2013 It List
Meet 19 people who made 2013 a very cool year
The annual It List is New Hampshire Magazine's version of "People of the Year" awards for the Granite State. Some of our It Listers are famous, but not all of them. The one thing that they do share, however, is that they are movers and shakers with great stories. You might not have heard of many of these people but once you're done reading our list, you'll be glad that you're acquainted with them now.
May we introduce you?
Josh Logan | Marcy Carsey | Ernest Thompson | Joyce Maynard | Paul LeBlanc | Matt Bonner & Okkervil River | Ben Cherington | Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn | Mike Benton and Nick Vailas | Justin Spencer | Jason Sorens | Augusta Thomson | Gary Long | Katie Davis | J.M. Hirsch and Matthew Mead
A New Star
These days you’ll find Manchester native and singer/songwriter Josh Logan on Team Xtina. Fans of the hit show “The Voice,” a singing competition on NBC in the vein of “American Idol,” will already know that this means he made it through blind auditions and caught the ear of singer/judge Christina Aguilera. As of press time, Josh was still in the competition, having survived a round of head-to-head “knockout” singing battles. Josh’s first big break came back in 2006 when he was chosen as a contestant for the CBS show “Rock Star: Supernova.” When he’s not singing on the small screen, Josh performs tirelessly in his hometown and throughout New Hampshire, where he’s already a familiar face. Hopefully, soon the rest of the country (and the world) will know what we Granite Staters already figured out — he’s the real deal.
There are gifts, and then there are gifts on Emmy-winning television producer Marcy Carsey’s level. The University of New Hampshire alumna, whose Carsey-Werner company is responsible for cultural icons “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne,” recently bestowed $20 million upon her alma mater to found the new Carsey School for Public Policy, which she describes as a place to prepare leaders for “governmental, private and nonprofit sectors who can translate rigorous research into effective policies and practices to solve the complex issues of our world.” The idea is to bring people together from across disciplines, from the liberal arts to public health, to train future leaders to approach public policy in new ways so they can effect greater change in their communities. This recent donation (the second largest in UNH’s history) builds upon Carsey’s 2002 gift of $7.5 million to establish the Carsey Institute, which conducts national and regional policy research on vulnerable children, youth and families and on sustainable community development.
After decades in the movie business, hobnobbing with the stars and working as an actor, director, writer and producer (oh, and winning an Oscar for adapting his immortal stage play “On Golden Pond” for the screen), you’d think that Ernest Thompson might be slowing down, but he seems to, in fact, be starting over. His latest films, both made on almost non-existent budgets and filmed around his home in his beloved Lakes Region, are examples of what he calls community filmmaking. His first film from his Whitebridge Farm Productions, “Time and Charges,” offered on-location training to anyone interested in filmmaking. About 500 people showed up and the movie was made on weekends over the course of two years. That experience inspired his second work, “Heavenly Angle,” in which a filmmaker on the skids tries to con a small town à la “The Music Man” but winds up pulling the town together in unexpected (and often hilarious) ways. At the local premiere at Plymouth’s Flying Monkey movie house, most of the cast was there and Thompson declared a new age of cinema to have begun. Both films are now making the festival circuit to substantial acclaim.
Photo by Micke Sebastien
Joyce Maynard turned 60 this year, a significant moment for anyone. But for Maynard — the prolific writer of books, essays, columns and more — it has been a year like no other, full of new beginnings. The NH native got married, climbed five Presidential Range peaks on her honeymoon and bought a getaway cabin on a NH lake (she moved to California a few years back). She also traveled through a thicket of literary happenings. A movie, “Labor Day,” based on Maynard’s novel of the same name, will be in theaters this month (it’s the second movie to be based on one of her books; the other was “To Die For” in 1995). Her latest novel, “After Her,” was published in August. Also, her 1998 memoir, “At Home in the World,” was re-issued with a new preface that addresses the impact of controversy she stirred up (“I was labeled an exploiter, a predator”) with her revelations in the book about her affair as an 18-year-old with J.D. Salinger. In the preface she says, though the criticism stings, she believes she “has the simple right to tell her story.” Forty years later, she’d like to move on from the painful experience, but it continues to dog her. A recently released documentary, “Salinger,” has stirred the pot once again.
Reinvention of College
Photo by Christopher Navin
Everyone’s complaining about the cost of college, but Paul LeBlanc is doing something about it. Doing a lot, in fact. So much that it got the attention of President Obama last spring. LeBlanc, who has been president of Southern New Hampshire University for the past 10 years, set an ambitious goal to have the university provide “degree options at every price level” that work for “every kind of student.” To help accomplish that, he led an effort to develop ground-breaking degree programs that are untethered from the usual assumptions about class hours and learning. LeBlanc says, “We focused on the outcome, what has the student mastered, not how much time was spent in the classroom. If you finish faster, you pay less.” SNHU’s model — used for both the competency-based College for America and the Degree in Three (years) programs — has gotten national recognition and was cited by the President as one that exemplifies his criteria for innovation. The university has also pioneered online degrees. Taking into account all the innovative SNHU programs (too many to list here), LeBlanc says SNHU is now the most affordable private university in the state and, with aid, often more affordable than public institutions.
A Rocking Team
Two New Hampshire natives who made it big and found themselves in Texas — Matt Bonner of Concord, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs, and Will Sheff of Meriden, a member of indie darling band Okkervil River, who now call Austin home — recently joined their different types of star power to do a little good in the world. Each summer Bonner and his brother Luke organize the Sneakers and Speakers festival here in New Hampshire, with proceeds benefiting the Rock On Foundation, a nonprofit that provides funds to various groups that help kids follow their dreams. This past October the brothers also hosted a show at Austin music festival South By Southwest and the stars aligned — Okkervil River announced during the festival that they would play a special aftershow to benefit Rock On. The concert was a hit, and two NH natives far from home proved that it really is a small world after all.
Red Sox Redemption
In a year when sports figures from New Hampshire made news (as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Neal Huntington of Amherst took the team to its first postseaon in 21 years and new Philadelphia Eagles head coach and former UNH football coach Chip Kelly may or may not bring a much-anticipated revolution after years of disappointment), Ben Cherington hit it out of the park. Cherington, who grew up in Meriden, took over as general manager for the Red Sox in 2012 and presided over one of the worst seasons in recent Sox history (the term “epic collapse” is being kind). Still, we included him on last year’s “It List,” saying that the trade that unloaded $250 million from the payroll and the hiring of manager John Farrell could turn things around. We revisited Cherington and the team back in the April issue as the season began, saying Red Sox NHation still believed even though things looked grim. Obviously, our faith was rewarded. The Sox just won their third World Series championship in a decade. Cherington took a last-place, miserable team embroiled in the middle of a public relations debacle and in one year turned them into the very best in baseball. Not too shabby.
Pass de Deux
Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn
Photo by John Hession
If the Northern Pass project — connecting the energy reservoir of Hydro-Quebec with the New England power grid by cutting a swath of power lines through New Hampshire (mostly along existing rights-of-way) — could be considered a Goliath, then it couldn’t have called out a feistier team to play “David” than Jan Marvel (left) and Michelle Vaughn. Jan owns Marvel Signs & Designs in Thornton that just happens to print posters and bumper stickers. Oh, and the two friends also produce music and Jan writes songs. Their first major act of resistance against “Goliath” was a touching music video titled “What We Have Left.” With little skills for film production, they had to call on their musical buddy Tom Rush who helped arrange a pro-bono videographer to assist. Once they felt comfortable in the visual medium, they set out to make a full-length protest film titled “Northern Trespass” that has become a rallying point for the burgeoning opposition to the power lines. “There’s a lot of tentacles to this and if we don’t stop it now it will be unstoppable in the future,” says Marvel.
Mike Benton and Nick Vailas
Photo by Melissa Boulanger
While the world of healthcare reform seems to be stuck on the horns of a political dilemma, it’s good to know that someone is actually trying to do something creative and innovative. Those two words aptly describe the partnership between pioneering healthcare developer Nick Vailas (above, right) and Executive Health & Sports Center owner Mike Benton. Last year they joined forces to add an urgent care center to Benton’s successful Manchester gym and sports center, expanding the concept of healthcare in a entrepreneurial fashion to encompass both the preventative and the therapeutic. Next year will be busy with the introduction of primary care practices (in a partnership with Catholic Medical Center) and groundbreaking for a second facility in Concord. With the new model for health focusing on outcomes, wellness programs tied to medical services are the wave of the future, popping up all over the country and now, thanks to this partnership, here in New Hampshire. “The real goal is to lower the cost of health care,” says Benton.
The X Man
Justin Spencer knows how to wow the crowds. His little band from Goffstown, Recycled Percussion, took urban street drumming, turned up the volume and pumped up the energy and spectacle. Now they entertain thousands each year as the only resident rock show on the Las Vegas strip. It didn’t just happen. It’s been his plan since he was a poor kid from a broken home living on food stamps. Now he wants to use that same imaginative intensity to inspire people to achieve their own fantastic goals. His new motivational program, Legacy X, challenges anyone, young or old, to hit the reset button on life and recommit to blasting a permanent, positive mark in the world. His first-ever Legacy X Hangout, designed to offer creative support, oppose bullying and encourage substance-free living, opened in October in Las Vegas and a Legacy X book is due out in the new year. (Disclosure: NH Magazine Editor Rick Broussard was enlisted to help with the writing of the Legacy X book.)
While he was a grad student at Yale, Jason Sorens wondered why his favored political philosophy, libertarianism, had made so little headway with people. He concluded it was a matter of trust. People needed to see it at work before they would vote for libertarian candidates for major office. He conceived what’s known as the Free State Project as an academic essay. The idea took off and now, 12 years later, the chosen state for Sorens’ demonstration project is nearing a crucial point, when 20,000 people will have agreed to relocate to New Hampshire within five years and begin working for greater liberty and reliance on markets over government for economic growth. Along the way, some have asked why Sorens himself hadn’t moved to the Granite State. He says it’s not been easy to find a professorship in his area of expertise. But this year he was hired as a lecturer in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. It’s just a one-year gig, but he’s hopeful. “My wife and I have a 2-year-old daughter and we really wanted to move here while she’s young so she can grow up in New Hampshire.”
Back in March, Augusta Thomson returned home to Peterborough to show her town a film called “Girl Rising,” a powerful documentary about the need to educate girls in developing countries. This is just one of many such events she’s organized, as she directs and oversees private and corporate screenings of the movie. Thomson, who studies archaeology and anthropology at Oxford University, has been a tireless advocate for “Girl Rising,” its message and the social action group behind it, 10x10, ever since she began as an intern with 10x10 in 2012. In addition to her work promoting girls’ education, she is also the director of “Nine-Story Mountain,” a documentary about an incredible research expedition — and journey of self-discovery — she led from Lhasa, Tibet, to Mount Kailash.
Photo courtesy of Martin Murray
Whether you consider the Northern Pass Transmission Line project as a much-needed energy source plan or a sure-to-be environmental and/or aesthetic catastrophe (there really seems to be no one in the middle of those two positions), there’s no denying it has the potential — one way or another — to create a huge impact on New Hampshire. Gary Long, former president of Public Service of New Hampshire, is now a key figure behind the highly contested project that aims to bring electricity from hydro-power facilities in Quebec to New England. This past summer, Long stepped down from his position at PSNH to focus all of his energy on shepherding the Northern Pass through the seemingly labyrinthine permitting and planning process. As PSNH president, Long was already involved with Northern Pass, which is a partnership between PSNH, Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec, but now he’s all-in on a project that faces a bitter fight with environmental activists, residents in northern parts of the state and its many other vocal critics.
Photo by Kathleen Dooher
Exeter’s Katie Davis was so moved by the plight of Haitians after the devastating 2010 earthquake she hopped on a plane and went to help. At the time, Davis was pursuing dual master’s degrees in architecture and environmental energy and sustainability. In Haiti, volunteering for the group Architecture for Humanity, she did research for her thesis on disaster relief and redevelopment planning. “The experience hooked me,” she says. Returning home after three months, she took a job as architectural designer at Stantec Architecture, a Boston firm. Two years later, she “happily agreed” to take a seven-month leave from Stantec to work with Islamic Relief Worldwide, an organization she had connected with during her time in Haiti, to be lead architect for the design and reconstruction of a school, the largest of five planned, in Port-au-Prince. “The entire campus had fallen in the earthquake, just one classroom building was left,” she says. “The new school would be a beacon in that community.” Her plans included all-natural systems — for sanitation, filtration, lighting, etc. — that used regional materials, mostly recycled. After returning to Boston, she and her Stantec colleagues began to pursue the school’s LEED certification. She hopes to be in Haiti for the school’s opening ceremony in January.
J.M. Hirsch and Matthew Mead
Photo by Jennifer Mead
Separately, they are amazing talents. Together, J.M. Hirsch (seated) and Matthew Mead are a bubbling cauldron of creativity. It all started in Concord — they both live there — but quickly moved to the top rungs of the food and photography world, where they work with glitterati like Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart. Their collaboration began when Mead — a popular style expert, lifestyle editor, author and photographer — shot the photos for a book (“High Flavor, Low Labor”) by Hirsch — an author and national food editor for The Associated Press. “It was a great match,” says Hirsch. For the last three years Mead has styled and shot the food creations that Hirsch and a team of chefs cook up for Associated Press material for newspaper food sections. Along with that, they both are exploring the possibility of a television show — for Mead, how to build a more stylish lifestyle; for Hirsch, the intersection of food, art history and geography. The two are also reaching new heights in publishing — Hirsch’s latest book, “Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” is the first book to be published by Rachael Ray’s new book imprint with Simon & Schuster. And he’s under contract for two more books for the imprint. Mead has just created “Super Hero Cookbook” for DC Comics, an update on one done in 1968. It was published in October. He’s also planning a book about style tips and tricks for spring 2015. For Mead, though, his first love is his magazine, “Holiday with Matthew Mead.” “It’s really the best,” he says. You wonder when either of these two sleep.