Some of these folks might look familiar, but none of them really fit the definition of celebrity. Maybe that's what makes them interesting. These 13 people do share one trait "” passion. Whether it's for work, sports, music, education, acting, family or history, each of them has put in the hours to make themselves and those around them better. Even more, they have done it without screaming "Look at me." So we'll do it for them, offering a well-deserved salute to a baker's dozen of the Tristate's Most Interesting People.


Helping at Home

Like many immigrants, Evans Nwankwo hasn't forgotten his homeland. But unlike many, he's actively working to make his native Nigeria better, one village at a time. Through his non-profit NuWay Foundation, Nwankwo has raised half a million dollars since 2006 to provide HOPE to Awa, the rural town that is his family's home village. HOPE is an acronym for Health, Opportunity, Pure Water and Education, the services NuWay and its volunteers are providing.

"African villages all face the same plight. Their problems are identical and the solutions are identical," he says. "What we're doing can be transferred village to village."

The seventh of 13 children of a Nigerian businessman, Nwankwo grew up in the midst of the country's civil war that claimed more than a million lives in the late 1960s. Although his father died before the war ended, his mother Margaret was able to reclaim some of the family's property and started a bakery. She made sure that each of her children went to college. Nwankwo enrolled at Texas A&M, and after graduating in 1982, he landed a job with Turner Construction, which brought him to Cincinnati. In 1993, he and his wife Catherine launched Megen Construction. One of his first projects was a $42,000 remodeling job for health insurer Choice Care. "It seemed like a $40 million contract," he says.

Megen has been involved in several high-profile projects, including the Reds Hall of Fame at Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Washington Park
-Mike Boyer


Looking for Adventure

A self-described adrenaline junkie, Shelley Hahn is a corporate executive, avid scuba diver, animal lover, adventure seeker and mom.

The Villa Hills native is Ohio marketing director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Mason.

She was hooked on scuba diving the first time she tried it on vacation with her husband about 20 years ago in the Virgin Islands.

"We got a five-minute lesson on the boat and the guy said we'd only go down about 20 feet for 15 minutes. We went down about 75 feet for a half an hour," she says.

She describes scuba diving as "very beautiful and peaceful. It's one of those sports that you either love or can't do, and there's not much in between."

She and her husband, Dave Behrman, have gone diving in the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Hawaii, and have gone swimming with dolphins and humpback whales.

Hahn and Behrman cut back on their diving trips nine years ago when daughter Tori was born. Although Hahn is 5-foot-7 and her husband is 5-10, Tori is a little person.

"We didn't even know it was a possibility. It was one of those 1-in-50,000 genetic quirks that just happen," Hahn says.

Although Tori is a healthy and active third-grader today, "She has her days when she gets teased. Kids that age don't understand that height doesn't equal age. I treat her as if nothing's going on and encourage her to do everything she can. She dances, sings, takes karate and performs in plays. She does everything." Just like her mom.
 -Mike Boyer


Small Town Roots

Russia, the country, has nurtured generations of writers.

Russia (ROO-she), the village of 650 hearty souls about 80 miles north of Cincinnati in Shelby County, nurtured Channel 5 reporter Laura Borchers from the time she began writing short stories and poems when she was 6.

"I began filling an old binder "¢ in first grade," says Borchers, giving props to teachers and mentors at Russia Local School and Ohio State for their guidance.

She joined the Sidney Daily News after college and also worked for WDTN-TV in Dayton at the same time. "When WLWT called me several years ago (2007), I jumped at the opportunity to move to the land of the best baseball team on earth."

Whether it's print or broadcast, telling the story is what drives Borchers. Investigations, funnel clouds and murders could all be in a week's work, but sometimes a story hits closer to the heart.

That was the case with Trinity, a 3-year-old suffering from heart disease who went home from a hospital with hospice care. But her mother wouldn't accept the death sentence.

"That tenacity paid off when doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center saved Trinity with a risky transplant," Borchers says. "A new heart on "” of all days "” Valentine's Day. Her mom and I stay in contact "¢and I can't wait to see how she will go out and make a difference."

Borchers and her husband, Daniel Russ, took on their biggest project last year when son Griffin was born. But Mother (from) Russia, who has three brothers and laughs when she says her hometown is a big extended family, knew exactly what to do.

"His baby-sitters are UC students "¢ from Russia! I tapped a little "¢Russia Morse Code' through the microphone during the 11 o'clock news one night and found three wonderful hometown girls who couldn't wait to watch him."

Sometimes it takes a village "” and an outpost "” to raise a child.
-Bill Thompson


Spinning Wheels and Records


During the day, he is Robert L. Hust, Esq., an attorney with Frost Brown Todd. But when the sun goes down on Wednesdays, Bob Hust settles in behind the microphone at Media Bridges' WVQC-FM (95.7, to play two hours of music on "Undercurrents."

"My job and my radio show are very different, but I'm passionate about both of them," Hust says. "One thing I love more than music is the auto business."

Cars and music do have a storied history, so the twin interests aren't that unusual. What is interesting, however, is Hust's history "” and future "” in the auto business. The Elder High and Ohio State grad worked as a copy editor at the Enquirer in the early '80s before going to law school. After graduation, he went to work at Honda of American Manufacturing in Marysville. When he left last year, he was associate vice president and general counsel.

There were multiple reasons for Hust's return, but cars and music were among them.

"Frost Brown Todd has the strongest automotive legal practice in the middle of the country's car manufacturing heartland," he says. And the commute to Media Bridges is much shorter.

Plus, his love for music began in Cincinnati.

"When I was about 10, my two older brothers were bringing home all sorts of records. My oldest brother liked Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Patsy Cline. The other one brought the Stones, (Bob) Dylan, Gram Parsons. It was quite a musical education."

Many people dream of replacing their full-time job with their part-time passion. Hust is one of the lucky ones who is happy at work day and night, although there is one lingering regret. "Sadly, I don't play music unless you count the opening bars of "¢Satisfaction.' That's all I've retained from a futile stab at guitar lessons about 10 or 12 years ago."

He can find solace on favorite album, the Stones' Let It Bleed: "You can't always get what you want, but you can get what you need."

 -Bill Thompson

Very Active Activist

Mike Morgan wears many hats. He's an attorney, author, landlord and a community activist.

On a typical day last month, for example, he spent the morning collecting street signs from the previous weekend's successful Bockfest celebration, an event he's helped organize since 2006. Then there were some lease documents to review for a client and some work on efforts to preserve the historic Christy and Lenhardt's building in Clifton Heights from demolition. Then he took measurements for a new sink at one of his three rental properties.

"I'm never bored. I don't understand the concept," says Morgan, 41, who grew up in Manchester on the Ohio River and moved to Cincinnati after graduating from the University of Toledo law school in 1998 to launch his practice.

He says he was immediately drawn to the city's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

"It had a very bohemian feel," he says. "It's one of the few places in America where you can walk through a neighborhood of that size and still feel as though you're back in a different time."

He got involved in the emerging non-profit Brewery District Community Redevelopment Corp., trying to preserve the neighborhood's unique history by changing people's perceptions of the area.

"It's an odd phenomenon," he says. "People in Cincinnati tend not to see Over-the-Rhine. But people elsewhere have no problem seeing past its problems to its potential."
-Mike Boyer

Authentic Approach to History

History teachers do more than teach history, they love history. This is especially true for Ryan Thelen, who teaches at Dater High School.

Thelen, who has taught for more than 20 years, uses props to make the past interesting to his students. Among his collection are authentic military uniforms of a Revolutionary War-era American soldier and a World War I doughboy.

Authenticity is important to Thelen, so after using flimsy paper copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights for years, he wanted to upgrade. He set off in search of full-size reproductions printed on parchment (animal skin) like the original documents, but found they didn't exist.

"I did find plenty of "¢authentic parchment' and "¢genuine' reproductions,' but discovered these were simply different ways of saying crinkly brown paper," he says.

During his quest of more than 10 years, he has traveled as far as England and California, with multiple trips in between. He has dealt with experts on subjects that include the Articles of Confederation, 18-century ink, calligraphy and the evolution of printing.

Although it cost more than $50,000 to do it, Thelen has recreated the most important documents in U.S. history. Now it's a question of whether anyone else cares. At $1,000 per page, it's a market that defines niche. Although Thelen would love to earn back his investment, after all this time, he has an almost Zen-like outlook.

"I think it's important that these documents are available now, but maybe no one else cares," he says. "I hope that's not the case. As more people find out about this, we'll see what happens."
-Bill Thompson


Always Welcome Here

There are no blenders and only one beer tap. A sign reads: "For table service, please come to the bar."

When folks settle in on a bar stool at Knockback Nat's, they order the hard stuff: Jack and Coke, Tanqueray and tonic, a shooter.

They come for the food (the city's best wings, regulars assure you), they come for the warm atmosphere and they come for the hospitality.

Owner-bartender-chief cook and bottlewasher Natalie Lay has worked in the business for 10 years, owned this place for four. Her customers are 21 to 85 years old.  "People feel comfortable coming in, women are comfortable coming in," Lay says. "We always make time for everyone who walks through the door. Customer service is huge these days. Nothing else matters but the customer and once you get to know someone, they start to open up."

Regulars find their drink being set up on the bar even as they start to sit. "The bar has a personality that is welcoming," Lay says.

There are new places opening nearby and more people are living downtown. Lay has installed a smoker, and she buys only the best wings and brisket from Findlay Market. Her husband, Toby, a graphic designer, completed a new distinctively Cincinnati memorabilia bar top last summer.

So, now that we're friends, will she share the wings' recipe? "Nope." 


Emily Marie

Lights, Camera, Action

When writer/director Stephen Chbosky heard Emily Marie Callaway read the line for "mean freshman," it sounded just like the tone his sister sometimes used on him. Done deal. She had her first Hollywood movie job.

"Nice Trapper Keeper," she sneers at beleaguered high school freshman Charlie in her first scene of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

"My mom, she says I've been acting since I was way, way young "¢ around the house," Callaway says. When she was little, she'd go into a store, pretend to be lost and plead "Mom, Mom, where are you?" before her mom swooped her up. She watched a lot of movies and all she wanted to do was act.

Three years ago Callaway signed with an agent. The third audition was the charm. In the video audition for "Perk" at Longworth Hall, she was so excited that she read all the lines for freshmen, including the one intended for a boy character, and nailed it. "It's OK to make a mistake," she laughs. That was the line that clinched the deal.

Callaway, a self-described tomboy when she was young, sings, dances and plays piano. She has trained in musical theater at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and is a junior at Sycamore High School.

"Film acting has always been the dream," she says. But college comes first, and auditions on the side with breaks to make any movies as they come up.

Comfortable in front of a camera? Of course. She's the daughter of Enquirer photographer Liz Dufour and a photo of a very young Emily welcomes you to the website for her dad's business, Jim Callaway Photography.

"I grew up with a camera in my face," she says.

"” DGF


Always Willing to Help

Friends and her online audience know Jessica Tye is a tireless mother of four children, open adoption advocate, Sunday School teacher, PTO volunteer and half-marathon runner.

"I'm an open book, I put everything out there," she laughs.

When pressed, she admits that her friends in suburban Montgomery may not know that she's a farm girl at heart. She has taught her horse Dolly to play dead, roll over and shake her head yes and no. "I actually like mucking stalls and the smell of a barn."

The mystery is how she finds the time.

Tye married her Glen Este High School sweetheart Derek, and after the couple had three sons, they decided to grow the family by adoption. It wasn't easy. As they traveled the uncertain and protracted journey of international adoption, Tye started to blog ( to keep friends and family informed.

It became a guidepost to others on the "nitty gritty" of the process and more.

It became a source of strength for Tye. "Knowing people were praying for us was very supportive," she says.

Just as things stalled on an adoption in China, the family found the close-to-home miracle of baby Gabrielle, who was born at an area hospital. A friend of a friend knew an expectant mother who was willing to give up her child to a loving family.

It's an open adoption. Tye held "Gabby" within moments of her birth and stayed with her at the hospital. The birth mom lives close and is known to the toddler as "Auntie M," a woman who shares holidays and birthdays with the Tye family. Big brothers, Max, Tanner and Parker "are absolutely crazy about Gabby. They fight over who gets to hold her, who gets to say good night to her first."

Instead of being exhausted by it all, Tye says she is blessed.

She runs because it's not only "weirdly addictive," she says, but because it is her time to be alone. "I get lost in thought, I spend the time praying, talking to God."

"” DGF



Sharing the Story

Change is possible if everyone does a little, says Sylvia Samis.

That's how she views her efforts to share the history and knowledge of the Holocaust through her music.

The Assistant Concertmaster Emeritus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Pops, Samis has musical credentials from Temple University to the New Orleans Philharmonic. "The CSO job," she admits, "I came on a dare." A violist told her about an opening in Cincinnati and dared her to audition. On the third round, she was hired by Music Director Thomas Schippers "” "the most wonderful conductor in the world. Ever. And here I've been for 39 years," she laughs.

She can be found playing for patients at Jewish Hospital during the High Holy Days, and speaking at schools and universities about the Holocaust.

Students offer so much compassion and "they just want to pour out love." After a program at Summit Country Day, she recalls, one student wrote that what she learned that day was going to affect how she was going to live her life. "The letters that I get from them, I treasure those...They are gems. They are precious."

Samis learned about the Holocaust at her parents' dining room table. Isak and Sabina Rosenzweig were survivors; her mother was the only one in a family of 10 children to live; her father lost his parents and four siblings.

"When I was a young girl, of course I learned a little bit from my parents, but they didn't speak much about it." But their friends would start to tell stories after dinner and "when they didn't want me to understand, they'd speak in Polish because I understood Yiddish."

She took notes, keeping records of the numbers on my parents' tattoos, the camps where they were imprisoned and stories she realized she needed to share. "The music for me was a way. The way. It is a universal language."

"” DGF


Sound + Vision

Jason Snell can't make up his mind. Is he a graphic artist with a passion for rock 'n' roll, or a blues guitarist who loves to tell a story visually?

"I love to do both," says Snell, partner in We Have Become Vikings, an up-and-coming creative branding firm in Over-the-Rhine, and lead singer and guitarist with Ohio Knife.

Snell, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and came to Cincinnati to study digital design at University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP), believes each creative outlet helps to shape the other.

Sometimes it's hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. For example, last year Ohio Knife made its debut at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, with other local bands. The five-city trip was documented by Cincinnati branding firm Landor, culminating in an impromptu concert on a flatbed truck with a giveaway of 100 acoustic guitars to those in the audience.

"It was pretty neat," says Snell. "I had one old guy come up to me afterward who said he had always wanted a guitar."

Snell started playing music as a hobby in high school and it grew into a passion. The same could be said of his graphic arts career. He loved to draw in high school, typically sports figures, but he didn't realize he could make money doing it until he got to UC.

After graduating in 2001, he did freelance work for Landor and others, setting up shop on his dining room table.

He teamed with college buddy Mike Gibboney to launch We Have Become Vikings in an Over-the-Rhine storefront about a year ago. The name, says Snell, was a catchy way to distinguish the firm's branding expertise. It refers to the Norse word brandr, or burn, from which today's word brand is derived.

"” MB


Chelsea & Kelsey

The Best They Can Be

Kelsey Mitchell reaches for an outlet pass while running down the side of the basketball court. The ball is a bit high, so Kelsey reaches for it with her left hand, and flips it behind her back while her momentum carries her out of bounds. She lets the ball bounce one extra time while she comes back in bounds and begins to dribble, never breaking stride. As she approaches the key, she locks eyes with a defender before juking right, then left, then stopping for a beautiful 8-foot pull-up jump shot.

This sequence takes about 10 seconds in Princeton High School's win over Northwest in a February tournament game. Kelsey, a 5-foot-7 junior, is rated the country's No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 by ESPN. She shares the court with twin sister Chelsea. Father Mark is the boys' basketball coach at Taft, mother Cheryl was a star at Eastern Kentucky, and twin brothers Kevin and Cameron are juniors at Indiana University Southeast.

Those family ties might foreshadow where Kelsey, who is being recruited by every big-time program in the country, might decide to play. Some observers believe she will pass on the likes of Connecticut or Tennessee to stay closer to home. And Chelsea could go with her.

"I don't let it get to me," Kelsey says of recruiting. "I'm more concerned about the team. We only lose one senior, so we should be pretty good next year."

Before they get on with their life's work, however, there is senior year to enjoy. The girls, who are gracious and comfortable, aren't all about basketball.

"I cheerlead and I have a boyfriend," Chelsea smiles. "We both like to hang out with our friends, just normal kids stuff."

Well, as normal as being the best can be.

"” BT