|Every year, Cincy's editors collect reader nominations for the Most Interesting People and we always wish we had more time and more space. It's very easy to find very talented people with great stories. It's difficult to choose just a few but it is certainly great fun. So, we offer the stories of a professor who rocks, a symphony musician who goes all out for extreme sports, a pastor who takes to a Harley as easily as a pulpit, a chef who defines her reality in pleasing our palate and so much more. —THE EDITORS|
Rich In Spirit
As a budding sales star with Procter & Gamble in the early 2000s, Chuck Mingo was obsessed with money. He had always been that way.
"Money was a way that I was measuring up," Mingo says. "It was really about approval. Power. I think in many ways, God kind of freed me from what probably would not have been the best career path for me, even though I probably would have made good money."
Now, the 36-year-old Pleasant Ridge resident finds his treasure in serving God as the teaching pastor at Crossroads Community Church, where he has ministered for seven years, the past 2 ½ as senior pastor Brian Tome's right-hand message giver.
Before that, though, it seems that Mingo was tailor made for P&G. He interned four years in his native Philadelphia while attending Duquesne University, and was offered a job before his senior year.
When Mingo arrived in Cincinnati in 2000, he was "all about the P&G fast track." Just like that, he shot up the ladder to ultimately overseeing $500 million in sales and developing sales strategy and programs for more than 300 employees.
But he started feeling God's tug in 2002 when he first considered joining Crossroads' staff. He stayed at P&G then, but in 2005, he could no longer resist.
"I had just gotten to a point where I realized I was getting more and more passionate about teaching, about what God was doing at Crossroads," Mingo says. "The one thing that would keep me from doing it was the fast-track at P&G, the promises of what that would mean financially and some of those dreams that I had. I really just decided to trust God with that part of life and go with something I was passionate about. It was a calling, but it was also a wooing over time."
So he left one of the world's biggest companies, and the prospect of riches ("I made more than I thought I'd ever make") on a leap of faith, saying, "It was a head turner for a lot of people, because I was right on the cusp of going to the next level at P&G, so that's not a time when people typically walk away."
In many ways, he's still experiencing the thrill of working at the top of his field, as Crossroads is the P&G of churches, with one of the largest congregations (12,000) and outreach capabilities in the nation.
"The culture of Crossroads' staff is a very aggressive culture. There is a lot of that still in my job, big things we're going after. It's not (sales) numbers I'm trying to hit, but at the same time, we feel a call to change the city and it's exciting to be part of team going after those big things within the context of this thing called the "Kingdom of God."'
Now he couldn't be happier with his new life with his wife of 10 years, Maria, and his sons Nathan, 3, and Samuel, 7 months. He has even taken up motorcycle riding recently.
Says Mingo: "It's neat to have something where there is that level of adventure that, 'This is uncertain. There are going to be things I have to learn my way through on this.' And that's pretty cool."
Kind of like giving up the corporate chase for ministry, giving up your plan to follow God's.
— TIM CURTIS
Pastries Are Her Reality
She grew up taking art classes, enjoying high school chemistry and baking. Like butter, cream and sugar, these perfect ingredients led Megan Ketover straight to the kitchen.
"I always loved the artistic, creative side and baking is so scientific. I love that I can manipulate how something tastes, like if I want it more moist, I add more sugar." When Ketover talks about her Bavarian chocolates topped with candied violets, she does so with such descriptive enthusiasm your mouth starts to water.
At just 31, she's the pastry chef at the AAA Four-Diamond Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza — clearly a rock star position. The award-winning chef did get a recent dose of reality, TV style, as a contestant on Bravo's "Top Chef Just Desserts." She made it into the top seven before being eliminated by a quibble over glaze on a donut which stuck to the plate.
Really? Here in the Queen City, she's No. 1 because of the extraordinarily delicate, yet rich, desserts that she presents, like fromage blanc custard on sorghum cake with bergamot orange and satsuma marmalate. Served with apricot sorbet, of course.
Still, the TV show was an experience. "I couldn't tell anyone I was going. I told some people I was going to London and people started asking questions, like where in London•That's when I found out I was a horrible liar," she laughs. "It was very surreal and all about day-to-day survival•you go in, cook your heart out, see what happens, and hope that you're not the one that goes home."
Ketover graduated summa cum laude from the Midwest Culinary Institute and upon graduation, worked at the Hilton and returned to the Institute as the Pastry Arts Chef Instructor/Cake Designer.
At the Hilton, she caters to her guests if they have a food or gluten allergy, she'll work around it. "I don't want to just give someone a bowl of fruit because they have an allergy."
The science of baking is always a work in progress. "All pastry chefs I know have a little bit of OCD. Nothing is ever complete. Some days, I'm like 'oh yeah, we did that really good,' but I'm always thinking 'would I add more salt, would I add more acidity?'"
Her favorite pastry? Macaroons. It's the fun, bright colors. Ketover also admits she has quite the sweet tooth for caramel. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ketover has no plans of leaving. "Rather than go somewhere else, I'd like if we can do things here and bring the spotlight here to elevate the Cincinnati culinary dining."
— JULIANNA ROCHE
It all started with a short, fat and sassy possum named Jake. He was the main character in Chad Lambert's first comic strip called Possum At Large, which he wrote for his college newspaper.
"It was autobiographical...it was my chance to make fun of college. I was a commuter student and my girlfriend was a resident. It was my way to vent as an outcast, the commuter."
Lambert stopped writing comics after college. He settled down with a real job but realized something w as missing. "I retired to the suburbs... but it wasn't enough for me. The creativity I was used to was gone."
That's when he hired an artist and started doing research on how to write his first comic book, Possum At Large, continuing the strip he originally developed .
Since then, the 41-year-old freelance comic book writer and Anthem marketing writer has been a five-time Howard E. Day Memorial finalist and a two-time Champion City Award nominee. His work in small press comics includes Possum At Large, Kill the Revisionist and Return to Point Pleasant, which Ray Bradbury described as "superb and frightening! Bravo!"
He was also one of the writers of the Megamind and Kung Fu Panda comics from Ape Entertainment and Dream Works Animation.
Lambert's next project, he says, came to him through a series of fateful twists. He was offered an editing role for Bluewater's COMICS (a new biography series that focuses on stand-up comedians and other influential funny people) and the chance to write an issue about the Saturday Night Live cast.
At the time, he wasn't interested.
Shortly after, he took a family trip to Disney World. "Our kids were playing and my wife said to me •oh, look there's the Sarah Palin lady from SNL!' Me and Tina Fey's kids were playing together, so I took that as a sign."
Another twist: His name was picked from a lottery for free SNL tickets, which Lambert has entered for years.
His favorite comic? Roachmill by Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney.
And he likes Comic Book World in Florence, Ky. "It has such an old feel and it's stocked to the rim with everything."
Dr. Terri Roth
Life's A Zoo
In 2001, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden's Dr. Terri Roth oversaw the first successful breeding of a Sumatran rhino calf to be produced in captivity in 112 years.
She was a proud "parent" then. Well, she's about to be a proud "grandparent" as the calf born here, Andalas, is about to be a father after producing a pregnancy at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. ETA on the newborn: early summer. It will be the first captive-born Sumatran rhino in Southeast Asia, helping propagate a species whose numbers have dwindled from 400 in 1980 to half that today.
"And the little calf we raised here in Cincinnati, it's all because of him. It's really a cool story," says Roth, the Director of the zoo's world-renowned Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). "A lot of people in Cincinnati are (proud parents), because they do know those rhinos, and a lot of them remember this calf growing up."
Since coming to the zoo in 1996 after a stint at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Roth has become a star in conservationist circles with her success with CREW, which is what lured her to Cincinnati in the first place.
She's not just about the pachyderms, either. The 48-year-old lives on a small farm in California, Ky., where she and her husband tend eight cows, a miniature spotted donkey, a llama, two dogs, four cats and a coatimundi, which is related to the raccoon family.
She has helped establish other rhino breeding centers in Sumatra and Borneo, sharing information, donating equipment and providing hands-on training. She travels to Indonesia two or three times per year, staying a couple weeks at a time. All to save a species that she has grown very fond of over the years.
So she and the zoo will continue to do their part as they plan to breed the other two Sumatran rhino calves it has bred, a female in 2004 and a male in 2007.
"The female is now mature and we are going to start breeding her. The male is too young still, but hopefully he will contribute as well when he does mature," says Roth, who also oversees CREW's cutting-edge small cat program and endangered plants of North America program.
"When I started there were a lot of doubters who said that captive breeding wouldn't work. It's interesting, just in 15 years there has been a real change, and now conservationists are saying that
the captive breeding program is absolutely essential [to] saving this species," Roth says.
What do you get when you mix a law professor with an ex-cop and a rocker? That'd be Roger Wright, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. Did we mention he used to be a tennis coach and does martial arts too? "I want to have a busy tombstone.. I tell my students do lots of things, it's your life.'"
And he says, he hopes he's more than just a professor too. "I like to say...I'm not a teacher, I'm a dream maker."
Before coming to UC to teach in 1984, Wright worked as a police officer in Memphis, Tenn. He went to law school and then became a partner at a firm called Walter and Wright. "Now the Walter is my wife (Janis). I married my law partner."
Today, 59-year-old Wright teaches criminal law and criminal procedure at UC, but he also teaches police community relations and managing conflict and assaultive behavior. He describes his teaching style as "crazy."
"It's safe to say I'm enthusiastic. I'm pretty interactive with students. I try to build relationships with them and make sure they're as passionate as I am." It works — he's won the University College Teaching Award and has been a UC Order of Omega Professor of the Year.
Though he's changed careers more than once, one thing has remained constant — his love for music. "I started playing guitar at age 11. I even taught my two kids to play•I was a child of the 60s. I remember when I first saw Jimi Hendrix, and I thought •I want to do that.'"
Wright has been in his fair share of bands and currently plays with an acoustic trio called The Melissa Smith Group and in a church band. He's also the lead guitarist and backup singer in Ten Minute Warm-Up, a band comprised of family members including his daughter, son, two nephews and brother-in-law.
Beyond the pom-poms
Laura Vikmanis looks just like a cheerleader. Even without the mini-skirt and pom-poms, there's a bubbly, confident air about her, and her perfectly done, bright blonde hair almost seems to bounce when she laughs. Vikmanis, though, isn't your average high-kicking football enthusiast.
She's a 42-year-old Ben-Gal, making her the oldest cheerleader in NFL history. Impressive as it is, it was her journey in getting there that was inspiring enough to be made into a book, "It's Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-Year Old Mom Became the NFL's Oldest Cheerleader and Found Hope, Joy, and Inspiration Along the Way."
Due in bookstores in March, it captures the story of how the dietitian and single mother of two, who had also just left a bad marriage — one that, over the years, drained her confidence — turned her life around by rediscovering her passion for dance and cheerleading.
"It was very cleansing to write," Vikmanis says. "You have to dig deep down...and the fact that I had to talk about everything, now I can just let everything go. It's funny, I think fear holds you back, but now it's like 'this is my life.' If you like me, you do. If you don't, you don't."
At age 40, Vikmanis showed up to the Bengals cheerleading audition, competing against women in their 20s with tighter abs, fuller hair and no kids. She didn't make it the first time. She did on her second try.
To keep her cheerleader body and her Ben-Gal ordered "126 pounds," Vikmanis works out five or six times a week, with three days of running (anywhere from three to five miles) and two or three days of weight training. She's eating right, which surprisingly isn't easy for the dietitian, who has struggled with weight and body image her entire life.
"My motto is you can have whatever you want, but not as much as you want," she says.
That includes a taste of her favorite chocolate, Hershey's Nuggets, once a day. "It's okay not to be perfect all the time."
Vikmanis' story will also be hitting the big screen. New Line Cinema recently picked up rights to turn her journey from demoralized divorcee to NFL cheerleader into a movie. She can't say which actress she hopes will get the leading role.
She'd love to be a Ben-Gal forever but when it's time to stop cheering she hopes to work with the squad, perhaps focusing on nutrition and fitness. She's blogging about the subject on www.skinnymom.com, the largest fitness and nutrition online community for moms, by moms. And, she hopes to write a second book, this time about nutrition.
Dr. Mike Gittelman & Dr. Wendy Pomerantz
Working To Keep Kids Out Of The ER
Even if they weren't dressed in similar khakis and blue polos with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center logos, it's clear Dr. Mike Gittelman and Dr. Wendy Pomerantz are a team.
They crack the same jokes, they finish each other's sentences.
The stethoscopes draped around their necks are tools of the trade but they don't begin to tell the story of how these doctors have taken their work outside the walls of the emergency room to the playgrounds and neighborhoods of Cincinnati to keep kids safe. The doctors are relaxed and playful during the controlled chaos of a photo shoot of nearly a dozen of Cincy's Most Interesting People. But the results of their work are serious: childhood injuries in Avondale have dropped 30 percent in 10 years.
For a dozen years, Gittelman, 44, and Pomerantz, 45, have co-directed the Injury Free Coalition for Kids in Greater Cincinnati, an organization dedicated to preventing childhood injury and keeping kids safe in their neighborhoods through community projects such as building parks, creating after-school programs and distributing home safety kits.
Gittelman and Pomerantz analyze data to target the specific age groups in each area that need the most help. In Avondale, they found that kids ages 13-14 were in the most danger, so they built a football field at South Avondale High School.
They also helped start after-school programs and youth sports leagues, such as midnight basketball games (since they found that between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., crimes were most likely to occur).
The 30 percent drop in Avondale compares to a five percent decline in other communities.
"If you give kids a safe place to play and educate them•we can use the distraction technique. You do teach, but you do other things too to get them out of harm's way," says Pomerantz.
Both Gittelman and Pomerantz are pediatric ER physicians at Children's. "We are academic physicians. A lot of what we do is clinical and a percentage is academic there's a lot of value to what we're doing," says Gittelman. Both place a high priority on their families. "We both have families and as you go on, you realize our lives are important too," says Pomerantz.
Always Sunny Skies
"I want to prepare you, not scare you," says Frank Marzullo who has been warning us of storms and promising sunny skies over the FOX19 airwaves since 2007.
The meteorologist has been on screen balancing on a giant green circus ball and pouring concrete with a construction crew in Fairfield. "We all can tell the weather, gotta change it up a little bit," he laughs.
"I want to make it memorable, make it good TV," says Marzullo, so viewers keep tuning in and he keeps working.
He remembers his first funnel cloud. He was just a little guy walking out of the grocery store with his grandmother when a storm started blowing the carts around. The sky was black then, a rainbow with a funnel card in the middle of it.
During a high school internship with his soccer coach, a meteorologist at the CBS station in Marzullo's hometown of Cleveland, he truly picked up the weather bug.
Now he's on the air at 4 a.m. with a couple hours of weather before rolling into an anchor/host role on FOX19 Morning News.
"Weather is my vehicle to do what I do and allow me to show my personality and be part of the community," he says.
Weather is not scripted and when he's anchoring he tries to keep the same conversational tone. "You want to be the neighbor next door" delivering the news but in a credible way, he says.
When the 32-year-old Hyde Park man talks about life outside work, the conversation quickly turns to food. Maybe it's because his mom always served a homemade sit-down dinner when he was growing up, he guesses. Maybe it's because he does like to eat.
Marzullo loves Cincinnati's neighborhoods, he says, especially the city neighborhoods because they all have great restaurants. He calls himself a "food snob." He loves to cook and makes a great vodka sauce. He suggest it be served over penne pasta. He's got a couple of pork tenderloin recipes, he says, including an excellent bourbon pork tenderloin.
He loves traveling and someday, says the guy who studies the skies, he'd like to fly.
— DIANNE GEBHARDT-FRENCH
Walk The Moon
Rocking To National Stage
Take a liberal arts degree in music composition, a pocketful of fist-pumping, indie-rock anthems, then add a little face paint and you have Walk the Moon, the Cincinnati band that's poised to become The Next Big Thing on the national pop/rock music scene.
Walk the Moon was founded by lead singer, songwriter and keyboardist, Nicholas Petricca, while a student at Ohio's Kenyon College ('09), where he majored in music theory and composition.
Petricca, 24, grew up in Milford, a graduate of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, classically trained in piano. As a teenager, he had the usual pop influences, from the Beatles to Billy Joel, with a love for the art rock of David Bowie, The Police and Talking Heads.
While many rockers hone their skills playing endless club gigs, Petricca says his college work gave him the framework to refine his pop songwriting and arrangement."My music theory studies affected how I think about music — how it is written, how certain things have been used before in other compositions," he says. "It's taught me how to move a song along."
And move along he has. After landing a major record label recording deal with RCA Records, Walk the Moon has been touring since the beginning of this year, getting solid reviews for its irresistible live sets and landing gigs at three of the most prestigious events on the indie rock scene: South by Southwest, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
With no publicity, other than social media and an inspiring video gathering thousands of hits, their sleeper hit "Anna Sun" became a small indie rock anthem last summer. Esquire named it one of its top 30 "summer songs" of 2011. It received exposure on mtvU and the band received a best new artist nomination in the college network's Woodie Awards. The video, shot in French Park and Over-the-Rhine's alternative art space, the Mockbee, has a unique one-take, one-camera look. It perfectly captures the song's tribal, communal feel, ending with Petricca and dozens of dancers covered in face paint romping through the park.
The face paint has become something of the band's shtick, wearing it on stage and often having a face-painting table for the audience. But it's more than gimmick. A Walk the Moon concert is rock and roll at its best: It lets you feel part of the tribe. Their music puts a smile on your face, their addictive tunes demand dancing and air pumping.
"We like a Lost Boy' vibe," Petricca says with a laugh about the band's concerts and video. Indeed, themes of coming-of-age, nostalgia and getting in touch with one's inner child run through Petricca's songwriting.
For now, the band's future is to some extent in the hands of the major label p.r. machine. RCA is hoping to get more mileage out of "Anna Sun" with a national push. After all, it did well last summer with hardly any promotion.
Walk the Moon is also scheduled to
appear April 5 on NBC's
"Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
— Rick Bird
Up, over and over
When he was just three years old, Chris Laker learned to ski. His earliest memory includes being pulled down a hill on skis in his backyard.
"I absolutely hated it. I just got really frustrated because I couldn't get the hang of it," Laker says.
Fast forward 15 years and Laker is all over the world, skiing down rails and jumps, soaring in the air and flipping over and over. He sharpens his skills jumping on trampolines, in line skating and on water ramps at the Olympic Park in Park City, Utah.
His favorite trick? "I really like the switch cork five, which is when you take off the jump going backwards, and do a spin, and the cork is when you're kind of flipping a little• it's not too hard, but it's fun." Easy for him to say.
Laker started skiing at Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Once he saw slopestyle skiers practicing, he realized what he really wanted to do. Through middle school and high school, he did his homework in the car during the 25-minute trip to Perfect North. He'd ski till they shut down the slopes at 9:30 and head home.
Slopestyle or "freestyle" skiing is fairly new to the winter sports world. Originating from a snowboard competition format, the goal is for skiers to perform the most difficult tricks while flying off jumps.
"When I started, they [Perfect North] didn't have any jumps or rails or anything• but then I saw guys from the Freezing Point Team, and they started building jumps and rails, and I watched them. I followed in their footsteps and tried to copy exactly what they did. I happened to keep progressing and the next thing I knew, I was better than the group I was following."
At age 11, Laker started winning nationwide competitions. Recently, he placed fourth in slopestyle at the 2011 New Zealand Freeski Open, sixth in the 2011 New Zealand Winter Games, and was a second alternate for the slopestyle competition at this year's Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.
His next goal? "I want to go to the Olympics in 2014 for USA. But my main goals are to keep skiing, having fun and staying in it."
Check it out at www.skilaker.com. We recommend you wear a helmet.
Sheriff Simon Leis, Jr.
A Prankster? Really?
You wouldn't know it from the news headlines or his no-nonsense poise, but Sheriff Simon Leis, Jr. is quite the prankster. For Leis, who has served Hamilton County as a prosecutor, judge and sheriff, keeping a cool exterior is part of the job.
"Everyone thinks I'm a hard-nosed, not-fun guy, but I love to play pranks," he says, flashing a smile. One of his favorites is the time he told a friend who had just bought an expensive recording device, that he could get it for half the price. The friend returned the device and then came to see Leis.
"I had this nice box all wrapped up and I said 'here it is' and when he opened up the box, there wasn't a damned thing in it!"
Jokes aside, Leis has brought the Hamilton County Police Department a long way since becoming sheriff in 1987. He's created an aviation unit, which now includes two helicopters equipped for search and rescue, as well as a marine patrol unit. At 77, he may be most known for the rigid departmental physical fitness and weight standard he set for his deputies.
"I have 3:25 a.m. workouts every morning at the Athletic Club and I'm there until seven you have to maintain those standards or you'll no longer have a job," he says.
During his time as prosecutor he took on high-profile cases, including convictions of Cincinnati's Police Chief Carl Goodin for taking kickbacks and Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine, on obscenity charges.
"I loved that job. I said as long my body can handle it, I'll do it• you do a lot of high-profile cases, there's a lot of pressure. When you make a decision, you better make damn sure you're going to win."
What's next for the westside law-and-order guy who has announced he'll retire Dec. 31?
He's thinking about working as a visiting judge, but one thing is certain: he plans to spend time at his second home in South Carolina, hopefully on the golf course.
Play It Loud
Joanne Wojtowicz puts the Sebastian Bach into Johann Sebastian Bach.
The 35-year-old Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violist has a wild streak reminiscent of the Canadian frontman of the '80s rock group Skid Row and the classical musical ability to pull off the most delicate concerto of the German Baroque master.
Wojtowicz's "wild" comes in the form of extreme sports. Her philosophy is simple:
"I just like to go fast down a hill," says the Windsor, Ontario, native, and current East Walnut Hills resident with a wry smile.
Her pursuits include: snowboarding, mountain boarding ("a snowboard for grass with rubber tires"), free boarding ("a snowboard for pavement with a middle wheel for carving"), ice skating, rollerblading and mountain biking.
What would you expect from the daughter of an Ironman mother? Her brother also competes in the legendary triathlons.
Wojtowicz acknowledges that the world of classical music is buttoned-down, prim and proper, and that she shatters that image.
"I didn't follow any sort of tradition. I never have," she says.
She began playing at age 2 ½.
"My mom taught neighborhood piano. I would crawl into the room and sit for hours, then hum the tunes she taught and go to the piano and try to figure it out. She knew I had ears," says Wojtowicz, who gave her first performance at age three, learning on a Cracker Jack box attached to a ruler.
"After six weeks we got to eat the Cracker Jacks," she says.
Wojtowicz loves to push herself in every area. She quit music in high school to try to become a pro tennis player but returned to it during her senior year. Her road has taken her to the University of Windsor, Wayne State, McGill University and Rice University where she received her master's. She landed at the Louisville Orchestra right out of school before coming to Cincinnati in 2008.
"I just had to work harder than every single person I ever met, and that's how I made it. I played more hours than I slept for 10 years," she says.
She throws herself into teaching as well, saying she would "love to teach fulltime," as her mother, father, aunt, brother and grandmother have. She is very involved in the CSO's educational programs, coaching student musicians, performing in community concerts and narrating a CSO Young People's Concert, "Bach to the Future" for hundreds of school-aged kids. She is also an adjunct professor at NKU.
As much as she pushes herself, she knows her limits. As much as she wants to hop on that motorcycle that is calling her, she knows she can't.
"I dream about (Motocross) all the time, pulling off the helmet, shaking out my wet, sweaty curls. I watch the X Games and have to talk myself out of trying anything like that," she says.
She limits her sports to those that do not put her valuable hands in great jeopardy, and she has never "broken anything."
"I try to make smart decisions. I take lessons, I wear a helmet. I push myself but I remember that I do have rehearsal tomorrow," she says. "Pretty much every other day I'm performing somewhere."