Sandy Mendelson, President, Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet

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Although Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson started with few resources and only a high school education, he has developed successful businesses, closed or revamped businesses, and bought and sold real estate. I asked Sandy how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

As a child growing up in Dayton, Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson “liked to do everything except read and write in school…I just loved building things, making things, tinkering with my hands. My dad had a scrapyard in 1955 and I started going to the yard and taking stuff apart, sorting stuff out and playing with junk and taking stuff home.”

During his high school years, “I was the handyman of the school, fixed everything… in charge of the stage crew…a lot of the things I was in charge of, because I was a go getter.”

In 1960 his father, Harry Mendelson, opened Mendelson’s Electronics on Linden Ave. in Dayton to sell surplus. “We were in the government surplus stuff, buying stuff from DESC (Defense Electronics Supply Center).” Sandy worked in the business, but by the time he graduated from high school in 1962, things were going sour. His dad’s employer went bankrupt and Mendelson’s Electronics was struggling.

What happened when Sandy’s dad died in 1963?

Three years after Harry Mendelson opened Mendelson’s Electronics, he died, leaving the family in dire straits. “We had $68 in the bank, no money at all, two homes, four kids, a mother sick with emphysema. It was a bad scene.”

The day before Harry died, “we went to look at some stuff for Max Isaacson, owner of Globe Industries. It was all Cessna 180 autopilots. He said, ‘I got to get them out of the building.’ The next day, my dad has a heart attack and passed away. Max comes to the house for sympathy for my family. He says, ‘Do you want this stuff?’ We had no money. Max says, ‘Take it. You sell, you pay me.’ So I took an ad in Flying Magazine. Cessna 180 autopilots had a ridiculous price. They flew out of here. So that was the guy that gave me the break, who started me. He gave me an opportunity to excel as a merchant and think how to make a living.” 

How did Sandy’s mother influence him?

Shortly after his dad passed, Sandy and his mother, Ida Mendelson, discovered Harry had borrowed $10,000 from Winters Bank on a personal note. “We knew nothing about it.” When Sandy and his mother went to see the banker, “I said, ‘my dad did it, we’ll honor it in one year, no interest.’ The banker said, ‘No.’ My mother was a really, really tough lady. When she got in your face you knew you’d been chewed up.” Ida stood up to leave and the banker quickly backpedaled, agreeing to Sandy’s terms. “One year to that day, I walked in with $10,000 and paid the man back and I’ve never looked back since.”

“I used to bring all the boys over to play poker and my mom would say, ‘You know the rules. It’s for keepsies.’ And she would clean us all out. She had her little purse, put the money in there and zip it. ‘It’s keepsies!’ Then she’d open the refrigerator and feed us all. We’d come back the next week again and try to beat her.”

“I learned my hawking through her. She was a tough lady, but she knew how to make a deal; she was very smart.”

How did Sandy make his first big deal?

“I was going by NCR and I see they’re scrapping stuff out. So I pulled up to the dumpster and asked ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘We’re changing our modes, we’re going from electro-mechanical to electronic cash registers.’ I was in the dumpster looking around, the guy says, ‘you can’t be in here. You got to go up and see… the head of steel purchasing.’ I go see him and say, ‘I’d like to buy this material.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to scrap it out; it’s got to be destroyed.’ So I crossed my fingers and said, ‘Okay.’ I went ahead and gave them more money than they were getting. I got some people really mad at me…because I took the deal from them. They’re throwing everything away; they don’t know if they need it for future use or nothing.” 

“We took the exact box out of NCR, put it on a skid, numbered it, had the same rack in the other building, put the same part back in the same number order it was before. After that I had 300,000 different part numbers” and it was time to talk to NCR.

Sandy took his printout of all the parts with him. It was so long, he had to use a two-wheeler to transport it. “The guy went nuts. ‘You did what? You were supposed to destroy this stuff.’ What I did wasn’t exactly kosher, but I didn’t sell the parts to their competition; I did nothing with it. I said, ‘I know you need some parts back. I know you got problems with your service areas.’ They had 3,500 service departments around the world with no parts…they couldn’t make anymore, because all the machines – they tore them down and got rid of them. They were having serious problems.”

use drawers of partsHe sold the parts back to NCR on an as-needed basis at 65% of standard cost. “They were selling it for ten times what I sold it back to them. For 30 years, we were buying surplus inventory… and we’d ship within 24 hours anywhere in the world. They would pay the freight. That’s how I got wealthy, because of them. I bought all these buildings, because I needed more space for their deals. Ten years ago, NCR started changing. The old machines were gone and I did scrap everything. It was a very good relationship.”

Has Sandy’s business changed since that first big deal?

“So many things I’ve done over the years.” Sandy started Mendelson’s Sporting Goods, which grew into four stores. “When General Surplus burned down, I started buying GI clothing from the bases. One thing led to another. I bought ten combat boots, and I bought a hundred combat boots, and I bought sweatshirts. We had skis, we had archery, clothing. We done very well for the first years, then Walmart came in and you can’t beat the big boys. Things were going real tough, so I had to close that up. I paid everybody off I owed. Someone said, ‘Go bankrupt.’ I don’t do that.” 

Sandy continued to experiment with new ways to sell merchandise. Using the outlet use MLO front doorstores in Reading, Pa. as a model, he opened The Mart Factory Outlet in 1982. The Mart offered sporting goods, housewares, clothing and appliances. “It started out doing real good. I would get 10% of the sales as the rent; we collected the money and paid the sales tax. Then that fell apart…so I put my own merchandise in here – Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet. We’ve done okay ever since.”

In 1986 Jeffrey Stahl told Sandy he was frustrated with his employer, an electronics firm. “Jeffrey knew how to sell and I knew how to buy. So we opened a company called Parts Express International (PEI). I have a lot of product, but I don’t have the means to sell it right. Jeffrey is a very professional and ethical person who knew how to put a catalog together and work it. It’s 31 years later, and it’s worked extremely well. His tremendous retail entrepreneurship gave me the fortitude to stay in that business; he’s the bones and the body.”

Did Sandy open any other businesses?

“Another crazy Sandy idea…I needed to get my trucks off the parking lot. I had the wholeuse truck lot filled full with trucks and they wanted that lot for baseball.” In 2001 Sandy bought the site with the old B&O Railroad freight terminal and parking for the trucks next to 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton. Based on the concept of the Springfield, Ohio Antique Center, he renovated the terminal as the Antique Mart in Webster Street Market with a deli and multiple consignment booths. He ordered “400 showcases and we filled them full of merchandise.”

“The first two years of the Antique Mart were phenomenal. Antiques were doing very well and then here comes eBay…and antiques go in the toilet and all my tenants started pulling out. So I said, ‘Well Sandy, let’s start selling showcases.’ I sold every showcase and actually I made some money on them. Sold them all and went ahead and decided to make a banquet center out of it.” use TOM Deli Sandy executed his pivot by revamping the market as The Deli and Top of the Market, offering a deli-style restaurant on the first floor and event facilities on the second.

In 2000 Sandy had led the effort to raise $250,000 for the Get Well Fund for Dayton police officer, Mary Beall, paralyzed by a gunman in the course of duty. Ultimately, they raised over $300,000.

In 2005 John and Mary Beall’s daughter was planning to hold her wedding reception at the Top of the Market, but Sandy wasn’t happy with his crew there. “The day before the wedding, they walked out, so I put the Sandy call out, “I need help.’ I had so many chefs, so many waiters, people stood in line, ‘how can we help,’ because I help anyone who has a problem.” 

Sandy’s observations:

  • The most important thing is “ your handshake. If your handshake’s good, you’ve got it made; if your hand is no good, nothing will work for you.”
  • “You have to have the green disease. If you don’t have the drive, you’re not going to make it.”
  • When faced with a problem, say, “Yes, we can. When you say ‘no’, you’re already on the defense.”
  • Find a mentor. “I want to start a thing called the Start-Up King where we would help people learn how to go into business. We need to get these people a chance to excel in retail. They’re all afraid to go into business, because no one shows them how.” For instance, “lady buys a beauty chair…and she takes it away. A month later, ‘Sandy, I’ve got a problem. I didn’t know I had to get a health permit.’”
  • Emphasize networking. “Share the intelligence of what you can do. Networking is a key. But most businesses don’t go to other businesses and talk to them. Canal Street Arcade and Deli opened behind me. ‘What are we doing? What can we do? How are you doing this thing? I’m having a problem with deliveries.’ That’s not stealing. If I’ve got good food and good parking, I’m going to get good business; it’s not a trade secret.”
  • “It’s been a great life!”
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Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet
340 E. First St.
Dayton, OH 45402

Andrew Kline, President, Green Generation Building Co.

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Andrew Kline combined his love of working with his hands, his fascination with environmental sustainability, and his dislike of white-collar desk jobs to found Green Generation Building Co. with his co-owners. I asked Andrew how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

Andrew Kline said, “I’ve been one of those people who always likes to work their hands. My parents stopped giving me expensive toys, because I’d take my little toy toolbox hammer, which had a real metal head on it even though it was only two ounces in weight, and I would just beat the heck out of the toy, so I could take it apart and see how it went together”.

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Welcome to Yellow Springs, Ohio

Andrew grew up in the Yellow Springs, Ohio area. When he was a teenager, his grandfather, John L. Kline, a local architect, designed a house for Andrew’s family, which Bob Zearfoss, a local contractor, built. “Being interested in construction, I was kind of hovering around the job site and getting in the way and bothering the heck out of them”.

For several years, Andrew was home schooled, which gave him a chance to explore working with his hands. “I worked on a lot of farms, worked with horses, making hay and driving tractors. I explored construction; I worked for contractors. I decided that I really didn’t want anything to do with construction. I’d met a lot of people who weren’t really very happy with their work lives; they were not people I was aspiring to become”. In order to maintain social contact with his peers, Andrew eventually returned to public school and graduated from Greenon High School”.

 Did Andrew go to college?

“I was not satisfied with the concept of just immediately entering the work force and not having a greater understanding of the world around me. It felt like I would be closing the door to other experiences and other opportunities”.

Andrew started at Wright State University, and then transferred to Antioch College to major in environmental studies. He liked Antioch’s Cooperative Education (Co-op) Program, which requires students to devote at least four semesters to full-time work, research or independent study. “I got to travel the country and the world and see more of life. During that period of time, I started to explore white collar jobs and a white collar career and did a number of different co-op experiences in the nonprofit world”.

After graduation Andrew worked in in southeastern Ohio in an AmeriCorps VISTA program focused on sustainable forest practices. It was a white-collar job, which “revolved around blue-collar work”.

Did Andrew remain in the white-collar world after VISTA?

“I decided I can’t sit in an office; the white collar thing is not going to work for me”. Andrew opted to try construction again and joined some friends at Stalwart Construction in Athens, Ohio. “Those guys basically showed me that there’s a different way to approach the trades. I realized that construction can be a very powerful way to make creative beautiful spaces”.

Andrew used a parable to explain his changed perception of construction. “A man comes to a stone quarry and calls down to the person working, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m chipping this rock’. The man continues on his way. He comes to a second man and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m carving the rock, sculpting this stone’. Further down the road, he sees someone struggling very hard to set this heavy stone it into a wall. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m building a cathedral’. It illustrates the three ways of looking at the trades. You can be at any spot in that chain and you’re still building a cathedral. It’s just a question of what your insight into it is”.

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Athens, Ohio

While working in Athens, “I had a turning point where I realized I actually can make anything I want and it just became deeply satisfying. That helped me link what I already had a natural aptitude for to the vision of applying it. At that point, I basically dedicated myself to this profession.”

Did Andrew stay in Athens, Ohio?

As Andrew tackled projects in Athens, he periodically turned to Bob Zearfoss, the contractor who built Andrew’s family’s house years before. Gradually, Bob became Andrew’s mentor. One day “Bob called me and said, ‘I might have a whole bunch of houses to build here in Yellow Springs. Would you want to come back and build these houses with me?’ I had mostly been doing these renovation projects in Athens, so this is a chance to do new construction and I absolutely said, ‘there’s no other choice, but yes’”.

Working for Bob “was where I learned.” Bob taught Andrew to “follow the language of construction; don’t deviate. It’s the same language everyone else is using; you’re not reinventing the wheel. Our favorite phrase on the job site was ‘you have to respect the language’”.

Did Andrew continue to work for Bob?

After three months, however, Andrew left for Seattle to work with his Athens friends on a house addition. The move was complicated, however, because during his time with Bob, Andrew had met a young woman, Anisa Qualls. She was on her way to live in Boston. After a few cross-continent trips, they realized they didn’t like being apart and decided Andrew would move to Boston.

It was a rough move. “That was 2008, in a New England winter in a recession. You don’t know anybody; you have no network, no job prospects, no connections. I was out on the street, putting a resume underneath the windshield wiper of every contractor truck I could find. I went to the lumberyards; I was calling all of the major contractors and skimming Craig’s List everyday. We decided, ‘what do you do in a recession? You go back to where you do have connections’”.

How did Andrew go from no work in Boston to starting Green Generation Building Co.?

Back in Yellow Springs, “Anisa’s dad (Roi Qualls) invested in us and helped us start our little company,” Green Generation Building Co. Concurrently, Andrew and Anisa met a young architect, Alex Melamed, and instantly became friends. Alex quickly agreed to join them, becoming an owner and Green Generation’s Design Director. 

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Yellow Springs, Ohio

Andrew and his co-owners wanted Green Generation “to combine some form of environmental consciousness into our construction. When you make a building, you’re committing energy resources long past your own lifetime”.

They decided to build a passive house on speculation “to this insane level of standard in the middle of a recession. But we were going to start this company one way or the other, so we just dived in. We spent eight months planning that spec house, because we were trying to build it to the passive house standard as outlined by the Passive House institute US.”

The Germans “created this system to build a house that uses 80% less energy to heat and cool than standard construction. It’s probably the most rigorous standard of construction as far as energy consumption goes in the world”.

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First passive house in Ohio built by Green Generation Building Co.

“It was the first Passive House built in Ohio. We considered building that house three or four completely different ways, trying to figure out what would be the most likely scenario for achieving the super rigorous standard. We sold it before it was finished – in a recession. We felt like we missed the bullet by millimeters”.

How did Andrew learn how to run the business?

Andrew, Anisa, Alex and Roi “started having a meeting once a week at nighttime. Roi was a big help, because he’s run businesses before and he’d started businesses before, so he was familiar with some of the fundamental challenges that face all businesses”:

  • What does the customer want?
  • How do we design it for them?
  • What are the deliverables?
  • What are the customer’s expectations?
  • How do we meet them?
  • How are we efficient?

“Running the business really comes down to the interface with the customer” and the subcontractors. “My business is built on subcontractors. If they’re not happy, I don’t have a company. I am the go-between, between the owners and the people that are working on the project. It’s a very tricky balance. It’s endless planning, endless scheduling, endless levels of details”.

Maintaining that balance requires managing customer expectations. “If you’re buying a $600,000 house, you’re not going to get a $6 million product. The owners don’t necessarily know difference between those two things”.

Andrew and his co-owners also had to devise a bookkeeping system. “It’s way more complicated than I thought. We just didn’t know what was the important information. It took five years, maybe even six, to finally get to a system that was tracking the information that needed to be tracked, knew where the money was coming in and leaving”.

How does Andrew find customers?

“When we were able to build that spec house, that’s what got everybody to notice us. The more houses you build, the more people take you seriously. From that point, people start calling you, and you actually get more renovation projects”. 

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Another passive house built by Green Generation Building Co. 

Energy efficiency has become “the identity of who we are. But not everybody is interested in that kind of thing. If someone needs a kitchen put in, we go put their kitchen in. If someone needs their water and sewer lines replaced from the house to the road, we go do that. It’s full service”.

Andrew’s observations:

  • “If somebody wants to get into this kind of business, they just have to know what their own goals are,” because that will lead to very different approaches. Do you want to:
    • Start your own company?
    • Make a lot of money?
    • Work for someone else and rely on a paycheck?
    • Make something interesting and have people recognize how good you are?
  • “It’s really important to find the right people to work with when you start out. If you’re not working with people who know how to do the work and are showing you how to do it at a very high caliber level, you will struggle to do well. You will be getting cut when there is a downturn. People that are really good at this work always have work”.
  • Starting a company takes time. Established entrepreneurs told Andrew, “‘I broke even in the seventh year. In the eighth year, I started making a little bit of money’”.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized for your talents. We have four or five houses just about ready for signing on the dotted line and breaking ground. That’s a big step for us. And now we are limited only by the imagination of my business partner and he has a very wide imagination”. 

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Green Generation Building Co.

www.greengenohio.com

937-361-9705

P.O. Box 741, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

Marsha Pippenger, Artist

use pipp 1stMarsha Pippenger’s determination to make art is the steel thread running throughout her career. Like many practicing artists, Marsha has held a variety of jobs, but regardless of whether she was in advertising, retail or education, art remained her focus. I asked Marsha how she crafted her career. The highlights of her story follow.

 In the beginning…

Marsha Pippenger grew up in Celina, Ohio, the youngest of three. “I was by myself a lot because I am much younger than my brother and sister. I was perfectly content to play alone. I liked to read and I did a lot of drawing. I never really played with my Barbie dolls; I built them houseboats to live on and things like that…I’ve been some sort of maker most of my life.”

Marsha focused mainly on academics during high school, only taking art as an elective her senior year. College was different. “I knew when I went to college…I wanted to major in art.” She didn’t apply to any art schools, because having to submit a portfolio was daunting, and “I wanted to take other liberal arts subjects as well…that’s why I chose a university with an art department.” Ohio Northern University met her parents’ need to have her close and her desire for an art department with a “comprehensive offering of media.”

Did Marsha pursue art in college?

In college Marsha majored in art with a concentration in printmaking, but she also “took a lot of English classes. I would’ve been an English major if I hadn’t majored in art.” With four additional education classes, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (BFA) and a certificate to teach art in grades K-12.

Was Marsha able to find a job using her art background?

After graduation, she worked for about a year at Cotter Advertising in Dayton doing all their commercial silk screening. “Most of the things I did were real estate signs…I also printed big yellow stars on the Montgomery County Sheriff cars.”

The following year, Marsha got married and moved several times as her husband, Alan, went to graduate school, did an internship, and got a job. Over the next six years, they lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kansas City, Missouri, and Annapolis, Maryland. Marsha worked in an office supply store, art supply store, and a Scottish and Irish Imports store.

Regardless of where they lived or where Marsha was working, she persisted. “I never stopped. I was really determined about that. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who majored in art and then never did it again. That happens to a very large percentage of art majors who go off and within five years they’re not making any art.”

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Fishes, color pencil on Bristol paper, 13″w by 13″h, Marsha Pippenger (1980)

Marsha’s space to make art changed each time they moved. In Ann Arbor, they lived in a tiny apartment, but she was still drawing. “I kept my art supplies under the couch…so I did a lot of color pencil.”

In Kansas City, “I got my first real drawing table and a stool, so I had a place to work.” In Annapolis, Marsha started as the assistant manager at Scottish and Irish Imports, Ltd. She then became their one-person art department, primarily producing their national mail order catalog and doing “anything that required art…I was working from home…so I had a studio in the house.”

Did Marsha stay in Maryland?

After about four years in Annapolis, Marsha and Alan returned to Dayton, Ohio. Marsha got a job as a copywriter for the department store, Elder Beerman. When she went to a talk at the Dayton Society of Painters & Sculptors (now the Dayton Society of Artists), she realized she had known the speaker, Bing Davis, when he bought art supplies for a ceramic mural commission from the Kansas City art supply store where she worked.

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Marsha’s studio

After reconnecting with Bing Davis, Marsha decided she wanted to work with him on a Masters in Fine Art (MFA). He had formerly taught at Miami University, but Miami required MFA students to be full-time, and Marsha needed to work. Instead, she spent one and a half years in an independent study program under Bing at Central State University. “He would come to the house and critique my work, bringing his daughter, Nia, with him. She was the same age as our daughter, Laura, and they would play while we worked.”

Bing Davis encouraged Marsha to try teaching, so she renewed her certificate to teach art in grades K-12, and taught in the Dayton Public Schools at Meadowdale and Jefferson Elementary Schools.

Did Marsha keep teaching?

Marsha left elementary school teaching after four years and joined the Santa Clara Gallery artist co-op. When Santa Clara closed, she joined six other artists to start a new gallery in Tipp City, Conversation Pieces. They were “all equal partners in the gallery. We staffed it and ran the business, too…we all had to balance the accounts at the end of every day… that was really useful. I learned a lot.”

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Redefining Walls, 12″w by 9″h, papier colle on canvas, Marsha Pippenger (2011)

Owning the gallery was a “really great experience” from a personal as well as a business perspective. “There’s something about telling people you’re an artist…you feel kind of like a fraud…that’s not serious enough…it sounds so light. It was having the gallery that made me realize, become comfortable with the fact that, yes, this is what I do, I’m an artist… this is a job; this is a vocation, it’s not just a hobby.”

After eight years, the gallery closed in 2001 due to the economic downturn after 9/11, as well as the health and retirement issues of some of the other artists.

What did Marsha do after the gallery closed?

Marsha decided it was time to get her Master’s. Since Wright State University in Dayton doesn’t offer an MFA, she would have had to go out of town. Unable to spend that much time on the road, she got a Masters in Humanities with a focus on fine arts at Wright State instead.

“Wright State didn’t have a lot of art classes that I hadn’t already taken…so I took a couple of independent study art classes and a lot of art history. While I was taking those classes, they asked me to teach the General Education courses art history. In the morning, I was taking classes… and in the afternoon, I was teaching.”

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Marsha explaining her process

Does Marsha still teach?

Marsha continues as an adjunct professor, teaching introductory level art history classes at Wright State. Adjunct professors teach part-time and are paid per course. Without a Ph.D., she can’t teach classes at higher levels, but she prefers the more introductory level classes anyway. ”I’ve got more freedom…I’m teaching a lot of kids who have never been to an art museum and I like that…I like to create new art lovers.”

Since she got her Master’s, Marsha has also taught at Sinclair College, Edison State Community College, and Kettering College. This fall she will also teach a class at School of Advertising Art in Dayton.She taught her first art history class at Kettering as a substitute teacher. “I did an informal survey of my students and they were really interested in a more hands-on class, so I went to the dean and made a proposal, and he said if you get enough students to pay your adjunct fee, you’ve got a class, and I’ve been teaching there ever since.”

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Although she teaches big art history lecture classes at Wright State, “I’m trying to do a few hands-on things…I pantomime how to do certain things, I bring in art supplies and demonstrate, I use a lot more video…I like to throw in some of the personal quirks of some of the artists, those things help you remember…Caravaggio was always getting into fights and getting thrown into jail…makes it more memorable.”

Does Marsha still make art?

In Annapolis “when I was doing commercial art… probably because graphic design is more tightly controlled art, I felt like I was getting very tight with my work, my drawing, hunched over like Ebenezer Scrooge.”

When Marsha moved to Dayton, “I was going through that little crisis of my work becoming too tight and not free enough, and that’s when I started working with Bing.” Bing Davis suggested collage would force her to loosen up.

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Marsha’s paper sorted by color

“I realized…I had been incorporating collage into my work all along…I might do a drawing and I’d add in some collage pieces… I think in terms of paper.”

When she first started making collages, her work was simpler, lighter and less complex. “It’s really changed a lot, gotten more complex over the years…I gravitate towards color…I’ve tried to do softer things and they always get more colorful…what I do now is more abstract.”

How does Marsha get her creative juices flowing?

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Marsha in her studio

“You think with your pencil…you can’t wait around for inspiration to strike… you just come in and work…some of it can be really lousy. A lot of times, it’s something I read. Ideas…words will give me ideas…that make me see pictures…or sometimes it’s a really interesting piece of paper. It’s good to set yourself some parameters. When it’s really open-ended, it’s harder to create. If you create within limitations that you set for yourself, you actually can be more creative. It’s fun to work within those limitations.”

Marsha’s observations:

    • “Get the fundamentals – the basics of drawing and composition, because I think it’s good to start at the beginning when you’re a beginner”
    • “I draw every day …I look at other artists’ work. I love looking at the old masters to see how they did it; you can really learn a lot that way. And you can see where their mistakes are!”
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    Christine…Icon, papier colle on canvas, 30″w by 48″h, Marsha Pippenger
    • “Knowing something about the history of what you do helps inform your own practice; then you can look back and see what previous artists have done…so teaching art history helps me in my art, too”
    • “Learn about the business of art; ask questions; find an older artist to give you some help”
    • Rather than giving small children art lessons, have “the materials around…so that they can have that experience of having stuff around to manipulate and play with and do… it’s that critical thinking idea”
    • Sources for opportunities to apply for commissions:
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DVAC Invitation to Annual Members’ Show, Source, Marsha Pippenger (2017)
      • Call for Entry
      • EntryThingy
      • Google to find periodicals that list calls for entry and requests for proposals
      • Professional artist magazines
      • DVAC “is a support group for artists… helping artists to find opportunities…putting artists and business opportunities together”
      • Dayton Society of Artists
      • “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.” (Edgar Degas)

Recently, the Dayton Metro Library commissioned two works by Marsha to hang in the Northwest and Kettering branches as part of ReImagining Works:

You can learn more about Marsha and view her work at www.pippengerart.com.

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/plan/, papier colle on canvas triptych, framed, 23″w by 25″h, Marsha Pippenger

Tom Mitchell, Proto BuildBar

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Tom Mitchell combines his apprentice PGA golf pro skills with his knowledge of industrial engineering technology and his experience in manufacturing to lead the innovation and maker mindset at the Proto BuildBar. I asked Tom how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

Although Tom Mitchell started playing golf when he was two years old, it was not his first love. “I just always took stuff apart and put it back together and made things”.

When Tom was about eight years old, his parents started a manufacturing company, Mitchell Golf Equipment Company, making tools to build and customize golf clubs. The company sold their tools to a niche market of golf pro shops who used them to customize a club’s loft and lie angles to improve a golfer’s swing. Tom worked at the company after school and on weekends, doing things like “deburring metal and cutting it and running machines”.

Where did Tom focus his attention in high school?

Tom lit up when he described the industrial engineering technology program he entered in his junior year at Centerville High School which included:

  • Welding
  • Light forging
  • Casting
  • Manual machining
  • Operating CAD (Computer Aided Design) to produce objects with CNC (Computer Numerical Control) lathes
  • Using PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers which are the basis of robots and automation)
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CNC machine control panel

When the CNC machine was new, Tom was eager to demonstrate that 3-D machining was possible despite the teacher’s skepticism. “I always take things apart, so I’m taking apart the code to see what is happening here”. By manipulating the G code which controlled the machine, Tom successfully used a piece of lexan (hard, clear plastic) to make a soccer ball. Point proved.

What did Tom do after high school?

The track for the industrial engineering technology program was two years each in high school, Sinclair College and University of Dayton. During his first semester at Sinclair, Tom vehemently disagreed with his industrial design professor’s approach to a project. He left. “Not the right choice when you look back on it, but I wouldn’t probably be where I am now if I would’ve finished college”.

Tom found a job doing landscaping, “the really manual laborer side of landscaping – planting trees, cutting trees down, taking out stumps” and quickly recognized “I wasn’t going to do that for the rest of my life”. He also realized that he might take over his parents’ company at some point and he “needed to know the industry…start working at golf courses…learn my customer base”.

In order to understand the business of golf, Tom enrolled in the PGA Professional Golf Management Apprentice Program. The PGA apprenticeship is a multi-year program designed to teach the apprentice “how to run a golf course and teach people how to play and hopefully better the game”. The PGA requires the apprentice to:

  • Complete three levels of coursework and pass the qualifying tests for each level
  • Pass a playing ability test
  • Work full-time at a PGA recognized golf course
  • Complete the program within eight years

The apprenticeship curriculum includes:

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  • Business planning
  • Customer relations and human resources
  • Inventory management
  • Teaching/Club performance
  • Tournament operations
  • Golf car fleet management

In order to maximize his time, Tom moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. His first job in the bag drop area was at Shipyard Golf Club, a 27-hole resort course,. “I was the guy that stood outside where you pull up the car. I would help you get your bags out, put them on the cart. When you finished your round, I would clean them up and put them back out there and help you load them in your car… bottom of the rung”.

After a year and a half, Tom moved to Moss Creek Golf Club, a 36-hole private resort club where he worked the bag drop and in the pro shop.

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Tom takes a tee shot on the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club

While he was at Shipyard and Moss Creek, Tom studied for his apprenticeship tests and practiced his golf game in order to pass the playing ability test. As a PGA apprentice, he could play free at any of the courses whenever a slot was available, so long as he tipped the bag drop guys.

Did Tom stay in South Carolina?

After three years, Tom returned to Dayton and got a job as the second assistant pro at Sycamore Creek Country Club. He worked in the pro shop selling merchandise, running junior golfing clinics and teaching the kids.

After a year, Tom’s parents needed help, so he left Sycamore and joined the company. As a result, he lost his apprentice status before he could complete the PGA program. Tom felt, however, he’d achieved his goal to learn the industry.

During high school, Tom had worked in many divisions of the company and he stepped in easily. Since the company’s pressing issue was meeting production and shipping deadlines, Tom tackled shipping/receiving and inventory management first. After that, he moved to operations, then general management of sales and, finally, assumed the CEO role. “I could do anything there. I could build any of the machines. I could make any of the stuff. I could sell it to anybody”.

What challenges did Tom face?

The biggest challenge was getting sufficient parts to fulfill orders. Before Tom left to go to South Carolina, the company machined all the parts in-house. While Tom was gone, management slowly pushed all the machining to external sources. By the time Tom returned, the company was struggling to fulfill orders. “We were too small to have all of our stuff outside, but we were too big for some of those shops to keep up with our stuff”.

An additional challenge was that Tom and his parents disagreed on the problem and the solution. Tom worried that the delays in completing orders was driving the company down. Tom made a difficult decision. “I finally knew that I needed to go, because I needed to make it easier for them to do something with the business and not go bankrupt…They’re not going to make the right decisions if they’re still thinking about me, trying to protect me”.

What did Tom do next?

Tom liked the interactive design projects created by Real Art Design Group and thought, “I’d love to be a part of making some of these things”. Through friends, he knew Chris Wire, the President and Creative Director of Real Art. When he discovered they had an opening for an account executive, he applied.

use T side & front cropChris told him, “we’re kind of looking for someone in the advertising field already, but I want to talk to you about something else”. They met at Proto BuildBar in downtown Dayton. Tom loved the concept, but he was startled when Chris asked, “What do you think about running it?”

What is Proto BuildBar?

use T bar crop Proto BuildBar is a “creative experience center featuring hands-on technology experimentation with 3D printing, electronics kits, and micro-computing in a full service café environment.” (Proto BuildBar – FacebookDesigned to be accessible to individuals of all ages and experience levels, the café features computer monitors with access to multiple CAD designs, 3-D printers, basic electronics and micro-controllers, coffee drinks, cocktails, wine and beer.

The goal of Proto BuildBar is “to spread innovation” by increasing people’s comfort level with this kind of technology. “We try to make 3-D printing and electronics and that whole making stuff mindset accessible…make it fun…provide those ah-ha moments for people”.

 The Proto BuildBar staff welcomes new customers. First they show people the games built in-house:

  • Guinness Book of World Records largest claw game
  • War of Currents arcade game, otherwise known as The Game That Hertz, which physically electrocutes players in certain situations
  • Tesla vs Edison racing game

Next the staff demonstrates “the sorts of things they can make, go to the computers and find something they want to print…we’re just here to educate…here to have a good time…here to make people excited”.

In addition to enabling customers to make things, Proto BuildBar offers experiences for a variety of groups, such as: 

  • Corporate team-building courses
  • Summer maker workshops for ages 7-18, including robotics, video game creation, 3D printing & electronics
  • Couples soldering night
  • Fundraising events for organizations
  • Meeting space
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Circuit board soldering

The staff is ready to provide guidance throughout the creation and printing process. Tom recommends using Tinkercad to create 3-D shapes and models. Since the app is browser based, a person can create a design at home and print it on a 3-D printer at Proto BuildBar.

What does Tom do at Proto BuildBar?

Tom says, “I think the biggest challenge is… conveying what it is in a manner that will get them to come in and be confident and experience it…I’m doing as much community outreach as possible”. He teaches workshops, demonstrates coding and robotics using simple programmable drawing robots at area schools and speaks to college classes about entrepreneurship. Tom also works with companies and organizations to develop team building workshops, professional development sessions, and charitable events.

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Tom’s observations:

  • Tom’s most important words are “curiosity” and “fearless”
    • Curiosity – “always be curious; always ask those what ifs…always draw in more information”
    • Fearless –”you can be curious all you want to, but if you’re not going to put any of that stuff into practice, because you’re too scared of failure, then you’re not getting the benefit”. You can learn to be fearless by being “willing to try something without the fear of failure…and you learn that by failing”
  • “I always tell everyone to go to college”. From his experience, leaving college “was a really difficult path”
  • In order to innovate, try “thinking differently; not thinking about the way we’ve always done it…what if we did this?”
  • “Most people are used to just buying something that fixes a problem they have…we want to try to show those people that maybe they can make a solution to that problem and maybe it will be different than all the other solutions…maybe it will be something super cool and super innovative that maybe changes the world”.
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Proto BuildBar
534 E. First Street
Dayton, OH 45402
937-222-6253
contact@protoBuildBar.com

Simon Ward: Owner & Technician, A-Dayton Automotive

W Simon useHow do philosophy and ice hockey lead to a career as an automotive services shop owner and technician? Simon Ward has blended skills learned in both areas with his lifelong interest in auto racing. I asked Simon how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

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Simon with Lyn St. James, Indy racecar driver, 1985

Growing up in Oakwood, Ohio, Simon Ward’s father exposed him to auto racing at an early age. “My dad took me to the race track for the first time when I was two weeks old…a Formula One race in Detroit”.

His grandfather liked to fix things, including cars, and often Simon helped.

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Simon with his Dad’s racecar

Later his father got into amateur racing with Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). “I was right there learning the pits, torqueing tires, learning how to make adjustments, change tire pressures, stuff like that”.

Cars weren’t Simon’s only interest. He played in the band and spent a lot of time traveling with his club ice hockey team.

How did philosophy enter Simon’s life?

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Boulder, Colorado

After graduating from high school, Simon enrolled at the University of Colorado as an open major. “I actually didn’t know what I wanted to be”. After taking some courses, philosophy and psychology made sense to him. “At 18 years old, philosophy was a great thing to think about”.

As a result of his years playing ice hockey, Simon got a job at an ice rink, driving and maintaining the Zamboni. He also became a referee and managed the referees. “Long days, high energy, taking it as it comes, being a referee, managing all those people…I learned a lot like that”.

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Zamboni

 After graduation, Simon got a desk job. He lasted three months. “Driving to work watching the sun rise, driving home watching the sun set, sitting in a cubicle all day long, just wasn’t for me”.

 Did Simon stay in Colorado?
Since Simon hated his job, he decided to return to Dayton. Using his contacts in Dayton, he found a job with a landscaping company, driving and maintaining the mowers. “That’s where I started learning how to turn wrenches”.

Simon also enrolled at Sinclair College, Dayton, Ohio, in the Automotive Technology program. “My motivation was that I wanted to go racing”. Sinclair gave him the opportunity to begin building his racecar.

Simon wasn’t sure where he wanted to go, but he kept earning his automotive certifications until “I realized, wait a minute, this might be a little more of a financial opportunity than landscaping, might have a better chance of a career path”.

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Brake disc repair

With that in mind, Simon left landscaping and got a job at Preferred Fleet Services (PFS), a subcontractor maintaining trucks for the US Post Office. “That’s where I turned into a mechanic”.

What did Simon do when he finished at Sinclair?
“I got my master’s certification with National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) (ASE Certified Master Technician)…I had the top score in the country, so I won the Technician of the Future Award … a big stepping stone”.

Although he’d learned a lot at PFS, the work felt like the “same truck over and over again – because it’s the Post Office”. Simon switched to John Pierce Auto Care, Fairborn, Ohio, as the lead technician diagnosing drivability issues. The job expanded his experience exponentially. “I had the fundamentals and this gave me the opportunity – all makes, all models…they gave me the hard stuff, the stuff that no one else could figure out, the stuff that no one else wanted to figure out…is it an engine issue, transmission issue, brake issue, electrical, is it mechanical, and make a diagnosis and go from there… I started realizing maybe I could do this a little deeper”.

Drivability diagnosis made Simon appreciate his background in philosophy, particularly logic systems. “These are logical beasts that we deal with: if A, then B. You have to follow logical paths to diagnose these things and I’ve found that training is invaluable in this industry”.

Simon also finished building his racecar and started racing with SCCA, mostly at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Nelson Ledges Road Course.

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Simon racing his Mustang at Mid-Ohio

“It costs a lot to go racing. There’s two ways to do it: either you pay someone to do it or you do it yourself. I didn’t have the money to pay someone, so I learned how to do it myself…My racecar was not the most expensive investment. You have to get there, stay there, have all the tools there, service the car there, have all the spare parts, have all the infrastructure to support anyone who comes with you, so there’s a lot of investment that goes into that…it’s an educational opportunity to see how much it takes to get from this idea to actually driving down the track”.

In addition Simon began doing side work in his garage. “That’s when the business idea started really getting flowing”.

How did Simon move from working for someone else to opening his own shop?
Through SCCA Simon met the owner of a shop that supported multiple amateur drivers. After several conversations, the owner asked Simon to take over the company. It was an attractive idea. Simon began to review the opportunity, hiring a lawyer and accountant for the due diligence.

Simon continued to work at John Pierce Auto Care and do side jobs on cars in his garage. One day he contacted the owner of A-Dayton Transmission about a transmission issue. use W sign2That contact lead to more conversations. As Simon was reviewing the racecar shop opportunity, he began to think, “What if this doesn’t work out, what if I did something else?” Consequently, Simon directed his due diligence team to analyze a possible purchase of A-Dayton, too.

Both the owner of the racecar business and the owner of A-Dayton called Simon on the same day and said, “Let’s do this, make this happen”. Simon chose the racecar opportunity.

He spent the next nine months traveling with the owner to racetracks “to work on cars and deal with really experienced drivers… that have the expendable income to race these fun cars”. Every weekend the two of them would go to a racetrack to support three drivers who were “paying between $8,000-$10,000 a weekend to show up and have that car ready to go”.

After nine months, Simon recognized that the racecar business wasn’t what he wanted. He’d had professional conversations with the owner of A-Dayton during that period, but nothing more. Shortly after the racecar opportunity faded, the owner of A-Dayton “contacted me back and said I’m interested, I’ve dropped my price”. Simon thought, “Now he’s serious”.

In order to structure the deal, Simon relied on his lawyer, accountant and others with broader business background. “I understood the business side of it to a certain extent, I understood cars very well. Find money – it was time for me to reach other people who knew a lot more about that than I did”. In 2014 Simon finalized his purchase of A-Dayton Automotive & Transmission Services.use-w-front-door.jpg

Has Simon’s experience with A-Dayton Automotive met his expectations?
In Simon’s original business plan, he expected:

  • He would run the office while he worked on cars
  • The services did not include transmission work

Those expectations quickly changed. He learned it was tough to run the office and work on cars at the same time. “I originally thought I was going to be out here, answer the phones, go back to work on cars. No… I was the only person here for the first two weeks…and I didn’t get anything done. The phone would ring, I would answer it, run back into the shop, turn a few wrenches, run back, answer the phone, order some parts”. Now he helps his technicians diagnose drivability issues and relies on their expertise to do the work.

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A-Dayton Automotive office

Although A-Dayton had dealt solely with “American made automatic transmissions”, Simon’s business plan was “from day one we were a full service shop” with no transmission work.

Three weeks after the purchase, the prior A-Dayton owner asked to return. “He wanted to make sure that I learned the customers, learned the business”. Simon hired him on a part-time basis to work on transmissions for the first year. The prior owner’s presence “brought all the fleet service he had coming to him, all the contacts that he had out there, the other shops that would recommend work to him – that brought that all back into play and really helped build the business for that first initial year”.

In addition to teaching Simon the business, Simon also learned about transmissions – “how to build them, how they fail, how to diagnose them and I also learned that a lot of people don’t like them, including a lot of other shops, so we get a lot of work from other shops…Transmissions paid the bills for the first year”.

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A-Dayton Automotive bay

The prior owner bowed out after a year. Now Simon is running the business with two technicians and himself. Although it hasn’t always been smooth, Simon has learned from his mistakes and transitioned from being a technician to being a business owner.

Simon’s observations:

  • This business has similarities to refereeing ice hockey games. You have to “see what’s going on, keep your eyes open, see everything that’s happening”
  • “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress, it’s a lot of responsibility. These guys got to get paid, they have families and everything else that has to ride on this stuff, too, the investors have to get paid, you have to pay the debt and you have to pay everything else and at the end maybe I’d like to make a little money, too”
  • Since a lot of trial and error goes into the first three years, a good support structure of family and friends is very important
  • “It’s not the industry it used to be”. Automotive technicians have to have computer literacy, logic skills, and problem solving ability. “You’re not just the greasy dirty guy under the car…I spend a lot more time at the computer instead of under the car”
  • Dealing with customers has exceeded his expectations. “I’ve always been hiding under the hood or driving the Zamboni…I really enjoy being up here and actually interacting with all the people…it’s probably been the most enjoyable aspect of it for me”
  • “I like the challenge…I like the hard stuff, give me a car that people can’t figure out. When we solve the problem, it’s a mutual happiness in the shop”.
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A-Dayton Automotive
1676 Woodman Drive
Dayton, Ohio 45432
(937) 253-9934
adaytonauto@gmail.com

Susan Harrison: Software Engineer and Nutrition Coach

PT Susan croppedWhat if you’re really good at your job and it should be your dream job, but it doesn’t capture your interest. If you’re not sure what would excite you, how do you decide your next steps? Susan Harrison is wrestling with those questions. I asked Susan how she is crafting her career. The highlights of her story follow.

In the beginning…

As valedictorian of her graduating class at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio, Susan Harrison said, “I was good at school”, but she wasn’t sure what should be next.

UD sign
Entrance to the University of Dayton

Susan enrolled at the University of Dayton with a hazy idea of her future. The options she knew were doctor, lawyer or teacher. Since she liked science and math, she began as a pre-med major. That didn’t last long. “Chemistry sucks and premed is almost all chemistry”.

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University of Dayton campus

Susan’s high school boyfriend, Jason Harrison, asked, “What classes that you took did you like? What did you enjoy doing?” She told him that she liked physics and math. Since his brother was studying electrical engineering, Jason suggested it. Susan reviewed the curriculum and thought, “Oh, this looks perfect”.

“Electrical engineering had a lot of problem solving to it, where you took these basic circuit classes where they laid out a circuit and you figured out what it needed to work or how the current ran. It was just the way it worked was interesting in terms of a problem solving thing for me”.

Using her contacts, Susan found co-op internships at GM and Heapy Engineering. Her “dad worked with signal processing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and knew guys who spun off to start company, so I got a job with them”.

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Electrical engineering soldering equipment

The company built signal processing hardware for the federal government to decode signals intercepted from satellites. “I actually learned how to design and build hardware. I spent a ton of time actually soldering parts on boards …I actually kind of miss that part of it”.

What did Susan do after graduating from college?

Susan and Jason had maintained their relationship through college and eventually married. After Jason graduated from The Ohio State University, he planned to move to Washington, D.C. to work for the CIA.

United States Capitol building in Washton, DC
United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC

Susan’s Dayton employer used their contacts in the DC area to help her find a job with TMA, providing technology services to the United States government.

At first Susan designed signal processing hardware, but within six months, the company trained her to write software code.

Within two years, Susan was bored. That “felt wrong because I had a top-secret security clearance, I was getting to travel…I just had access to really interesting things and the work should have been really interesting”. Although elements of the job were interesting, “the process of what I had to do day-to-day never really grabbed me…I still can’t articulate why…I was so young I didn’t know what to do with that…so I kind of tried to make myself like it”.

Although she was unhappy, Susan couldn’t see her options. “Everyone I met was doing some version of what I was doing, so it still didn’t broaden my knowledge about what was out there”. Nonetheless, she stayed with TMA for five years.

What did Susan do next?

By then Susan’s stepfather, Jack, was nearing the end of his battle with cancer. Since neither Susan nor Jason liked their jobs, they decided to quit and move back to Ohio to be with family.

By chance, Susan’s mother, Diane, met Tim Nealon. Nealon was working with Dayton Public Schools and the University of Dayton to design the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) to prepare first-generation urban students to go to college. Diane introduced first Jason and then Susan to Nealon. DECA hired them as founding teachers, and they moved to Dayton.

How did Susan make the transition from being a software engineer to a teacher?

Susan had considered switching from software engineering to social work, so she liked the idea of helping urban students. DECA smoothed the transition by:

  • Paying the tuition for the Masters in Education program at the University of Dayton
  • Scheduling Susan and Jason to help with the program during its first year
  • Moving them to teaching after they had their Masters

During the first three weeks of school, however, one of the math teachers left and DECA tapped Susan to take over his classes. She got her emergency teaching certification and negotiated a reduced load in the Masters program.

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Dayton Early College Academy High School

Before school started, Susan and Jason visited all their students at home to meet their families and begin to involve them in the school. Throughout the school year, they worked “late into the evenings…doing stuff on weekends, doing stuff with the kids outside of school”.

Teaching at DECA was the “hardest two years of my life…I’m an introvert…I had some strengths in the relationship building with the kids, but I wasn’t a good teacher…and my personality type was working against me”. After two years, Susan and Jason left.

When Susan realized teaching wasn’t right for her, what did she do?

Susan and Jason were in Dayton for Jack’s last year and the hard year afterwards. Then they said, “We’re 30, we’re free in terms of what we want to do, let’s just do it”. They moved to New York City so Jason could to pursue screenwriting and acting.

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New York City

Susan assumed she’d easily find another software engineering job, but discovered that her prior jobs had been specific to the intelligence world, which didn’t exist in New York. Additionally, without an Ivy League background, she couldn’t get past the application. Eventually, she found a job at an online Wall Street trading company on the support desk.

That was the only job Susan ever held that was solely for the paycheck. She realized she valued positions that supported either people or the interests of the United States. After four months, she left Wall Street for a technology job with the New York City Department of Education, managing the Salesforce online database.

In Susan’s first year, twenty experimental schools used the Salesforce database to track attendance, report cards, and discipline records. Susan built it out and traveled to schools to train, pull data, and troubleshoot. The job was fascinating, but she chaffed under her boss.

After two and a half years, Susan left the school system and contracted independently with Exponent Partners, which worked with the New York City schools and nonprofit organizations as a partner of the Salesforce Foundation.

Did Susan stay with Exponent Partners?

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Los Angeles

As a consultant to Exponent Partners, Susan worked from home, making her position portable. After four years in New York City, she stayed with Exponent Partners when she and Jason moved to Los Angeles and then back to Washington, DC.

When they returned to Washington, DC, Susan did leave Exponent Partners for two years, because she was frustrated. The company was growing very quickly, and everything seemed disorganized. When her mentor from her first DC job offered her a job with his new company, working with the FBI, she accepted.

FBI bldg DC
FBI Headquarters, Washington, DC

Susan was doing software engineering work in the FBI headquarters. One of her most interesting projects was designing a software threat prioritization system for cities. At first the work intrigued Susan, but again she grew bored quickly. After two years, she called Exponent Partners and returned to her prior job as an independent contractor.

Exponent Partners appears to have been a steady factor in Susan’s life. Was anything else bubbling up?  

While they lived in LA, Susan started an online business with her sisters. Building on her interest in genealogy, they created Style My Tree to design modern-looking family trees. Susan discovered that, although she loved working for herself, working with family was challenging.

During their time in New York and LA, Jason had worked as a personal trainer. In DC Susan and Jason started Present Tense Fitness as an online platform for Jason to offer wellness, nutrition, and lifestyle coaching anywhere.

After four years in DC, Susan and Jason made a fast decision to move back to Dayton to assist with Jason’s parents. They asked themselves, “Are we the people who come home and help or are we the people who just ignore it and have to come home for stuff that’s awful?”

How did Susan’s life change in Dayton?

Susan was able to continue with Exponent Partners without missing a beat. As Jason considered his options, Susan said, “Do what you know”. Since he had experience working as a personal trainer, he adapted Present Tense Fitness to engage clients for 1:1 training.

Jason rented space in two different gyms to train clients, but quickly found he was spending too much time traveling between sessions. Susan and Jason understood the advice, “Don’t open your own space until you have to”, but that time had arrived. They opened Present Tense Fitness in downtown Dayton’s Oregon District.

How has involvement in Present Tense Fitness influenced Susan’s direction? PT 1

For years Susan has “been searching for what it is I wanted to do, and all I could come up with is that I want to do something that is my own and not somebody else’s”.

Currently, Susan continues to work for Exponent Partners and also uses her skill at “taking technical stuff and making it understandable to people” as a Precision Nutrition coach. She and Jason are developing their vision for the Present Tense Daily Brief, a daily wellness guide Jason writes and emails to subscribers, by asking, “What’s your ideal day? What do you want to be doing when you’re 50 all day?” They are using their answers to “try to see what that long-term picture looks like and then work back from there. What do we have to do today to make sure we get there”?

Susan’s Observations:

  • “Do what you already know and what you like to do; don’t chase what’s currently in vogue”
  • “Your business doesn’t have to appeal to everybody”
  • “Get the people who are your champions”
  • “Don’t be afraid to make people mad. I’d rather have people have a strong feeling about us, because … there’s also the people who are going to have an equally strong like of us and those are the people who end up building your business”.
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Present Tense Fitness
222 E. 6th Street, Dayton, OH 45402
(202) 603-0926

 

 

Luke Dennis: Development Director, WYSO 91.3FM

L Dennis Headshot2Do you love music and theater, and want to work in that world, but aren’t sure of your route? Luke Dennis started there and followed a winding path to his career at WYSO 91.3FM. I asked Luke how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

As Luke Dennis was growing up in Wilmington, Ohio, his parents adopted a hands-off approach, allowing him to set his own course. He liked music. Starting in 6th grade, he played euphonium in the band and bass guitar in the jazz band and various rock bands. Currently, he plays in a local band, Lord Kimbo, with his best friend from elementary school, Mike Bisig.

Luke was in charge of his college search and visits. He visited just one school, Kenyon College, liked it, and applied early decision. After Kenyon accepted him, they sent him his financial aid package. In Luke’s hotheaded eighteen-year-old opinion, it was insufficient. Without consulting his parents, he told Kenyon, “I’m going to withdraw unless you increase my financial aid. They said, “Just do it”. “I dropped out of Kenyon before I even started and I had nowhere to go to college”. A friend’s stepfather knew the Dean of Admissions at Wittenberg University and suggested Luke visit. Within eight days, Luke was enrolled and attending orientation for new students. “One of many happy accidents I’ve had”.

“Without any reflection,” Luke declared a double major in music and theatre at Wittenberg. He quickly found mentors in each department and “it ended up being a great fit. I could act and direct in the theatre program and I ended up doing a vocal performance emphasis in the music department, which has helped me at WYSO”.

What path did Luke take after Wittenberg?

After graduating from Wittenberg, “I thought I might like to direct plays at a college”. To pursue that goal, Luke enrolled at Tufts University in Boston in a dual M.A./ Ph.D. program in theater history, literature and theory. “I didn’t do any research or think about it”.

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Luke & Sally

Luke had met his wife, Sally, in the Wittenberg Theatre program. Boston sounded good to her, too, so she moved with him and found a job teaching at Cambridge Montessori School.

While Luke studied at Tufts, he also worked three jobs, “so I wasn’t putting a lot of focus on my studies”. His jobs included:

  • Box office at the American Repertory Theater
  • Improv theater in Boston’s North End running the lighting and sound
  • Reading Room at The Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library – a public facing position working with researchers who were “researching cool interesting stuff”
  • Tufts graduate fellow – “I got paid to teach acting to undergraduates” which was “real validation of why I went to graduate school”

Although graduate school “felt like the right path for me… I couldn’t force myself to sit down and write”. “I liked going to class; I liked reading the plays a lot. But I certainly was not interested in publishing papers or going to conferences or writing a dissertation”.

Consequently, after three years at Tufts, Luke dropped out of the Ph.D. program and accepted a full-time position in the Reading Room at the Harvard Theatre Collection doing the same thing he’d been doing on a part-time basis. “I liked the ways that the past could inform the present”.

During that time, Luke and his wife also started a theater company, “actively producing about three shows a year at the Boston Center for the Arts with a focus on new plays. So I was in that world and that’s why the Theatre Collection interested me”.

Did Luke stay with the Harvard Theatre Collection?

After a year, Luke decided he needed more money. Knowing that he wanted to work with theater productions in Boston, he found a job as the Director of Education and Outreach for the Boston Lyric Opera. Opera had been Luke’s focus as graduate student, “so I just applied and basically talked my way into the job”.

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Opera Singer

The Boston Lyric Opera Company is a big company, with four main stage productions a year at the Schubert Theater, and a summer season of public performances on Boston Commons. “It was a fun job. I got to travel with their touring children’s opera”.

Three years later, Luke’s boss retired and the company wanted Luke to take on a much larger role. Luke and Sally had just had their first child, which changed things. “We felt very isolated having an infant – none of our friends had kids yet”. Luke and Sally decided, “We should raise our children around family”.

What did Luke and Sally do?

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Victoria Theater, Dayton, Ohio

Three months after their daughter was born, Luke and Sally moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio. Luke took a job as Education and Outreach Director at the Victoria Theater Association in Dayton.

The job wasn’t a good fit for Luke, however, so he only lasted for one and a half years. It did serve as a “stepping stone to become the Director of Muse Machine”.

How did Luke like Muse Machine?

Started in 1982, Muse Machine is an arts education program that works with Dayton area schools to connect students and teachers to the performing and visual arts.

Due to education’s increased emphasis on testing, arts education had changed since the Muse Machine began. Schools no longer had room in their schedules for arts appreciation programming. “I was there as a real driver of change, not just an administrator, but a creative program person – moving toward more of a residency model where artists are in the school for a prolonged period doing in depth curriculum based stuff with students”.

The funding landscape for nonprofits in the Dayton area had also changed. Major corporate supporters like NCR and Mead Corporation had drastically decreased their support as they reduced their presence in the region. Consequently, Luke had to sell the new program approach to the schools at the same time that he was reinventing the organization’s funding model.

Luke stayed for four years with Muse Machine. “I enjoyed it, but it took a toll on my family life. I did not have a good work/life balance and was letting it bleed into my personal life”. Work pressures made him want to “go back to a time when things were different”.

What did Luke do to relieve the pressure?

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Boston skyline

Luke learned that the Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection had died suddenly. Remembering how much he had liked working there, he applied and persuaded his wife to move back to Boston. “I won’t have to work as much. I’ll make more money and our kids can grow up in the richness of the culture”.

“I thought it was going to be great, but it was terrible”.

Why was the job as Curator of The Harvard Theatre Collection terrible?

As the Curator, Luke was responsible for

  • Building the collection
  • Managing the funds and the purchases of materials
  • Discovering auctions of rare items around the world
  • Preparing materials on requested theater subjects for student use in the Reading Room

“The job was fun. I traveled a lot”. But Luke’s wife, Sally, was deeply unhappy. They had left “a very supportive network of close friends with kids the ages of our kids” and didn’t find anything similar in Boston. Consequently, Luke left Harvard after six months.

That sounds drastic! What happened next?

Luke called Neenah Ellis, General Manager of WYSO 91.3FM, and told her, “I’m desperate to move back. I need a job, so if you hear of any opening, will you let me know”.

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Luke & Neenah Ellis

In another happy accident, Neenah told him WYSO was searching for a Development Director. He applied for the  job, interviewed, got the job, resigned from Harvard, and moved back to Yellow Springs – all within 40 days.

WYSO 93.1FM is a public radio station, based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which airs 24/7. Operated by Antioch College since 1958, WYSO is the only NPR News station in the Miami Valley. In addition to NPR programming, WYSO delivers:

  • local and state news
  • public affairs programming and news specials
  • Public Radio International
  • American Public Media
  • PRX
  • BBC (British Broadcasting Service)
  • the work of independent radio producers

Did Luke find happiness at WYSO?

“WYSO is a good fit”. Although his title is Development Director, he’s not just focused on dollars, because “programming drives fundraising”. 

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WYSO receiving support from the DPL Foundation

He said, “I get to be creatively involved” as long as it relates to the mission. “I’m really more of community, outreach, partnerships AND fundraising. I get to go to all the meetings. I get to meet with funders, meet with producers. I got to help launch the area youth program”.

“WYSO is such a nexus of so many interests and ideas; it’s like a place of ideas and collaboration. In a theater company or opera company, we were hitting… barriers to participation such as the high expense of a ticket. I love that WYSO is free”.

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WYSO 91.3FM memorabilia

WYSO offers “so much programming: storytelling, news, journalism, programs that celebrate young people with youth radio. Those are some of the things that have made me want to go to work”. That’s obviously a big draw, because Luke is celebrating his five-year anniversary.

In describing the work culture at WYSO, Luke quoted Mother Theresa, “I can do things you cannot; you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things”. He has found that sort of collaboration at WYSO. 

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WYSO out and about in the community

“Everybody works from their strength and does their part”.

 Luke’s observations:

  • Keeping searching. “If you want to be part of making something in the arts, there’s a place for you”
  • Find a positive environment and be positive yourself. “If you’re going to work in an industry where you work long hours and don’t get paid a lot, you should be surrounded by people who are just as dedicated as you are and glean just as much satisfaction”
  • Decide: “What do you like? What drives you? What are you excited about?”
  • Recognize your strengths. For a long time, Luke thought he didn’t have the right skill set, that he needed a project management background or MBA. Today his perspective is different. “What you’re good at is not a liability. It might be a liability in one setting, but it’s a gift and it’s a talent in another setting, so just get yourself in the right context, because everybody has their thing that they’re good at. Don’t just take the job because you can get it and then suffer with it, because it’s not actually utilizing your talents. Just find the thing that’s utilizing your talents”
  • “I like to experiment to see what will happen – that’s the story of my career”.

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