The 2010 It List
New Hampshire is partly geography, sure, but so much of the character of our state is actually defined by the people who live here, work here or pass through and leave their mark. Our It List is an annual check on that biological infrastructure, the ever-changing human geography of the Granite State. Here are 16 people who have become, at least for now, New Hampshire's face, heart, mind and imagination.
Mike O'Malley | Michele Filgate | Kedar Guptar | Aaron Wiederspahn | Scot Henley | Laurie Ferguson | Nancy Kinner | Mark Connolly | Tara Reardon | Mike Effenburger | John Broderick | Connie Rosemont | Paul Moore | Katy Solsky | Noah Crane | Lisa Peakes
To get the old It List ball rolling, we start with the father figure we most want to represent N.H. in Hollywood …
That Glee Guy
Mike O'Malley has gone from a "Hey, it's that guy!" actor to achieving genuine star status. O'Malley, who was born in Boston and grew up in Nashua, has had his share of lows (like when "The Mike O'Malley Show" was canceled after two episodes in 1999) and serious highs (such as his current Emmy Award-nominated role as blue-collar dad Burt Hummel on Fox's wildly popular "Glee"). O'Malley went from host of Nickelodeon's game shows "Get the Picture" and "Guts" to roles in films like "28 Days" and "Eat, Pray, Love." In between O'Malley starred in six seasons of CBS's "Yes, Dear," landed a role on NBC's "Parenthood" and "My Name is Earl" (among others), wrote plays, got married, became a parent to three kids and even found time to return to his alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, to deliver the 2006 commencement speech.
It could be a plot line in a book, though it does stretch credulity a bit. An indie bookstore employee reads a little-known book that becomes her favorite book ever. Soon after she's at a book reviewers workshop and mentions the book (nay, sings its praises) to the workshop leader. It just so happens the workshop leader is the chairwoman of that year's Pulitzer Prize jury in the fiction category. The book wins the Pulitzer. It's a true story – the 2010 prize-winning book is "Tinkers" by Paul Harding; the bookstore, RiverRun in Portsmouth, and the protagonist, Michele Filgate. She is, indeed, a bookstore employee, the events manager. She's also a young (just 27) writer with a lot of credentials for her age: freelancer, book reviewer, social media maven and a tireless worker in making books hip and relevant.
Lighting a Way
Born in India, Kedar Guptar "came to America with five bucks in my pocket." He founded GT Solar in Merrimack, which later sold for upwards of $80 million, then co-founded, with his wife, Renu, and chief technology officer, Rick Schwedtfeger, ARC Energy in Nashua, an innovator in LED (light-emitting diodes) technology. The company made the headlines in February when President Obama visited ARC on a trip to Nashua. Obama praised the Guptas and their fellow entrepreneurs for the firm's successes creating research and innovation in the much-touted field of energy conservation technology. Gupta, in turn, sounds like he won't be joining in the Tea Party chorus criticizing the President. "He's a good guy," says the man from ARC.
Artist in Residence
He's the producing partner for Either/Or Films, which shot the durable indie classic "The Sensation of Sight" in Peterborough. He's the executive director of The Starving Artist in downtown Keene – a tiny theatre that's a creative incubator for everything from poetry, dance and drama to song-writing workshops. He's a board member, alongside directors from the Colonial and MacDowell Colony, of Arts Alive, which has a goal of putting the Monadnock Region on the map, nationally, as a creative center. Last, but not least, he's writing and directing "Someplace Like America," a feature-length film to be shot in Berlin. Aaron Wiederspahn may not be a household name yet, but give him time.
Staying on Top of Things
Its tenth annual Seek the Peak trek up Mount Washington raised a record $200,000 this year for the non-profit Mount Washington Observatory, which monitors weather and other conditions atop the highest mountain in the northeastern United States, and "home of the world's worst weather," boasts Scott Henley, the observatory's executive director. That makes the mountain a "natural laboratory" for environmental research and the testing of products ranging from ice scrapers for car windows to complex scientific equipment for cold weather research, often to the demise of the trial product. "We do a real good job of wrecking things on the mountain," Henley says.
A Brand New Message
In a time when any product needs distinct branding to make a blip on our media-saturated radar screens, Laurie Ferguson is spreading the word that a state is no exception. As the executive director of NH Made, she applies her 30 years of experience in marketing, public relations and event promotion to put Granite State businesses on the map. She has worked with NH Made since its creation in 1998 but took the reins as executive director in 2004. Under her leadership the website was revamped, the logo was redesigned and the publication "Guide to New Hampshire Products and Services" was launched. In the last six years membership has grown from just dozens of members to over 850. Next up, development of a new Amazon-style online marketplace for N.H. goods designed to make buying local products, services and year-round fresh produce into the easier and greener choice.
She is not a moviegoer, so when Nancy Kinner, professor of biology at the University of New Hampshire and co-director of its Coastal Response Research Center, was told last June she would be sitting next to film star Kevin Costner at a congressional hearing on the BP oil spill, she said: "Who's he?" She had never heard of him, she recalls. Kinner has been in the news as a go-to expert and a consultant to various agencies on the use of chemical dispersants to break up accumulations of oil, but she does not expect to be a star herself. "I guess 'Dancing with the Engineers' doesn't go too well" with prime-time TV fare, she says.
Mark Connolly made headlines in May when he announced he was resigning as head of the state's Bureau of Securities Regulation to testify publicly to the failure of the Banking Department and the Office of Attorney General concerning the practices of Financial Resource Mortgage of Meredith, which allegedly cost investors millions in an alleged "Ponzi scheme." Connolly spoke out against "an attempt by some to spread blame and not focus on the failure of those who actually had the authority to shut down this fraud." He received the North American Securities Administrators Association's Outstanding Service Award "for his significant contributions to investor protection throughout New Hampshire and North America."
Employing Common Sense
Rising unemployment loomed large in the news this year and weekly claims in New Hampshire surged to an all-time high of 35,000 in March. They are now a more manageable 22,000, leaving Department of Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon thankfully answering fewer questions about delays in getting checks to the unemployed. A new state program that continues benefits to jobless people going through a six-week training program with potential employers has led to the hiring of thousands. Reardon, obviously, would prefer talking about an improving economic picture."If it's about a company bringing 500 jobs to the state, I'll be happy to tap dance in the news," she says.
The music business in New Hampshire has never been busier, largely because the new post-Napster/bit Torrent/iPod music world has worked to the advantage of smaller local bands with ardent followings. As the moguls scramble to figure out the next mega-model for selling music, the actual musicians are working out their own plans using such primitive but effective techniques as spending long hours touring, performing and building creative relationships. Case in point, Mike Effenburger, who, when he's not teaching music on the Seacoast, plays with groups like Jazzputin, the Jug Skunks, the Seacoast Composers Forum, the F-tet, Bing and Ruth and one of the state's most exciting and innovative about-to-break-big bands, the Tan Vampires. If you want to see pure "It" in action, catch the Tan Vampires at The Stone Church in Newmarket on Nov. 18. Can't wait? He's playing with reggae lords High Fidelity at Harlow's Pub in Peterborough on Nov. 6.
Courting the Future
"The courts as I knew them are dying," Chief Justice of New Hampshire John Broderick said early this year. Broderick, 62, announced in June he will be stepping down from the Supreme Court on November 30, but he is likely to continue protesting budget reductions for the court system that have led to court closings, suspension of jury trials and a lawsuit charging the state is violating the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Broderick, who has been on the court since 1995 and the chief justice since 2004, has warned that continued "benign neglect" will mean "the courts won't be there when we need them." Broderick leaves his post with immense respect and a wide world of possibilities. So what's next for him? The jury is still out on that verdict.
Making Movies Matter
Anyone who thinks of movies as an escape from reality in a darkened room with strangers has never been to Concord's Red River Theatres. The motif is bright, the crowds are friendly and the movies are more like windows on the world than like escapes from it. Films at Red River just get the conversation started on topics ranging from local food to refugees to roller derby, and patrons linger after the curtains close to discuss the details. Sound magical? It is. And the woman who keeps spell from being broken is Connie Rosemont. Roughly half the revenue needed to keep this non-profit movie/cultural center open in the Capital City is provided by tickets and concessions. The rest must be drawn from memberships and donors, wooed by the charismatic Rosemont and her plucky, dedicated staff. They must be doing something right. Red River just celebrated its third birthday with a gala featuring the classic silent film "Safety Last" with an original score and a live orchestra. Two screenings were sold out. When was the last time you heard about a silent movie selling out a theatre, let alone twice?
Thousands of red Christmas stockings, filled with holiday sweets and small gifts, are being sent to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – and to veterans and the injured here at home – with the simple aim of brightening their day and showing support. It's all thanks to Paul Moore, who along with his sister Carole and many volunteers, send care packages of donated supplies to the troops, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. 'We want to recognize the sacrifices they and their families make,' Paul says. "It's the least we can do." Nearly 28,000 packages have been sent in the five years MooreMart has been in existence. (The non-profit project has been called MooreMart ever since one soldier joked that the Moores provided more supplies than Wal-Mart.) In recent years MooreMart (www.mooremart.org) has also sent relief supplies to schools and orphanages in the Middle East. The project started when Paul's brother, Brian, was sent to Iraq, and Paul and his sister sent packages to boost his morale.
Keeping Concord Cool
At a summer outdoor wedding held in Eagle Square, dozens cheered when Katy Brown and Scott Solsky tied the knot. Quite a few were customers who happened to be there shopping and selling at the Concord Arts Market that Katy created and where Scott arranges entertainment most Saturdays. It's just one initiative instigated by this young couple who decided they were sick of the old drone that the Capital City was a snooze. Katy set forth the self-fulfilling prophecy on a T-shirt (available at the Arts Market) reading "Concord Got Cool While You Weren't Looking." Scott's musical talent and connections have livened up any number of local events and now, with their powers combined, the sky is the limit for a cooler Concord.
Lakes Region Leaguer
Silkworms turned into Muskrats this year after Noah Crane and his father, Jonathan, bought the Manchester (Conn.) Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, renamed it and moved it to Laconia in time for the 2010 season. Crane's summer days and evenings were spent supervising everything from the grounds crew to the concession stands. Now he is busy recruiting collegians for next year's team. NECBL alumni include several major league stars, including Stephen Strasburg and Andre Ethier "People in the Lakes Region get to feel like this is their team," Crane says. "It gives them a chance to get a glimpse of the players before they become famous."
The New Face of Recovery
"Recovery" is a word you hear lately in reference to our crashed economy. Returning to normal has never seemed so urgent – except to an addict for whom "normal" is a nearly forgotten point on a slope to self-destruction. Lisa Peakes, a familiar name to N.H. Public radio fans and a competitive amateur bodybuilder, was on that slope for years though she says she was such a "functional addict" that most people didn't know. Now 16 years in recovery mode, she's directing Friends of Recovery-NH, drawing on the lessons of the vast community of recovered people. It's a movement that builds upon past successes, says Peakes, but is not limited by them. FOR-NH is now a partner in the state's "Access to Recovery" federal grant award ($3 million a year for the next four years) and in a Byrne Foundation grant to help inmates with substance abuse problems reintegrate into society.