2011 It List
Here are the people who have had the kind of impact that the world should expect from a true Granite Stater (even the one who just dropped in from New York to save the Gorham Mill). Each one is a true chip off the Old Man of the Mountain and to each one w
So, who in New Hampshire has really rocked 2011? Well, our top pick was easy, since he's one of the world's most famous rock 'n' rollers. But sometimes the most important rocking is as gentle as a cradle in a new residence for a homeless family. Or maybe what we need is someone to rock the political boat, or just to be rock-solid in the face of tragedy.
Our It List has all those characters and more.
Meet this year's It List:
Steven Tyler | Suzanne Brown | Steve Grasse | Bill Binnie | Ryan FitzSimons | Sam Fuld | Maureen Beauregard | Bill O'Brien | Marc Dole | Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie | Jon Brooks | Jeremy Hitchcock and Tom Daly | Rich Brunnell and Ralph DiBernardo | Steve Dupreys | Lynn Tilton | The Shaggs
Reinvented Rocker: Steven Tyler
New Hampshire witnessed the humble beginnings of Aerosmith and its larger-than-life frontman Steven Tyler when he met future bandmate Joe Perry (then the cook who made Tyler's favorite fries) at the Anchorage restaurant in Sunapee. Since then, Tyler helped define not only rock music but the rock 'n' roll life cliché of success followed by hard partying, drugs and an eventual band implosion. But Tyler avoided the end of that story – fading into music obscurity – and is perhaps even more of a household name today than he was at the height of Aerosmith's success. After getting clean and pulling off a comeback in the '90s that launched both him and Aerosmith to superstardom, Tyler withstood his share of problems – including injuries and subsequent surgery, which led to another stay in rehab, thanks to painkillers- but once again he refused to fade away. Tyler recently confirmed his second year as a judge on the über-popular "American Idol" and just released an unflinching memoir "Does the Noise in my Head Bother You?"
Farmer of Farms: Suzanne Brown
Photo by P.T. Sullivan
Suzanne Brown has a vision. She sees a future where New Hampshire farmers can produce enough organically grown food to feed everyone in the Granite State, and as the executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Agriculture & Forestry (NHIAF), she's on the path to making her vision our reality. Right now NHIAF is working on three major fronts: giving current and aspiring farmers an economic and logistical "boost" with the Agriculture and Forestry Business Incubator; bringing North Country schools, restaurants, hospitals and inns locally grown food through the New Hampshire Farm Fresh Delivery System; and saving the oldest continually operating family farm in the country, the Tuttle Farm in Dover. Brown, who grew up on a small farm herself and eventually earned her MBA, is, as she says, "taking old school thinking and marrying it with new technology" to keep New Hampshire's proud tradition of farming from becoming something solely of the past.
"Live Free" Spirit: Steve Grasse
What's a former Philadelphia ad man doing in a nice place like Tamworth? "We're going to create hyper-local spirits using all local grains and freshly harvested herbs. It will be very organic," says Steve Grasse. "I have a long history of launching brands." Grasse, who spent summers and the holidays in Meredith as a boy, considers Tamworth "perfect" and purchased the historic Great Hill Farm, The Store and the abandoned Tamworth Inn. The founder of Arts in the Age has already added culture and style by turning The Store into a modern day New England Lyceum, with lectures, art exhibits, workshops and cultural events, and stocking the shelves with gourmet coffee, craft beers, organic wine, gourmet groceries and uncommon hard goods. After renovation, The Inn will house the distillery and a garden behind it will grow food for the farm-to-table restaurant inside. "I have big plans and I agree with the 'Live Free or Die' reality," he said.
In the News: Bill Binnie
Bill Binnie became a household name during his 2010 (unsuccessful) run for Senate, thanks mostly to the gazillion TV spots he ran. This year Binnie, a wealthy industrialist from Rye, became an instant player in the local media world with his purchase of WZMY, My Network TV affiliate, based in Derry. He's re-named it WBIN and has plans to remake the station into an independent that serves the Manchester-Boston area and beyond. He says, "We hope to provide another voice in both news and entertainment." He came out of the gates strong in October by partnering with two powerful media outlets, the Washington Post and Bloomberg TV, to present a Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College. Also, he's buying a low-power TV station in Nashua as well as some other media outlets he wasn't ready to talk about at press time.
You probably don't know Gigunda or its energetic CEO Ryan FitzSimons, but unless you've been living in Antarctica (or possibly even then) you know their work. Ever heard of that singing show "American Idol"? Gigunda, a New Hampshire-based experiential marketing group, handled all of the show's promotional work. How about the Tide "Loads of Hope" truck that brought relief and clean clothes to Hurricane Katrina victims? For seven years now those trucks have brought aid above and beyond the ability to wash clothing – including mobile hotels and water filtration systems – to those caught in disasters world-wide. FitzSimons has been building Gigunda since his freshman year at Dartmouth. By the time he graduated, he says, he'd already made "a couple of million." In 2009, when many companies were rushing to downsize, he tripled the size of his Manchester office to 30,000 square feet. His optimistic "think big" attitude translates to the over-the-top marketing campaigns his company dreams up. Though Gigunda claims many clients on the Fortune 100 list, he stresses that no company is too small to work with. As long as you're willing to dream large, FitzSimons is eager to help make them reality.
He's the only 5'9", diabetic, Jewish, Phillips Exeter Academy and Stanford University graduate, left-handed, New Hampshire-born outfielder in the history of Major League Baseball. After being mired in the minors for years, this season Sam Fuld got his chance with the Tampa Bay Rays and instantly turned into a folk hero and Internet sensation. In April he led the league in batting average and steals, and was tagged with the sobriquet "Super Sam" while the Legend of Sam Fuld hashtag went wild on Twitter. The Rays even created Super Sam Super Hero capes to give away to kids as a special promotion. "Even when I'm going through a slump, I always remind myself what a great job this is," the Durham native says.
Home Sweet Home. For many, those words are a homily; for Maureen Beauregard, they are a mission. The former foster child has battled tirelessly for 20 years to break the generational cycle of homelessness, domestic violence and despair. With the unwavering belief that a safe and decent place to live is a basic human right, she founded the non-profit Families in Transition in Manchester and Concord. The organization helps parents and children get off the streets and regain their dignity, but in these tough times the task isn't getting any easier. Last year FIT assisted more than 4,000 families desperate for housing and services and the number keeps rising. "With everything that's going on with state and federal funding, we need to do more," she says.
Conservative to the Core: Bill O'Brien
After a quick rise in the world of Republican politics (he was elected State Rep from Mont Vernon just seven years ago), Bill O'Brien was elected Speaker of the N.H. House. He took the gavel in January with a vision of transforming state government by "returning it to its core functions" and, by golly, in a few short months he, with the help of the Republican-dominated Legislature, has gone a long way toward doing that. Democrats are not happy. It's meant painful budget cuts and an O'Brien-driven process that one Democrat called "imperious." O'Brien says, "Every conservative leader has to accept being a lightning rod, but over time there has been an expansion of government that's inappropriate." Though not officially a Tea Party member, O'Brien feels that his conservative beliefs "fit seamlessly" into those of the Tea Party and he hopes to put more of those beliefs into place in future sessions.
Our seacoast has long been the heart of a regional music scene, but with bigger markets like Portland and Boston so nearby, it's never gotten much attention. But there were flashes of glory when the music was too loud and colors too bright to ignore. And venues like Portsmouth's Elvis Room and hot bands like Groovechild and Fly Spinach Fly threw off sparks that lit creative fires that are still burning. Filmmaker Marc Dole, who used to shoot videos for the young musicians of the 1990s, has begun to collect notes and footage to chronicle this era in a documentary that, even before it's complete, is getting lots of attention on the film festival circuit. An unforeseen result of his probing the past – many of those music groups have learned they still have ardent fans and they are now considering reunion tours and returns to the recording studio.
Partners in Crime: Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie
You can just picture the shocking headline: "A Husband and Wife – Bound by Murder." And that's not a bad summary of the creative partnership of Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie of Hopkinton. The couple are both well-known figures in local media, but working together they have produced two critically acclaimed true crime books, both riddled with juicy details and paced like great fiction. Their first effort, "Our Little Secret," told the story of the shooting of Hooksett man Danny Paquette and the 20 years it took to solve the crime. Their latest, "Legally Dead," is the true story of Stratham's Seth Bader who tried to drive his ex-wife to suicide, then killed her and pinned the rap on his adopted son. The book is flying off the virtual shelves at Amazon and Flynn and Lavoie have become the go-to guy and gal for anyone wanting the inside dope on dirty deeds.
2010 was a very bad year for the internationally acclaimed studio furniture artist Jon Brooks. His New Boston studio – with many of his irreplaceable works in it – burned to the ground. Insurance wouldn't cover the cost of re-building it. He was bereft. Surely, seeing only ashes on that cold winter day, he could not have imagined what a great year 2011 would be. His new studio is now built and he has new tools to begin creating again, thanks to contributions of both labor and money, some of it coming from outside of the country. "They helped me put myself back together," says Brooks. "They helped me in my hour of need." In March of this year, the Currier Museum of Art presented the first retrospective exhibition of Brooks' works. In April, he received the Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award from the N.H. State Council on the Arts. He was cited as a "pre-eminent leader of N.H.'s studio furniture movement" and as a "generous teacher to aspiring artists."
It's almost like a Hollywood script. Two New Hampshire boys room together at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Between classes they develop software to create an online community and, before they know it, are on their way to riches. But for Jeremy Hitchcock and Tom Daly, it wasn't really about the money. So they took their idea back to Manchester and built Dyn, a DNS and e-mail service company that recently took command of a chunk of the Millyard. With stylish offices that mix workstations with video games, beer taps in the breakroom and a full-scale performance stage dead center, they regularly bring in hip recording artists for parties and the staff, their families and friends are invited to hang out and groove. It's exactly the kind of operation that statewide programs like N.H. Stay Work Play are trying to encourage. But for Tom and Jeremy it was all about having the freedom to work hard and play hard in an environment that felt like home.
Holy Granite State! Jetpack Comics may not be as tricked out as the Bat Cave but the Rochester store is every bit as cool. "We've provided a place for unique people to hang out," says Ralph DiBernardo, who owns the business with Rich Brunnell. "We call ourselves nerds and geeks and have created a community where anyone can dress as their alter ego and feel comfortable." Spiderman, Storm Troopers and medieval adventurers will find lost treasure here, but it's Jetpack's annual Free Comic Book Day in May that packs the house and the city with more than 4,000 visitors, many in costume. The scavenger hunt, the Comic-Con with creators and vendors and all-day games are just part of the fun. "The secret to our success? We never take ourselves seriously," he says. "We act like we're 12 years old every day."
Coaching Concord: Steve Duprey
Photo by P.T. Sullivan
The finishing touch on Steve Duprey's most recent project, a five-story office/residential building in Concord, is an engraved stone slab with the single word, "Smile." It reflects an optimistic attitude that comes in handy when he's promoting downtown development and art in the Capitol City, long considered a place where they roll up the sidewalks after 6. Now the city's suddenly bustling with plans and visions, at least a few of which are his. Like his plan to remind the world that Concord was the "Detroit" of 19th-century America, producing the coaches that helped populate and tame the West. Duprey wants to install climate-controlled glass boxes and exhibit Concord Coaches as a year-round tourist magnet. He says he saw one Concord Coach on display in Denver with a big crowd around it and a light bulb went off. "There are only about 157 left in the world," he says.
Called part Warren Buffet and part Dolly Parton, Lynn Tilton might be better known in the North Country as the savior in six-inch stilettos. Her private New York equity firm purchased the shuttered Fraser Mill and revitalized it as the Gorham Paper and Tissue Mill in June. When the lifeblood industry came back on line, many of the 250 former employees got their jobs and benefits back and the rest are expected to return within the next six months. Tilton's business plan is to "turn dust to diamonds" and the positive economic impact stretches across the region. This blonde and brassy CEO, well-known for being as controversial as she is flamboyant, has given the North Country hope for the future. "Lynn is a champion of manufacturing and we are indeed fortunate that she chose to invest in the Berlin/Gorham area," says Department of Resources and
Economic Development Commissioner George Bald.
Sister Act: The Shaggs
Austin Wiggin's prophecy is still on track. When he insisted his teenage daughters, growing up in tiny Fremont, would one day be famous musicians, they were skeptical. Especially since none of them could actually play or sing. They performed at Fremont Town Hall and recorded an album that practically disappeared as soon as it was pressed, but somehow copies made it to college radio stations and soon the girl's bizarrely written and performed original songs gained cache and fans. Frank Zappa even declared them to be "better than the Beatles." The Wiggin sisters don't perform any more, but their lives and musical "career" are the subject of a play, "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World" (also the name of their cult-status record album) that drew large crowds when it was performed in Chicago and again this summer in an off-Broadway co-production by the Playwrights Workshop and the New York Theatre Workshop. There's talk of a movie, and somewhere Austin Wiggin is looking down, smiling and saying, "I told you so."