Feature Stories

Dynamic duos

By Bonnie Blackburn
We here at Fort Wayne Monthly are a lucky bunch. We get to meet a lot of really great people who are making this city into the interesting, fun and, well, dynamic place it’s becoming. Sometimes those people are working alone; sometimes they’re with a group. And sometimes, they’ve found another person who becomes the flip side to their coin, their psychic twin, their soul mate. And then they become a Dynamic Duo.

We’ve found five Dynamic Duos for our 2012 edition who run the gamut from entrepreneur to artist. But they share one common trait: courage. They have each plucked up the courage to start a business or move to a new city or invest in a strange country — all because they had the guts to follow a dream and to make that dream become a reality. And in doing so, they’ve helped make Fort Wayne a more beautiful, more interesting and, again, a more dynamic place.

So join us as we introduce 2012’s Dynamic Duos. And maybe, just maybe, some of their courage will rub off on you.

 

 

Photography by Neal Bruns

Creating space downtown

Scott and Melissa Glaze shun the spotlight. In fact, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this story. OK, not really kicking and screaming — that’s not their style. Their style is to quietly and steadily work to improve the viability of downtown Fort Wayne.

And they’re doing it with grace.

Melissa is the brains behind J. K. O’Donnell’s, the popular Irish pub on West Wayne Street, and she and Scott have been quietly buying up and renovating various properties in the vicinity of the pub, creating new life where emptiness once reigned.

The couple met in high school, volunteering on a stage production of a variety show. They both grew up in northeast Indiana, and Scott took over the family business, Fort Wayne Metals, in 1985 at the ripe old age of 27. They have three daughters, two cats and one dog.

And they have the supporters of a vital and growing downtown cheering them on as they slowly but surely invest in housing and retail. Scott recently purchased the old Instant Copy building near the Allen County Public Library, which he hopes to turn into a retail establishment. And the couple has invested in the old Loaf ’N Ladle restaurant on Calhoun Street, another prime location downtown.

Why take the risk of developing properties downtown? That’s easy.

“There is an energy in downtown,” Melissa said. “A lot more people are seeing the positives instead of the negatives.”

The opening of Parkview Field brought more people downtown, which has created even more energy. And the couple’s upscale restaurant, with its open-air seating and wide variety of authentic Irish fare, beers and whiskeys, has brought a sophistication to downtown dining. Above the restaurant are several apartments, because the Glazes firmly believe in having people live downtown as well as play downtown.

“It’s important to help more people live downtown,” Scott said. “People are actually coming here and saying we want to live downtown.”

Scott was a part of a 2005 trip to Greenville, S.C., sponsored by Invent Tomorrow, which looked at how that Southern city reclaimed its downtown area with a mix of residential and recreational opportunities. Its success inspired Scott.

“I saw how they brought it back from an empty shell,” he said. “They had these crazy entrepreneurs who went down and bought up the buildings. I’m the crazy entrepreneur (in Fort Wayne). When I came back, I wanted to find a property we could do something (similar) with.”

The couple found the space on West Wayne Street across from Toscani’s Italian restaurant and decided to turn it into a restaurant. But what kind?

“The pub is the result of a lot of trips to Ireland,” he said. “Melissa made all the decisions. … I was hoping just to fit it out and let someone else run it. We decided we had to do it ourselves.

“We’ve always liked the ambiance of a real (Irish) pub, and that’s what we tried to replicate,” Scott added. His company, Fort Wayne Metals, has a plant in Ireland, and the couple travels there several times a year.

There are four apartments above the pub. The Glazes recently purchased the gallery space just to the west of J.K. O’Donnell’s, which will become a shop featuring crafts created by women from across the globe (and — coincidentally — operated by another Dynamic Duo, Lorelei VerLee and Hope Sheehan. See their story on page 35.).

“One of our basic tenets is when you create a space downtown, you create a space people can occupy. They’re living upstairs,” and using the downstairs as a retail space, Melissa noted.

“We want to see people living downtown,” Scott said. “It creates energy 24 hours a day.”

“If you want the wide variety of businesses, you do need to have people living downtown,” Melissa added.

Sometimes, working together can lead to frustrations. But Scott and Melissa seem to be a good team.

“If you have a couple, you can’t bring the same things to the table,” she said. “You do need to complement each other. He’s the dreamer. He has lots of concepts. I’m the nuts and bolts.”

The team plans to build on the success of J.K. O’Donnell’s. They hope to turn the Instant Copy property into a small grocery store or other retail property, they said.

“We just want it to be a viable business,” Melissa said, and Scott added, “to add to the fiber of downtown.”

“A layered city is like a real building,” Scott said. “My dream is (to see) the city center more populated. When you live in a densely populated place, you can do all the things you want to do. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Each of these projects has to stand on their own. Sustainability is the long-term determination of success or failure. (But) that success is multiplying.”

 


 

Photography by Neal Bruns

The language of dance

David and Alexis Ingram, two of Fort Wayne Ballet’s principal instructors, are just too cute.

The finish each other’s sentences, giggle at each other’s jokes and generally seem pleased as punch to be here, now, in Fort Wayne, dancing. Together since college at Butler University, the pair came to Fort Wayne at the behest of the ballet’s Artistic Director Karen Gibbons-Brown. David serves as the ballet’s Men’s Division Coordinator and Alexis is the Youth Company Director. They are also the brand-new parents of daughter Clementine, born Aug. 24.

David’s known Gibbons-Brown since he was a teen in Kingsport, Tenn., where Gibbons-Brown taught at the Kingsport Guild of Ballet. He took a chance and
moved to Fort Wayne as a teen and attended South Side High School after Gibbons-Brown took over the Fort Wayne Ballet, so that he could continue training with her before attending Butler.

Despite joshing from other boys, David began taking ballet lessons after seeing his football heroes like Barry Sanders adapting ballet moves on the football field.

“I was always wiggling around,” he said with a grin. “My mom had enough of me breaking things in her kitchen.”

Although at 13 he was relatively old when he started ballet, his natural athletic ability and grace was quickly evident. After college, he joined the Louisville Ballet, where he performed the works of choreographers such as Twyla Tharp and Adam Hougland. He also choreographed works that have been performed by the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts and The Yard in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

He and Alexis met at Butler, in a dance class.

“I had a crush on him,” she confessed, “but I was shy. I told my friend and she told his friend.” Taking that chance led to a lifelong love affair.

A Miami, Fla., native, Alexis began dancing because some of her friends were taking ballet classes. Her family was more into athletics than dance, but the young Alexis was soon taken with the purity of dance.

“It’s a place where you can let it go. It’s a vocabulary where you’re not speaking. It’s the manifestation of your emotions (being said) physically,” she said.

“Body language, when you think about it, is our first language,” David said. “You learn it as infants.”

“You kind of are lost in what you’re doing,” Alexis said. “The best times in dancing are when you’re focused on what you’re doing, telling the story.”

Her favorite role to dance? “I really liked doing the main role of Myrtha in ‘Giselle.’ She likes to take vengeance on men.”

David’s favorite role? “Crescent.” As in the biscuit. Bah-dum-dum.

Getting serious for a minute, David allows that he enjoys Laban Movement Analysis, a way to interpret and visualize human movement, loosely based on Leonardo DaVinci’s classical interpretation of the male form, “Vitruvian Man.”

As the pair ages (he’s 30, she’s 31), they discover how their bodies have changed in the ways they can control and create. As they’ve grown and experienced more in life, they can bring those experiences to their performances.

“It’s a really nice trade-off,” David said. “As an artist, at 17, you can do anything (physically). As you get older … that changes. I’m happier now, knowing what I know artistically.”

“You have more things to draw upon emotionally,” Alexis added.

David noted that many dancers continue to work long past the time many others give up. He cited Dominique Mercy, who continues to perform at age 62; Pina Bausch, who danced until her death in 2009, and others.

“Never, ever stop dancing,” he said. “It’s very important for the artist to continue to dance. I would hope I would do it” his entire life.

At the Fort Wayne Ballet, Alexis has taken a break from performing because of her pregnancy, but David’s work continues. As one of two principal dancers (the other being Lucia Rogers), he is called upon to perform many times over the season. He also oversees the Men’s Division, where he says he’s “building a Jedi army as fast as (he) can” of male dancers.

“The oldest is 16, and he’s really good,” David said.

As Youth Company Director, Alexis trains beginning and intermediate dancers. “I love breaking down the steps for the children and getting them to understand the basic parts of ballet,” she said. “I love teaching the little, little kids.”

Which is good, as the newest Ingram may well inherit her parents’ dancing abilities. Though, as far as anyone knows, the Ingrams’ other children — two dogs and three cats — have not shown a propensity for creative movement.

 

 

Photography by Neal Bruns

The CWOW factor

Lorelei VerLee and Hope Sheehan are definitely dynamic — the energy that shimmers off these two when they get together is palpable. And together, they’re using that energy to help communities of women across the globe to reinvent their own lives, and, it’s hoped, to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

As the executive director of Creative Women of the World (CWOW), VerLee helps bring crafts made by women in Haiti, Tajikistan, Kenya and Uganda (as well as 13 other countries) to the United States. The items, which range from handmade sarongs from India to paper bead jewelry from Uganda, “mud cloth” scarves from Mali and more, are all for sale in their new shop next to J.K. O’Donnell’s on West Wayne Street. Sheehan serves as director of sales and marketing, though her role is more of a right-hand-woman than underling.

Sheehan and VerLee met in a roundabout way. They first met after sitting down next to each other at the bar of a local sushi restaurant where Sheehan would treat herself if her workday went well. They started chatting, and VerLee told her about how she was working with a group called Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI) that offered microloans to female crafters who were trying to escape the brutal poverty that was crushing them. VerLee and HAPI were working to find markets to sell the Haitian women’s goods.

“My heart really uplifted,” Sheehan said, upon hearing about HAPI’s work. But when lunch was over, the two parted ways. Months later, Sheehan joined a local Rotary group and met a man named Ron. She and Ron were part of a group planning to sing Christmas carols and the group went to Ron’s house to rehearse, when she saw on a table a picture of VerLee — who turned out to be Ron’s wife. Two days later, Sheehan and VerLee joined forces and CWOW took off. Its first store opened in July 2011 off Cook Road and moved to the more accessible downtown location in September, with its grand opening set for October.

“We’d work 10-12 hour days, and we met every day to get everything together and put our plans into action,” Sheehan said.

“We just kind of knew what the next step is,” VerLee said, “in way bigger ways than we could envision on our own.”

The pair realized that in order for impoverished women to be able to take control of their lives, there would need to be someone “on the ground” in the region to steer them. That’s where the mission part of CWOW comes in. Unlike other groups that sell similar goods, CWOW and HAPI mentor their craftswomen, teaching them how to become businesswomen, offering spiritual support and marketing expertise to help the craftswomen design items that will appeal to American markets.

Sheehan recently returned from a trip to meet with artisans in Haiti, but VerLee is banned from traveling after twice contracting dengue fever. “Your bones feel like they’re breaking,” she said cheerfully about her illness. “It took a while to get diagnosed,” no doubt because doctors in Fort Wayne aren’t all that used to treating tropical diseases.

“We have to slather her in DEET,” the anti-mosquito agent, Sheehan said of VerLee.

Still, VerLee said, she has no fear. “If I know I’m being led someplace (by God), it’s safer for me to be there than to be in Fort Wayne. Even if I die, it’s still fine. I don’t rule my decisions by fear. I have no fear because it’s not mine. I am simply here as hands and feet. It has nothing to do with me.”

Traveling to Third World nations and meeting with local women can be dangerous beyond the threat of insect-borne illnesses. Women in such countries are treated as second-class citizens, physical and sexual assaults are rampant, and very few of them have the education to be able to become successful entrepreneurs. Much of the work the pair does is education. Future plans are to have people living in the communities to help kick-start businesses. HAPI works with more than 3,000 artisans in Haiti alone, while CWOW works with dozens more in other countries.

“We had to take the people with the greatest need and turn them into artisan business-people,” VerLee said.

“We show them how to make a living wage for their area,” VerLee said. “Our guidelines are simple. Ethical, sustainable and profitable. We have a triple bottom line: profit, people and the environment.”

Indeed, most of the goods are created by recycling items, such as discarded newsprint, which is rolled into brightly colored beads by Maasai women in Uganda. Old bags that held coffee beans are stitched into messenger bags in Haiti, while women in Kenya weave sisal fibers into smart purses.

“We help people in bondage to poverty or slavery to find freedom,” VerLee said.

“Go big or go home,” added Sheehan. “It is big. It is huge. We know that. But it keeps working. We just know if we do nothing, then nothing will happen.”

“It’s like we jumped into the river that’s carrying us to a fabulous place and we’re enjoying the views along the way,” VerLee said. “The energy is flowing.”

“They are going to push us,” Sheehan said of the women who create the artifacts. “We’re gonna push them, and it’s going to happen all over the world. I have no other choice than to have faith and act.”

 

 

Photography by Neal Bruns

Like kids in a toy store

Walking around Intergalactic Toys on Maplecrest Road is like bumping into bits of your childhood everywhere you turn.

There’s Captain Kirk, phaser drawn, on a counter. The Hulk, green with rage, straining to burst out of a package. Godzilla, terrorizing a
glass cabinet.

Which is just the way owners Mike and Brittany Schott want it.

“It’s the nostalgic feel,” Brittany said. “We love finding things we loved when we were kids.”

Intergalactic Toys buys, sells and trades all sorts of pop culture memorabilia — everything from cartoon figures to posters to mugs and trading cards to rare video games. The bulk of their business is Internet based, with clients from literally around
the world.

“We have a wide audience with the majority of our business online,” Mike said. “American pop culture is (popular) all over the world. We sell to Australia, Brazil and Canada. We do a lot in Canada. A lot of people are really into (American) pop culture.”

And a lot of people in Northeast Indiana are also really into pop culture, too, necessitating the storefront at 2614 Maplecrest Road. Actually, that’s the store’s third home in as many years. While Mike had been buying and selling memorabilia online for several years, the business started in earnest in the Schotts’ basement in 2008, when the economy bottomed out.

You’d think that would be a bad time to start your own business, but the couple had seen relatives who’d poured their lives into someone else’s business get laid off with nothing to show for it, and they decided that if they were going to put their efforts into a business, it might as well be their own. Mike had a booth selling comics and memorabilia at the Summit City Comic Con convention, and attendees urged him to open a bricks and mortar business. That gave them the confidence to give it a try.

The business started off on North Anthony Boulevard, near Concordia High School, then moved to bigger digs at Georgetown Square before opening in October 2011 at the corner of Maplecrest and State.

Intergalactic Toys has taken off, fitting into a niche in the market that satisfies the needs of everyone from children to grandparents. Indeed, the couple’s 7-year-old daughter Camryn “gets to grow up in a toy store,” her mom noted, and has fun helping sort toys into the three-for-$10 bin.

The couple met when Brittany was just 14, when her stepsister worked with Mike at a local restaurant. When Brittany turned 17, she joined them at the restaurant and the rest, as they say, is history. She holds down a job outside the store in addition to being co-owner of the store with Mike.

Mike was honored this past June as Indiana’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Indiana District Office of the Small Business Administration, a reflection of the amazing growth he’s managed over the life of the business. The Schotts worked with the Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to grow their company from a small, part-time, eBay-based business to the 3,000-square-foot storefront it has today.

“They don’t give (the business) to you, but they’ll hold your hand along the way,” Mike said of the SBDC. “They’re right there. I always feel like they are there for us. They’ve been great. They just want what’s best for the small businesses in town.”

What’s next for this rapidly growing business? Maybe another location down the line, definitely more trade shows and conventions. Mike carefully follows the trends of pop culture, keeping an eye on the TV shows and movies that spawn action figures and collectible items, while also seeking out people who want to sell their collections of vintage items.

Wander around the store long enough, and you’re bound to find memories of long-ago shows as well as the latest Hollywood “it” toy. Need a Chia pet Homer Simpson? Mike’s got it. Or does the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters” haunt your dreams? He’s there too. They even feature candies from across the globe.

But be quick about it. The holidays are Intergalactic Toys’ busiest time of the year, and what’s there today may not be there tomorrow.

 

Photography by Neal Bruns

Demand and supply

It’s hard not to squeal a little bit while wandering around the CORE store on St. Joe River Drive, especially if you’re a teacher or just happen to have an extra-strange attraction to office supplies.

That’s because CORE — Curriculum Opportunities & Resources for Educators — is filled to overflowing with donated materials that teachers can buy at a steep discount to use in the classroom.

Founded by Snider High School teachers Lori Heiges (English) and Julie Williams (math), who are also best friends, CORE is in its third year of selling a wide variety of materials that can be put to good use in a classroom. Everything from textbooks and early reading books to eye goggles for science classrooms and paper tubes for art class is for sale for much less than the cost of brand-new items.

Even better — all have been donated by businesses that are upgrading or closing their offices or by retiring teachers who’ve built up a lifetime’s worth of classroom supplies. And in these days of ever-tightening school (and personal) budgets, CORE offers a way for teachers and home-schoolers to supply their classrooms cost-effectively.

The pair had been friends already but grew much closer after receiving a Lilly grant in 2009, which they used to fund a “Hero’s Journey,” following the path of a Tibetan monk across Asia. That experience bonded them as they had to deal with the physical challenges of hiking and the psychic challenges of navigating across foreign lands.

They complement each other well.

“Julie is the visionary, and I’m the action-ary,” Heiges said.

“We make a good balance,” Williams agreed. The two often finish each other’s sentences, especially about their feelings when it comes to how teachers are supported in the classroom.

Back in their day jobs, the two teachers had gotten tired of having to foot the bills for supplies that should have been supplied already, such as staplers, scissors and tape. The last straw came the day Heiges’ stapler broke and the school said it was out of money for office supplies for the rest of the year.

“I shouldn’t have to buy this,” she fumed and began trying to figure out a way to help teachers in the same predicament.

“We kept seeing people who needed items for their classrooms,” Heiges said. “It was expensive to buy things for crafts. We saw businesses throwing away things” that could be used in the classroom, like poster tubes and paper and scissors.

One business that was a catalyst for the store was Waterfield Mortgage, which closed its Fort Wayne operations in 2006.

“They had rows and rows of office supplies they were clearing out,” Heiges said. “I thought, ‘If they let teachers in here, they’d eat this stuff up!’”

Williams had learned about Waterfield’s closing from a friend, and she filled her garage with all the supplies she could grab. The pair realized other businesses might be discarding perfectly good office supplies that could be put to better use than rotting in a landfill. And thus, CORE was born.

The two decided to make the business a non-profit, and they received their nonprofit certification jut three months after applying. Then, thanks to start-up funds from ProFed Credit Union, Fort Wayne Metals (whose owner, Scott Glaze, coincidentally, is part of another Dynamic Duo; see his story on page 31) and Mike Packnett, CEO of Parkview Health, the pair found a vacant storefront on St. Joe River Drive next door to ProFed that had last been used as a furniture store. Because the store is affiliated with education, it can be operated as a nonprofit, meaning prices are very low. (How low? A ream of printer paper is $3; fabric samples are a buck apiece.)

“It’s about one-third the price of retail,” Williams said. The store used to only be open for teachers or home-schoolers, but this year the pair decided to open up to the public. There’s a $35 membership fee that helps keep the lights on.

“We’re environmental; we’re a niche that didn’t exist before,” Williams said. “This is an educational, creative, artistic supply store.”

Businesses have been great about donating their leftovers, the pair said. When an office is being remodeled, for example, and the designers change the color of their staplers, they can donate the old ones to CORE and take a tax write-off. CORE then can sell those staplers at a low price to help teachers who are spending their own money to outfit their classrooms.

They also offer workshops in the basement area where teachers can learn how to use the donated supplies in the classroom. They have lesson plans that show how to use the materials in the classroom to meet state standards, and they offer ways to donate to a teacher’s CORE account so he or she can purchase more supplies.

“We have a nice variety that helps people be creative,” Williams said. “We deal a lot with crafts and science.”

Ultimately, the pair would like to franchise the concept, but that’s down the line. Right now, their time is spent soliciting donations and sorting materials. It’s a full-time job that has to fit into their teaching schedule. But they are passionate about what they’re doing.

“When this stops being fun, this stops,” Heiges said.

Posted: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 2:49 pm
Last updated: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:20 pm