Archive for September, 2008

Elephant Baby Dynamics & Docent Celebration
September 20, 2008

Remember this? If you watched our “Behind The Scenes With the New Babies” about a month ago, this is when Zuri, little hellion that she is, charged our intrepid photographer, Eric Hinnebusch. Eric said,”whoa,” but stood his ground, and she failed to knock him down. I remember Victoria did the same to me, years ago, when she was almost the same weight and age. She knocked me back on one leg, but I was still standing.


And Zuri is certainly holding her ground against her larger, and only weeks older, half-sister. Since we taped our segment about a month ago,  Angelina has gained about 100 pounds, and weights 450, and Zuri has also gained about 100, and weighs in at 350 pounds. Elephant Manager Willie Theison says Zuri continues to be all energy, asserting herself constantly, while Angelina is much more passive.

Zuri,being the smallest of all the elephants in the herd, is making her presence felt ( with us, here–a photo taken by Kerri McMullen, a professional photographer). She pushes Angelina right to the limit, then Angelina pushes back.  And Willie says Victoria is becoming the mentor, big sister he hoped she would be. Sometimes Zuri will be screaming, and Victoria will just go over and touch her with her trunk to calm her. The two babies often play underneath Victoria, and if Angelina fights back too hard, Vic just gives her a little shove away. Actually, Victoria was born 9 years ago this month, and Callee was born in September a year later. So there was  a big birthday bash at the Zoo this Sunday.  And, for a small donation, folks could have a picture taken with either Callee or Victoria. It was so funny to see who was intimidated by their size, and who wasn’t. This little girl from Sewickley, Makayla Sallese, was cool as a cucumber.  Even when Victoria took her hand with her trunk. 

And  a lot of the docents were on hand for the birthday party, of course, helping out with cookies, face-painting, and information.

 This photo was taken at the Zoo’s “thank you ” party for the docents who participated in the Elephant Baby Watch. And with Moja, that went on for weeks and weeks. I participated in one of them, but no baby on my shift. Many of docents were on watches for the births of Callee and Victoria, and all of them feel a special connection to the process and the herd. They are a dedicated group of individuals, who train for weeks to be certified, and their knowledge about the animals never ceases to amaze me. By the way, they have a new cookbook coming out that you will be able to buy at the gift shop. I think it helps fund their program.

And this elephant-like pyramid is composed of staff members who helped in the baby process, and entertained the docents that evening. Of course Willie, and on the foundation with him, Mammal Curator Amos Morris, and on the left end, keeper, Brian McCampbell, and on the right side, keeper, Joe Galvanek.

Above them, from left to right, keeper, Stacy Mcdonough; vet techs, Pam Peabody and Libby Galvanek; and keeper,Kyle Wojcik. Zoo Photographer, Paul Selvaggio, who took those wonderful birth pictures, snapped these. Zoo Director Barbara Baker was not there for the photo shoot, but she, and her communications staff, Connie George and Tracy Gray, put in hundreds of hours for the babies. 

One last photo, taken by Kerri. This is The Matriarch, Tash. She is my favorite, and sometimes, she even listens to me. Only when she is not focused on Willie, of course. How lucky we all are to have these wondrous creatures in our world. 


Cropper Helps Make FAAN Walk Huge Success
September 15, 2008

The numbers are sobering. 1 in 25 americans has a food allergy. That’s more than 12 million people. A number double what it was a decade ago. 200 people die annually from food allergies. The impact that food allergies have on families is far-reaching and life-altering.  Those families came together Sunday in a huge way at Hartwood Acres. 



460 people turned out for the first-ever Pittsburgh FAAN Walk, and they raised over 40 thousand dollars. That ties Philadelphia, but we had 200 more walkers. FAAN stands for Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, and a representative from the national organization was impressed with the turnout and the organization. 


WTAE meteorologist, Stephen Cropper was the Honorary Chairperson,(I am such an idiot, I forgot to take his picture–but he gave me his cookies) and I was his co-chair. Stephen has a peanut allergy, and, on several occasions, has had attacks at work, when he has eaten something at the station that has hidden peanut ingredients. Peanut reactions are responsible for the largest number of food allergy deaths. 

That young man covering his eyes is Andy Winzen. He is only three years old, and has an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. The little girl is his sister, Jeanne. Andy’s parents, Uwe on the left, and Addie, on the right, chaired the event, and worked tirelessly to pull it together, along with a supporting cast of devoted parents. These families are so brave, and the kids are remarkable, learning to be responsible at such an early age. If they don’t, it can cost them their lives. It was hot and muggy, but almost everyone took part in the mile and a half walk . 

Next year can only be better, after such an auspicious beginning. For more information about the walk, go to

But FAAN wasn’t the only walk Sunday. In the morning, I was over at North Park, where 1700 folks walked in the battle against ovarian cancer. Yvonne Zanos, who was diagnosed with stage 3 just last December, led them all,  looking fabulous, and connecting with so many survivors, and families walking in memory, or in honor, of loved ones. It never ceases to amaze me how people in this area turn their lives upside down to help a cause, and better our community.

The Children Of 9/11
September 11, 2008

I had planned on posting something different today. Then I remembered it was 9/11. How can we forget? Time, and the rush of everyday life,  push even the most compelling,disturbing memories into the background. But not for the families of 9/11. This image is from today’s ceremony at Shanksville, where the loved ones of the heroes of United Flight 93 come annually.  I can not even comprehend the daily struggles, the ongoing grief, they experience.

I didn’t anticipate I would cry today. It started this morning, as I watched children read the names of their mothers or fathers–victims of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center. I thought of a friend of mine, whose brother died on one of those jets, flown so savagely into the Towers, and of her sister-in-law’s children. They now live here in Pittsburgh, and, this week-end, I coincidentally saw this friend. She spoke of how remarkable her sister-in-law is–how brave, and purposeful. It underscores the need for all of us to remember. Remember for our country, yes. For the fallen, yes. But more for the families left behind. So they never feel alone with the pain. Knowing that those losses meant something, and always will, is some solace. 

Like the flag in the photo says: “Our Nation Will Eternally Honor.”

I never saw the film, “United Flight 93,” in the theatre.  Like many, I just couldn’t do it. It was directed by Paul Greeengrass, who was nominated for an Oscar for it. I finally watched the movie a year ago, at home. I was stunned. And awed by the courage those passengers showed. It is hard to watch, but I would urge anyone who hasn’t seen it, to try. Dennis Atkinson, one of our assignment managers, put it best. “Al-Qaeda never counted on the cell phones.”  If they had, that plane would have reached its intended target. They also never counted on the indomitable nature of the human spirit, the need for loved ones to connect, and the willingness of those passengers to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. 

There were so many stories of sacrifice that day–the firefighters, the police officers, office workers, rescue crews, the list goes on. 

It seems so trite to say, but bears repeating. May we all learn from that sacrifice, and never forget it. And try to emulate it in our daily lives.

Jero:A Pitt Alum Rocks Japan
September 5, 2008

I don’t know how many of you saw my story about a young University of Pittsburgh graduate who has taken the Japanese music scene by storm. This is Jerome White, Jr., and he was back in town the end of August, to see his family and perform for a sold-out crowd at Pitt’s student union. Word is, people from Japan heard about the performance, and were willing to fly over here for it!  Jerome, who has just turned 27, is known as “Jero” in Japan, and his concert was presented by the Asian Studies Center at Pitt, where I have spent a lot of wonderful hours over the last 27 years here in the ‘Burgh. 

Try googling Jero and you’ll see that they are even writing stories about him in the UK. Jerome sings enka, a genre that became very popular in post-war Japan, and one that  Jerome told me is like the blues. They are usually songs of lost love, and often have melancholy lyrics. The older Japanese women sitting behind me at the concert were all singing along with Jero. I loved it.

This type of music has waned in popularity in recent years, but this unlikely performer is bringing it back in a big way. Not only is he the first African-American enka singer there, but he does it in hip-hop style. He said on stage that he thought dressing in a kimono would be almost offensive, and a parody, and he dresses hip-hop anyway, so he talked the record producers into it. Good thing. His first record zoomed to number 4 on the Japanese charts, and the producers told Jerome that that just doesn’t happen. 

Jerome’s mother, Harumi Morrow, was there, and his brother, and other family members. One of his brothers now lives in Japan, I think. Jerome’s maternal grandmother was Japanese, and that is where he learned to sing enka, staying over at her house. He really doesn’t seem to want to switch into pop genres, and is committed to enka. Made me want to go back to Japan and see him perform. 

Jerome got his degree in information sciences in 2003, and went right to Japan, where he taught English, then got a job in systems engineering. He also studied Japanese at Pitt, and at his concert, he called the University’s program the best in the country. After entering a lot of karaoke contests, and winning some, he finally caught the attention of a record producer, and the rest is history. This visit, he had a national Japanese documentary crew following him around everywhere. 

And these guys talked about heading over to not only visit, but dance, with Jero. Meet Mike Davis, Kya Comer, and Philip King. They went to Pitt with Jerome, danced in a group with him, and performed at the concert to raves. They would be an enormous hit in Japan, where hip-hop is hugely popular. It was truly an international night.

A Hero From Freedom
September 1, 2008


First, my apologies for not posting for so long. The 50th Anniversary Special took up more time than I expected, and I will have to be playing catch up over the next week. 

And the first thing I have to write about is a teenager from Beaver County who captured the attention of a nation, and made us all better for it. I never met John Challis, but I was moved deeply by the stories told by our reporters who interviewed him and his family. Jake Ploeger, Tara Edwards, Jon Burton. I also happened to see the ESPN feature on John and wept the entire time. Not just because of John’s courage and wisdom, but that of his family and his baseball coach, Steve Wetzel, and all the people who drew strength from his example. Courage + Believe = Life. Pretty powerful. Especially when you realize it came from an 18-year-old, dying of liver and lung cancer. I know scholars who have lived decades who could not come up with something so eloquently simple, and infinitely inspirational. 

I was not able to make the viewings or the funeral. Summer vacations by other anchors, and taping sessions for the special prevented it. But the story by Mike White in the Post-Gazette lovingly took me there. He initially brought John Challis to us in his first story in May, and his relationship with John is a perfect example of how “personal” journalism can help better our world, by bringing the best of people into our homes and our hearts. How else would we know of a special hero from Freedom, named John Challis. My thoughts and prayers go out to  his sister, Lexie, and his parents, Scott and Gina. It is difficult to have to grieve publicly, but, then again, it must be some comfort to know they have raised such an exemplary young man.