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12 People to Watch in 2009

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Throughout the Valley, people are following their passions and pursuing their dreams, in fields as diverse as medicine and media, politics and public schools, food and film. They’re not famous, but they are making their mark in the region — and may even help shape our future. We think the following 12 Valleyites qualify as people to watch.

 

Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 

Greg BallPhotograph courtesy of Greg Ball

Greg Ball

Assemblyman

If one of the marks of a successful politician is the ability to generate headlines, then consider Greg Ball a civic titan in training. The 32-year-old state assemblyman represents an eastern sliver of Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties, but in the three years the Republican legislator has held the seat, his name has reverberated far beyond the district’s borders, both for his eagerness to upset the applecart in Albany and his anything-goes style of campaigning. (In one particularly noteworthy gambit, Ball sent a person dressed in a chicken suit to pester an opponent who refused to debate him.)

Now, Ball is fixing his sights on the Congressional seat occupied by Democrat John Hall, who is up for reelection next November. Ball’s candidacy appears ascendant: His health care forums this year reaped considerable media coverage, and his campaign says it out-raised Hall in the second and third quarters of 2009. This summer, Republican leaders in Washington awarded Ball “On The Radar” status in the House GOP Young Guns program, an initiative that funds those candidates whom the party considers most likely to upend a Democratic incumbent.

Born and raised in the district he now represents, Ball grew up in Pawling, the son of a father who logged long hours as a union postal worker and a mother who worked the night shift at Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center. His parents also served as caretakers of the Pawling estate of Jean Kennedy Smith, the younger sister of John F. Kennedy. “Every now and then, when they weren’t around, we could use the pool,” he says with a laugh. Despite his present political affiliation, he grew up to respect the famous Democratic family, and even counts Robert Kennedy as a political idol. “They took care of those around them,” he says.

In fact, Ball admits his views do not always adhere neatly to the party line. “If I were a voter and not an elected official, I would probably cast myself as an unaffiliated voter,” he says. Even in high school, Ball gravitated toward politicians with an independent streak. In 1992, he volunteered for Ross Perot’s first run for the presidency, traveling to Dallas to meet the billionaire candidate. “It was a fascinating campaign — just a straight-talking, no-BS patriot taking on the political establishment,” Ball says. “It showed there was still capability in politics to be a representative of the people, say what needs to be said, take the hits, and still be successful.”

“I went there to fight for my constituents. It’s cost me a few friendly conversations, but at the end of the day, it was exactly the right thing to do”

After graduating from Pawling High School, Ball attended the Air Force Academy, where he interned at the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Clinton. (“I had a somewhat different experience than Monica Lewinsky,” Ball quips.) From there, he served as an Air Force protocol officer in Washington, D.C. for several years — he remains in the branch’s reserve corps today — and then as a commercial developer, during which time he traveled to India and the Bahamas.

Eventually, Ball returned the Hudson Valley. In 2005, he decided to pursue a path he had considered since his Air Force days: a run for political office. He launched a primary challenge against longtime Republican Assemblyman Willis Stephens Jr., whose family had held the seat for almost 80 years. “Nobody thought I would win,” Ball says. Over two years, he knocked on 10,000 doors and engaged in aggressive campaign tactics such as the aforementioned chicken-suit strategy. The hard work paid off. Ball ultimately won 72 percent of the primary vote, then easily dispatched with Democrat Kenneth Harper in the general election.

The main impetus behind Ball’s victory had been his vow to try to change Albany. “It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to get elected on my reform mantra and do what everybody else does — which is send out photos of seniors, puppy dogs, and rainbows — and get reelected every year,” Ball says. “My first speech in the Assembly was telling them that they violated the public trust and they were the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States of America. I became the great uniter — both Democrats and Republicans booed me. Now, with the dysfunction — when you have the State Senate turning the lights out — people are like, ‘Greg, you were right on.’

“I went there to fight for my constituents. It’s cost me a few friendly conversations, but at the end of the day, it was exactly the right thing to do.”

Ball won’t say whether he aspires to an office higher than Congressman. “I’m focused on this race like a laser,” he says. “To win a race of this caliber, you absolutely have to be.” As a child, Ball considered a career as a large-animal veterinarian, but says he has no plans to hang out in a barnyard (other than the Capitol) any time soon. “I love public service, and believe that — at least for the intermediate future — I’ll be involved politically,” he says. As long as that’s true, it shouldn’t be difficult to find out what this talented rabble-rouser is up to.


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 
Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone

Internet marketer/blogger

If you’ve seen the television show Mad Men, you know how companies used to define their brand. Men in suits sit around a boardroom table. Men in suits banter about a product until a pithy tag line is agreed upon. Men in suits pat each other on the back, then head out for a three-martini lunch. The customer is nothing but a distant, faceless demographic.

The emergence of Google, Facebook, and Twitter has changed that dynamic, of course. Customers are more in control: With a few mouse clicks, they can write a complimentary product review or blog about an obnoxious sales clerk. Companies are staggering in the pre-dawn darkness of this new world; among those entrepreneurs helping them find the light is Troy resident Lisa Barone, a 27-year-old who prefers a hoodie and jeans to a suit and a café to a boardroom. “It used to be that it was only the big companies that had a platform to talk to people,” she says. ”Now, anyone can.”

Barone is the chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, an Internet marketing start-up she founded with colleagues Rae Hoffman and Rhea Drysdale in January. The trio helps businesses maximize their online presence, teaching them how best to use social networking sites and to influence which links pop up when customers google their name. In less than a year, Outspoken’s revenue growth has increased threefold. Big-time publications such as BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal seek out its expertise.

Outspoken’s choice of name is no coincidence. Barone writes a blog at www.outspokenmedia.com, and she isn’t afraid to drop the occasional expletive or call out the demigods of the Internet marketing world. In September, she used a blog post to criticize marketing guru Seth Godin, who had created Web pages featuring the brand information of several hundred major companies, but would only allow the companies to control the pages if they paid Godin’s firm $400 a month. The post garnered more than 150 comments, and two days later Godin changed the policy so that companies needed to give him permission before he’d create a page. “There was this big community outcry that we helped organize,” Barone says. “It was kind of a neat thing for us.”

“It used to be that it was only the big companies that had a platform to talk to people. Now, anyone can”

Elsewhere online, Barone uses her Twitter account to post items both personal and professional. That mixture matches the candid tone she uses in her blog posts, a writing voice that won Barone a 2007 SEMMY search-marketing award in the “LOL Funny” category. (A taste of Barone’s humor, from Twitter: “Wish Facebook would stop suggesting ex-boyfriends as friends. Yes, I know, I thought we were a good suggestion too. Clearly, not.”) At the same time, her informal style has lost Outspoken a few clients, she says. But Barone is confident her personable approach draws more customers than it repels. “By being yourself, you attract more people who are prone to like you,” she says. “I think a Twitter account helps people feel like they know me. People want to have relationships with other people and be treated like a human being.”

Barone originally envisioned herself as a traditional journalist, not the Internet firecracker she’s become. She graduated from Emerson College in 2004, then journeyed to Los Angeles and found work at a company that happened to be an Internet marketing firm. She was hired as a technical writer, but her job description quickly evolved into something more similar to her role at Outspoken today.

Last year, Barone accepted an offer to work for an Internet company in Troy. (“I’m an East Coast girl,” explains Barone, who grew up on Long Island.) It was there that she met Drysdale, but the pair soon discovered they did not mesh well with their new environment. They resigned on the same day to start Outspoken with Hoffman, whom they knew through the industry. Running a business has proven time-consuming: “I probably work — it’s so sad — 10 to 12 hours a day during the week, and 10 on the weekends,” she says. Barone savors the freedom that comes along with it, though. “As a blogger, I don’t have to worry about a boss who’s going to get mad if I piss off someone,” she says. “We really wanted to do things our way, and I think this is a great vehicle to do that.”

Circumstance may have pulled her to the Hudson Valley, but Barone says she’s found a home in downtown Troy. “I think it’s pretty,” she says. “I’d always loved the city of Boston, and it kind of looks similar.” She travels quite often for Outspoken, including four trips to Las Vegas in the past year for Web conferences. Of course, if you’re Lisa Barone, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. It goes right up on Twitter.


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 
Mara Farrell

Mara Farrell

Community Activist

Almost anyone driving along Route 9 south of I-84 in Fishkill wouldn’t notice anything unusual — a blighted mall, a Mexican restaurant, a Hess station. Mara Farrell sees things differently. “This is hallowed ground,” says the Fishkill resident. “This is a place where dramas played out.”

She is referring to the Fishkill Supply Depot and Encampment, a one-of-a-kind military city that once occupied this land. It was constructed in 1776 by George Washington’s troops and was in continuous service for seven years. A major logistical center for munitions and war supplies and an extensive camp/hospital for the Continental Army, the site was crucial to preventing the advance of the British and helping the colonies win the Revolutionary War.

Despite this legacy — and the fact that the 70-acre site bordering both sides of Route 9 was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 — much of it has been developed. When Farrell moved to Fishkill from Westchester in 2001, and learned of the depot’s history through her work as a board member of the Fishkill Historical Society, she immediately took up the cause to save the site’s remaining 20 acres. “From the very start, I was astounded by the importance of the site. It is New York’s Valley Forge,” says Farrell. “I just had to be an advocate.”

The owner of a small public relations agency, Farrell went on to cofound Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot in 2006 with Nate Binzen and Marty Byster. The group has initiated petitions and spoken out to save the site from commercial development.

“Historic sites have the power of place,” says Farrell, who majored in history and music at Sarah Lawrence and earned a masters in international education from Columbia (she was also a teenage tour guide at Lyndhurst historic site in Tarrytown). “Ground is irreplaceable. If you don’t make the community aware of what we have, commercial plans move forward and hallowed ground becomes aisle nine of the next big-box store. That’s not how we want to honor our first veterans.”

“From the start, I was astounded by the importance of the site. It is New York’s Valley Forge. I just had to be an advocate”

Despite her progress in raising public awareness (which includes winning the support of Town Supervisor Joan Pagones), Farrell often felt like a voice in the wilderness. That is until last summer, when a Friday phone call invited her to testify on behalf of the site before a Senate subcommittee on the following Monday — and tell the story in less than five minutes. “It was dramatic and a bit surreal,” says Farrell. “For so long you fight and a lot of doors are closed to you. And then suddenly things shift, and you get this opportunity.”

For Farrell, that big break came thanks to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. She had pushed the state to complete an archeological excavation of a suspected grave site related to the supply depot. When Schumer learned that hundreds of graves had been confirmed on a nine-acre parcel that was up for development — and that the site could well be the largest Revolutionary War burial complex ever identified and one of the country’s first military cemeteries — he introduced legislation to make the site eligible for federal preservation funds. Following Farrell’s senate testimony, which was the preliminary step, the bill will go to the full committee on Energy and Natural Resources and then to the full Senate for a vote. (The legislation has already passed the House.) “Mara’s knowledge and passion will continue to be an essential asset,” says Schumer.

For Farrell, the presence of the graves is just one part of the story. Past archeological activities at the site — when I-84 was built in the 1960s and the Dutchess Mall in the 1970s — turned up foundations of structures ranging from officers’ quarters to a blacksmith’s shop. “But the bulldozer was basically right behind them,” she says. Still, the possibilities are tantalizing for what might still be out there — especially considering that the actual supply depot stretched some three miles south of Fishkill, far more land than the 70 designated acres.

Farrell dreams of building an interpretive center on the site and incorporating public art and trails: “Perhaps some of the features could be excavated and stabilized. We foresee a partnership with a university to have on-site archeologists and a learning center.” Most dramatic of all, she envisions the day when chemical and DNA testing can be used to determine the identities of the soldiers buried at the site. “Ever since an Associated Press article on the graves ran in papers nationwide last July, people from all over the country have been reaching out to Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot. That shows that this site really does have the promise to be a national place of memory.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 

Megan Fells and Charles Fells, Jr.Photograph by Dan Stein

Megan Fells & Charles Fells Jr.

Chefs/Restaurateurs

Chef Charlie Fells grew up in Poughkeepsie, and remembers when Main Street was a thriving thoroughfare. As a child (he’s 42 now), he’d shop with his parents at M. Schwartz, a clothing store that went out of business in the 1980s, after the malls began draining commercial life from downtown. Although the city tried to reverse the trend by converting two blocks of Main Street to a pedestrian mall, it wasn’t long before most of the remaining shops were forced to close or move. As storefronts were boarded up, vagrancy and crime rose. “I saw it go from great to bad,” says Fells.

Yet in 2005, when Fells and his girlfriend Megan Kulpa, also a chef, decided to open a restaurant, they opted to lease space in the old M. Schwartz building. Although by then the mall had been reopened to traffic, and a few landlords were renovating once-stately Victorian buildings, gentrification was a long way off. “But we saw that there were people taking a chance on Poughkeepsie,” says Charlie. “We thought we’d be the jewel in the rough.”

Megan Fells (the couple married in ’07) is now 30, and grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut. Like many a Culinary Institute graduate, she loves the Hudson Valley and says she was “not turned off” by Poughkeepsie’s grittier side.

“I was the first person proposed to in the restaurant,” says Megan. The couple figured that after surviving the harrowing business of construction and starting up a restaurant together, they’d already experienced the worst

The storefront space the couple leased was “just a shell,” says Charlie. “We refurbished the tin ceiling, tore up layers of cardboard and linoleum, and refinished the hardwood floors. One day, the landlord started whacking away at the plaster on the walls and there was brick underneath, so we exposed that.” A contractor offered materials from demolished buildings nearby. “We picked out the best stuff, like Douglas fir joists that we used for the bar,” Charlie says. Architect Alan Baer designed the industrial-chic interior with its open kitchen, and Jeff Johnson, a furniture designer, built the bar and furnishings.

“The city helped us out tremendously with loans,” Charlie says. “And we put everything we had into it.” Artist’s Palate, an oasis of hip in an unhip neighborhood, opened in April 2006. The New American menu was also ambitious, with such exotic offerings as crispy fried tofu and lobster mac and cheese (both now signatures).

“It was scary at first, because we were heeding all the warnings about the blight of Poughkeepsie,” Charlie says. “Everyone said we were out of our minds,” adds Megan. But the couple believed they could attract professionals from nearby Vassar Hospital and the courthouses, as well as people attending performances at the Bardavon, a block away.

The gamble paid off, and enthusiastic reviews soon helped make Artist’s Palate a destination for diners outside the area as well as a local favorite.

megan fells and charles fells jr.

Not long after, the Food Network, scouting for promising female chefs, invited Megan to compete in the popular show Top Chef, which requires a two-month commitment for filming. “I told them thanks, but I own a restaurant. We’ve invested all our money, blood, sweat, and tears. I can’t walk away for a TV show,” Megan recalls. Last spring, though, when the producers asked her to appear on Chopped, which is taped in one day, Megan agreed. The episode airs December 8th, but “I’m sworn to secrecy,” she says, regarding the outcome. “It’s good publicity for the restaurant, but as I told the judges, it didn’t show my cooking skills. ”

In summer 2007, the couple launched the Casual Palate, an offshoot in Warwick, which closed the following year. “We thought we could hire someone to run our business,” Charlie says. “But if you’re not hands-on, it doesn’t work.”

That lesson learned, they’re about to open a new spot next door to Artist’s Palate, called Canvas. “It will concentrate on small plates and wine flights,” says Charlie. “We’re not calling it tapas, because it’ll be international — Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese. And Megan is Polish, so she’ll be making pierogies.”

“I will?” says Megan. “Well, I’d be happy to.”

Charlie describes Canvas as “South Beach style, with bright, vibrant Miami colors — a casual, sexy space” with a lounge in front where people can unwind after work. “During the day, it’ll be more grab and go, with prepared foods, and locally produced cheeses and meats.” The couple christened the new spot in fall with a fund-raiser for the Dutchess SPCA.

“We’d like to have three or four places in Poughkeepsie,” Charlie declares. “We want to open a steakhouse, and after that, one of those greengrocer, Asian-style markets that you see in the city.”

Meanwhile, Artist’s Palate has certainly added some vitality to a once run-down block. “People say it’s like a bit of city life come to Poughkeepsie,” says Charlie. “But it really never left. It just needed to be uncovered.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 

Seth GinsbergPhotograph courtesy of Seth Ginsberg

Seth Ginsberg

Health Advocate

At 28 years old, Seth Ginsberg is not your typical arthritis sufferer. He has lived with a form of the condition called spondylarthritis for half of his young life. Simple activities such as climbing stairs or opening a jar cause him a great deal of pain. Every two or three weeks, the condition flares to the point where every joint in his body aches.

Fortunately, contracting arthritis isn’t the only thing Ginsberg did at an early age. Since he was a freshman in college 10 years ago, the Ramapo native has served as president of CreakyJoints, a Web site he conceptualized and founded as a source of support for arthritis sufferers of all ages. CreakyJoints houses message boards, news features, advice from medical experts, and blogs, including one by Ginsberg himself. From the organization’s offices in Upper Nyack, Ginsberg runs a forum for 33,000 members — and growing.

The spark for the Web site sprang from the loneliness Ginsberg felt during his first weeks at Babson College in Boston in 1999. “It was three o’clock in the morning. I was laying on my bunk bed, awake, and I felt miserable. I was alone, so far away from my support,” Ginsberg recalls. “I got out of bed and e-mailed a guy named Lou Tharp. I had interned for Lou over the summer before college at his marketing firm in Upper Nyack. He was the only guy I could think to e-mail at the time. I said, ‘You know, there’s got to be something we could do to bring people together in a positive environment.’ Just a couple of hours later, he wrote back, ‘I’d like to be a social entrepreneur. Let’s do this together.’ ”

Other online support sites for arthritis existed at the time, but CreakyJoints soon found a niche with its serious-but-lighthearted tone. A purposeful levity fills the Web pages of the site, as demonstrated by its name and playful slogan (“Bringing arthritis to its knees”). The philosophy follows Ginsberg’s own approach to living with the condition. “We’re not a pity party,” he says. “It’s a place to come and leave feeling better than when you came. Humor has a lot to do with that.”

“The nature of arthritis is that there are good days and bad days. You have to take advantage of the good days”

Today, CreakyJoints has grown into the flagship site for the Global Healthy Living Foundation, an enterprise Ginsberg also runs. The foundation includes support Web sites for diabetes, asthma, and anxiety and depression. As part of his role as spokesman for the organization, Ginsberg travels the country, organizing events in which physicians and other experts instruct guests on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. “Nothing can replace human contact,” he says. CreakyJoints has held the events in more than 120 cities and towns nationwide, including Nyack, Jefferson Valley, and the Capital Region.

As he looks toward the organization’s future, Ginsberg sees promise in a new initiative called Hand in Hand for RA, which promotes volunteerism as a way for arthritis sufferers to transcend the helpless feeling that often accompanies the condition. CreakyJoints is partnering with drug companies Genentech and Biogen Idec on the program. The three organizations conducted a survey that showed 72 percent of arthritics wanted to do more in their communities. Participants in Hand in Hand for RA can log on to www.creakyjoints.org to post stories and photos from their own volunteer efforts, and to glean inspiration from other people with arthritis who have lent their time to a cause.

The initiative is derived from Ginsberg’s own experience. As a teenaged, newly diagnosed arthritic, he found a pastime — and, more importantly, a purpose — in volunteering at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw. He still volunteers today as a companion for an elderly woman. “Every other Saturday, I go over to her house for two or three hours and we play cards,“ he says. “I just kind of keep her company, and in return, she cracks me up. She is literally the funniest person in the whole world.”

In his free time, Ginsberg tries to stay active. He excelled in athletics before he developed arthritis, and even now he occasionally sneaks in nine holes of golf, despite his lack of mobility. “The truth is with golf, if you slow down, you can actually improve,” he says. This positive, can-do attitude infuses much of Ginsberg’s everyday speech. “The nature of arthritis is that there are good days and bad days,” he says. “You have to take advantage of the good days.”

Beside that cheerful disposition, however, resides an intense determination to overcome the limitations with which arthritis has shackled him. He draws inspiration from his mother, who has suffered from arthritis for decades and who took Ginsberg’s diagnosis especially hard. “I remember lying in bed at 13 and hearing my mom sobbing down the hallway to my dad, saying, ‘I can’t believe I gave this to my child,’ ” he says. “That was actually when I realized that it was up to me to make this all okay, and I really believe it is okay now. CreakyJoints and a lot of what we’ve done comes from that moment.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 
Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe

Galen Joseph-Hunter & Tom Roe

Radio Entrepreneurs

Though the days when the family would gather ’round the radio for their evening entertainment are long gone, community radio is alive and well in the upper Valley thanks to Galen Joseph-Hunter and her husband Tom Roe, among the founders of WGXC: Hands-on Radio. The station, which launched online in May of this year (at www.wgxc.org) and hopes to be up and running at 90.7 FM by next summer, serves Greene and Columbia counties. As a project of free103point9 — a New York State-based nonprofit arts organization focused on cultivating transmission arts — WGXC programming will represent the combined efforts of radio professionals, artists, and community members. “It’s a community radio station, a unique one,” says Roe. “It’s radio done by members of the community in creative ways.”

Full-time Greene County residents since 2004, Roe and Joseph-Hunter recognized in their new home an opportunity to provide a much-needed community service. “Giving people access to get their voices on the air is exciting,” enthuses Roe. “The thing about Greene and Columbia counties, there is almost no media coverage of what goes on here. No television or radio that is regularly reporting on this area. You can’t turn on anything any day of the week and hear what’s going on in Germantown or Valatie or Cairo or Windham. Papers are struggling. A lot of what goes on in town government goes on behind closed doors.”

WGXC will change all that, according to Roe. “There will be shows about the arts, local history, and a heavy focus in the mornings on agriculture and farming. There will be shows about local politics, local musicians. We’ll have live performances and live feeds from local venues that already have music, poetry readings, and lectures. We’ll broadcast live town hall meetings. Whatever is going on in the area, the radio station will be reflecting that.”

The station will also further the work of free103point9. Founded as an artists’ collective by Roe and two others, the organization cultivates the lesser-known transmission arts genre through a number of projects, including exhibitions and performances, educational initiatives, a distribution label, and an artists fellowship program; they also serve as a New York State Council of the Arts re-granter for individual media artists. Joseph-Hunter defines transmission arts as time-based or live art that works with the transmission spectrum or airwaves, and manifests in radio art, light art, video, installation, etc. “We’re excited to give transmission artists the opportunity to work in a rural setting — media artists don’t often get that opportunity. The FM radio station will not only give transmission artists the opportunity to work with FM signals, but will also provide an opportunity to work with community members,” says Joseph-Hunter, free103point9’s executive director since 2002.

“Giving people access to get their voices on the air is exciting… There is almost no media coverage of what goes on here”

“I went to Bard, and was born in Norwich, so I have all kinds of history with upstate New York,” says Joseph-Hunter. With her degree in art history, she moved to New York City where a summer internship with the Museum of Modern Art led her to Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), a renowned video arts organization. “I learned the ropes of nonprofit arts there,” she recalls. The experience paid off when she became involved with free103point9 after meeting Roe, helping to guide it from collective to nonprofit. Roe, a transmission artist, hails from Tampa, Florida, where he was the music editor of Creative Loafing — “the Village Voice of Florida” — and where he later opened a record store that moonlighted as a music club. After moving to the city, Roe returned to writing with a music column in the New York Post until he helped found free103point9 in 1997.

Now the couple and their three-year-old daughter live in Acra, traveling to the city as needed for their continued work there. And while they’ve been seeing lots of support for WGXC, their efforts have met some resistance, particularly in the Town of Cairo. Meanwhile they’re focusing on the positive: what Joseph-Hunter calls overwhelming support across the counties. “We’re currently in fund-raising mode,” she explains. Adds Roe: “We’re organizing 20 to 30 benefits around the area. Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters in Hudson will be selling a special WGXC blend as a fund-raiser. A lot of people are helping.”

Also in the works are studios at Catskill’s community center, in Hudson, and possibly one in Cairo. “These will give people in those counties easy access to do shows live,” explains Roe. And with the project’s first large grant (a $71,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce) they hope to purchase the transmitter for the FM signal, a critical factor to getting on-air by their desired 2010 launch date. Now all they need are the diverse voices of the community: “We hope that any Columbia and Greene county residents who want to do a radio show will fill out an application,” Roe says. “There are lots of people with something to say, something to share with their neighbors. We’re hoping WGXC brings all kinds of people together — old-timers, farmers, business owners, artists — to understand each other a little bit more.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr.

Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., M.D.

Surgeon

When Cleveland Lewis completed his medical studies and officially became a doctor, it was a family dream come true.

“My father was a biology teacher,” says Lewis, “and what he’d actually wanted to do was be a physician. He’ll be 80 this year; and back in those days, for an Afro-American male, the chances of becoming a physician were slim.

“So yes, he’s proud of me,” smiles Lewis.

Growing up in Wilson, N.C., Lewis focused on science and math as a young student. “I had a general idea I wanted to do medicine; the decision was made relatively early,” he recalls. He went on to Duke Medical School and eventually decided to specialize in thoracic surgery — the care and treatment of benign and malignant diseases of the chest.

“In medical school, I’d had some interest in cardiac and thoracic surgery — and like most people, you really don’t know what a career entails when you first make the choice.”

One key in helping him decide on his career path: “I had a mentor who was a cardiac surgeon; he offered me a research position in his laboratory for a year. That really tipped me over in terms of knowing, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ” So, in his third year at Duke Medical School, Lewis opted to specialize in thoracic surgery.

It’s a demanding field that requires dual focus. “When you train for thoracic surgery, you have to train as a cardio-thoracic surgeon,” says Lewis, 42. “That means, when you get your board certification, you have to have training in heart surgery as well as lung surgery.”

After medical school, he completed a general surgery residency and a cardio-thoracic fellowship at Duke, plus an additional year in thoracic oncology and thoracic surgery. After practicing medicine in North Carolina, Lewis and his family moved to the Valley, and he joined the staff of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County in 2005.

Lewis has a passion for his work — he was key in creating one of the Valley’s first state-of-the-art thoracic surgery programs at the hospital. He treats patients with lung and esophageal cancer, as well as benign pulmonary disorders, pericardial disease, chest-wall abnormalities, and other conditions. He also implants and monitors pacemakers.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of interacting with patients, especially oncology patients… There’s nothing like having your patient come in at the five-year mark and they’re cancer free”

Lewis admits that certain aspects of his field can be especially demanding. “It’s not necessarily the individual surgeries. I think the most challenging part of the job, for me, is telling someone with advanced cancer that there’s really nothing else we can offer them,” he says. “That, and the initial diagnosis — to come out from surgery and have to talk to the patient’s family.”

He knows firsthand how grueling the experience can be. “A family member of mine had inoperable lung cancer,” and although another doctor treated his relative, Lewis notes, “No matter how long you do this, in the most challenging cases, when you have to come out and deliver the bad news, it never gets easier for a doctor.”

But he’s determined to do everything possible to relieve his patients’ pain and suffering. And now, as the recently named medical director of the brand-new $23 million Littman Cancer Center on the Cornwall campus of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, he’s eager to work with the top-notch medical team in their state-of-the art facility.

The center features services such as high-tech TomoTherapy — a radiation process that minutely targets cancer cells, minimizing danger to surrounding healthy tissues — plus chemotherapy, extensive patient support, and future infusion services and physician offices to be added at the site. “The center offers a great opportunity to provide the highest level of treatment right here in the Hudson Valley,” Lewis says.

He’s also adamant about the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in medicine. “You can’t just look at cancer-care treatment as the surgeon or the oncologist or the radiation oncologist,” Lewis explains. “All those persons have to come together as a team. Then the patient can come to the center and have all their needs taken care of in one place — we’re looking forward to providing ‘one-stop shopping.’ ”

Despite his busy schedule — Lewis will continue his work as a thoracic surgeon in addition to his new duties at the Littman Center — he enjoys downtime with his wife and three kids (three boys, aged eight, six and one). “My children are my hobbies,” Lewis laughs. He tries to play basketball once a week and works out at the gym whenever possible. “I also like to cook — although I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like.”

And despite the demands of his medical career, Lewis says the rewards are immense. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of interacting with patients, especially oncology patients,” he says. “They have multiple needs: medical, emotional, psychological. I see myself as a ‘people person’ — I like to sit down with my patients and talk with them. From a lung cancer standpoint, for instance, survival or cure is considered five years. There’s nothing like having your patient come in at the five-year mark and they’re cancer free.”

He adds, “You don’t look at it from an egotistical standpoint; you look at it from the standpoint that you’re happy for the patient — happy that you were able to provide something for them that was a positive thing.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 

Maribel PregnallPhotographs courtesy of Maribel Pregnall

Maribel Pregnall

Teacher

Canoeing, scuba-diving, whale watching, camping on a mangrove island… If this doesn’t sound like your high school science class, then you probably never had a teacher like Maribel Pregnall. Now in her 20th year of teaching science at Dutchess County’s Arlington High School, Pregnall is the kind of teacher we all wish we’d had.

“Teaching, to me, is a new adventure every day,” says the 45-year-old educator, one of four finalists for the 2009 New York State Teacher of the Year award. “Calling it a job seems far too mundane.” She has taught virtually every science course offered by her school, including AP biology, marine biology, oceanography, and a research course.

Where Pregnall differs from many teachers is in her embrace of hands-on teaching tools. Her classroom currently has seven large marine aquaria, four small freshwater aquaria, and one large trout aquarium. (There are also four snakes, a lizard, a turtle, and the occasional hamster or two.) A typical classroom activity might involve caring for trout embryos until they are large enough to release into streams in the Hudson watershed.

“Even if they don’t go on to science-related careers, it is my biggest hope that students leave my classroom with an appreciation of science and the outdoors”

What do Pregnall’s charges think of sharing space with a bunch of fish? “Once my students get over the fishy smell, the swishing and sloshing and gurgling sounds of water, the whirling noises of the pumps, and the general overstimulation of so much going on at once, they embrace the aquaria,” she asserts. “They quickly acquire a sense of ownership and pride and a caring, nurturing attitude about the tanks and the creatures that live in them.”

The Hudson River is another invaluable teaching resource. When Pregnall’s students first look at the river, she notes, their reaction is to say that it’s polluted. As a result, she spends a lot of time encouraging them to see the Hudson as she sees it — “an incredibly productive ecosystem rich in phytoplankton and animal diversity.”

Recently, she and some fellow teachers accompanied 30 students to the shoreline in Poughkeepsie as part of a program called “A Day in the Life of the Hudson.” The students measured turbidity, salinity, currents, and fish diversity, among other things. The endeavor, involving thousands of students up and down the river, provides a scientific “snapshot” of the Hudson from multiple locations, taken at a given point in time.

Maribel Pregnall

Other field trip destinations include Tivoli Bay, which students explore in canoes; the Vassar College pool, where they are introduced to scuba-diving skills; Key Largo, Florida, where they collect data on a threatened seagrass bed and kayak out to a campsite on a mangrove island; and the Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts, where they go whale watching. “I believe that education must extend beyond the four traditional classroom walls,” Pregnall explains.

Recent budget cutbacks have forced Pregnall to curtail some trips. As a result, she is bringing more educational programs into the school — including ones showcasing wolves and birds of prey — and planning local expeditions to a nearby streams and wetlands. Currently, her science research students are using radio telemetry to monitor the locations of several Blanding’s turtles, members of an endangered species.

Born in Massachusetts, Pregnall lived for some years in Vermont, where she remembers milking cows, shoveling manure, carrying pails of maple sap, and watching calves being born. “The farm and the wilds of Vermont instilled in me a love of biology and the outdoors,” she suggests. A later move to coastal Maine sealed her love affair with the sea. “I swam in the ocean all summer long, waded in tide pools, jumped off piers on Peaks Island, explored abandoned Army barracks on the 365 islands offshore of Portland, and thoroughly enjoyed the rugged life of being a Mainer,” she remembers.

Pregnall’s high school science teacher encouraged her to pursue a career in science: “She inspired me to learn, to question, to explore.” At Smith College, where she majored in biology, Pregnall worked in neuroscience labs and in the college’s botanical gardens. Later, she interned on a whale-watching vessel; after spending the day recording whale behavior and photographing flukes, the future educator walked around the boat talking with the tourists. “I loved sharing my knowledge with them just as much as I enjoyed listening to their own observations of the animals,” she recalls. “I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher.”

A number of her former students are pursuing careers in scientific fields, including as teachers. One former student works for the Environmental Protection Agency in chemistry; another is a rescue scuba diver for a Texas fire department; and several others will graduate from medical school this year. “Even if they don’t go on to science-related careers,” Pregnall says, “it is my biggest hope that students leave my classroom with an appreciation of science and the outdoors.”

As for Pregnall, she has no regrets about her chosen career. “Besides my husband of 22 years,” she says, “the job at Arlington turned out to be the best catch of my life!”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 
Nicole Quinn

Nicole Quinn

Screenwriter

If Ulster County resident Nicole Quinn has her way, more films will be made in the Hudson Valley, featuring homegrown talent and themes that are infinitely more diverse than the ones typically served up by Hollywood.

Quinn, the award-winning writer, director and executive producer of the 2007 independent film Racing Daylight, isn’t a big fan of the Hollywood movie-making machine, which she feels runs on a stultifying combination of repetition, reputation, and imitation. Many compelling stories aren’t being told, she believes, including ones by and about women, people of color, and anyone over the age of 40.

“I’m a storyteller,” explains Quinn, who is in her early 50s and is of mixed black, Puerto Rican, and Belgian heritage. Over the course of a recent interview, she told tales of a California childhood steeped in the arts and touched by racism. Magical experiences (watching Mitzi Gaynor rehearse for a Las Vegas show being choreographed by a family friend) are juxtaposed with ugly ones (finding dead animals in the mailbox after her family moved to an all-white neighborhood). And then there was the vicious Valentine’s Day card handed to her on the school bus, which prompted her mother to send her to a Catholic boarding school at the tender age of eight (an experience that inspired Habit Forming, her as-yet-unpublished memoir).

As a pre-law student at Berkeley, Quinn ditched her plans to become a lawyer on the advice of a drama professor who helped her get a union card and a job at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Ten credits short of graduating, she walked away from school and the law and into a whole new world. Her professor’s intervention “changed my life,” she says. “Or what I thought was going to be my life.”

Quinn focused on acting for a decade or so, appearing in movies, television dramas, soap operas, and on the stage. She later became a screenwriter, writing for John Singleton, HBO, and Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures, among others.

She and her husband bought a weekend house in Ulster County in 1995, and became full-time residents in 2000. Quinn threw herself into the local arts scene, becoming a member of Actors & Writers (a group of theater and film professionals who live in the Valley), helping to run a play-writing workshop at a local high school, and serving on the board of the Poughkeepsie-based Children’s Media Project.

“The motto of Chick Flicks Studio is ‘Content by, for, and about women who think and the men who think with them”

After raising two children, Quinn was ready to tackle her own projects. Shot entirely in the Hudson Valley, Racing Daylight marked Quinn’s debut as a feature filmmaker. For the film, a quirky romance/ghost story that glides between two centuries, Quinn chose historically rich locations in the Shawangunk Ridge area, and benefited from a local talent pool that included Melissa Leo and David Strathairn (both Academy Award nominees). Made on a shoestring budget after expected financing fell through, the film won the Women’s International Best Narrative Film Award (2007) and the New York Film and Video Festival Best Feature Award (2008).

Quinn is currently collaborating with her producing partner, Sophia Raab Downs, on Chick Flicks Studios, a full-service production facility promising “content by, for and about women who think and the men who think with them.” The partners are currently working to open a sound stage in a former carpet store on Route 209 in Accord, which will allow local independent filmmakers easier access to a hefty New York State tax credit. “We’re trying to grow a crew who can stay here and work,” she says.

Work has already begun on Quinn’s next movie, Slap and Tickle, which will also be filmed in the Valley. Thus far, a teaser has been shot, which Quinn says will be up on YouTube shortly. The film stars Quinn’s daughter, Caitlin, as well as Gloria Reuben (of the television show ER), and Broadway actress Linda Powell (daughter of Colin Powell). In addition to Slap and Tickle, Chick Flicks is producing a script by local author Kim Wozencraft called The Meaning of Wife.

The project closest to Quinn’s heart, however, is arguably The Gold Stone Girl, a trilogy of fantasy/adventure books for girls set two million years in the future. Quinn set out to craft a “heroine’s story” through which she could address some of the things she finds terrifying in today’s world, including the murder of girl babies in cultures where boys are preferred, “the daily erosion of women’s rights,” and a societal infrastructure that is failing to acknowledge the end of the peak-oil era. The books’ setting is a nightmarish world, she says, one in which “girls are feared, their whereabouts monitored, and their numbers kept low.” Plans call for Chick Flicks to produce The Gold Stone Girl as a three-season, Web-based series.

Quinn cites a Women in Media gathering some years back that included feminist Gloria Steinem and Friends cocreator Marta Kauffman with helping her realize that it was useless to sit around and whine about a Hollywood infrastructure that wasn’t geared towards welcoming people like her. The solution, she realized, was to take matters into her own hands.

“Once you know that all hits are flukes and you have as much of a shot right out of the gate at being successful, then you don’t really need to play in the same sandbox,” she asserts. In other words, there is no reason that filmmakers like her can’t “play” in their own backyards. For Quinn, her sandbox of choice is the Hudson Valley.


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

 

Dan ShapleyPhotograph by Gloria Dawson

Dan Shapley

Environmental Journalist

Dan Shapley didn’t start out wanting to become one of the most respected environmental journalists in the Hudson Valley.

“I wanted to be a poet,” he says of his college days. “I didn’t have a practical idea in my head about what I would do.”

Since then, Shapley has spent his career reporting on practical solutions to complex environmental problems. The 32-year-old resident of Port Ewen is the top editor of The Daily Green, an award-winning environmental Web site based in Manhattan and published by Hearst Digital Media, a unit of Hearst Magazines. Founded on Earth Day 2007, the site aims to foster environmentally sound living practices through news, features, tips, and awards.

“The term ‘green’ can mean anything and nothing,” Shapley says. “For the Web site, it means a lifestyle that is concerned about health, not only in the way everybody thinks about it — exercise and eating well — but also in terms of the quality of the food you are eating and how it was grown, how processed it is or isn’t. I think food is a really big, really growing part of the whole idea.”

The Daily Green won a “Best New Site” award from minonline.com, a media industry Web site. In April, it hosted its first “Heart of Green Awards,” honoring people who were taking the “green” message to a mainstream audience. Among the honorees were actress Alicia Silverstone, a vegan and longtime animal rights activist; and Roger Doiron, founding director of the nonprofit group Kitchen Gardeners International. Doiron led a campaign that encouraged the Obamas to plant a garden at the White House.

Before The Daily Green, Shapley was the environmental editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal. His relentless reporting drew attention to the Hopewell Precision contamination site in the Town of East Fishkill. Wells near the site were found to have elevated levels of trichloroethylene, a chemical solvent. It was declared a federal Superfund site in 2005.

“He was an awesome and terrific reporter when he was at the Poughkeepsie Journal and helped them create a really strong environmental focus,” said Ned Sullivan, president of the environmental group Scenic Hudson and author of the “Backyard Matters” blog for The Daily Green. “I think he has been catapulted into a national and international media market with The Daily Green. I think he is having a much broader impact, and that is good for everybody — and good for the environment.”

Shapley’s appreciation for the environment goes back to his Dutchess County childhood. “Growing up in Salt Point, there were a lot of woods,” he remembers. “I was right on the Wappinger Creek. Most of my playtime was spent trespassing in other people’s woods.”

After graduating from Arlington High School, Shapley attended Hartwick College in Oneonta, where he began studying biology. He blames beakers and Bunsen burners for his switch to writing. “My freshman year, I was taking genetics, which is a pretty tough course,” he said. “I loved learning about it, and was probably one of the only people who really enjoyed reading through that textbook. But I was no good at lab work — I just didn’t get it.”

“I think Dan has been catapulted into a national and international media market with The Daily Green. I think he is having a much broader impact, and that is good for everybody — and good for the environment”

Still, that little bit of science has served him well in his journalism career, he said. Shapley spent two years editing the college paper. He studied English literature, and discovered a love of poetry. He began his professional career at the Taconic Newspapers group before moving to the Journal.

When Hearst asked him to be one of the founding staffers at The Daily Green, he struggled with the decision. “You know, people would call up [the Journal newsroom] if they had a problem related to what I wrote about,” he said. People in the community knew his name, and looked to him for help. “I felt like I was abandoning them,” he admits.

That feeling is one of the reasons he joined the Town of Esopus Environmental Advisory Board last year. He has contributed to the board’s study of street light fixtures and the town’s recently expired contract with the operator of its transfer station.

“Dan is tremendous,” fellow board member David Murray said. “I think he is brilliant. He knows how to look for information and track it down, and has that reporter’s doggedness of getting things. He has FOILED [requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law] certain documents that have to do with the contractor who runs the station.”

Shapley’s board work is one example of what he hopes will be an increasing level of participation in environmental issues in the Hudson Valley. “A goal I have is to come back and be working in the Hudson Valley full-time on Hudson Valley issues,” he said. “That is really where I am most satisfied. I’ve learned so much and I’ve gotten to know so many good people who are working on things that I care about. I want to be involved. I’m not sure what form that will take right now, but that is an end goal.”


Click on a name to meet one of our “People to Watch”:

Greg Ball | Lisa Barone | Mara Farrell
Megan Fells and Charles Fells Jr. | Seth Ginsberg | Galen Joseph-Hunter and Tom Roe
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD | Maribel Pregnall | Nicole Quinn | Dan Shapley

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