G’night, Mike

3 Apr

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Last Saturday was a great day. The University of Central Missouri men’s basketball team captured the NCAA Division 2 title, and since I’m working through UCM to get my teaching certification, I’m a member of the Mules Nation. Then I watched streaming video of Team SCREAM, our high school’s robotics team, capture the FIRST Robotics Oklahoma Regional title, which gives those students a berth in the world championships later this month in St. Louis. While my NCAA bracket finally was busted by Michigan State’s loss, the evening ended with a great steak dinner with my wife, Melany.

The joys of Saturday turned to tears on Sunday. A former co-worker posted on Facebook that Mike Ritter, whom we had worked with at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., had been rushed to a hospital in Atlanta and endured 10 hours of emergency heart surgery. A couple of hours later, Will posted that Mike had died. I was crushed.

Mike was editorial cartoonist at the Trib when I was the news editor. He was a complete night owl, so after we cleared deadline for the daily paper I would frequently pop into his office (which was right next to mine) to see what he was working on. Mike was easygoing, friendly, personable and a brilliant conversationalist. At the time, he was dabbling with creating a comic strip about a diva cat who was the star of a series of cat food commercials and her handler, who strongly resembled our boss at the time.

Mike left the Trib under circumstances that remain cloudy to this day; a few people know the exact reasoning, but I figured it was Mike’s business and didn’t push anyone for details. A few years ago, a mutual friend posted something to his Facebook wall, I saw it and reached out. We exchanged a couple of messages and then passively kept in touch. His last message directly to me was on a photo I took of the Hotel Bothwell fireworks display on Thanksgiving.

So why am I so broken up over the loss of someone I last saw in 2005 and was a spotty correspondant with in recent years? Because Mike was young (48), good-looking and talented. He was kind, benevolent and, it so happens, gay. And I still look back on those late-night chats and remember was a genuine, outstanding person Mike was. The world is a lesser place without him.

G’night, Mike.

 

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Look what I found!

17 Mar

Look what I found!

With the newspaper’s ownership having changed hands and so many other convolutions over the past few years, I figured all my columns and editorials from my days at the East Valley Tribune had been relegated to the digital dustbin. I had searched for some of them before and came up with 404 errors, so imagine my surprise when this one, which won first place in feature column writing in the 2008 Arizona Newspaper Association awards, popped up.

Community asked to bring Karen home

2 Mar

Karen Anstine Lamb needs to come home. Friends and family members are trying to pave the way for her to get back to her support network.

Karen, 37, a Smithton native whose husband, Chris, is from Sedalia, was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and underwent a mastectomy. In September, she started to experience some back pain but she attributed it to new gym workouts. In November, Karen moved from Sedalia to Crystal Lake, Ill., with Chris and their daughters Madison, 14, and Erika, 9; their son Jacob, 18, remained here to attend State Fair Community College.

During the packing process for the move, Karen’s pain persisted.

“We got up here Nov. 15, and I would have to do things slowly and not just jump right in; I didn’t have the energy I had before because it would be painful,” she said in a telephone interview. “It just felt like the pain was getting worse and worse and worse.”

By the end of January, the pain intensified to the point that she told Chris, “I can’t do this anymore.” She went to a general practitioner, who referred her to an oncologist due to her history with cancer. Because Karen was experiencing numbness in her fingers and toes, the oncologist feared she had a blood clot; scans and other tests revealed that a cancerous mass had grown on her T4 vertebrae, penetrating the bone. And despite blood tests coming back clean, a biopsy revealed that her liver tested positive for cancer, as well.

“So, I go in Monday to have a port put in and on Tuesday I will start my chemotherapy,” Karen said matter-of-factly.

She and Chris know they will need their support network to help get through this challenge, so they have made plans to come back to Sedalia. Longtime friend Amanda Balke and Karen’s sister-in-law, Stacy Anstine, are leading an effort to raise $10,000 to help cover some of Karen’s medical and relocation costs. Stacy launched a campaign through the FundRazr website (fundrazr.com/campaigns/4hTV2) that has already brought in almost $1,800.

“We have lived in Kansas, Oregon, Illinois, we have cousins and family all over,” Karen said. “This will allow people from all over to contribute to the cause.”

In addition, Amanda and Stacy have reached out to local businesses for contributions for an auction planned for 6 p.m. April 26 at the Celebration Center, and response has been quite positive.

“I’ve had criers who know the family,” Amanda said. “I’ve shared tears with a couple of them who I had never even met who know the family.”

As donations come in and support grows each day, the scope of the event may expand to include a dinner. Amanda encourages those interested in helping the family to check out the Facebook event page she launched called “Benefit auction for Karen Lamb (Anstine)” (facebook.com/events/288129981340496/) to keep up as it evolves. Those wanting to donate auction items can call her at 660-473-1488.

Karen’s fighting spirit inspired another outreach effort. Whitney Cromley, who is Madison’s godmother, is selling T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the rallying phrase “Fight Like A Mom.”

“That came from a blog that I wrote … the day that she got the first diagnosis,” Whitney said. “In it, I wrote that the term shouldn’t be ‘Fight Like A Girl,’ it should be ‘Fight Like A Mom’ because Karen will fight like she is the mother of three children who need her, and there is nothing more powerful than fighting for your children – no better motivation and no bigger drive.”

Commenters said if she put that on a hoodie, they would buy it. So far, more than $3,000 worth of T-shirts and hoodies have been sold. Specialty Sportswear, of Sedalia, is handling production, and those interested in making a purchase can find the information on the auction Facebook page; orders are due March 5.

Karen and her family are going to try to move back to Sedalia the last week of March, and will likely stay with Chris’ parents until they find a place of their own. Madison will return to Smith-Cotton Junior High and Erika will go back to Heber Hunt Elementary.

“The teachers (at Heber Hunt) have been fantastic; they have been very supportive of me and looking forward to getting Erika back,” Karen said.

To facilitate the move, Chris, who works for Sears, had to step down from his position as director of sales and marketing for the company’s outlet division. He now will be a district manager with a lot of travel required.

“It was a sacrifice we had to make in order to get back home,” Karen said.

She has been moved by the sacrifices and support from the Sedalia community to help her come home.

“I can’t even tell you the amount of support and love that I have been given in this time. It has just been amazing,” she said. “The amount of love and support has just been overwhelming and it has filled my heart. My heart is overflowing with it.”

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It’s gotta be the shoes!

22 Feb

It's gotta be the shoes!

On Friday, Feb. 21, I was announced as the 2014 campaign chairman for Sedalia-Pettis County United Way. That means I’m the guy who promotes our member agencies and encourages people and businesses to donate dollars to United Way to support those agencies’ missions. As is tradition, I received a sweet pair of decked-out shoes to signify the legwork that must go into a successful campaign. All that was missing was Mars Blackmon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkY7W6kCRY4). Click on the photo for the Sedalia Democrat’s story.

Roof leak forces early end to futsal season

18 Feb

Here is my latest column for the Sedalia Democrat; someone messed up and they didn’t publish the Opinion page in the Weekend Edition (reprinted the food page from the previous day), so print readers still haven’t seen it.

The season may have ended early, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a success and a sign of a positive future.

A leak in the roof over the Sedalia Community Center’s gymnasium forced the Paul Klover Soccer Association to cancel the balance of its inaugural futsal season, leaving nearly 200 soccer players in divisions from U6 to adults disappointed. A couple of youth divisions will play a couple more games each over the next week or so to draw their match totals closer to those other teams met, but after that most players will have to wait until the fall to get back in the game.

Futsal is a game much like soccer, only it is played indoors on a field about the size of a basketball court. Each team has five players on the floor at a time, one of them a goal keeper. Adam Braverman, treasurer for PKSA and head of the futsal committee, said the game requires more skill than standard indoor soccer, and helps players better develop footwork for the outdoor game.

PKSA had been offering indoor soccer leagues at the Mathewson Exhibition Center since the early 1990s, renting the facility through all of December and January – a fairly expensive undertaking. Over the years, Braverman said, the turf field became worn and started pulling away from the wall boards. There were hopes that state funding would help pay for a replacement, but with Missouri’s current economic climate, “that is not a priority any longer,” he said.

Searching for an alternative indoor venue, PKSA board members turned to Sedalia city officials for some guidance. The Sedalia Community Center, 314 S. Washington St., was the answer.

“We have a great relationship with the city and we have had a phenomenal relationship with the parks department, so it was nice to make the transition and to partner with the city,” said Amanda Blackburn, PKSA’s board president.

But landing a venue wasn’t the only hurdle. Indoor soccer had become a tradition, and futsal is a significantly different game. As Braverman pointed out, the game not only is played on a smaller field without walls, with fewer players and on a different surface, but there also is a futsal-specific ball, made to reduce bouncing to keep it on ground as much as possible. But as the old saying goes, change is good.

“We are really happy with number of people who took the plunge with us,” Braverman said. “We feared losing half of our indoor participants in the change, but our numbers are down just 9 percent.”

Blackburn said board members “were worried if (players and parents) would like it. The first few games took some adjustment, but as the season progressed we saw a lot of improvement in play. The feedback has been great, and the kids love it.”

But early in February, PKSA official Judge Paul Beard showed up at the community center and discovered water from a roof leak covering the gym floor, forcing all of that day’s games to be cancelled. The next day was the ice storm that paralyzed the area, and games again were called off. Braverman said no games have been played since then, and last week the decision was made to cut the season short except for the handful of matches for the younger players.

John Simmons, Sedalia’s community development director, said the severity of the roof problem remains an unknown.

“We have not been able to get a contractor up there with all of the ice and snow to figure out where (the leak) is occurring,” he said. “When that ice and snow sits up there then melts, the water travels in strange pathways. A leak on the interior might be 20 feet in other direction.”

The city has a maintenance schedule for all of its buildings, and the community center is slated for a roof replacement but not in the current budget. Simmons said the leak will be repaired as soon as possible and consideration will be given to moving up the roof replacement.

“When these things happen, it changes their schedule,” he said. “These ice events confound us with these flat roofs. You never know which one will demand your attention.”

Simmons is disappointed that the leak caused PKSA to cut its futsal season short.

“We’re sorry this happened, it’s one of those unexpected things,” he said. “It is so unfortunate; they were so excited to use the facility. For their future season, it will be in good shape for use again.”

That is good news for the Paul Klover board, the players and parents – but Braverman and Blackburn said PKSA is “exploring all of our options,” including looking into working with supporters to build its own facility. The positive reaction to futsal is one of the key motivating factors.

“We couldn’t have hoped for any better reviews and the most exciting part is the kids and their ability to track the ball, control the ball, and do those things a lot more smoothly than they could when we started,” Blackburn said.

When word got out that the season was over, “the kids were devastated,” she said. But parents were understanding, and Blackburn has received dozens of Facebook messages asking if futsal will be offered again next winter. A return to the community center is not out of the question.

“You can see there have been some leaks over the years, but this one is right over the floor,” Blackburn said. “It obviously needs some work, it is an old facility. But the safety of the players is most important. … (Ending the season early) was tough to stomach at first … but all in all, it has been OK.”

Thisclosetotheprize

13 Feb

Just got word that my feature story on Sedalia resident Betty Hopkins and the African man she helped put through college took second place in feature writing in the Missouri APME awards. I really enjoyed all the work on that story, and I’m glad someone else found value in it.

Don’t Press Send!

28 Jan

I spent part of today’s personal finance class lecture discussing “social media footprint” and the fact that employers will look at your posting history when considering you for a job. I shared former NFL coach Herman Edwards’ motto: “Don’t Press Send!” I could see some students thinking about what they have put out for all to see.

I returned to the office and prepared to post a district-related item when I came across an infantile screed smearing a good friend who has one of the biggest hearts in our community. The post was loaded with anger, bombast and self-pity. Frankly, it was one of the ugliest things I have seen on Facebook — and that is saying something. And yes, it was about her now former employer (it was written after she lost her job).

If not for the profanity, I would use it to reiterate my message to my students. I still may, after redacting the f-bombs, but I don’t know if my Sharpie has that much black ink in it.

Job loss is difficult and people can get incredibly emotional about it. But turning to social media to burn bridges will lead to you standing on an island with nowhere to turn. In this case, the writer tagged my friend in her post, so all of his friends got the chance to see her tantrum; worse, when a couple of people pointed out this fact and defended my friend, the writer went into overdrive to smear them, as well.

Building and maintaining positive relationships is vital in today’s economy. The best job opportunities are never advertised; instead, they are shared internally and current employees suggest people they know to fill those slots — people who they trust and who they are confident will be positive influences in the workplace. Still, sometimes things don’t work out for any number of reasons. When that happens, workers need to rise above their emotions and think about the future.

Writing is a good outlet for frustration and can help a person get their emotions in check. But consider the implications of airing your dirty laundry; typically, it has no negative impact on the subject and it makes the writer look petty, childish and vindictive. So write it if you must, but whatever you do, “Don’t press send.”

It’s in the stars

25 Jan

My Jan. 25-26 column for the Sedalia Democrat attempts to fill the void from the paper dropping its daily horoscopes. How did I peg your week?

As an old-school newspaper guy, I aim to give the readers what they want — within reason. I know well the economic realities of today’s media landscape, but I also long for some of the features that I had grown accustomed to, such as the comic strip “Pearls Before Swine.”

Lately, Sedline has been peppered with comments like the one that appeared in last weekend’s edition: “Bringing the horoscopes back to the paper would be pretty cool.”

Ask and ye shall receive. I tracked the constellations for the past week, borrowed Travis McMullen’s Ouija board and consulted with the Beaman Monster. Here’s your outlook for the next fortnight:

Aries: You’re impatient and obsessed with how your yard looks. Still, you should hold off on mowing your lawn for a few more weeks — at least wait until temperatures move into double digits. If you must, consider using your weed whacker to trim your houseplants, just to tide you over. Mulch is good for your carpet.

Taurus: The weight of those New Year’s resolutions is starting to get to you. This week, try putting that weight on a bar and lifting it a few times. Follow that up with a protein shake — here’s a hint, that doesn’t involve putting a pork chop in a blender.

Gemini: Your sign is represented by twins, as you know. So it’s time to hunt for your kindred spirit — the yin to your yang, the Scooby Doo to your Shaggy. Based on what I have learned from television, look for someone who looks just like you, only they have a goatee.

Cancer: Important information is about to arrive via mail. The visions were a little cloudy, so it is either notification that you won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse giveaway, your W-2 is finally ready or that “Bazinga” guy is on the cover of Entertainment Weekly again.

Leo: Coming off of your Golden Globes win, you will receive the Oscar for Best Actor and go on to star in director Oliver Stone’s remake of “Citizen Kane.” (Only applies to Leos with the last name DiCaprio.)

Virgo: You’re a riddle wrapped in a mystery encased in an enigma. Wow, I’m dizzy just thinking about that. Quit being so sketchy. You’re creeping people out.

Libra: You missed your calling but it’s not too late. You can still run as a write-in candidate for Sedalia City Council. Key to winning: Make your campaign announcement a pro wrestling-style promo, complete with the line, “Whatcha gonna do when code enforcement mania runs wild on you?”

Scorpio: Avoid bees. Seriously. There are no positive outcomes.

Sagittarius: Today is a good day for a challenge. Get $1 worth of gas at 10 different gas stations. For every cent you go over $1 at each stop, pull out one eyebrow hair. You’ll get pretty good at hitting $1 fairly quickly.

Capricorn: Check your Christmas stocking. Pretty sure you left a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in there. That’s not going to hold up in storage for 11 months. Snack time!

Aquarius: Today is a good day to start wearing a monocle. Hey, it has worked out really well for that Monopoly guy. Oh, and buy a railroad.

Pisces: Read a book. Go a day without sending a text message or using a microwave oven. Drink a cup of coffee — the original energy drink. Engage in a face-to-face conversation. It will be like time travel, only no need for lightning and a DeLorean. Granted, you might need a time machine to get that reference.

If this is your birth month, your aura is teal and your lucky number is 216, so avoid wearing orange and don’t go to Cleveland.

I hope these helped provide a roadmap for your day. If so, after two weeks, the next one on the list will apply to your sign. If not, flip a coin — heads you’ll have a good day, tails you stay in bed and call Sedline repeatedly to complain about the new fire station. It seems some of you already have a jump on that…

Getting back to work

18 Jan

Here is this week’s column for the Sedalia Democrat. Healthy U has been a great experience for me, and it will continue to make a difference in my life.

Big honor for the Big Hurt

8 Jan

BigHurtFrank Thomas, the most dominant hitter in baseball during the 1990s, today was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. “The Big Hurt,” as he was known, has season and career stats that put him in the same conversation as legendary players such as Gehrig, Ruth, Mays and Mantle. As a lifelong Chicago White Sox fan, I got to see Thomas play regularly, including during his back-to-back MVP years (1993, 1994). He should have won a third in 2000, when he came in second to admitted PED user Jason Giambi.

Now, I need to see if I can get to Cooperstown for the Big Hurt’s induction.

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