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Archive for June, 2016

I’d been bracing myself for the death of Pat Summitt the last two days, since reading that the inspirational, former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach was nearing the end and surrounded by her family.

Still, the news of her death today knocked me back and left me with an empty feeling.

She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s just five years ago. When it was announced, I thought she’d be around maybe 10 more years, but that disease is relentless and moves more quickly than many of us like to acknowledge. It took her at 64.

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Summitt in action and in charge

Although she rang up three fewer national championships (with eight) than Coach Gino Auriemma of Connecticut, she racked up more wins than any other Division I college coach, male or female. Her drive, competitive spirit and icy glare — which she bestowed on her players and referees alike — were legendary.

Here are a couple of classic Summitt quotes:

:: “Teamwork is what makes common people capable of uncommon results.”

:: “Success is a project that’s always under construction.”

Both are so true but, at the same time, so hard to live your life by. Striving for teamwork — in the workplace, at home, wherever — is difficult. At the same time, once you achieve a degree of success, it’s tempting to sit back and loll in satisfied feelings.

Summitt, who grew up on a farm in Tennessee, was an incredible trailblazer. She became Tennessee’s head coach at 22 after graduating from the University of Tennessee-Martin in 1974. That was eight years before the N.C.A.A. began sponsoring women’s basketball and 43 years after the NCAA held its first postseason tournament for men.

Her starting salary was $250 a month. A New York Times story said: “She held a doughnut sale to help pay for the team uniforms, which she washed herself. Her team once slept on mats at an opponent’s gym because there was no money for a hotel.”

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I can’t say I started following women’s basketball because of Pat Summitt, but I’m sure she had an indirect influence. Under her, women’s college basketball became a big deal. Not as big as men’s basketball by any stretch, but it started making headlines and getting on national TV.

I recall the apex of the 1997-98 season, when Tennessee beat Louisiana Tech 93-75 in the women’s final at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. It was Tennessee’s third consecutive NCAA title and the only perfect season (39-0) the Lady Vols ever had.

I didn’t go to that Final Four, but it was about then that I was getting into women’s basketball. In recent years, I’ve been to several Women’s Final Four tournaments. At one of them — can’t remember which — Summitt was the halftime show. Seated on a stool and holding a mic, she answered questions from an interviewer and talked about her life and times as a coach. It was a terrific halftime show, and afterward I saw her standing on an arena concourse, about to return to a private suite. She was surrounded by a handful of people, and I passed up the opportunity to wait and say hello. Now, of course, I wish I would have waited to shake her hand and look in those eyes.

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As you would expect, she faced her death sentence with determination and grace. In an interview that is running on ESPN, she said accepting the Alzheimer’s diagnosis was extremely difficult but that after about a year she decided to dig in and fight as hard as she could.

“You can keep livin’ your life,” she said. “It may not be the best thing. But you just got to make it what it is. And, you know, that’s what I’ve done.”

What a coach…what a woman…what a person to emulate.

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From my view not far from Meyer Circle, things aren’t lookin’ so good these days.

You know how I hate to be a negativist but, damn, a few things have me wringing my hands.

Have you got a minute?

— Let’s start with the fountain itself. When the city’s other fountains came on this spring, the Sea Horse Fountain at Meyer Circle didn’t come on. Stayed dry. And it hasn’t functioned yet. Turns out the fountain’s “vault,” which contains the inner workings, including the pump, collapsed. The preliminary estimate for repairs is $500,000. Our neighborhood association is applying for capital improvements funds, and the City of Fountains Foundation will be able to help some, but it’s not going to be quick or easy.

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— As much as we want to hope that what we’re seeing isn’t “the real deal,” it’s looking more and more like the Royals are a shadow of their former selves. On Friday night, they gave up nine runs in the first inning, and last night they gave up seven runs in the second inning. I feel sorry for the people who went to those games; that had to be pretty bleak. Those of us who started watching the games on TV could, mercifully, tune out and still have most of the night ahead to entertain ourselves otherwise.

— What can you say about that crazy Kansas Legislature? For three or four days, it cast about in special session, wrestling with something called a “hold harmless” provision, before finally coughing up enough money to finance the 2016-17 school year. Some of the news stories prior to Saturday’s were pretty much gobbledygook, and I think it was only partly the reporters’ faults. The Republican-dominated Legislature also contributed to the muddle by refusing, until the end, to come up with more money to open schools in August. A lot of those conservatives simply don’t believe in a balance of power; they’d like to see the Kansas Supreme Court go poof in the night so they’d have clear passage to do what they damn well please.

The Star’s lead editorial Saturday called for Johnson County voters to select several moderate legislative candidates over several conservative candidates in the August primary. Among those recommended for departure was state Sen. Greg Smith, father of murder victim Kelsey Smith. I went through teacher-certification courses with Greg at Avila University in the mid-2000s and admire him and wife Missy greatly. But I agree with The Star; it’s time for Smith to leave the Legislature, which badly needs more people who will take the blinders off. The conservatives idea of playing in the sand box is simply throwing as much as possible, and now the box is just about empty.

— Today, Bishop James Johnston of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will lead a “Service of Lament” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to apologize for the local priest sexual-abuse scandal. He’s asked all the priests of the diocese to attend and wear purple vestments as a sign of penance. I guess this is a good thing, but the specter of our recently departed, criminally convicted Bishop Robert Finn will certainly be hovering inside the cathedral’s golden dome. I certainly have no interest in being there. Furthermore, the specter of that exclusive Men’s Club — priests, deacons, etc. — congregating in purple garb just sounds kind of weird and warpy.

— Finally, I’ve got my own cloud looming on the horizon: knee-replacement surgery toward the end of next month. Damn thing’s been getting progressively worse for about a year, and I’m ready for the sawing and gluing to get underway. A couple of weeks ago, I had to cancel a planned trip to the U.S. Open Golf Tournament outside Pittsburgh because of the discomfort. I can still play a little golf, provided I take anti-inflammatories beforehand and acetaminophen before and after. I try to put it in perspective, though. Last night and early today, The Star had on its website a short story about a 34-year-old Kansas City man who lost control of his vehicle at 10:40 a.m. Saturday morning on the entrance ramp to southbound U.S. 71 from Bannister Road. His vehicle left the roadway, went down an embankment and hit a tree. Bam. That was it for him…I’ll be thankful if I can get to the O.R.

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With all the depressing stuff going on in the world, it’s refreshing to see something positive come along to lift the spirits.

Such is the story of the puppy — a pit bull mix — that two Royals’ fans helped rescue from a hot car at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday.

Michael Warner of Independence and his brother Josh Lee of Overland Park were walking back to their car in the eighth inning (the game went 13 innings) when they heard whimpering and followed the sound to the vehicle where the dog had been left. They summoned help, and team officials were able to get the dog out of the car. (I believe the windows had been left open enough to allow access to the release buttons.)

The dog, estimated to be about 16 weeks old, is at the city’s animal shelter, run by Kansas City Pet Project, and will be put up for adoption if the owner doesn’t claim the dog within several days…It seems unlikely to me that the owners will step forward, partly because of the embarrassment awaiting them and also because they could be charged with animal cruelty under city ordinances.

Warner, one of the rescuers, has expressed interest in adopting the dog. Congratulations to Warner and Lee for stepping into action and possibly preventing this little guy from dying.

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A little more than a year ago, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was riven with conflict stemming from then-Bishop Robert Finn’s controversial reassignment of several priests.

Among others, many St. Thomas More parishioners in south Kansas City were fuming because Finn had reassigned their popular pastor, Rev. Don Farnan, to the hinterlands of northern Missouri. Also, many Visitation parishioners were in open rebellion against the appointment of Rev. Vincent Rogers as their new pastor. He was coming from St. Andrew the Apostle Church in the Northland.

The chaos revolved around Finn’s perceived desire to banish Farnan, with whom he was at odds, and, in a related move, impose a priest aligned with his orthodoxy (Rogers) on Visitation parishioners.

Before the moves were implemented, Pope Francis summoned Finn to Rome and canned him. Finn was singular in an ignominious way: He is the only American bishop who has been convicted of a crime (cover-up) in the priest sexual abuse scandal. A month after Finn was canned, the interim bishop, Joseph Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, pulled the plug on the most controversial Finn transfers.

Recently, the new permanent bishop, James Johnston, announced reassignments that apparently were met with uniform acceptance. As part of the transfers that will take effect July 1, Farnan will be going to St. Charles Borromeo Church in the Northland, and Msgr. Brad Offutt, pastor at three rural parishes, will be going to Visitation. (Offutt is a former diocesan chancellor, the highest position besides bishop.)

The current Visitation pastor, Rev. Pat Rush, who had to put off his retirement plans after last year’s upheaval, will now get to stand down. And as far as I can tell, Rogers will remain at St. Andrew the Apostle for at least another year.

…In his first year, Johnston seems to have gone a long way toward restoring peace in the diocese and goodwill at the chancery, 20 W. Ninth Street. Among other things, I understand he recently led a group of people on a march from the chancery to Municipal Auditorium for a recent hearing regarding new federal rules to rein in the payday lending industry.

Takin’ it to the streets…That’s real leadership and, I’m sure, what Pope Francis would have done had he been here.

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Bishop James Johnston

 

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If you go to the website of the Shawnee Mission Post, the first thing you see is a pop-up ad for SoJo Summer Fest — formerly known as Jazz in the Woods — which is having its 27th rendition this weekend at Corporate Woods Founders Park.

Pop-ups can be greatly irritating to readers, but as they go, this one is fairly unobtrusive and, because of the mission and scope of this online newspaper, it is actually as informational as it is irritant.

Most important, that pop-up is eye candy and money in the bank to Jay Senter and Dan Blom, co-publishers of the Shawnee Mission Post.

For Senter and Blom, who produce nearly all the stories for the Post, this is a celebratory week: On Wednesday, they observed the sixth anniversary of their publication’s founding. They also celebrated the fact that, in an era when traditional newspapers are battling to make the transition from print to online and when many online start-ups are experiencing brief life spans, the Shawnee Mission Post is making money and expanding.

Senter’s and Blom’s business strategy has revolved around three elements: being patient and flexible; churning out multiple byline stories every day; and not taking on debt.

“It took us five years to get this business model oiled and running smoothly,” the 36-year-old Senter said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s a constant shifting of hats that we do every day.”

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Kevin Collison

Senter and Blom raised the stakes significantly in January when they hired their first full-time employee, sales director Jennifer Vanourney, whose background includes 15 years as an ad rep at The Kansas City Star. In recent days, Senter and Blom committed to an equally important full-time hire on the editorial side, nabbing former KC Star development reporter Kevin Collison, who is set to start in mid-August. (Collison will continue doing freelance stories for KCUR-FM 89.3.)

Coinciding with Collison’s start, Senter and Blom will officially launch their second site, the Blue Valley Post. That will extend the Post’s reach from about 95th Street to the southern reaches of Leawood and Overland Park. The new site is already up and running in soft, or “beta,” format. As you might expect, the pop-up for SoJo Summer Fest is the first thing you see on that page, too.

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Jay Senter

Senter and Blom expect the Blue Valley Post to be the first of several additional sites, each of which would serve specific parts of Johnson County. The model Senter envisions parallels The Star’s expansion into Johnson County about 20 years ago. Back then, home delivery sales were starting to fall badly in the central city and Wyandotte County but growing in Johnson County. The Star responded by rolling out several “Neighborhood News” publications — stand-alone, tabloid sections that were inserted in weekday editions, once or twice a week. At its peak, The Star was publishing about a dozen targeted neighborhood sections.

Those sections made good money for several years, but they withered in the late 2000s because of the general downturn in the newspaper industry — a situation triggered, of course, by the relentless rise of the Internet.

The Star wasted little time pulling its horns, not only dropping the Neighborhood News publications but also closing its suburban bureaus after decades of success with them.

That left the existing community newspapers — and digital start-ups — to re-seed the suburban landscape. As Collison aptly put it in a phone interview, the digital start-ups, like the Shawnee Mission Post, are “filling in the gaps as the old war horses retreat.”

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Senter and his wife Julia Westhoff, founded their paper as the Prairie Village Post in June 2010. For the couple, Prairie Village was a natural starting point. Not only do they live there but Senter was raised in Prairie Village and graduated from Shawnee Mission East in 1998. Senter has a master’s degree in journalism from KU, and he previously wrote for Yahoo! Sports, the Lawrence Journal-World and KCFreePress.com, among other publications. He also held jobs at the University of Kansas Hospital and the American Academy of Family Physicians before making the Post his full-time endeavor two years ago.

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Dan Blom

For the first two years, coverage centered on Prairie Village, Fairway and Mission Hills, with Prairie Village Shopping Center merchants providing most of the initial advertising. In August 2012, Blom came on board as co-publisher. Also a Prairie Village resident, Blom, 66, had previously worked for nearly 30 years at community newspapers in northwest Indiana. With family-owned Howard Publications, Blom worked as a reporter and editor and then on the business side as as operations director, general manager and publisher.

After Blom’s arrival, the two men expanded coverage into Mission, Roeland Park, Merriam, Westwood, Westwood Hills, north Overland Park and north Leawood. Two months ago, the expansion had reached a point where a name change was warranted, and the Shawnee Mission Post was born. The Post’s website is now averaging about 4,000 unique visitors a day, including weekends, when new content is not published.

On deck: the wide open spaces, burgeoning business environment and fertile real-estate-development opportunities of Blue Valley.

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When you go to the “Advertise” tab on the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley Post websites, the first words you see are: “You’re local. So are we.” With that simple concept and searing focus, Senter and Blom have found a formula that has worked for them so far…From our vast staff at JimmyCSays — where 200 unique visitors marks a good day — congratulations to Senter and Blom on six successful years and best wishes for a prosperous, expansive future.

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When you’re hired on in some businesses, you have a week or two to settle in, take an introductory tour around the facilities and maybe even go through an orientation program.

In the newspaper business, though, you’re usually thrust right into action.

On my first day at The Kansas City Times, in September 1969, a reporter named Harihar Krishnan (how could I forget that?) gave me a brief newsroom tour, showing me where to hang my coat, get notebooks and other supplies and how to use the criss-cross directories. He then said, “That’s about it.”

“What do I do now”? I asked Krishnan.

“Sit down, put your feet on the desk, smoke a cigar, read a magazine — do whatever you want,” he said.

…Now this, I thought, is pretty good!

Within minutes, however, the phone on my desk was ringing. Puzzled, I picked up the heavy black receiver and said, “Hello.” The voice on the other end said, “This is the McGilley Midtown Chapel; I have one for you.”

I had no idea what the person was talking about and asked him to hold. Covering the mouthpiece with my hand, I shouted over to the city editor that somebody on the line apparently had the wrong number.

“No,” the city editor called back. “It’s a funeral home calling with an obituary; take down the information.”

It was at that moment I learned I hadn’t really been hired as a “general assignment reporter” but as an obituary writer — which, at the time, was the apprenticeship every KC Times and Star reporter had to serve before reaching true general assignment status.

I bring up my Kansas City Times indoctrination as a parallel to what has occurred since Steve Vockrodt, formerly of The Pitch, started work as development reporter at The Star on Monday, June 6.

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Steve Vockrodt

I expected Vockrodt, an experienced reporter, to get out of the blocks quickly, but his production has surprised even me. By my count, using the kansascity.com “search” box, Vockrodt has had nine bylined stories in eight working days. That’s churning ’em out, and it shows what an impact the hiring of one experienced journalist can have. It also illustrates, by contrast, the enervating effect that laying off and buying out experienced reporters can have.

Since 2008, two years after McClatchy purchased The Star and about 20 other Knight Ridder papers, The Star has shed scores of newsroom employees — and hundreds in the overall operation — to the point where the news hole got so small that many people wondered how long The Star could continue publishing the print edition every day.

No longer do I hear significant speculation about the prospect of some daily print editions being dropped, and the hiring of Vockrodt and several other young journalists in recent weeks tends to indicate The Star has steadied after years of tumbling down the cliff.

..But back to Vockrodt and the impact one reporter can make. His most recent story, posted today, is about Cabela’s announced intention to build a new store in Lee’s Summit. Should it come to pass, it undoubtedly would hurt business at the only existing area Cabela’s store, the one at Village West in Kansas City, KS.

As part of a development agreement with the Unified Government, Cabela’s apparently agreed not to build another store within 150 miles until at least 2023. The Unified Government is now considering its options, which, presumably, could include legal action. In his story, Vockrodt said a spokesman at Cabela’s corporate offices in Sidney, NE, did not respond to “several attempts seeking comment for this story.”

This is an important story and one that might not have gotten the attention it deserved if Vockrodt was not on the job. But it’s a symbolic of a bigger picture, too. To execute its mission — providing readers with the news they need and want — major metropolitan newspapers have an obligation to maintain strong reporting staffs. They need a lot of people watching and applying pressure in various places — including private enterprise and government agencies — and making those “attempts seeking comment for this story.”

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For once, there was a lot of news about The Kansas City Star in the Star.

The Sunday edition shed some light on the muddled situation with longtime columnist C.W. Gusewelle, and it announced the addition of five young journalists.

First, about those hires…I was pleasantly surprised to see The Star “toot its own horn.” In all my years of working at and now following The Star, I have never seen a story about the hiring of reporters. Stories have been limited almost exclusively to the comings and goings of upper-level journalists and administrators, such as publishers, editors, managing editors, editorial page editors and business-side vice presidents.

I think the decision to write about these new hires owes to the avalanche of criticism in recent years about reductions in the staff and the actual size of the paper. Because of budgetary cuts by its owner, the McClatchy Co., The Star has been laying people off and offering buyouts since 2008, two years after McClatchy purchased the Knight Ridder chain, which previously owned The Star.

It’s been a depressing era to work at The Star, and everyone down at 18th and Grand has felt the pressure. Think of it like an ancient ship, where banks of oarsmen provided the power, but rowers kept disappearing during the ocean crossing until only a skeletal crew was left to pull the weight that had been borne by hundreds.

Things have changed for the better, though. The first sign was several months ago, when the four -page In Depth insert was added to the A-section Tuesday through Friday. That has deepened the news hole, although it still irritates the hell out of me that on those days the editorial and op-ed pages are not at the back of the section, where they should be. I frequently find myself rifling through the section looking for the editorial page.

Another big change, of course, was the departure of do-nothing publisher Mi-Ai Parrish last year and the naming of young (38 when he took over in January) and energetic new publisher Tony Berg. From the outset, Berg voiced strong support for the newsroom and hard-hitting stories, and he has tackled the circulation problems head-on. In March — undoubtedly with Berg’s blessing and perhaps at his instigation — The Star named Greg Farmer as managing editor, a post that had been left vacant since Steve Shirk retired a year earlier.

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Ian Cummings

In addition — last year, I believe — The Star hired a young reporter named Ian Cummings whose byline has become a consistent presence in the paper. Coincidentally, he had Sunday’s lead story, a provocative and disturbing take-out on the dangerous levels of lead poising in Kansas City area children.

Another hopeful sign was McClatchy posting “help-wanted” ads to fill two editorial-page vacancies after the retirements of Steve Paul and Barb Shelly. (On the not-so-good-news side of that development, a friend of mine, a person with outstanding credentials, applied five weeks ago and has not received a response or any kind — not even an acknowledgment. Bad form but not surprising.)

I have to admit I got worried anew toward the end of the Kansas Legislature’s session, however, when I noticed that Topeka correspondent Ed Eveld, who was assigned that beat about a year ago, wasn’t writing any stories. The Star was again picking up legislative reports filed by a reporter for the Wichita Eagle, another McClatchy paper.

I called a friend at The Star, and the friend told me Eveld was still at The Star but had taken an editing job on the sports desk. In addition, I learned, The Star was hiring a former intern, Hunter Woodall, to take over the Topeka post.

About the same time, Steve Vockrodt, a standout reporter at The Pitch, announced he was was joining The Star’s staff as a business reporter.

I had no idea, until Sunday, that The Star had hired three other journalists. They are Katy Bergen, another former Star intern who is now a general assignment reporter; Ashley Scoby, a former Sports Illustrated intern who is primarily covering high school sports for The Star; and Maria Torres, a former MLB.com intern who now is The Star’s digital and social media editor.

…Let’s hear a round of applause for the new hires; it’s good to see a few new oarsmen on the benches.

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Now, regarding Gusewelle…Most of you know he hadn’t written a new Sunday column in months. In his absence, The Star ran old columns of his, along with a tag line saying his column would return.

Well, it returned Sunday, but it’s possible Sunday’s column could be his last. He wrote: “In these past months, I have been dealing with chronic health conditions. Time spares none of us.”

He said he would continue to “contribute to The Star as time permits” but that his weekly column was over.

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Gusewelle

A friend of mine, who knows Gusewelle (pronounced Gus-well) very well, told me recently he has long had breathing problems and is on oxygen much of the time…When I got to The Star in 1969, it was the proverbial smoke-filled newsroom, “Gus” was one of many people puffing away. (One of the smartest things I ever did was give up cigarettes in 1964, immediately after the surgeon general’s report on smoking came out.)

Gus has had a run of more than 60 years at The Star. How he maintained his connection that long I will never know or understand…He’s got a huge following, and I’m sure all readers of this blog join me in wishing Gus good luck and congratulating him on a phenomenal career. In a way, as far as Kansas City is concerned, he’s the Ernest Hemingway who stayed.

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We have a lot of fund-raising galas in this town, and a new one had its debut last night at the Sheraton-Crown Center (the former Hyatt Regency). It was called Radio Active: An Off-Air Affair.

Judging by the energy in the room and the size of the crowd — more than 500 — this looks like an event that will find a permanent place on the benefit calendar.

For one thing, KCUR lined up a well-known NPR personality, “Morning Edition” host David Greene, as guest speaker for the initial “Affair.”

For another, KCUR is on the move. The station has significantly increased its staff size in recent years and is steadily gaining listeners at the expense of some other traditional media models, including print journalism and AM radio.

Nico Leone, KCUR’s general manager, told the crowd 89.3 was one of the top 15 public radio markets in the country. That’s impressive.

And when Up to Date host Steve Kraske asked Greene why public radio’s stock seemed to be ascending everywhere, Greene said one reason is NPR’s conscious effort “to capture the energy of the younger generation.”

…Another factor that helped set a light-hearted, uninhibited tone to the occasion was the call for guests to wear “festive attire.” That flummoxed some people, but not me. As a Louisvillian and a Kentucky Derby regular, I know festive. I got a lot of compliments on my outfit, and I feel sure that had a vote been taken, I would have been named “most festive.”

That said, a lot of people were lookin’ good…Check it out…

 

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The backdrop

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Our table sponsors, Judy and Jamie Frazier

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David and Julie Warm

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Gerald and Gloria Hiller

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Mr. and Mrs. JimmyC

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Nico Leone

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David Greene and Patty

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The dance floor and the BelAirs

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Ladies in black

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A lady named Jessica

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World famous investment banker Jack Holland and our friend Pat Russell, who is drawn to luminaries

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Here’s a morning-after addition to the photo line-up. (See comment below by Kate, author of the 43rd Place blog.)

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Patty in festive skirt…

 

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