Here’s to a new annual tradition – celebrating our region’s personalities and their stories. We’ve searched from Gaylord to Good Hart and from Manistee to Mackinac, and found dozens and dozens of individuals who qualify as “fascinating.”
This list isn’t meant to be authoritative nor complete; but we do love to write and read about people like these – fascinating in our midst.
Growing up, Jan Price had two great passions: medicine and sports. She wanted to be a doctor, but instead followed the advice of a doctor friend and mentor.
“He said, ‘You know what? You’re smart enough to be a doctor. But it’s a crappy lifestyle for a woman,’” said Price.
Ignoring that assessment, she became an intensive care unit charge nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, and she loves it.
Price went to school before Title IX, the rule mandating equal opportunities for boys’ and girls’ sports in high school.
So she channeled her enthusiasm in different directions: She waterskied on summer mornings before her dad went to work when “the lake was like glass.” She was the first certified female ski instructor at Sugarloaf. When her kids were growing up, she took up mountain biking.
She still has the competitive edge: Last year she came in first in her age group in the M-22 challenge.
Yet something more beckoned her. A few years ago, she decided to forge ahead with another long-held goal: to become a pastor.
She’s now pastor of adult discipleship at Glen Lake Community Reformed Church.
Although in two distinct areas, Price says that her jobs have common ground.
“We have a great team at Munson. We have great docs. My coworkers are the best nurses,” she said. “We give the best care but the outcome is up to God.”
Owner, Want Expeditions
Jessica Pociask always wanted to see the world.
So far, so good: She’s traveled to almost 80 countries.
Her thirst for travel and adventure started at an early age.
“All my aunts and uncles on my father’s side traveled extensively,” she said. “Their stories, combined with my grandfather’s musty collection of National Geographic magazines and my copy of Richard Halilburtons ‘Book of Marvels,’ which told tales of far off exotic lands with ancient ruins, incredible wildlife, and untouched tribes, made me dream of being an explorer.” Pociask has guided trips for the Wild life
Conservation Society and Michigan State Alumni Association. In 2006, she was one of 50 women chosen by the National Wildlife Federation to participate in the Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development conference in Washington, D.C.
Last year she was one of the keynote speakers at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City.
Pociask began her travels young, going overseas at age 16 as a violinist in the Young Ambassadors program, and then to Antarctica while at Michigan State University to study climate change.
Those trips, and her background in biology, led her to launch her company.
Pociask spends an average of six months a year overseas, and she often uses her company as a platform for projects that empower women. She’s now working on a project with Mothering Across Continents to empower groups of at-risk young women from Las Vegas.
“We take them to Liberia to interact with local women’s organizations, an orphanage for girls, and members of Parliament,” she said.
Music Director, Traverse Symphony Orchestra
Kevin Rhodes is well known to Traverse City audiences as the man on the podium at Traverse Symphony Orchestra concerts. For more than 10 years he has served as the music director at the symphony.
Prior to moving north, he and his wife lived in Europe for ten years, where he orchestrates at opera houses across the continent. The repertoire ranged from the operas of Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart to the ballets of Prokofiev, Bartok and Tchaikovsky.
They returned stateside in 2001 to be closer to family. His mother-in-law had moved to Northern Michigan, and when they saw an ad seeking a new music director for the symphony, he applied.
“We hit it off,” he said simply.
That same year, Rhodes became the symphony music director in Springfield, Mass., and later became conductor of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston. He splits his time among all three positions as well as continuing as a guest conductor in Europe.
He also finds time to play piano, which he majored in at Michigan State University. Yet he’s not completely insulated from other musical genres.
“As a performer, my metier is classical,” he said. “I’m not a jazz pianist, but I love listening to it – Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans. Pop of different eras, like the Black Eyed Peas, Outkast, Gnarles Barkley, that kind of stuff I enjoy.”
Outside the music sphere, Rhodes’ focus is otherworldly.
“I watch ‘Star Trek,’” Rhodes said. He explained that traveling frequently for a living necessitates a certain amount of down time.
So he and his wife watch movies, enjoy life, and, yes, watch “Star Trek.”
“Like Spock would say, ‘Fascinating,’” said Rhodes.
Cashier, Salvation Army volunteer
Erik Afton knows how bad holidays can be for some.
Growing up in a single parent household, he and his brother benefited from the efforts of the Salvation Army in his hometown of Holland. So he began giving back at an early age.
“I’ve been bell ringing since I was 16, starting in Holland,” he said.
The Salvation Army bell ringers herald the Christmas season. No matter the weather, Afton and his colleagues are ready with a smile and a thank you for anyone putting money into the shiny red kettles.
“Being a bell-ringer, that’s fun,” he said.
Afton is such an enthusiastic proponent of the holiday collecting effort that he often takes 10-hour shifts – five times the length of most of those minding the kettles.
Not only does he come from a background that was less than luxurious, there have been times in his adult life where he was out of work as well, and largely dependent upon the kindness of others.
“I was unemployed for two or three years,” he said. “I know what it’s like to pound the pavement and come home without a job.”
Afton currently works as a cashier at Walmart, and his wife Susie is the youth development coordinator at the Salvation Army.
When not at work or doing his volunteering, Afton can often be found outdoors, hiking, fishing, and even gardening.
“I love fishing, and traveling around the Grand Traverse area,” he said. “It’s really cool, there are lots of neat places tucked away.”
You probably heard Christopher Wright before you read his works. The multi-talented author of the Chillers book series had a career as a DJ/voiceover artist, most notably at KHQ radio, where he spun tunes as Christopher Knight.
Now living in Topinabee, he still lends his voice out on occasion. But most of the time, he’s focused on running his Chillers publishing empire his other career as an adult fiction writer.
The Chillers series is a monster. Under Wright’s pen name, Jonathan Rand, 19 Michigan Chillers books based in cities around the mitten have been published, with titles like “Dinosaurs Destroy Detroit” and “Mayhem on Mackinac Island.”
Their success inspired Wright to start the American Chillers novels; he’s written 41 of those, and will write one for each U.S. state.
But the whole thing almost never happened.
“When I pitched the idea to publishers, none were interested,” Wright said. “One company sent me a rejection letter telling me that ‘Kids aren’t reading books like this any more.’” Wrong. The series now boasts more than 37 million readers in 24 countries, and the books are carried by a wide range of bookstores, 196 Meijer locations, and at Wright’s own “Chillermania World Headquarters” in Indian River.
He’s also completed three adult novels, one of which is currently being adapted into a film (“Bestseller”), and has started two other youth reader series, the Freddie Fernortner books and The Adventure Club.
Ambition is not something Wright is lacking.
“I do enjoy earning a living writing books,” he said. “But I think the most rewarding part is knowing that I’ve helped foster a love of reading. There’s no paycheck in the world that can replace that.”
Chief Flight Paramedic, North Flight
Excitement is not what North Flight’s Chief Flight Paramedic John Mull is looking for.
“If it’s exciting, I’m doing something very wrong,” said Mull, who has logged thousands of hours during hundreds of air rescue and transfer flights. “It’s interesting, don’t get me wrong.
But it’s the patient who is having an exciting day. They’ve generally had a pretty bad day when they see us. It’s not like you see on TV; it’s not always trauma drama. But my job is always interesting.”
In 1986, Mull started in North Flight’s Ground Division. He soon transferred to the Air Division, which utilizes helicopters and a fixed wing airplane to transport patients all over the state and nation.
Sometimes patients are lifted directly from accident scenes, sometimes they are transfers from Munson Medical Center to other hospitals. All require care and expert training from Mull and his co-workers.
The Massachusetts native has a family legacy of grace under pressure. His grandfather was a medic in World War I, his father a pilot in World War II.
Like most emergency personnel, Mull’s work schedule is not a typical 9-5 gig. He works two days a week: a 24-hour shift and a 12-hour shift.
“We’re scheduled for 72 hours every two weeks,” he said. “But in reality we probably average 90 hours plus.”
That left Mull plenty of time to pursue another activity: Indy Car racing. Starting in 1986, he spent 20 years serving as a member of an Indy Car Safety Team, often working as the crew chief. Those are the guys who scramble to the scene of a crash.
He’s been to more than 250 Indy Car races, including events in Australia, Japan, Mexico and all over the U.S.
“I’m the old man at North Flight now,” he said with a smile. “But I love it. I absolutely love what I do, flying over Northern Michigan. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
“I do enjoy earning a living writing books,” he said. “But I think the most rewarding part is knowing that I’ve helped foster a love of reading. There’s no paycheck in the world that can replace that.”
Though he lives relatively quietly in Antrim County now, Chuck Pfarrer has led a high-octane professional life.
The burly, bearded Bellaire resident is a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran of more than 150 combat missions in the Middle East, including the capture of Abu Abbas and the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, as well as tours in the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut.
Earlier this month, Pfarrer – the bestselling author of “SEAL Target Geronimo:
The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden” – spent two weeks in Afghanistan working as a consultant with the Afghan Air Force.
In Central America, he served as a military advisor and counter-narcotics operator.
Pfarrer ended his active military career as a commander with the Navy’s famed SEAL Team Six.
As a civilian, Pfarrer spent more than a decade in Hollywood, where he wrote in a bungalow that once belonged to Lucille Ball. He wrote screenplays for “The Jackal,” “Virus,” “Navy SEALs,” “Darkman,” “Hard Target,” and the science fiction thriller “Red Planet.”
His autobiography, “Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL,” is in its 13th printing and continues to top Amazon’s military history bestseller lists. He’s currently finishing a historical novel about the U.S. Navy battling Mediterranean pirates in the 19th century.
Pfarrer’s opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times and the Knight Ridder syndicate. He’s been seen as an author and counter-terrorism expert on CS- PAN, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox-TV.
As a correspondent for Breitbart Media, Pfarrer has covered NATO forces in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Pfarrer returned to Southwest Asia as one of the first correspondents to embed on combat missions with the Afghan Air Force.
He has also written extensively on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the subsequent government cover up.
CEO, Carter’s Compost
He’s not quite on the Fortune 500 list, but the CEO of Carter’s Compost in Traverse City has other things on his mind.
Starting fifth grade next week, for one. Two years ago, Carter Schmidt – with a little help from dad Ty – launched Carter’s Compost with a bike, some buckets and a bit of boyhood enthusiasm. (We’re talking lots of worms here.)
After two years fine-tuning customer service, money management and team building skills, Carter Schmidt is now an expert in turning kitchen scraps into killer compost.
He has 55 household and business customers – picking up their kitchen scraps weekly on two wheels through heat, rain and snow – but overall has helped more than 110 different households and businesses compost in two years.
He’s also inspired many in his community to “green up” their own waste streams by creating their own compost piles or by using a community station like the one at Oryana.
His ultimate goal: To bring bike-powered, youth-driven community composting to all of TC.
But one boy (and now his younger brother) couldn’t do it all. This past year, Carter supported four other kids in starting up their own neighborhood composting services.
“Max and Amelia in Central Neighborhood, Jack in Traverse Heights and William in Oak Park,” he said. “But we need more!” Carter was named Grand Traverse County’s “Recycler of the Year” in 2013, was recently featured in a trade magazine for the U.S.
Compost Council, and successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign for his business.
More recently, he launched a partnership with American Waste and a “CSA by Bike” program collaborating with local farmers for in-town deliveries.
“Our next goal is to help build 100 Community Compost Stations in TC to bring more piles to more backyards,” said Carter Schmidt. “We think pile sharing is the best kind of sharing.”
Canoeist Stephen Brede understands the appeal of paddling around a lake on a sunny day.
But Brede, who has canoed around lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, is much more familiar with less favorable conditions.
Now tackling Lake Superior this summer and next, Brede said he was inspired by another legendary paddler.
“I first considered it after reading about the late Verlen Kruger, who paddled more than 100,000 miles throughout the Americas,” Brede said.
Inspired, Brede left his job with Harbor House Publishers, bought a used Kruger canoe on Craigslist, and he was off.
The obstacles have been many. Wind, waves, mosquitos, and biting flies. He got sciatica on Lake Huron. Strained his shoulder on Lake Michigan. Paddled through record heat on Lake Erie. And got Lyme disease and shingles on Lake Ontario.
His dedicated wife, Ruth, is a nurse, so she oversees his health as well as providing emotional support, often driving thousands of miles to meet him onshore as he perseveres.
And he ends each trip right where he starts it.
“Henry David Thoreau said a true walk is when you don’t retrace your steps,” Brede said, “So I think about these trips in that way. Traveling under my own power is awesome and humbling. And I now see water, something I used to take for granted, as most precious.”
Captain, Beaver Island Boat Company
Beaver Island hosts two each of lighthouses, campgrounds, and museums, plus seven inland lakes and six restaurants.
But there’s only one Kevin McDonough, the Beaver Island boat captain who’s been working on the ferries for a whopping 44 years.
Captain McDonough is also one of only around 600 year-round residents on the 53-square-mile island. He’s lived there his entire life.
The biggest island in Lake Michigan got its start as a bustling fishing port in the 19th century. McDonough got his start by working the docks.
“I started at Beaver Island Boat Company in 1970 as a summer deckhand,” McDonough said. “I became a full-time deckhand/captain in 1973. I became the senior captain nearly 21 years ago.”
McDonough traverses the 32 watery miles between mainland Charlevoix and Beaver Island regularly; the wheelhouse is his office. But in spite of 44 years doing the same job, he says no two days are ever the same.
“Weather, people, cargo – they’re always changing,” he said. “It is still a fantastic job. Seeing the same people year after year is special.” The main challenge is making sure the boats and crew are 100 percent ready, every time the boat leaves the dock.
“There are endless mechanical systems to maintain,” he said. “And the crew must be trained in many fields.”
It’s definitely a team effort. And well worth it for McDonough.
“We have a great crew, dock, and office personnel,” he said. “What I like best is being able to live on Beaver Island and raise my children there.”
Though he loves the Great Lakes and what he does, there is an end in sight to McDonough’s career.
“I plan to step down as senior captain in a few years,” he said. “But I will always try to stay close to the water.”
Petoskey Professor, North Central Michigan College
There are athletes, and there are extreme athletes. Petoskey anthropology/ sociology professor Kerri Finlayson identifies with the latter.
She’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, bicycled through Africa, and cross-country skied to the North Pole. Many people might stop at one of these achievements, but for Finlayson, it’s a way of life.
“The appeal is multi-dimensional,” Finlayson said. “Part of it is experiencing other cultures. The other dimension is physical – I have a desire to see where my limits are.”
She found those limits during an attempt to climb up Mt. Rainier, where, roped to her fellow climbers, she tried to carry 60 pounds of gear across a hardened layer of icy mud.
“It was incredibly painful,” she said.
“The helmet pushed into my backpack so I couldn’t move my head, and the heavy plastic mountaineering boots produced a sharp pain with each step. I had the feeling that anyone could take a misstep and cause our whole team to hang on for dear life.”
But teamwork is part of why she continues onward.
“You have to trust yourself and put faith in your teammates,” she said.
The next challenge on Finlayson’s radar is marriage, to Crooked Tree Breadworks proprietor Greg Carpenter.
“It’ll be a unique experience to do expeditions together, as I’ve only done them either on my own or with girlfriends,” she said.
Marriage probably won’t slow this adventurous athlete down.
“I’d like to climb the highest spots in each of our 50 states, mountain bike the tour divide, hike the North Country Trail, and bike the silk route from Shanghai to Istanbul,” she said. “We’ll see what life permits!”
He grew up in a small village in Slovenia, well known for its spa facilities. When he was a boy, Princess Vicky, daughter of England’s Queen Victoria, visited the spa, and carried out the custom of royalty to bring exotic plants as gifts.
Three seedlings from the Princess’ visit were planted in Dr. Gustav Uhlich’s town. They grew up into redwood trees, and he found them “simply beautiful.”
Now a Petoskey resident and respected gastroenterologist, Uhlich’s favor of the redwood continues today, further inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill, the environmentalist who lived in a tree in California in the late ‘90s to protest logging.
“Her story helped show me we can all do something to help our environment,” Uhlich said.
Along with his friend, landscaper Richard Hoffman, he’s spearheading a movement to get redwood trees planted in Northern Michigan.
“These are ornamental trees with a very good immune system, with protective chemicals in their sap,” he said. “Being a doctor, this was of particular interest to me.”
The redwoods also do a good job of protecting the environment, and can help replace the many weaker trees in Michigan that are dying due to disease and bugs like the emerald ash borer, he said.
“Let’s add this tree that can live for up to 2,000 years, and see if that helps,” Uhlich said. “We have to adapt to keep our ecosystem stable.”
Uhlich first tried to grow mountain redwoods, but last winter’s harsh temperatures killed them. So he moved on to the dawn redwood, a more hardy variety that he hopes locals will purchase and plant.
“If something goes wrong, you don’t give up,” he said. “You nurture these trees a little, and hopefully they will grow for years. It’s another way of finding purpose in your life.”
Executive Director, Blissfest Music Organization
Who knew that a tiny, one-day festival put on by Jim Gillespie and his Grain Train coworkers in 1981 would morph into the massive undertaking that Blissfest is today?
“No one could have imagined where Blissfest would be back then, but that’s all part of the BlissStory,” Gillespie said with a laugh.
Now executive director of Petoskey’s Blissfest Music Organization – a far cry from the hand-lettered poster and tied-yarn ‘wristbands’ of the original fest – Gillespie has been at the helm of this most popular Northern Michigan music and arts event for almost 34 years.
Back in college, Gillespie discovered stringed instruments and American roots music when he changed majors from pre-med to anthropology. While he’d always had a passion for music, these new sounds really took hold.
“When I moved back to Petoskey after 10 years of higher education with two degrees and long hair, the Grain Train had a ready-made community of folks to plug into,” he said. “Blissfest developed the same way, pulling from the hippie traditions that helped the food co-op movement.”
Once Blissfest “happened,” though, it would take 12 years for it to make any money.
But Gillespie said he has always been “one of those plodding types who gets stuck on something and slowly rides it to infinity.”
With Blissfest, that determination paid off. “I have been able to stay with the organization because of perseverance, and the passion I have for the transformative power of music and culture,” he said. “Plus it has become a big reunion of sorts. I still say to this day that Blissfest is just a family gathering with 5,000 of my closest friends.”
BILL “BEAR” FOWLER
Owner, 1836 Fish Company
For thousands of anglers, fishing is a relaxing hobby. But for commercial fisherman Bill “Bear” Fowler, it’s both a demanding career and a political statement.
Fowler owns and operates the 1836 Fish Company, named after the treaty in which the Ottawa and Chippewa nations ceded land to the federal government in exchange for preserving the tribe’s hunting and fishing rights. Based on that agreement, tribal members, including Fowler, have the rights to a portion of the fish in Lake Michigan where Fowler operates three large boats most every day.
For Fowler and his crews, fishing is much more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. Some days they’re on the water for up to 20 hours. They’re sometimes on the water as early as 3am and don’t return until dark, depending on the weather. His netting operation is one of the largest in the region.
The crews fish primarily for lake trout and whitefish, but once in a while they’ll take salmon, walleye or perch. On a good day, the 1836 Fish Company can bring in up to 4,000 whitefish, most of which are sold to Carlson’s, the venerable fishery at Fishtown in Leland. While the market for whitefish and salmon has been strong recently, there are still concerns. Fish are less abundant, and invasive species, especially the looming threat of Asian Carp, are always a concern.
Educator Someday in her long-off retirement, Melissa Saleh planned to head off to a Third World country with her husband to teach underprivileged children.
But there’s been a change of plans. The Traverse City couple, both in their 50s, decided to pull the trigger now. And they won’t trek to Africa, but to Hamtramck -- one of the country’s most diverse cities (some 100 languages are spoken there).
we visited Detroit for the first time three years ago, we didn’t think
we needed to go the Third World because Detroit is equally in need," Melissa said.
Melissa, who taught at The Pathfinder School last year, was born into a poor family in British Guyana. Still, her mother found a way to open a secretarial school and award scholarships to kids growing up in dysfunctional homes.
“I guess she was my role model. If you’ve got enough for your own life, there’s no point in acquiring more,” Melissa said.
Melissa’s husband, Abdul, moved from Yemen to New York City at the age of seven and, while neither of his parents attended even a day of school, they made sure Abdul and his brother did.
Melissa also taught kids of well-heeled Silicon Valley executives a few years ago while Abdul earned a graduate degree in genetics. She also taught Somali school kids in Tucson.
The couple will open a storefront in Hamtramck on Sept. 1 and return to their Traverse City home when they can.
“It’s a magnificent place, but we’re not ready to retire here,” Abdul said.
Author, Mountaineer, Attorney
The date May 10, 1996 forever shaped Good Hart resident Lou Kasischke’s life. That was the day, while on the face of Mt. Everest, Kasischke decided to descend to safety while several others in his party elected to make for the summit.
Eight people, including Kasischke’s friends, wound up caught in a ferocious blizzard and died. The event was immortalized in Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air.
“At first I made the decision to return to the top along with the others, which was the wrong decision,” Kasischke said. “The only inner voice that was talking to me was all about me, and my goal and my ambition and my achievements and so forth, then all the focus was on just me and what I think of as the dark side of ambition. Ambition can kill you, and it almost did.”
It’s taken almost two decades, but Kasischke is finally ready to tell his story in his own book, After the Wind.
The book is a love letter to his wife; he decided to publish it after she became ill, he said.
“In the end, I published it as an expression of my love and thanks to my wife, Sandy, for her role in what happened,” he said. “She’s doing better. … She now has the benefit of receiving a lot of nice and warm remarks from other people who have read it.”
Kasiscke is scheduled to sign his book at Horizon Books in Traverse City Sept. 13.
Children stricken by cerebral malaria are in a deep coma. The lucky ones wake up and roll on with life; others suffer permanent brain injury or never wake at all.
The question is why. Physician Terrie Taylor has devoted 28 years to this deadly mystery.
“Malawi remains in the belly of the beast when it comes to malaria,” she said. “It’s a major scourge.”
The World Health Organization estimates cerebral malaria causes 600,000 deaths each year, mostly young children.
Interviewed at her Traverse City home, Terrie Taylor talked excitedly about a profound breakthrough, thanks to the gift of an MRI machine in 2008.
With it, the team could compare brains of those who died to survivors.
“We clearly saw the deaths were all in kids with the swollen brains,” Taylor said.
The reason: the enlarged brain presses upon the spinal cord area that regulates breathing.
These findings are under review by a medical journal. If accepted, Taylor will come a step closer to the Nobel Prize on top of her many other awards.
“Terrie has a rare capacity to persist,” said Malcolm Molyneux, a physician and fellow researcher. “She is creative in thinking about the challenges thrown up by her research findings.”
Taylor divvies up her time as scientific director of the Blantyre Malaria Project, as distinguished professor at MSU, and at home in Traverse City.
The ease of life here is in stark contrast to Malawi. Taylor, for example, must iron her clothes to kill parasites that might otherwise lay eggs in her skin.
Her next goal: discovering how to treat malaria victims with swollen brains.
“Then I’ll think about retiring,” Taylor said.
Founder and Executive Director, Peace Ranch
For Jackie Kaschel, the road to Peace Ranch began anything but peacefully. She and her husband Paul had adopted sisters who had been severely abused and neglected, and they were running out of ways in which to reach them.
The couple, both therapists, had met while working at a residential facility in New Hampshire that was a working farm. They remembered how the rhythm of life there had brought structure to people’s lives, so they decided to try it for themselves.
“We bought property in Hoosier Valley to build a family farm,” she said.
While working at Horse North Rescue in Kingsley, Jackie realized that working with horses could also serve as therapy for people. That led her to re-cast the family farm with rescued horses getting the attention they needed while providing the same for people.
“I thought we’d just add this. I didn’t know it would become an organization,” she said.
Kaschel says horses are prey animals, not predators, who respond to non-verbal communication.
“People may tell me they are comfortable around horses, but their body tells me they’re uncomfortable,” she said. “If the person is feeling anxiety, the horse will mirror it and move away.”
That gives them an opportunity to talk about what is going on with the horse, and often allows the person to admit to their own anxiety.
Today Peace Ranch serves as a therapy facility for more than a dozen rescued horses. Its Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning sessions are open to children and adults of diverse backgrounds. It also recently began an Equine Assisted Veterans Services (EAVS) pilot program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wordsmith and Grillmaster
Boyne City/Ann Arbor Journalism professor, Director, Knight-Wallace Fellows at University of Michigan
Mike Wallace used to grill people on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Charles Eisendrath prefers to keep his journalism and grilling separate.
Eisendrath has written for radio and TV news programs, papers like the Baltimore Evening Sun, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune, and for Time magazine, which posted him to London, Paris and Buenos Aires.
Now a professor at the University of Michigan, he’s the founding director of the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the director of the Knight Wallace Fellows.
And he invented the Grillery, a high-end grill sought after by celebrities such as noted gastronome James Beard and Chef Bobby Flay.
Eisendrath got his journalism start the old-fashioned way: by getting help from a family friend.
“For the only time in my life I asked for pull from my family,” he said. “My dad had catalogued the art collection for Joe Pulitzer. He [Pulitzer] said we’ll find something for him.”
Eisendrath ended up with Pulitzer’s St. Louis Post- Dispatch.
“I fell in love with journalism,” he said. Following his stints abroad with Time magazine, he became a journalism professor at Michigan. When the university decided to cut funding for and essentially eliminate its journalism program, he raised what is currently a $57 million endowment.
Eisendrath splits his time between Ann Arbor and his farm in the East Jordan area. It was there he created a grill with an adjustable cooking surface, inspired by his time in Argentina, France and Turkey.
It cooks directly over the fire, perfect for Eisendrath, who calls himself “an A-type personality who gets bored waiting for charcoal to heat up.”
Today Eisendrath’s son Ben heads Grillworks. The grills, which range from just under $2,000 to nearly $14,000, have been written up in magazines like Forbes, GQ and Martha Stewart Living.
Spiritual Leader, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse
Chava (pronounced Hahv-uh) Bahle knew from an early age she wanted to be a rabbi, despite a dearth of female rabbis. By 1968, that glass ceiling had been broken. Soon she was on her way.
Bahle says she’s totally committed to Judaism, but also finds aspects of other religions appealing, valuing Buddhism, Christianity and more.
“I’m interested in various traditions and religions,” she said. Bahle’s appeal to multiple religions is also exemplified by her standing in for Muslims at the celebration of Martin Luther King Day at the State Theatre last January.
Her appeal to other traditions is so strong she was named Ministering Spiritual Leader of the non-denominational Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse. Having a rabbi leading such a fellowship might seem pretty unconventional to the outside world, but Bahle has a long history there.
“I’ve been good friends with the church,” she said, having been a guest preacher there for more than 20 years.
“There’s an overlap in values, ideals and ways of wanting to heal the world.”
It’s that overlap in so many religious traditions that appeals to her, and why she felt she could head up the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. “I spent many months consulting with my colleagues on this,” she said, including six rabbis across denominations. They supported and encouraged her, telling her she could be a bridge between faiths.
She also builds those bridges through her work teaching comparative religions at NMC.
2014 compiled by our own team of fascinating journalists:
Ross Boissoneau, Lynn Geiger, Kristi Kates, Al Parker, Anne Stanton, and Patrick Sullivan.