2015 It List
Our 2015 It List is the who’s who of New Hampshire. Meet 14 influential Granite Staters who represent STEM education, the arts, politics, business, publishing and the simple joy of shaking things up for the better.
May we introduce you?
James Nachtwey | Jud Hale | Sarah Silverman | Kriss Blevens | Steven Tyler | Les Otten | Maggie Hassan & Kelly Ayotte | Nadine Thompson | Jennifer Cava | Allie Nault | Tedd Benson | Rita Fabbricatore | Chris Greiner
Photo by Matthew Lomanno
For more than three decades, documentary photographer James Nachtwey has captured the horrors of war, industrial pollution, famine, heroin epidemics and human suffering that would be unimaginable if not for his incredible photos. By refusing to look away and sharing what he witnesses with the world, the hope is that these moments will not be forgotten and perhaps can even help prevent history from repeating itself.
Nachtwey, a NH resident who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1970, began his career in 1980. Since then, he has covered historical events that include the breakup of former Yugoslavia, the war in Chechnya, civil unrest in Northern Ireland, the genocide in Rwanda, the liberation struggle in South Africa and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On September 11, 2001, he witnessed the attacks on the Twin Towers from his apartment. As the towers fell, he captured some of the most iconic images of that terrible day, many of which are now on view at the Currier Museum in Manchester in the exhibit “Witness to History: James Natchwey – Afghanistan, Ground Zero, Iraq.”
The exhibit, which runs through December 14, also shines a light on war’s tragic impact on both combatants and civilians, and includes personal photos of American troops and their families, as well as photographs of Iraqi and Afghani civilians and their families. Though these images can be unsettling, the purpose they serve — to bring home the realities of war — is vital. You can find more information on the exhibit here.
Photo by Corey Hendrickson
When told he was to appear on our “It List” with 13 other movers and shakers, Jud Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee magazine, said he couldn’t recall shaking anything up recently. “I’ve moved into a retirement home,” he concedes. “Sold my property in Dublin we’ve lived in for 55 years.” He’s written a new memoir, “The Education of a Yankee” and still comes to work every day. He still writes for the magazine — his column “The Yankee Moseyer” has featured a strolling view of an interesting house for sale in every issue since 1958. “People ask, “What do you do?” and I like to say, ‘Nothing, I meander around and when I see that [publisher] Jamie Trowbridge and my son are planning something I like to pretend I know what they are planning and say, ‘Oh yeah. We tried that once … and it didn’t work.’” While he may be more of an observer now, he remains involved —and appreciated. When Yankee released its 80th anniversary issue in September featuring “80 Gifts New England Gave to America,” they saved the last page (and a surprise number 81 on the list) for Judson D. Hale Sr.: Yankee’s Yankee. “Sorry I can’t give you more moving and shaking,” he said during his interview, but perhaps in a world that moves at light speed, the biggest waves are created by someone who simply stays put. (Note: Yankee Publishing is our parent company.)
A Dramatic Turn
Photo courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
Sarah Silverman, known for doing her best to shock you, has done it again. This time, though, it’s not a raunchy joke that has people talking — it’s her leading role in the new drama film “I Smile Back,” which debuted at the at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to very positive reviews (as in Oscar buzz-level positive). The NH-born comedian (who also can be seen in another dramatic role on Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”) plays Laney Brooks, a suburban mom who, at first glance, appears to have the perfect life but is in fact dealing with serious depression, addiction and is having an affair, all unbeknownst to her husband. Silverman has always been outspoken about her real-life struggles with depression, most notably in her memoir “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.” For a woman who’s spent a career battling the tired ideas that women aren’t funny and certainly shouldn’t crack dirty jokes, her decision to take a big chance this role isn’t entirely surprising — and it seems like it paid off.
Turning Darkness to Light
Photo by Matthew Lomanno
They’re back — the candidates vying to be POTUS are inundating the state, hoping to convince people to vote for them in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. And who are they going to call to make them look their best? Likely, it’s Kriss Blevens, owner of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester. She has long been the go-to makeup person for the political elite (that’s Senator Lindsey Graham with Blevens in the photo), but her reputation soared in 2008 after she wowed the world with then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s radiant makeup for an important debate. (It was so good clients now ask for “The Hillary.”) Blevens says she didn’t choose makeup as her life’s work, that it chose her: “It’s my destiny, my calling.” Her strong faith makes her believe her work is to “raise the vibration of self-esteem and self-image” so people can “not only survive, but thrive.” Last year — after losing her step-daughter, Amber, to a heroin overdose — combating drug addiction became another of her goals. She is serving as a board member for the Farnum Center and Families in Transition, and just joined forces with Hope for NH Recovery to open an emergency 24-hour detox shelter called Amber’s Place. Beyond that, she has helped turn the national spotlight to addiction by sharing her story with her influential clients. She says, “Through my work, my touch and words, I believe the energy behind my faith can be shared and change the world one face at a time.”
Photo by Zack Whitford
Rock icon and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler is on his way to reinventing himself as a country music star. In May he released a single off of his upcoming album (he’s hoping for a February 2016 release date) called “Love is Your Name,” which made its way to Billboard’s Top 20 Hot Country Songs Chart. Not bad for his first try. It remains to be seen what the entire album will sound like, but so far this first song and its rootsy feel seems to be appealing to both current Tyler fans and country music lovers alike. It’s a bold move for a guy who has built up a certain image over a long and successful career. So why make the change at all? Speaking with ABC News Radio recently, he revealed a fondness for the genre’s deeper themes, saying, “Country’s not just about porches, dogs and kicking my boots up. It’s a whole lot more — [it’s] about being real. You know, the world’s gone so far away from that. I hope it comes back.”
The Visionary Man
Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR
When Les Otten looked at a topical map of the area around a shuttered North Country resort, The Balsams, a few years back, he said, “Wow.” He instantly saw two things that could turn the aging facility into a world-class ski resort — thousands of acres of adjacent land perfect for a coveted balance of intermediate, novice and expert ski trails, and lots and lots of snow. “It takes two plow trucks to keep a half-mile of road open there,” he says. “To a skier, you don’t need to say anything else.” With both the resort and the adjacent land up for sale, Otten — a successful entrepreneur with expertise in the ski industry as well other industries — began to pursue his vision to redevelop The Balsams. He drew up plans for alpine and nordic skiing, snowmobile and mountain biking trails, golf courses, hot spring spa, convention facilities, farm to table dining and more — lots more. His development team is still gathering permits, but he says the building phase “is getting close,” with a significant portion of development financing committed. Otten is pleased that the new resort — which would be 20 times the size of the current facility — will provide jobs (an estimated 1,500 in the first phase alone) in an area that has lost tons of jobs in recent years. He tips his hat to Neil Tillotson, another visionary who bought The Balsams in the 1950s and made it into an iconic destination: “With the help of the community and the state, I’m building on his dreams.”
Maggie Hassan & Kelly Ayotte
Two NH political heavyweights — Maggie Hassan (left) and Kelly Ayotte — this year began what promises to be an epic fight for a US Senate seat. Ayotte, a Republican, holds it now; Hassan, a Democrat, wants it. The stakes are, as Donald Trump says, yuge. Will control of the Senate be in the hands of Republicans, as it is now, or in the hands of the Democrats? The Ayotte/Hassan race is one of five in nationwide that will likely determine it. Right now political insiders are calling the race a toss-up, and that it could be a real squeaker on election day. Expect to see millions of out-of-state dollars pouring into the race in an effort to influence the outcome. The biggest influence, though, is likely to be who — in this presidential year — is at the top of the ticket.
Champion for Women
Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Women's Heritage Trail
“I think my life’s calling has been about women,” says Nadine Abraham Thompson. From social work to entrepreneurship, Thompson has spent her life empowering women and girls. Two years ago another such opportunity presented itself, though this time she’s fighting for women of the past as the chair of the Friends Steering Committee of the New Hampshire Women’s Heritage Trail. The challenge is to raise at least $81,000 to install 27 markers ($3,000 per marker) throughout the state, each of which tells the story of a significant New Hampshire woman. They range from author Willa Cather to Ona Marie Judge Staines, an enslaved body servant for Martha Washington who fled to Portsmouth. Fundraising efforts are just getting under way. Thompson emigrated from the Caribbean to Canada as a child, earning her Master’s in clinical social work from Smith College and then settling in New Hampshire. She says helping to attain recognition for the selected women — some who started life outside of NH, yet eventually came to help form its history — speaks to her, someone who also chose to make the Granite State her home.
Editor's note: Though the physical signs are still in the planning stages, check out SPARK's Women on the Map, a group that's researched and written about over 100 women around the world and added them to the educational app Field Trip. When you download the app and turn on Women on the Map, your phone will buzz whenever you approach a location that ties to one of these women's stories. Thompson was instrumental in getting a number of New Hampshire Heritage Trail women included in SPARK's efforts.
Future of Education
Jennifer Cava, the daughter of two public school teachers, is in her fourth year as director at the Academy for Science and Design in Nashua, which was just ranked at 50 in Newsweek’s America’s Best High Schools (out of 29,000). The mission of the chartered public school “is to identify youth possessing an interest and talent in STEM, and also to explore ways of inspiring students who may not have previously considered a future in STEM,” explains Cava. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, is the hot-button topic in education these days, but most educators will tell you that it’s been necessary for quite some time. In fact, says Cava, Governor Maggie Hassan has recognized the need to better educate youth in these fields by creating a task force. She also has visited ASD to witness its innovative program firsthand. So why is this so important? Globally, explains Cava, youth in the US are out performed in more than 30 industrialized nations in math and science. Since these are centers of both job growth and are crucial for our country’s future, it’s critical that more young people become passionate about STEM. Cava attributes the school’s success to its academic program’s ability to challenge students to reach their highest potential, plus the fostering of a community that encourages students and staff alike to become lifelong learners. One point she’s particularly proud of is the number of ASD female students who are considering a future in STEM fields. In fact, last June’s graduating class had more females than males, all moving on to post-secondary college programs with a focus on STEM. “I suppose it’s fair to say that ASD is playing a major role in not only inspiring and nurturing our state’s future leaders in science and technology, but actively working to close the gender gap in STEM careers,” says Cava.
Whether she’s questioning presidential candidate Donald Trump about the $18 trillion national debt at a televised forum — a “teen in a tiara” exchange — or speaking to middle school students about the positives of saving money, Gilford’s Allie Nault exemplifies the power of young people making a positive change in the world. The 17-year-old high school senior won the national Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2016 title, and with it, a $25,000 scholarship, as well as the competition’s “Teens In Action” $1,000 scholarship, this past August. Since her crowning, Nault has hit the ground running to fulfill a year of service dedicated to educating the nation about her platform: Making Sense – Becoming Financially Responsible.
“I’ve been saving since I was a kid, investing since I was 8, and I’m passionate about inspiring kids to save and educate themselves about financial responsibility,” she says. “It’s so important to reach kids at a young age about this issue.” She adds that most of her time is spent talking to elementary and middle school students, a crucial time to instill healthy financial habits. At the high school level, Nault warns about the escalating interest rates on credit cards.
Future of Green
Photo courtesy of Bensonwood and Unity Homes
When Tedd Benson started out years ago, he was looking for “a better way to build.” As a carpenter/builder, he felt homeowners of the time were getting shortchanged on the biggest investment of their lives. To raise the standards for durability, beauty and sustainability, he revived the lost craft of timber framing, a method of building that has, as he says, “survived since the founding of our country.” Today, his Walpole-based Bensonwood is a nationally recognized designer and builder of timber frame homes. But such homes can be expensive, and in recent years his focus has turned to demonstrating that “high-performance, fossil fuel-free, beautiful, low-maintenance, durable homes can and should be affordable and normal.” These homes — called Unity Homes — are factory-built and constructed onsite in about 30 days. They are getting national attention and acclaim, recently being named by BuildingGreen as one of Top Ten Green Products of 2016. Asked what he sees ahead for green building, he says, “I think the term ‘green building’ will eventually go away. Nobody will accept a building that isn’t green.”
Photo by Liz Davenport
Shopping bliss may require a more imaginative set of criteria since Pickwick’s Mercantile opened its doors on lower State Street in Portsmouth’s Bridge District. Rather than merely stock shelves, hire sales clerks and create a spiffy name and logo, Rita the Proprietress (Rita Fabbricatore in real life, that’s her above in white) curates unique inventory in a series of carefully styled shops that are informed by theatre and history. It’s all driven by a creation myth in the form of serialized chronicles about the fictional Samuel Pickwick dating to Portsmouth, England, in 1848, shared in installments on the website. A visit to the flagship Pickwick’s Mercantile, or any of its nearby sister stores — Lady Pickwick’s, Pickwick’s at Strawbery Banke Museum and Deadwick’s Ethereal Emporium (another enterprise, a tea room, is slated to open next year) — fully envelopes shoppers in an ever-changing tableaux, tickling all the senses, thanks to the concerted efforts of an art director, costumer, prop crew and lively, costumed shopkeepers. Rita, who has worked in set and interior design, explains her unique retail approach: “I wanted to combine retail with the theatrical in an immersive experience that celebrates the city’s arts and the diversity within that culture. The merchandise comes to life through storytelling.”
Growing the Arts
Photo by Liz Davenport
It took five years, but Chris Greiner’s dream of 3S Artspace, a place where art, performance, food and community can all come together, is finally here. It was his vision, but Greiner, the executive director and co-founder, is quick to point out that it took the talents and will of many others to open the doors back in March. In a city that already houses a number of galleries and venues, it might seem like 3S is bordering on overkill. Not so, says Greiner. After 15 years living and working in Portsmouth, he saw a niche for a flexible space that would fill the middle ground between small galleries and the large venues like his former workplace, The Music Hall. Unlike other galleries, the one at 3S is noncommercial. The performance space has a modular stage that can expand and contract to fit the needs of various events. Bringing it all together is the restaurant. “We wanted 3S to be a hub for the creative community and be an extension of the community at large,” he says. Having a restaurant on site where people can sit and talk about what goes on at 3S is important to creating that sense of community, he explains. He’s not done yet. Phase two, which gets underway in 2016, will include artist studios and classroom space plus more flexible areas that can fit and anticipate the community’s needs.
Editor's note: Just after this story was published, Greiner announced that he's taking a leave of absence through the remainder of the year.