2018 It List

Our state’s natural resources include mountains, forests, rivers and lakes — and people, like these people, who make life here so darn interesting.

May we introduce you?

Ernest Thompson | Lissa Curtis | Cassandra Levesque | Arnold Mikolo | Safiya Wazir | Tom Thomson | Trish Regan | Chris Pappas and Eddie Edwards | John Broderick | Howie Wemyss | Megan Carpenter and Michael McCann | Xia Zhou | Evan Hennessey | Emily Fishbaugh | Nini Meyer | Jason Moon | Louise Spencer | Peter Ramsey

Ernest Thompson

The Golden Guy

Ernest Thompson on the famous “On Golden Pond” dock at Squam Lake Photo by Bruce Luetters

New Hampshire seems like the perfect set for filmmaking, and it has been featured in classic comedies like “What About Bob?” and dramatic TV shows like “The West Wing.” Problem is, most scenes that feature the Granite State are shot elsewhere — places where Hollywood knows they can recoup some of the money spent in the form of tax incentives. In tax-averse NH, that’s a problem.

The main exception to this rule is 1981’s “On Golden Pond,” the film that put our pristine Squam Lake on the international map (drawing tourists from all over to this day), and won Oscars for its two lead actors and for the guy who wrote the screenplay and the play on which it was based. That guy,
Ernest Thompson, still lives in the Lakes Region where he grew up and has never stopped writing and making movies — movies that Hollywood has happily produced elsewhere.

He has made two feature films locally like the old Yankee he is by making do with what’s handy ­— local talent, volunteers and a little baling wire to tie it all together. He’s proud of them both, but his next project requires a bit more, because he thinks it’s too important to relegate it to the festival circuit. He says his new movie, “Parallel America,” could be just what our country needs in these contentious times, and he’s looking for financial help to ensure it’s made right and made here. A GoFundMe page (for $150,000) and social media campaign are helping stoke interest. Meanwhile, Thompson is happy to evangelize about why filmmaking in New Hampshire should be something we all get behind — and it’s not just about making the Granite State more famous.

“We’re losing young people,” he says. “They come of age here and there’s nothing to stay for.” Thompson says literally thousands of young creative types have passed through his projects and his “Write on Golden Pond” workshops. “They work and learn and go elsewhere,” he says.

His other project in the works might tighten the focus. The sequel to “On Golden Pond,” titled “Home on Golden Pond,” is set be produced in the next year or so and it will be up to the State of NH to decide if it’s filmed here entirely, spending a $15 million budget locally, or if the crew will just fly in to capture some establishing shots and then film the rest on some other less-golden pond in some other state.

He says there are legislators who get it and are trying to push for a tax rebate for major films made here, and there might even be a last-minute plot twist involving Gov. Chris Sununu. “He was a film student at NYU,” says Thompson.

Lissa Curtis

Ballet Bravery

Courtesy of The Concord Monitor

In 2014, professional ballerina Lissa Curtis was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her ballet director over a 10-day trip to the World Ballet Competition in Romania. In the following years back home in New Hampshire, she launched a civil suit against her perpetrator, went public with her story, and made a pledge to protect the next person from the horrors that she endured.

Curtis founded the Be BRAVE Gala in 2016 as a way to give back to the community and to encourage other survivors to be brave in their own circumstances. “Be BRAVE became my personal mantra,” says Curtis. “I got it tattooed on my left wrist as a constant reminder to myself every time I was in court, therapy, or having a difficult day with PTSD that I had nothing to hide because truth was on my side. Those words remind me that being brave is about taking action in the face of your fear.” Now in its third year, the gala has raised more than $60,000 for CCCNH, HAVEN and SHARPP, programs that assist survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

This year, Curtis has spoken at the Statehouse on numerous occasions advocating for funding for sexual violence centers, in support of Marsy’s Law for NH, at local TedX events, fundraisers and performances across the Granite State. She was also the keynote speaker for CCCNH’s 40th anniversary celebration. Curtis is also launching the nonprofit Safe Haven Ballet, offering free trauma-sensitive ballet classes for sexual and domestic violence survivors. The hope, says Curtis, is that “it will help them escape the trauma they have endured in a safe environment while building strength and confidence for the days to come.”

Cassandra Levesque

Advocate and Leader

Photo by Elizabeth Frantz

In almost every US state, the legal age of marriage without parental consent is 18. But up until just this summer, a 13-year-old girl or 14-year-old boy could legally marry in the state of New Hampshire with parental consent and a judge’s approval. For more than two years, now-19-year-old Barrington native Cassandra Levesque advocated for raising the minimum age to 16 for both genders. Along with key legislators, she helped pass House Bill 1586, which “prohibits the court from granting permission for a marriage involving a minor if the other party, but for the marriage, would be guilty of sexual assault.” The bill was nearly defeated, but on June 18, 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu signed it into law. “I was very excited. We made great strides,” says Levesque, who notes that both her grandmother and great-grandmother were child brides.

Levesque continued in politics, running for state representative for Barrington. The results were not decided when this issue went to press. A former Girl Scout, she’s also a leader of a Brownie Troop. She says there is more work yet to do with a few other states still allowing marriage between young minors. “The biggest obstacle is lack of knowledge of the repercussions of child marriage. People want to keep it in the shadows. They don’t want to think about it,” Levesque says. “We are not done until child marriage is ended.”

Photo by John Hession

Arnold Mikolo

American Dreamer

When Arnold Mikolo first came to New Hampshire, his plan was to live in Manchester for six months. That was six years ago.

Mikolo, 27, was born in the central African nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He arrived in New York City in 2012, and after hearing about opportunities in the Granite State, he decided to give the Queen City a shot.

“If you work hard, you can reap the benefits,” Mikolo says. “But the most rewarding thing is knowing I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. I’m not just working for a paycheck. I’m making my community better.”

Recently named to the Union Leader’s 40 Under Forty, Mikolo works with the International Institute of New England — an organization that helps resettled refugees — and as translation coordinator at its sister organization, Pinpoint Translation Services.

“With a college background in business and marketing, I had an opportunity to work in corporate America,” Mikolo says of his career path. “But it would have been the most selfish thing I could do. With my own transition to America in 2012 and then New Hampshire, I know how hard it can be. It was a conscious thing and a way of giving back to my community.”

The reward for Mikolo comes from seeing someone succeed — whether it’s finding a career or simply moving from a part-time job to a full-time job with health insurance and benefits.

“As a new American, I’ve been welcomed as a part of the community. The work I’m doing is not going unseen. Somebody is seeing it, and it’s being rewarded in so many ways.”

Photo by Jenn Bakos

Safiya Wazir

New Kid on the Heights

All politics may be local, as former speaker of the US House Tip O’Neill famously said, but rarely is local politics as interesting as when former Afghan refugee Safiya Wazir won the Democratic primary, 329 votes to 143, beating local stalwart Dick Patten for a shot at Concord’s Ward 8 seat in the Legislature. (Editor’s note: This issue went to press before the midterm results were tallied, but was published online after the election — Wazir won.) Since that primary victory, Wazir, a Concord High graduate and mother of two, has been interviewed by MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Public Radio International, the BBC and Rolling Stone magazine. For more than a decade, Wazir has lived on the Concord Heights, which hosts a concentration of the city’s immigrant population, and she has served on local boards and councils, so she’s not a newcomer to the scene, but her win may suggest something new is going on in the Granite State. In an interview with AP, she spoke about how New Hampshire is aging and needs to cultivate younger voices and new ideas. “Immigrants or refugees have ideas that they could contribute,” said Wazir. “Every bit of new blood brings new ideas to the state.”

Tom Thomson

Speaker for the Trees

Courtesy photo

Tom Thomson of Orford knows trees (he owns more than 2,600 acres of New Hampshire forest) and politics runs in his blood (his dad was NH governor Meldrim Thomson), so who better to explain some recent legislation that required utilities operating in the state to purchase a portion of their electricity from local wood-burning power plants? Gov. Chris Sununu had vetoed the bill, calling it an “immense subsidy” that would fall upon ratepayers. The veto was overridden by a significant bipartisan majority (226-113), but for Thomson it was also a teaching moment — a chance to explain just how vital the forestry industry is to the state and the folly of unintended consequences from an attempt to keep electricity costs down. “I know folks in the forest industry who work from 5 in the morning to 7 at night, sometimes seven days a week. To take time off and go to Concord and testify is almost impossible,” he explains. “I decided to fill that void and speak for them.”

He says the market for high-grade wood has been pretty good lately, but the pulp wood or biomass has to be part of the deal for the industry. “My forest is no different than a garden in your backyard. Mother Nature plants it, but you’ve still got to weed it,” says Thomson. With no pulp mills left in the state, the wood-burning power plants provide the market for this low-grade wood. Timberland owners operate all over the state, not just in the North Country, and along with $1.4 billion timber products industry, they provide around the same economic boost to the tourism business, making about 7,200 miles of trails available to hikers and ATV users. “My father always said you stand for something or you stand for nothing. I was proud to stand with the hardworking men and women of the timber industry.”

Trish Regan

Primetime Frontliner

Courtesy photo

New Hampshire has produced its fair share of celebrities, and we’re adding Trish Regan to that list. The FOX Business Network host attributes a great deal of her success to growing up in the Granite State. “I grew up in a political environment. Little did I know I’d grow up to make a career out of the ability to debate, decipher and analyze political and economy policy,” says Regan.

Regan attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, represented the Granite State in the 1994 Miss America pageant, and later worked as a business correspondent, reporting for the CBS Evening News through 2007. She’s received multiple Emmy nominations for her work, and sat alongside Sandra Smith as moderators for the Republican presidential primary debate, as they made history as the first dual-female team to host a debate. Her list of achievements is impressive, but her most recent primetime lineup might take the cake. “I’m on the frontlines of history with the viewers every night,” says Regan. “With so much breaking news, it takes a quick mind and one that has been steeped in policy, both economic and political, from a young age. I wouldn’t trade growing up in New Hampshire for anything in the world. It will always be my home.”

Chris Pappas and Eddie Edwards

Worthy Opponents

Courtesy photo

Democrat Chris Pappas and Republican Eddie Edwards may not agree on the issues, but they do have one big thing in common — each would represent a meaningful first for New Hampshire. Pappas would be the state’s first openly gay congressman while Edwards would be the first African American elected to national office from New Hampshire. Though the December issue went to press before the results were tallied, no matter who wins, it marks a significant moment for the Granite State amid a time when more women, minorities and LGBTQ people are running for all levels of office around the country. (Editor’s note: The online version of this story was posted after the election — Pappas won.) Edwards and Pappas were vying to replace Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who represented New Hampshire for four terms before her retirement. An Edwards win would flip the seat to Republican, which, if prognosticators are correct (polls haven’t been all that reliable), would go against the tide of the predicted “blue wave.”

John Broderick

Justice for All

Photo courtesy of Changing Directions NH

Judges have lots of chances to see people at their worst, but nothing could prepare then-NH Supreme Court justice John Broderick for the lowest point in his own son’s life, when the young Broderick violently attacked his father and wound up in the NH State Prison. It was a turning point for them both, with the son finally getting treatment for a hidden mental illness and the father finding a new mission for his own life. In the years since, Broderick educated himself about the state of mental health in NH and has become a champion for awareness and reform. Now as the leader for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s R.E.A.C.T. Mental Health Awareness Program, Broderick works with high school students, educators and others to spread the word that mental illness, just like any other disease, has its signs and treatments and should not carry a stigma of shame or fear. “Students can change the conversation,” says Broderick, and that’s how we can all change direction on mental health.

Photo courtesy of Mount Washinton Auto Road

Howie Wemyss

Life on “The Road”

Howie Wemyss got his start driving tours on the Mt. Washington Auto Road 40 years ago, eventually becoming the general manager in 1987. Since then, Wemyss has urged the Auto Road to become more sustainable by installing electric car stations and updating a hydroelectric system that dates back to the 1800s. More recently, he played a large role in the opening of The Glen House — the fifth hotel to be added to the property since the 1850s. “It is nice to get back to our hospitality roots and complete the picture that so many of us have been wishing we could get to for years,” says Wemyss.

While the development of attractions such as Great Glen Trails and increases in tourism have been exciting additions to and around Mt. Washington, the growth has called into question issues of capacity and land ownership on trailheads. To put it simply, Wemyss believes New Hampshire has to come together and be willing to sit down and address the increasing numbers so that they can keep up with demand. “As it stands, there is already limited space on our trails and mountains,” notes Wemyss. “If we want to get serious about overcrowding, we need the basics about who owns what in order to develop a solution that is sustainable.”

Photo by Emily Heidt

Megan Carpenter and Michael McCann

Blending Life & Law

Though the UNH School of Law in Concord is one of the country’s smallest, it has a reputation as one of the best places to study intellectual property law. Helping to build and expand that reputation is the school’s dean, Megan Carpenter, who sees partnerships with the community as a way to both teach students and make meaningful connections. In collaboration with DEKA, for example, a new class focused on one of the company’s case studies dealing with legal issues in the biotech industry.

Also keeping learning grounded in real world issues is law professor Michael McCann, the associate dean for academic affairs and director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute. Recently, he received national recognition for his course on the New England Patriots’ scandal “Deflate-gate.” “Sports law is a field that immediately connects with students,” he says. “Students are often deeply interested in the facts presented in sports law controversies like Deflate-gate because these students are already sports fans, so they bring a unique passion to all of my courses.”

A successful school is also good news for New Hampshire at large. “We draw students from across the country, and half of our students decide to stay in New Hampshire after they graduate, to make their lives here and to raise children here,” says Carpenter. “In the last four years, our students have contributed over 180,000 hours of pro bono legal services to the state — that’s over $10 million in legal services going into the New Hampshire economy.”

Xia Zhou

Control Enthusiast

Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College

Imagine playing your favorite video game without controls. Well, at least the kind you hold in your hands. Enter the new battery-free, energy-efficient, wearable eye tracker developed at the Dartmouth Networking and Ubiquitous Systems Laboratory (more easily referred to as the DartNets Lab). “This is an exciting advancement for gamers, developers and other users of smart glasses,” said the project’s lead and DartNets Lab co-director Xia Zhou in a Dartmouth College press release. “It’s the first-ever eye tracker that can fit into your everyday glasses and run without batteries.” Simply put, these augmented reality glasses use light to track your eyes’ movements. And it’s not just about better gaming. Some day, this type of continuous eye tracking could also be used to identify health issues like mental disorders or to detect fatigue. This is just one example of the exciting research happening at the DartNets Lab, where Zhou, who is also an associate professor of computer science, works with and mentors students. She’s also received a number of awards and accolades, including the National Science Foundation Career Award in 2016 and the Google Faculty Research Award in 2014. To learn much more about Zhou’s research, visit her YouTube channel to watch her demo videos.

Evan Hennessey

Chopped Champ

Photo by Susan Laughlin

New Hampshire is on the culinary food map, thanks in large measure to the talents of Chef Evan Hennessey. In May, he earned the title of champion on Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking competition. Then, in October, he won the “Chopped Champion Throwdown: Battle 1,” setting him up to compete on November 6 against three other champions for a chance to take home $50,000. This issue went to press just before the show aired, but we have high hopes he’ll come out on top. If, by some chance you haven’t seen the wildly popular show, chefs must use mystery basket ingredients to make an appetizer, entrée and dessert for judges. This time around, many of the ingredients were perfect for the Dover chef, including venison, blueberries, smelt and turmeric tea. Hennessey created a turmeric and tempura battered smelt with blistered carrots and a blueberry glazed venison loin with pickled green tomatoes. The judges loved everything about the dish. Hennessey’s Dover restaurant, Stages at One Washington, is an experience in modern cuisine. Watch from bar seating in the kitchen as he foams, pulverizes and slowly simmers in his high-tech kitchen with only induction burners and sous-vide equipment. His ingredients are often foraged or grown locally — a few are harvested in a growing room next to the restaurant.

Emily Fishbaugh

Advocate for Change

Emily Fishbaugh wants people to know they are strong and loved. Specifically, she wants the transgender community in New Hampshire — and around the country — to know they are not alone. The 17-year-old is transgender and has lived as her true self since the fourth grade. Contrary to social stigmas, she lives her life as a normal teenage girl. She attends Winnacunnet High School, loves makeup, played field hockey her freshman and sophomore years, has her own YouTube channel (Emily Tressa) and is a vocal proponent of trans rights. She spent the beginning of the year at the Statehouse advocating in support of a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Since HB 478 was passed in February, Fishbaugh has been busy speaking on panels around New Hampshire and Massachusetts and at the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teachers Network’s Homecoming Out event in 0ctober. “I just want everyone to know that my life is completely normal, just like yours,” says Fishbaugh. “I am an advocate for change and will continue to fight for trans rights. We are beautiful, and we need to focus on the incredible amount of love and support in our community.” Make sure to keep a look out on TLC for an appearance from Fishbaugh in 2019.

Nini Meyer

Positive Partner

Courtesy photo

The “kids are our future” is a clichéd statement, but clichés stick around for a reason — they’re often shorthand for big truths. Providing more evidence for this particular cliché is Hanover-based Positive Tracks, a national nonprofit that empowers youth to change their world through the power of sports. Under the leadership of CEO and founder Nini Meyer, Positive Tracks helps young people (ages 23 and under) organize and lead activities to achieve social change. With the goal of “sweating for good,” events have included boot camp workouts to provide resources to stop bullying, soccer matches to fight racism or shooting hoops to alleviate hunger. The organization was recently recognized at the international Beyond Sport Awards, taking home the Best Partnership In Sport for Good award. So far, according Positive Tracks, they’ve helped “63,000 youth partners educate and mobilize community, turning 350,000 miles of athletic activity into advocacy and activism around core issues, and $10 million for causes shaping the future.” By the end of 2020, they pledge to assist 100,000 (or more) young activists. Given their past success, it seems to be a goal well within reach. The future seems brighter already.

Photo by Allie Gutierrez

Jason Moon

Pod Person

Three years ago, when NHPR reporter Jason Moon attended a press conference on the 1985 unsolved Bear Brook murders, he had no idea he would be propelled into the world of serial killers, forensics and genealogy. This past October, Moon launched his six-episode “Bear Brook” podcast miniseries that covers how a decades-old New Hampshire cold case — the Bear Brook case — led to the arrest of California’s Golden State Killer, who was captured thanks to the new genetic genealogy technique first used in the New Hampshire murders. “When I began working on this story, it was certainly not within my normal job description,” says Moon, who began at NHPR covering education. Unlike the majority of his work at the station, Moon realized he wouldn’t be able to format this particular story into the standard structure. “There’s also a lot to be learned about forensic science from the story. Some of that forensic science raises interesting ethical questions about how much privacy we should be willing to give up to catch murderers and identify unknown victims,” says Moon. The podcast explores how genetic genealogy helped identify the Golden State Killer and suspects in other long-unsolved cases. Another goal, he says, is to “simply to spread awareness of the case itself [Bear Brook]. The victims are still unidentified, and so any help the podcast can be in generating tips for investigators would make it worth it, in my opinion.”

Louise Spencer

Growing the Grassroots

Photo courtesy of CBE Allegra Boverman/NHPR

In homes around the Statehouse, the political waters tend to run pretty blue, so the dismay after the 2016 upset victory by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was felt by entire neighborhoods. In one particularly close-knit community around Concord’s Kent Street, residents came together not just to mourn losses, but to organize for a more progressive future. Living so close to the seat of governance gives residents the ability to monitor politics and remain visible amidst the process. The group took the name “Kent Street Coalition” to enshrine its grassroots origin and approach, says co-founder Louise Spencer. “We knew we had to be engaged as citizens in a new way. It doesn’t all have to be serious business. It’s a chance to get together with like-minded people, have fun together, and make some change.” That attitude and a clever structure of seven issue-focused working groups helps them untangle the legislative morass and focus on specific political arenas. “I think we’ve outgrown the ‘hashtag resistance’ label in that we’re really trying to build something that will move forward, that isn’t driven by the election cycle,” says Spencer. As the mid-terms drew near, the focus was on voting rights and access, but the group’s door-to-door, person-to-person advocacy had already scored victories. Spencer says their canvassing in some recent special elections helped turn or hold enough seats in the Legislature to defeat a recent bill for school vouchers that lost by only five votes.

Peter Ramsey

City Lights

Photo by Emily Heidt

For a quarter of a century, Peter Ramsey has kept the watchlight (or the ghostlight) burning for culture in our state’s Queen City. As CEO and director of the Palace Theatre in Manchester, he has used a combination of shrewd business practices, legal and political acumen, and his love of performing arts to grow the Palace from a struggling institution in a city on the skids to a true crown jewel in a reborn Manchester with a bustling nightlife and arts scene. The Palace has just had its best year ever, says Ramsey, but he knows this isn’t a time to rest upon laurels. A property that has long intrigued him, the old Rex Theatre, just a block away from the Palace but run-down from years of neglect, is now green lighted by city aldermen for a makeover that will give Manchester a medium-size performing arts space that it has long needed. It’s not a done deal. To complete the restoration, Ramsey says, “This city will have to come together to raise a lot of money,” as much as $1.7 million. But with city leaders, including new mayor Joyce Craig, on board, he says it’s going to happen, attracting 50,000 new visitors downtown in years to come and boosting businesses on and near Amherst Street the way that the Palace has long kept the lights on for businesses on Hanover Street.

Categories: It List, People