2009 It List
What’s the It List?Thik of it as a guest list for the ultimate dinner party in the Granite State. Our “It List” is an annual who’s who of the most fascinating and happening people in New Hampshire. Here are 25 amazing people — all from N.H., though their talents and claims to fame are diverse — that you really ought to be talking about.Dan BrownThe RiddlerWhat is it that makes a potato chip so delicious you can’t eat just one? It’s a secret known only to an esoteric few who guard it with their lives, but, perhaps, by simply examining the strange runes on the back of the bag we might find a clue. Dan Brown, who has taken the secret ingredients of all tasty and addictive substances and converted them to words, is currently the most famous person in the Granite State. “The Lost Symbol,” his blockbuster sequel to his previous blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code,” sold a million copies before printer’s ink was ever placed in the giant presses that were needed to supply the demands of eager fans around the world. And each page of his new book is crispy and salty and imbued with secret ingredients that keep readers hungering for just one more. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., where his new book is largely set, is braced for a phenomenon known as “The Dan Brown Effect,” i.e. when historic locations mentioned in his books are overrun by fans following the trail of clues he has scattered through his page-turning novels.Dr. Helen Giles-GeeNew Century LeaderDr. Helen Giles-Gee has presided over a wide range of activities since becoming president of Keene state College in 2005, including this year’s celebration of the school’s 100th anniversary. Courses have been revised and curricula transformed to ensure students acquire both the academic and technical skills graduates should have. The school has been endowed with two new academic chairs and has increased ties with area businesses and communities. “I think this puts us in position for the next 100 years to be an even better partner, not just with the Monadnock Region but with the state,” says the president.Recycled PercussionThe Beat Grows On”America’s Got Talent” showed the rest of the world what we in New Hampshire already knew — Recycled Percussion rocks. As Granite Staters watched the band progress from round to round, fingers at the ready to punch in votes, we were all pulling for a triumphant win. OK, so they didn’t win the $1 million and the gig in Las Vegas, but Recycled Percussion is used to doing things their way — kind of like how they just worked out their own deal for a Vegas show. Next time we watch Recycled Percussion on TV we’ll all be saying, “We knew them when …”Ben WilcoxMountain Man”I’m fortunate to be working for the hometown mountain,” says Ben Wilcox, general manager of Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway. A North Conway resident since childhood, Wilcox worked at Bretton Woods and Attitash before coming to Cranmore in 2004. He was named the 2009 “Travel Person of the Year” by the New Hampshire Travel Council for his contributions to the travel industry. Being around people who share an energy and passion for outdoor fun in winter keeps him motivated. “I never dread going to work,” he says. “I know it’s going to be interesting and exciting.”Lowell WilliamsHis Play’s the ThingAs a playwright, Lowell Williams is always looking for stories and he has found plenty of them here in the Granite State that he calls home. His award-winning “The Warmth of the Cold” was set in the North Country against a backdrop of mill closures. But the story of Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian from Keene who became a martyr in the Civil Rights movement in Ft. Deposit, Alabama, has turned out to be more than just another story, consuming his life as he wrote and researched it. His play, “Six Nights in the Black Belt,” has been chosen by New York’s renowned Negro Ensemble Company as their 2010 production and they hope to bring a staged reading to Keene in January.Dean MerchantExeterrestrial BeingHe’s a New Hampshire native with a keen interest in what draws visitors to our tiny seacoast, especially visitors of the extraterrestrial type. With one of the most famous UFO incidents in history taking place in Exeter, writer and historian Dean Merchant decided to organize the state’s first UFO Festival there over Labor Day weekend. Crowds came and had fun with the blend of serious curiosity and tongue-in-cheek humor that accompanies such festivals in the country’s “other” UFO hub, Roswell, New Mexico. That’s fine with Merchant, as long as people keep asking questions. He’s convinced that the history of close encounters in New Hampshire runs deeper and stranger than many imagine. And if, by digging up a few of those stories, he lures some more earthly visitors to the state, that’s fine, too.Jodi PicoultNational ConfidantWhen life gets confusing it helps to have someone who will let you talk things out, no matter how personal or unpleasant the facts. Life in America is about as confusing as it’s ever been, and for her legions of fans Jodi Picoult has been the official national confidant. Her books seem to anticipate each new moral or ethical quandary and gives it faces and hearts with which to relate. Her 2004 novel “My Sister’s Keeper,” in which a child is conceived to serve as a donor for a sick sibling, struck just such a chord and became a major summer movie starring Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin. Since then Picoult has been rubbing shoulders with the Obamas at the National Books Festival and working on her next novel “House Rules,” due out in March.John WeidmanArt for EveryoneMaster sculptor John Weidman, co-founder and director of the Andres Institute of Art in Brookline, has brought sculptors from Italy, Israel and Bulgaria to southern New Hampshire this year to join him in creating new works of art for the Second International Sculpture Symposium in Nashua. The works will be donated for permanent placement in public locations around the city. In placing art where people will see it in their daily travels, Weidman hopes people will “decide to enjoy it or be offended by it, one way or another — to think about things differently.”Alisha McDevittIn With the NewsHer colleagues say she’s a true newshound (TV talk for an energetic and enterprising journalist) and Alisha McDevitt, WMUR’s news director, has the track record to prove it. She started in the station’s newsroom as an intern from UNH, rose through the ranks and now she’s running the show (literally). Last year the Concord resident won an Emmy for N.H. Primary coverage. This year the station won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in a large market and a regional Murrow for Overall Excellence; she was assistant news director during the judging period. All that, and she hasn’t even turned 40 yet.Juston McKinneyStand-up GuyProfessional funny man Juston McKinney started off in one of the most serious professions out there — the police force. At 19 years old, McKinney fulfilled his childhood dream by becoming a rural patrol deputy. After seven years as an officer, McKinney sought his second dream — comedy. Now the Seacoast resident has a long and impressive resume, including appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” making it through the semi-finals of “Last Comic Standing,” and he recently starred in “Comedy Central Presents.” In OctoberMcKinney returned to Comedy Central, taping a one-hour special, which will air in 2010.Mary Josephine RayÜber-ElderMary Josephine Ray was around for the turn of the century — twice. Born in Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1895, the dean of Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland turned 114 on May 17 and is now the oldest person in the United States and second oldest in the world. She still enjoys ice cream, Hershey kisses, playing cards and watching the Red Sox on TV, says her granddaughter, Katherine Ray of Westmoreland. And she’s old enough to remember when the Red Sox sold a certain left-handed pitcher-outfielder to the Yankees. “We don’t mention Babe Ruth,” her granddaughter says.Mark SteynFree Speech FundamentalistMark Steyn is Canadian by birth, New Hampshireman by choice. He takes our plucky motto seriously, insisting on the freedom to live and speak (or write) freely even when that inspires threats to his life and liberty. And rather than picking on soft targets in Western political realms, he plays the riskier gambit of critiquing the radical agents and icons of the Islamic world. Remember, it only took a few “offensive” cartoons in a Danish newspaper to incite weeks of rioting in various Muslim communities, resulting in dozens of deaths in 2006. His latest book, “Lights Out,” re-publishes a number of his recent essays along with reactions and legal actions taken by those who choose to label him an “Islamophobe.”Ken Burns and Dayton DuncanNational TreasuresOn the heels of “The War,” a massive seven-part series that chronicled World War Two, comes this year’s equally large-scale “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Created by Ken Burns and longtime colleague Dayton Duncan, the six-part series debuted in September. The film brings you from the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, and to many of our national parks in between. Against this dramatic backstop, Burns and Duncan bring to life the stories of the people willing to devote their lives to saving parts of the land they love. After watching, it’s not hard to understand why it’s been nearly a decade in the making.Alex RayHe Puts the Good in FoodAs if overseeing a legion of restaurants, diners and inns that span the state weren’t enough, Common Man Family of Restaurants owner and founder Alex Ray opened four more locations this year — a Common Man Inn and Common Man Restaurant in Claremont, the 104 Diner in New Hampton and a restaurant in Portsmouth. While Ray is an exceptional restaurateur, he’s also highly involved in his communities. In September The National Restaurant Association recognized Ray’s charitable efforts, naming him this year’s Cornerstone Humanitarian. A specific work highlighted by the Association was Ray’s purchase of the Daniel Webster homestead in Franklin, where he created the non-profit Webster Place Recovery Center, a residential treatment facility for drug and alcohol dependency.Chase BaileyIndependent State of MindWith buddy John Malkovich he co-produced the movie “The Libertine” starring Johnny Depp. It was not a hit, though an ardent cult still adores it. But there’s no debate that Chase Bailey is energizing the local film scene. Many of the recent flicks at the N.H. Film Festival have been produced, written or directed by him (or included his acting credit), and he turned his hometown streets of Portsmouth into a back lot when he filmed his paranormal short “Crooked Lane” there. Next he’s off to film Dennis Quaid in “West Texas Story,” but he’ll be back. “Little communities like Portsmouth bring independent film back to what it should be,” says Bailey.Editor’s Note: After the November issue was published, Chase Bailey was given the New Hampshire Film of the Year award at the New Hampshire Film Festival for “Crooked Lane.”Tom RushTrue Blue TroubadourTom Rush grew up in Concord, sang at St. Paul’s School where his father taught, learned to play the guitar, moved off into the regional folk scene and soon became a major star in the heady era of singer-songwriters that emerged in the post-Bob-Dylan 1960s. He drew deeply from the rocky soil of his childhood home in his lyrics and imparted that same spirit to his interpretations of the works of other great writers. He immortalized his home in song when he recorded “Merrimack County” in 1972. He’s traveled the world and remained creatively vital through four decades of music and has never forgotten his roots. With the release of “What I Know,” his first studio album in 30 years, and his move back to the Granite State that first inspired him, he’s poised to influence a new generation of musicians and music lovers.John H. SununuParty PumperThough he recently joined the ranks of septuagenarians, John H. Sununu is still full of political fight. Always feisty and tough (though he liked to claim he really was a “pussycat”), the former governor and former Bush I chief of staff is now using those qualities– and his considerable political skills — to rebuild the state’s Republican Party after its electoral shredding in the past five years. His work as chair of the state party has been hard-edged, with nary a trace of pussycat, but seemingly effective. November 2010 will tell the tale.Our Congressional DelegationSharing the Hot SeatLucky Judd Gregg — in this country’s summer of political discontent he was the only member of the Congressional delegation that escaped its heat. Gregg, a Republican, is giving up his spot in the Senate and heading home. The others — Paul Hodes, Jeanne Shaheen and Carol Shea-Porter — are staying in office or, at least, hoping to, so they were on the hot seat with unhappy constituents. It also didn’t help that they are Democrats, not the favored party among most of the angry August town hall crowds. If they had a glimmer of hope they could surmount the town hall challenge without a YouTube moment — not a chance. All three are featured.Laura SilvermanTwisted SisterLaura Silverman’s Web site declares that she’s “on the brink of semi-stardom,” but we say she’s already there. As a cast member on her (more famous) sister’s show, “The Sarah Silverman Program,” Laura is a familiar face on Comedy Central. She’s also appeared in movies like “Half Baked” and “State and Main,” and on a number of other shows, including HBO’s “The Comeback,” “The King of Queens” and was the voice of Laura the Receptionist on the beloved “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.” Though these days she lives and films in LA, Laura and her sister recently returned home to star in a fundraiser for The New Thalian Players at the Palace Theatre in Manchester.Eric O’LearyGreen DreamerA ceramics artist in Meriden, Eric O’Leary is also a consultant on design, construction and renovating of buildings in environmentally safe, energy-saving ways. His interests in both artistic design and ecology have brought him into projects as varied as the construction of a tree house in Meriden and the renovation of an abandoned cotton mill in North Carolina. He is chairman of “Aid to Artisans,” an organization to assist artists in developing countries in producing and marketing their products. “We’re helping potters get the lead out of their glaze and the lead out of the manufacturing,” he says.Charlie Davies Our King of KickFootball player (no, not that football — the other one) Charlie Davies is a long way from his hometown of Manchester. Currently in France playing for Sochaux, Davies has traveled the globe and established himself as a world-class athlete along the way. He’s played in Sweden with great success, joined the U.S. Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and will play in the 2010 World Cup thanks to a dramatic 3-2 U.S. Men’s Team victory in Honduras last month. Oh, and he’s only 23. It seems Davies is just getting started.Editor’s Note: At press time Charlie Davies and the U.S. National Team had just secured a Wold Cup spot. Soon after hearing this happy news, the staff at New Hampshire Magazine were saddened to learn that Davies was involved in a serious car accident on the George Washington Parkway in northern Virginia. Davies will face six to 12 months of rehabilitation after undergoing surgery for various injuries, including a broken right femur and tibia, a broken left elbow and facial fractures. We all send our best wishes to Davies and his family, and hope for a fast and complete recovery.Mo BaxleySame-Sex SymbolShe knew in her heart it would happen — this is the live-free-or-die state, after all — but Mo Baxley of Laconia was still overjoyed when it actually did. For years — as executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition (a paid position “when there’s money,” she says) — she had been working hard to get New Hampshire lawmakers to approve legislation for marriage equality (aka same-sex marriage). She, along with many others, used every tool in the passing-legislation toolkit to make it happen. In June Gov. Lynch signed the bill, making New Hampshire the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. No longer, she says, does the LGBT community have to “sit in the back of the bus” — now they can have all the legal protections and recognitions that come with the word “marriage.”Kin SchillingPlanting Seeds in Fertile MindsKin teaches children to garden. She has a firm belief that they should know where their food comes — to be part of the process, from planting to harvest to preparing the fruits of their labor in the school cafeteria. As the founder of the Cornucopia Project — with a mission to “teach sustainable and nourishing life practices to children by connecting them to the land” — she has spearheaded a project to set up a huge hoop house at ConVal High School in Peterborough. Students will grow and manage organic foods that will be sold to the cafeteria. She also organized school kids to build a community bread oven in Peterborough and works with the disabled at Crotched Mountain. In addition, Kin has been chosen twice by Slow Food Monadnock to travel to Turin, Italy, to gather with 5,000 other like-minded people who are concerned about where their food comes from. As an accomplished artist she recently illustrated “Rosaly’s Garden Cookbook,” paints watercolors of her own chickens and teaches painting to schoolkids in the winter when the gardens are buried under snow. She loves what she does, year-round.Peter BurlingKeeping the Future on TrackFor sure, Peter Burling has finely-honed political skills after years in the state Legislature, most recently as State Senator, and as a member of the Democratic National Committee, but those skills are now really being put to the test. Burling is the chairman of the Rail Transit Authority, which is tasked (with no budget and no staff, Burling says, but with “brilliant” volunteers) with trying to figure out how to get a rail line between Concord and Boston. In that quest the Cornish resident is navigating some rocky political shoals — negotiating with the owners of the track and vying for government money among them — to get the train running. He’s determined to get it done.Changsheng LiTerrestrial StarIn the rarefied academic atmosphere of biogeochemistry, UNH Professor Changsheng Li is a star. He recently was honored with a Faculty Excellence in International Engagement award for his work — some 22 years of it — building a computer model simulating carbon and nitrogen biogeochemical cycles in terrestrial ecosystems. Dr. Li explains that the model is capable of predicting impacts of alternative management practices on complex systems for croplands, forests, grasslands or wetlands. It’s now enabling greenhouse gas inventory and mitigation and study of water quality in about 30 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.” Once imprisoned in his native China for his work, now he returns there often to advise colleagues on environmental problems.