The It List 2008 - 28 Stars From the N.H. Firmament




Stars shine. They rise and fall. Occasionally they align. Sometimes they go streaking across the sky.

People are a lot like stars — each is unique and brilliant though some get lost in the crowd. Our It List is a constellation of the state’s stars who have, for one reason or another, burst into view this year. Some light up the sky by force of imagination and enterprise, some simply because the world turned just so and framed them in everyone’s view, but each one reveals something about the power of the human spirit and the remarkable place in which we live.

Londonderry High School Marching Band & Color GuardMarching into International History

There was plenty of excitement when the Londonderry High School Band and Color Guard were invited to play in Beijing during celebrations leading up to the Olympics. They were scheduled to perform at the Beijing Cultural Youth Festival when, shortly before their departure, the Sichuan Province of China was shaken by a devastating earthquake. A local concert had been planned to allow supporters to hear the band before they flew off to China, and at the last minute it was turned into a fundraiser.

Between money raised at the door and contributions scraped together by band families, they collected $2,008 to give to relief efforts. They sent the money along with a letter of condolence from the Londonderry community. One week to the day prior to the start of the Olympic ceremonies, the school received a thank-you note to families of the band and color guard from Chinese President Hu Jintao. Naturally they were thrilled, but when they learned that the president’s letter was featured on the front page of China’s national newspaper and all over the official Chinese media, they began to understand its importance.

“We learned through the Chinese Embassy that the President of China just doesn’t do that kind of thing, write letters to students,” said Julie Lee, a former publicity chair for the group and a band mom. “It was international news.” She says that the letter (which can be downloaded from the Londonderry High School Web site), makes it clear that President Hu Jintao was touched by the donation and that he knew what it meant for young people in China to meet with this group of kids from a small town in America. Needless to say, the whole experience was unforgettable for the Londonderry High School Band and Color Guard as well as a feather in the cap for New Hampshire. It’s also a reminder that international diplomacy can even be carried out by high-stepping ambassadors carrying horns, drums and batons.

Virginia Prescott

Words Worth Repeating

Virginia Prescott, who hosts “Word of Mouth” noon hours on New Hampshire Public Radio, spends untold hours reading newspapers and the Internet to find new and unusual people and activities. Recent guests have included a bicycle recycler in Nashua, members of the Numerati (digital number crunchers), author Hannah Tinti and participants in the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont. The show is about to reach an international audience when it is broadcast over XM satellite radio.

Meanwhile, Prescott continues to look for new story ideas and is open to suggestions (vprescott@nhpr.org). “We want to change the radio model from traditional broadcasting,” she says. “We’re looking at interactivity.”

James Pindell

Political Pointman

You might think candidates would shun political reporter and analyst James Pindell. In an election year, when most candidates compete to see who can lay greatest claim to the title “outsider,” the Washington Post has called Pindell the “Insider’s Insider” for the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. His PolitickerNH.com is a must read for political junkies who want to stay ahead of the daily news reports. Not one to waste time, Pindell has already been looking to the next presidential election. On October 6, one entry in his blog was titled, “Who will win New Hampshire in 2012, Palin or Romney?”

Kelly Ayotte

Capital Prosecutor

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has often been in the headlines since taking over from retiring AG Peter Heed in 2004. Appointed to a full term by Gov. John Lynch the following year, Ayotte opposed the governor by defending the state’s Parental Notification Law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lynch signed a bill repealing the law last year.

Now Ayotte is preparing to personally prosecute the capital murder case against Michael Addison, accused of killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs. The AG’s office is also trying a capital murder case against Manchester businessman Jay Brooks. If either is convicted and put to death, it will be the first execution in New Hampshire since 1939.

Bob and Alex GrafFamous Family Affair

The entire Graf family had their share of instant celebrity when ABC-TV’s “Wife Swap” featured Alex(andra) going to Long Island to mother a body builder’s family, while that guest mom came up to help run the Inn at Danbury and attend to the four Graf children. Television theatrics aside, the experience was insightful for all involved.

Again, the Grafs and family made the news when their residence on the inn property burned this past summer. The inn was only closed for a week from smoke damage, while the Grafs quickly picked up the pieces and moved forward, hosting an Oktoberfest Celebration only a few weeks later. “We did what we had to do,” says Alex.

Moving on is familiar territory. Ten years ago Bob was a ski instructor in Park City, Utah. Alex was formerly a Playboy bunny and airline attendant. Now the family (both Bob and Alex have European roots) wears dirndls or lederhosen while playing host to inn guests and diners. Bob has become an accomplished chef, and along with Alex they give back to the community by serving German cuisine at many fundraising events throughout the state. Who doesn’t know Alex with her blue dirndl, beaming smile and beguiling décolletage?

General David Petraeus

Peaceful Warrior

His name came up often in this year’s presidential debates, especially when John McCain was speaking. Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and recently promoted to head of U.S. Central Command, is a resident of Springfield, N.H., and is registered to vote there (along with his wife, both as Republicans). The local connection appeared in a recent story in New Yorker magazine, though the article said he stopped voting in 2002. The four-star general, who is credited with much of the success of the troop “surge” in Iraq, once described himself to a friend as “a northeastern Republican in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller,” according to the magazine. All eyes are on him as he attempts to parlay the successes in Iraq to the broader Middle East conflict.

Dan Habib and FamilyInclusive Crusaders

Dan Habib was an award-winning photographer for the Concord Monitor; his wife, Betsy McNamara, a development director and community volunteer. Their family-centered city of Concord was an open book to them. Then their second child Samuel was born with cerebral palsy and they realized that acceptance and inclusion would no longer come as easily for their family, let alone for Samuel. The parents set out to clear the way to ensure that their son, and others with disabilities, have all the opportunities that they had enjoyed. Habib made a movie of his family’s experiences and, since then, his advocacy efforts have evolved into a family project. He is now filmmaker-in-residence for the UNH Center on Disabilities and has presented his film, “Including Samuel,” for audiences as far away as the Middle East.

Both he and Betsy speak to groups on the challenges and opportunities of inclusion. Even Samuel’s older brother, Isaiah, who co-stars with his brother in the film, has had a chance to tell his story on stage. Most recently, Dan and Betsy were among four honorees presented The Bubel/Aiken Foundation Champions of Change Award at the organization’s 2008 October gala in Raleigh, N.C. The irony is not lost on the family that though Samuel may use a wheelchair to get around, he is helping to open doors of acceptance for countless others.

John and Connie Kieley

Preservationist Pair

John and Connie Kieley of Temple bought the 352-acre former ski area on Temple Mountain after hearing that a condo development was planned for the site. They raised $1 million to buy the land, and with a ribbon cutting in September it became the first large land conservation program in southern New Hampshire in decades. Also, for the past five years, Connie Kieley has worked alongside what she describes as “a small but tenacious group” known as the Friends of Temple Town Hall. Their mission: to restore the town hall to its traditional use as a community gathering place. The group solicited donations, raffled a Mini Cooper, wrote grants and, with a little help from the town and the state, an annex was built last year and completion on the historic part is almost done.

Donnalee Lozeau

Gate City Guardian

She’s still the rookie mayor of Nashua, but Donnalee Lozeau is no newcomer to politics nor stranger to controversy, having served eight terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, including two as deputy speaker. When she came into office in January of this year, she faced seven contract renewals with city employees and a threatened teachers’ strike. She had other personnel issues as well, including having to replace the city’s chief financial officer, public works director and economic development director. As both a Republican and the city’s first woman mayor, she got renewed media attention when the former mayor of Wasilla and current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, became the Republican Party’s first female nominee for vice president. “Are you calling me because I’m a ‘girl’ or because my city is bigger than hers or because I was on the short list and rejected it,” she recalls asking reporters.

“They laughed,” she says.

Community Players of concordRaising the Roof

This esteemed local theatre company had just celebrated its 80th anniversary and taken home gold at the New Hampshire Theatre Awards. They were happily producing the ever-popular Neil Simon play, “The Odd Couple.” All was well with the world. Then the roof caved in. Literally. The record snowfall of 2008 took out the Players practice area and destroyed their set one week before the show was to appear at the Concord Auditorium. Alas. All was lost. But no. In a scene that could have scripted for the stage, the state’s theatre community closed ranks and helped restore everything from set to costumes. The play was a hit. The roof was rebuilt. The show goes on. Everyone takes a bow. It’s not for nothing that the first word in their name is “community.”

Peter Adams

Solar Power Promoter

Solar energy makes environmental sense. But, due to conversion costs, it still doesn’t make economic sense for individuals. Local entrepreneur Peter Adams has an idea that is changing this equation. He and a group of committed friends stage “energy raisings,” assisting those who wish to convert with installations, cutting outlays by 50 percent. To sign up, all you have to do is first sign on to help out others. This allows the homeowner to be trained and ready to oversee his or her own installation. Adams has formed a non-profit around the concept that can also be used to cut costs for insulation or even for establishing local agricultural projects. The Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (www.plymouthenergy.org) has directly installed about 40 solar units and enabled 50 more, and the model is attracting attention from all over the country.

Tanzeem Choudhury

Super Social Networker

As technology shrinks the computer and expands the ability to collect and analyze data, new possibilities emerge. Tanzeem Choudhury, assistant professor at Dartmouth, is developing what might be viewed as the ultimate social network. Millions of cellphone and other portable sensing devices that people use could provide valuable data for studying human behavior “in vitro,” rather than in the lab. It’s not Big Brother. Reports could be masked and anonymous, but it could allow for the first comprehensive look at how groups of people behave. For this, MIT just named Choudhury one the 35 Top Innovators Under 35.

Dr. Peter OldakIt’s Wine Time in New Hampshire

The time has come for New Hampshire wines, but it was the vines planted by Dr. Oldak and the first production in 1994 that got the ball rolling. After a few seasons it was evident that a few varietals did well in the harsh New Hampshire winters, and Oldak’s Jewell Towne Vineyards began to win awards. Other growers followed suit. As president of the New Hampshire Winery Association (with 14 growers in various stages of development), Oldak helps and encourages others interested in viticulture. The state also just developed a cheese and wine trail with his help. Most recently, Time magazine cited Jewell Towne’s 2007 Valvin Muscat (sold out) as the fourth “most excellent” wine in a tasting that covered all 50 states.

Melanie Gosselin

Stocking the Shelves

Recent hard times have decreased supply and increased demand, so Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, has become a public figure, spreading the news that the state’s pantry is low. When Gosselin came on board five years ago, they were distributing food to 118 agencies.

Today they serve 372 agencies statewide. By early October, 3.4 million pounds of food were distributed, up half a million over the first nine months of last year. The Food Bank recently opened its own restaurant-style kitchen to teach culinary arts to the unemployed and underemployed, and began a fresh food “rescue” program to save meat and other perishables from super markets before their expiration.“You know everyday you’re able to reach someone in need,” says Gosselin. “That’s what keeps us all going here.”

Nick Soggu

Standing in the Gap

As the founder/owner of SilverTech, a successful Web integration firm, Nick Soggu stays in touch with the future. He also takes delight in history. He took over and restored Manchester’s old Ash Street Schoolhouse for his company headquarters this fall. He’s a young businessman (on the Union Leader’s “40 under 40” list), but he feels most at home when he’s connecting with the old-school players and causes of the historical city he calls home. Says Soggu, “I feel like I can connect with the young professionals and with the traditional ones,” i.e. encouraging newcomers to connect with the historical non-profits and service groups, but also reminding the worthy causes of the area that their survival depends on connections with the young entrepreneurs like himself.

Al BarrDrop Kicked to Fame

Al Barr joined up with the Dropkick Murphys in 1998, and 10 years later this Granite State native has achieved, as he says, “a dream come true.” The band’s song “Shipping up to Boston” was featured in Martin Scorcese’s film “The Departed,” Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon “adopted” them in 2004 when a certain curse was defeated (now you hear “Shipping” when Pap leaves the bull pen and their “Tessie” when the Sox win at Fenway) “Shipping” just went gold. The band recently left their old record label and started Born and Bred Records. So far so good — their first album on their own, “The Meanest of Times,” debuted in the top 20 and is raking in rave reviews.

Scott Ouellette

Culinary Dynamo

It may have all started with the big family gatherings around the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons. Food and Scott Ouellette’s Polish-Russian heritage were the starting points for his booming career as a restaurateur in the Lakes Region. One of Ouellette’s first stints as head chef was in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. During that time he was the caterer for the Australian team and won Best of Atlanta for his calamari. Now that winning calamari recipe is a popular appetizer at his Canoe restaurant in Center Harbor. This upscale casual restaurant opened in 2004 near Lake Winnipesaukee — it even offers boaters a dock. Looking to present an even more upscale food experience, Ouellette opened O Restaurant in 2006 inside Lakeport’s Lake Opechee Inn Spa and Conference Center. Why “O”? It’s for Ouellette, Opechee and Otis, the family bulldog. To round out his realm, Ouellette opened The North End in Moultonborough this past June. There he offers a more casual experience, including platters of Italian dishes served family-style. We have a feeling this is not the end of his kingdom building.

Jeanne Shaheen

Blue Challenger

In a rematch that could make Gorgeous George and Killer Kowalski jealous, former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (in the blue trunks) and U.S. Senator John Sununu (wearing red) are drawing in the big bucks as they replay their fight over the Senate seat Sununu won in 2002. Shaheen, the state’s governor from 1997-2002, lost that battle, but has been looking to come back ever since. With Democrat John Lynch expected to win a third term as governor and two Democrats defending their seats in the U.S. House, a Shaheen victory could make formerly red (Republican) New Hampshire “bluer than blue” for the declining GOP.

Val and Mike

Masters of the Tchotchke

With the growing need for businesses to make lasting impressions, SWAG is hot stuff. Good thing Valerie Wilson and Mike Liston have lots of it. According to them, SWAG stands for Sealed With A Gift. The wife-and-husband team that started Off the Wall Promotions in Bedford (offthewallideas.com) 10 years ago have been doing promotions for the “Today” show in New York, the Olympics in Beijing, the conventions in Denver and St. Paul, plus events for the NBC television network and other major clients. “We don’t sleep much,” says Valerie. In February they traveled with the “Today” crew to a taping at the ski area in Sugarbush, Vt., where Off the Wall provided ski boards and other items, custom-made with promotional logos. “Then we all got on plane and flew to Florida to do a show from Loew’s Hotel in South Beach, Miami,” says Wilson. They are traveling, meeting famous people (Bruce Springsteen wanted extra “Today” show performance T-shirts for his band) and growing their business at the same time. “It’s a blast,” Valerie says.

John Sununu

Red Defender

With Charles Bass defeated two years ago, a loss by incumbent John E. Sununu in this year’s U.S. Senate race could leave Judd Gregg the last remnant of dynastic Republicanism in New Hampshire. Sununu, like Gregg, is the son of a former New Hampshire governor, and as a first-term senator has been targeted for defeat in what has become a battleground state. Both national parties have focused on the Shaheen-Sununu race and by mid-summer both campaigns could claim more than $1.5 million in contributions for the latest quarter. Judging by the number of ads that have run this fall, the flow of money hasn’t slowed in the fourth quarter.

Alexandra Socha

“Springing” onto the Broadway Stage

Alexandra Socha already had the “glow” at 14 in her first role as young Eponine in the Peacock Players’ breakthrough production of “Les Misérables” (school edition). Two years later she beat some of the most seasoned actresses in the state to win the N.H. Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Musical with her lead role in the Peacock’s production of “Just So.” Maybe it’s no surprise that last year when she attended an open call for “Spring Awakening,” she joined the ensemble and soon after took a lead role. The Tony Award-winning play is generating the kind of intense fandom that surrounded neo-Broadway hits like “Rent,” so she’s learning all she can about the business, but also keeping a level head, even considering taking some time off to finish college.

Chuck Henderson

A New Chapter Begins

The sad news that North Country fleece maker Chuck Roast was going out of business, a victim of ever-cheaper imports, was a bit like a death in the family. The company’s products have been literally a part of the state’s fabric, and founder Chuck Henderson has long represented something important about the state’s identity. Henderson, who was green before green was cool, has been volunteering hard for the Carbon Coalition, ensuring a presence for the group at 300 presidential campaign events. “Including a Mike Huckabee event in Berlin where we were standing out in 5 degree temps with signs saying ‘Stop Global Warming,’” he recalls. His future path can’t be much more improbable than his past. He’s always puzzled by how he became a captain of industry. “I’m an English lit major,” he says. “Now my ideal job is somewhere at an intersection of clean energy and politics, and that’s where I’m hoping to end up.”

Scott WegenerGetting Serious With Comics

Artist Scott Wegener of Wilton has been busy. Or, as he says, “insanely busy.” But busy is good in the world of independent comics, so he’s not complaining. “Atomic Robo,” the series he illustrates, was a huge hit with its first mini-series, and the first two issues of the second series are flying off shelves. “Robo” was also recently nominated for two Eisner Awards (an “Oscar” for comics), and though “Robo” didn’t win, it’s just one year old. Another book Wegener worked on, “Killer of Demons” (he says think “The Office” combined with “Shaun of the Dead”), is just out and some Big Names in Hollywood have shown interest in bringing “Robo” to the silver screen.

Klassy

Blue Ribbon Bitch

This year tri-colored “Klassy” — all 22 pounds of her — dominated the show dog world. In February Klassy, a champion Basenji who hangs out in Enfield when she’s not competing, was chosen Best of Breed at Westminster. Plus, she’s the top winning Tri-Color Basenji of all time and the top winning Basenji in America for the last two years. Klassy’s co-owner Debbie Hauri says the breed is unusual because Basenjis don’t bark: “They make other noises. They yodel, they howl, they scream. Sometimes they crow like a rooster.” And these days, Klassy has lots to crow about.

Buzz McLaughlin

Sensational “Sight”

After shooting the full-length independent film “Sensation of Sight” in Peterborough, Buzz McLaughlin was confident he and his partner Aaron J. Wiederspahn had made the right decision, basing their company, Either/Or Films, about as far away from Hollywood as they could. The film was a hit on the festival circuit for a couple of years without attracting a distributor, so McLaughlin decided to distribute it himself. After some very successful venues (including a sell out at the Colonial in Peterborough), Monterey Pictures signed a deal. The movie went into limited release and is now out on DVD. Their next film, based on the book “Journey to Nowhere” by Pulitzer Prize winner Dale Maharidge, will likely be filmed in New Hampshire as well.

Joanne Dow

Stepping Out in Faith

At 44, race walker Joanne Dow was the oldest member of the U.S.Olympic track and field team in Beijing. She placed 31st in the finals for the women’s 20 km walk, but just getting to the 2008 games is impressive. Unlike many Olympians who were groomed for their sports, Dow attempted her first national race in 1995 as a 31-year-old mom. She shocked a lot of people, including herself, when she placed 7th. She’s now a three-time USA Outdoor champion race walker who considers her successes less as feats of strength than acts of faith. Dow is a New Hampshire native and a product of Manchester’s Catholic schools. In the local diocese magazine, Parable, she says, “God’s hand have been in this all along the way … in the victories, and especially in the defeats.”

Samantha brown

Timely Traveler

OK, we know she lives in Manhattan, but New Hampshire can still claim her because she grew up in Derry and on the Seacoast before she started traveling the world for the Travel Channel. The perky Samantha Brown (no surprise she was a cheerleader at Derry’s Pinkerton Academy) is the host of “Great Hotels,” “Great Vacation Homes,” “Girl Meets Hawaii” and now a new show, “Passport to Great Weekends.” This summer she picked Portsmouth as one of the show’s destinations for a great weekend and came with her camera crew to shoot the segment (and no doubt to visit her sisters and father, who still live here). She says she’s been all over, but, for her, Portsmouth is about “coming home.”

Kriss SoterionMakeup Guru

There was a lot of talk about lipstick in this presidential campaign, but early on it had nothing to do with pigs or pitbulls — it was the lipstick that Hillary Clinton wore at the first debate in February that got the buzz. Well, the lipstick, along with the rest of the makeup that was done by Manchester-based makeup guru Kriss Soterion. People across the country were amazed at how good Clinton looked, to the point that some wondered whether she had had “work done.” That moment catapulted Kriss into the stratosphere of makeup artistry. CNN hired her as chief of makeup for special events, like debates and conventions. She’s spent the past 20 months on the road. Kriss, who has a salon in Manchester, started down the political road in 1991, when she made up then-presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. After that, it was other biggies in the political pantheon, like Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her celebrity no doubt will likely go up another notch as she takes her line of makeup national and tours with her new book on staying radiant through the aging process. (P.S. Hillary’s debate lipstick is for sale at krisscosmetics.com.)

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