabled her to send pictures and text of her journey back to school almost daily.

Menagerie on ice: Robinson's group met penguins, sea lions and whales. "The whales were basically checking us out," she says. "They would circle our boats."

Why she loves the sport: "You're so close to nature; you're one with the water. It's unbelievably beautiful and peaceful. The animals don't run away from you because you're so quiet."

Why Antarctica? "I like environments that have a barren side. Antarctica is the ultimate — it can't get more beautiful," she says fervently. Plus, "the icebergs are so fascinating. I like geology. I'm a science teacher at heart."

The proof is in the pictures: Students from Mentor created Robinson's Web site, where she's posted pictures and journals from all her kayaking adventures:

Makes me angry: gas-guzzling SUVs

My favorite place: kayaking

James Renner
Age: 26
Occupation: Filmmaker, writer

Why he's interesting: Renner adapted and directed a 26-minute film based on Stephen King's short story "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" as part of the author's "Dollar Baby" program, which lets young filmmakers buy rights to King stories for $1. Renner's flick starred B-movie king Joe Bob Briggs and included cameos by Cleveland icons Harvey Pekar and Michael Stanley. It premiered locally at Cleveland Heights' Cedar Lee Theatre in October.

Where you've seen him before: While attending Kent State University, Renner helped found the "Last Call" comedy troupe, which aired a public-access television show that became a cult hit.

Film flops: "I made a couple features in college. The first was a time-travel comedy involving the Kent State shootings, of all things. The second one was a sci-fi drama about the first human clone going awry. It didn't turn out so well. That one culminated with a swordfight with Jesus in a bathroom."

Day job: Renner is Scene magazine's editorial administrator.

It's not easy being "green": Renner maxed out a credit card for his HBO "Project Greenlight 2" submission. He did, however, get Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years") to appear in his three-minute short.

Project red light: Renner's Project Greenlight submission made it to the semifinals. But he did land a job with the winning movie, "The Battle of Shaker Heights," which filmed in Los Angeles. "I Forrest Gumped my way into a job with the camera department," he says. "I ended up staying for the whole shoot."

Budget for "All That You Love…": $6,000

Portion of that figure paid to Joe Bob Briggs: $4,000

What Renner said the only time he ever spoke to King, at a 1998 author appearance: "I like your stuff."

King's response: "Well, thanks, I think."

Guilty pleasure: DVDs

My favorite place: movie theater

Something I can't live without: my wife, Julie Strebler-Renner

Gia Hoa Ryan
Age: 56
Occupation: Community leader

Why she's interesting: Ryan is a builder, but not in the traditional bricks-and-mortar sense. In the bringing people together sense. As a member of the City of Cleveland's Community Relations Board, as a leader of the Cleveland Vietnamese Friendship Foundation and as the creator of the Asian Project (a program that offers mental health services to Asian refugees in Northeast Ohio), Ryan has spent the past 34 years in Ohio helping as many as she can, and never forgetting where she came from.

The hardest part about coming to the United States: "It was very difficult at first," Ryan says. "I never planned on leaving Vietnam, but I fell in love with an American" in 1971 during the Vietnam War. "No Vietnamese were made to feel welcomed here. Eventually though, people discover who you are and what you're about."

Her devotion to others: "It's just part of me. It's what I do," she says. "I have a desire to aid others in any way I can."

Proudest moment: She saw an American flag flying in Hanoi on a visit in 1995. "There had been so much anger between our two countries for so long. You can't imagine how good that made me feel."

What she does to relax: "I enjoy Asian movies. I like James Bond a lot, too."

Down the road: Ryan would like to build a museum here focused on the past, present and future of Vietnam. "I want to work with veterans from both sides of the Vietnam War. Hopefully, this will be another way to mend the past."

New York City? "Before I moved to the United States, I was a waitress in the officers' club in Vietnam. I used to hear people talk about the Big Apple. One day, I asked, ‘Are there a lot of apple trees there?' I didn't know."

Guilty pleasure: a few minutes to rest in bed

My favorite place: my home "gallery" of art from Vietnam

Julia A. Shearson
Age: 37
Occupation: Attorney, activist

Why she's interesting: Remember last year's ruckus about the deportation of Amina Silmi, a Palestinian mother of three young children? Julia Shearson was Silmi's staunchest advocate, braving the cameras in her hijab, desperately trying to make the case that Silmi, a victim of domestic violence, should have been protected by the U.S. government, not forced to make an impossible choice between leaving behind her American children or bringing them with her to Venezuela, where she had no family and no way to care for them. Shearson converted to Islam and is a mother herself (of daughter Carlotta Dalal, who turns 4 next month). Her efforts on Silmi's behalf, though ultimately unsuccessful, raised awareness about the suffering of Muslims in post-9/11 Northeast Ohio. In October, the Cleveland Chapter of the Muslim American Society gave her its Award of Commitment.

A diverse background: Born in Geneva, Ohio, she has lived in San Francisco, Boston, New York, South Korea and China. She holds three degrees, including a master's in Middle East studies from Harvard, and is the director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Cleveland Chapter.

Second language: It's not Arabic. She speaks Mandarin.

When she knew she would convert: In the winter of 1993, Shearson visited the Syrian desert on a backpacking trip with her mother. One day, in the city of Palmyra, she awoke to the call for prayer, which drew her to the balcony of the small hotel where she was staying.

How long that conversion took: Nine years

Amina's cause: The way Shearson sees it, Silmi should have been protected by the government, not persecuted. "In the name of security, we were deporting a single mom because of the war on terror," she says.

In the camera's eye: Shearson would rather duck the spotlight. "I consider myself a private person," she says. "I like to give avenues to other Muslims to tell their stories."

Something I can't live without: prayer (my prayer mat)

Makes me happy: my daughter, Carlotta Dalal

Jen Toohey
Age: 29
Occupation: Disc jockey on Q104 FM

Why she's interesting: At age 24, she quit her Cleveland Magazine marketing job to take an unpaid internship at WGAR. Now, five years later, she has her self-proclaimed dream job as the host of her own show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Q104. Both on air and in real life, she's as bubbly as a cheerleader without being the least bit annoying. Plus, she's funny.

Why she left Cleveland Magazine: "I realized I didn't want to be behind a desk for the rest of my life. I just wanted to know I loved what I did every day."

Biggest interview: Tom Cruise, who came on Q104 to promote "Collateral."

What she discovered: He has never worn deodorant a day in his life.

Her big break: She produced the "The Brian & Joe Radio Show" on Mix 106.5 FM. "They were like big brothers to me," she says. "They're why I have my career now."

Her voice: Deep and raspy, with the ability to shoot up six octaves and get very squeaky when she's excited. "When I was little, my doctor thought I had a paralyzed vocal cord," she notes.

Listening to her show is like… Sitting around with your chattiest, funniest girlfriend and indulging in Hollywood gossip, from Ashlee Simpson's lip-syncing to the latest episode of "The Bachelor."

Howard Stern: funny or foul? "Uhhh, I don't know if I'd call him funny, but I certainly respect him," she says. "I think he's done real well for himself."

Top three songs of all time: "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel and "Jimi Thing" by the Dave Matthews Band

In her car right now: "Brushfire Fairytales" by Jack Johnson

Her biggest fear: "I just don't ever want to be fake."

Makes me happy: my collection of little boxes

Something I can't live without: my best friends

My favorite place: Tremont

Jason Vieaux
Age: 31
Occupation: Classical guitarist

Why he's interesting: Counted as one of the top classical guitarists of his generation, this Cleveland Institute of Music faculty member was one of a trio of guitarists featured in a 2004 NPR segment highlighting new virtuosos whose skills surpass longtime master of the genre Andres Segovia.

Early influences: "My parents' record collection, which didn't have any classical music in it. From about 3 years old, I was listening to the Beatles, then soul music and then modern jazz."

Age when his mother bought him his first guitar: 5

Why classical? "My first teacher was a professional classical guitarist. I didn't even think of it as I was studying classical guitar. My mindset was practicing next week's lesson."

What sets him apart: "A lot of people think it would be my technique or that I play in a very clean manner," he says. "But I really don't believe that's really it. There are a lot of classical guitarists that play cleanly with very few mistakes live in concert. I've always been very focused on communicating or conveying the large picture of a piece as far as its structure."

Practice makes perfect: "I try to get three hours a day in. Some days, you can get four and that is really good."

Mainstream tastes: "The guys who are really doing it and everyone else is trying to catch up with them, is Radiohead." Also early Korn and Jay-Z

That pop allure: He's facinated with the rise and falls of bands in the crazy pop-music business. "It's like a soap opera for me."

My favorite place: Jacobs Field

Something I can't live without: my guitar and chair

Dave Stack
Age: 34
Occupation: Internet entrepreneur

Why he's interesting: Stack is a master of aggregation and automation. His love of music in college, and small budget for buying it, led to an incredibly successful Internet business,, which now boasts an impressive 15 million titles from 3,000 record stores — an "inventory" greater than and eBay combined. He's a gifted programmer, a social scientist (of sorts) and a huge proponent of Cleveland.

Humble beginnings: At Ohio State, Stack made daily trips to the record store to support his music habit. After a listen, he kept records he liked; the rest were added to a list he posted on a newsgroup bulletin board. "People would send me checks and I'd mail the items from my dorm room," he recalls.

Risky business: "When the Internet bubble burst in 2001, I was out of a job," he says. So he decided to try to grow MusicStack. "I was scraping by at first."

Necessity and invention: The self-taught computer wiz earned a patent in 2004 for his "real-time inventory upload system." "I create things that are self-sufficient," he says. "The users do the work." It allows him to decide where and when he wants to work. His minimum maintenance per day is "about 20 minutes."

Entrepreneurial at age 6: He made $400 one summer vacation by retrieving golf balls from a pond and selling them.

Plugged in: His latest pet project is "It's a central repository of everything that's going on. It's my experiment in social networking and it's good for the city to bring people together." Events, images, stuff for sale and more can be found on the site.

In his CD player right now: Depeche Mode, Interpol and a "chill compilation"

Something I can't live without: music

Makes me happy: my girlfriend, Ruth Conway

Herb Thomas
Age: 54
Occupation: Photojournalist, musician

Why he's interesting: It's the faces of Tim Taylor and Wilma Smith that you see when watching FOX 8 News, but Thomas has been working behind the scenes as a cameraman and producer for 35 years. In his free time, he takes center stage with his 20-person gospel choir, the Prayer Warriors.

He's covered both: The pope and the president

But he doesn't take himself too seriously: He's played "Soul Man" and "Mr. Mean" on the "Big Chuck & Lil' John Show."

Why he loves his job: "The lives that are lived in the city of Cleveland are very interesting. People are great stories."

Handling job stress: "Sometimes you need a prayer to go into a story and sometimes you need a prayer on the way out."

Crossing the line: Thomas admits to hugging people on the job who look like they need it.

Awards and honors: The list is a half page long, including more than a dozen local Emmys.

Grandma's groove: She was the original prayer warrior, inspiring the name for Thomas' choir. When he was growing up, seniors in Thomas' church called themselves by the moniker, inviting anyone in need to submit prayer requests.

The Prayer Warriors' sound: A blend of a small storefront congregation, The Staple Singers, Sly & The Family Stone, George Clinton's P-Funk and The O'Jays

Their repertoire: Everything from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" to "Amazing Grace"

Fun and funky: "We're spiritual people, but have a good time. I think that's what makes us work."

Hear them: Regularly at the Barking Spider Tavern in University Circle and the House of Blues, as well as at fairs and festivals

Something I can't live without: my faith

Kate Voegele
Age: 17
Occupation: Singer-songwriter

Why she's interesting: Voegele opened this year's Farm Aid concert at Washington state's Muckleshoot Indian Reservation on a bill that also included music industry giants Dave Matthews, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. Before that, a contest sponsored by Pantene chose Voegele as one of its top-three new female voices, giving her exposure on both MTV and VH1. Next up, the Bay Village high-school student is looking for that elusive recording deal. Now that she's shopping for a label with a disc of four tracks she recorded in Los Angeles, can the big time really be that far off?

First guitar: "My dad bought me a guitar when I was in fifth grade and I played it a little bit, but I didn't want to cut my fingernails."

Take two: "My freshman year in high school, my dad bought a guitar on vacation and I asked him if he would teach me to play it."

Biggest musical influence: Patty Griffin. "She's a singer-songwriter that sings folk and country and rock. I love her music. Not only are her melodies really catchy but her lyrics are very powerful."

From the vault: Other music that Voegele routinely spins is "older stuff" like Carole King, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell.

How she ended up on your TV: She never considered entering the Pantene contest until her dad's friend suggested they check it out. "We submitted the entry last minute — like 11:45 the night before it was due."

Top three surreal moments:

1. Six months after she started playing, an Infiniti-owned radio station picks one of her demo songs from a big batch of local music as the best of the bunch.

2. Flying to Los Angeles to meet a representative of Madonna's Maverick Records label. "They told me, ‘If this is something you want to do, you'll probably get signed by someone.' "

3. Meeting Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp at Farm Aid. "That was just ridiculous."

Something I can't live without: Chipotle

My favorite place: trampoline

Makes me happy: my dog

Jerome T. White
Age: 35
Profession: Painter, muralist and teacher

Why he's interesting: White spent the last two summers painting murals in Glenville with the help of neighborhood teens in the youth program Yo! Cleveland. He's a painter and an art teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, from which he graduated in 1988.

View his art: "Determined Wings," White's celebration of 100 years of flight and of black aviation pioneers, is on East 105th Street at Superior Avenue; another version is at Hopkins Airport by the RTA station. "Hear My Cry For Peace," part of the GuitarMania project, stands in the US Bank Centre in Playhouse Square. His latest mural, "Glenville Past, Present and Future"— "a gigantic quilt symbolic of tying the community together" — is also on East 105th, just south of I-90.

Roads not taken: White studied architecture at Tuskegee University in Alabama and medical illustration at the Cleveland Institute of Art, but both subjects bored him.

No Mickey Mouse artist: He made it most, but not all, of the way through the rigorous portfolio review for becoming a Walt Disney animator.

Influences: Harlem Renaissance painters "helped me look at and be in touch with my own culture," he says. "I like to have a spiritual message written between the lines." Charles White's black-and-white drawings taught him that color wasn't required to create a strong image.

How he inspires his students: "I'll work on [my art] during class. … Especially for the newer students, it reinforces to them that you know what you're doing." It builds the kids' respect for him and piques their curiosity.

How the students inspire him: "I get a creative motivation, too, watching them create. That energy builds up during the day and I've got to go home and do it myself."

Guilty pleasure: Swiss mocha with whipped cream

Makes me happy: Kung Fu class

Jeasung "Jay" Yoo
Age: 35
Occupation: Entrepreneur, blogger

Why he's interesting: Back in 1999, Yoo was traveling the world when he came to a dramatic conclusion: He hated his coat. "It was just this long, old-fashioned trenchcoat," he remembers. "It wasn't stylish. It wasn't functional. It wasn't really anything I was looking for in a coat." Five years later, his creation, the BlackCoat AirGo, is on the verge of becoming a cultural must-have, with such Hollywood stars as Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres catching the BlackCoat bug.

The BlackCoat: It's an overcoat for people on the go. Now, you can carry all your accessories — your cell phone, your PDA, your iPod — and still look good.

The Hollywood connection: "A complete fluke," Yoo says. "Initially, we were targeting the coat to mobile business executives. Then, one day, my agent in Los Angeles called and said he showed the coat to a friend from MTV and they loved it. It just took off from there. We gave them away at the MTV Movie Awards and the Hip-Hop Awards. It's completely shifted our brand."

Tom. Ellen. Who else? Burt Reynolds, Will Ferrell, Rebecca Stamos and Michael Schwartz (Beastie Boys)

What's playing in his iPod in his BlackCoat right now: Public Enemy

Is he a clothing designer or an inventor? "I'm an entrepreneur."

His inspiration: "Two people: Jimi Hendrix, for his ability to never compromise what he believed in; and my father, Okjin Yoo, who's inspired me to be ethical and decent."

When he found out about being a MIP: "At first, I wasn't going to accept because I'm not that interesting," says Yoo. "Then, my wife told me to stop being a jerk."

My favorite place: Experience Music Project in Seattle

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