Most Interesting People 2006

One made Oprah's book club; another is attempting the worlds first full face transplant. There's a man who build a mini Taj Mahal out of Legos an another who's using real bricks to construct homes for artists. They're experts on everything from hip hop

Elizabeth Kucinich
Age: 28
Occupation: Activist

Why she’s interesting: She was born and raised outside London. At 18, she got on a plane to India, by herself, and turned up on the doorstep of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home, where she volunteered for three months. Subsequent adventures took her to Tanzania (where she spent a year and a half doing community development work), China, Eastern Europe, Mongolia, Palestine, Tunisia and, most recently, the United States, where she fell in love with Dennis Kucinich.

Her earliest career ambition: Secretary general of the United Nations

What she did in India: “Mainly I was a mother. These children had food and someone to change their diapers. They didn’t have anyone really to spend time with them, to play with them, to love them.”

On recently becoming a vegan (like Dennis): It wasn’t hard. Her mother raised her on a vegan diet and she only began eating meat while in Tanzania. “I had malaria so many times that I started eating meat to keep my strength up.”

What she likes best about America: “My husband.” But she also appreciates how America is so “varied and big.” Especially New Mexico and Arizona. “The horizon was enormous.”

What she likes least: “All the pollution and the cars and all the roads.” She points outside the window of the restaurant we’re at to Lorain Avenue. There are five lanes of traffic. Even in busy London, she says, such a street would only be two lanes.

Still getting used to things: Elizabeth frequently gets in the wrong side of the car.

Why she decided to get her bachelor’s degree in religious studies and theology: “In India I had the good fortune of having two best friends.” One was a Hindu. The other a devout Christian. “I spent many, many hours with them both, investigating and talking about religions, and was astounded by the similarities in the holy teachings and story parallels, particularly with Jesus and Krishna. … I wanted to learn the language of religion, so that I could understand and communicate with people from different cultures.”

She then got her master’s in … International conflict analysis

Cyber snooping on Dennis: “I didn’t Google him until we decided to get married. That’s the authentic way. That’s how you normally get to know someone, so that’s how I wanted to do it.”

Alex Alvarez (a.k.a. Xela)
Age: 30
Occupation: Singer/songwriter

Why he’s interesting: In a world of manufactured pop stars, it’s a rarity and a pleasure to hear a voice as original as Alvarez’s. The singer/songwriter deftly mixes and switches from jazz to punk to rhythm to reggae.

Where you can hear him: He plays often at the Rhythm Room in Cleveland Heights, the Flying Monkey Pub in Tremont and the Phoenix Cafe in Lakewood. (Check out for other shows.)

The name game: When Alvarez started his solo career five years ago, it was hard for him to shake the reputation of Cows in the Graveyard, the band he previously performed with for seven years. The band was notorious for being loud and obnoxious, so whenever Alvarez mentioned his name, venues were hesitant to let him perform. At the same time, there was already another artist out named Alex Alvarez, so he decided to make a clean slate for himself. He spelled his name backward and soon started sharing his music with audiences as “Xela.”

All in the family: For the Alvarez family, music seems to flow through the blood. Alex picked up a violin when he was 4 years old, following in the footsteps of his Cleveland Philharmonic violinist father, Ramon. His mother, Arlene, sang in the St. John’s Cathedral choir and his sister and brother both played the piano.

His influences: Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Fugazi, Pixies, Jimi Hendrix and Leon Redbone

Don Bedwell
Age: 58
Occupation: Freelance engineer

Why he’s interesting: Though he lives in Indiana, Bedwell is working in Cleveland on designing an engine that runs on laughing gas. But he’s got more than just brains. He donated his kidney to the waitress who serves him Chinese food every Friday before he commutes back home for the weekend.

Why not just live around Cleveland? “You’ve got to be in Columbia City, Ind., to answer that.”

Revolution: Bedwell believes the engine could totally change the way we use energy and make the current hybrid cars obsolete. On giving the kidney: He didn’t think twice about it. The doctors told him he’d win the lottery six times before he’d need another kidney.

How many times have you won the lottery since? “Well five now, so one more and I’m dead,” Bedwell jokes.

Inquiring minds: The kidney donation story appeared in the National Enquirer. But the infamous tabloid actually did a real story. “They did a nice job. I told the reporter ‘You can’t do it if I’m kissing some bat.’ ”

Modest Don: He deflects credit to two sources: God and Shari, his wife. “If I have any talent or I’m interesting, it’s because of him. She’s the interesting one. The only dumb thing she ever did was marry me.”

Just how did they get married? Bedwell’s sister had Shari over and, after he saw her, he told his mom, “If you find a brunette like that one in the kitchen, I’ll marry her.” He married Shari four months later.

Kim Crow
Age: 35
Occupation: Plain Dealer fashion editor and PDQ editor

Why she’s interesting: She’s the older sister, best friend, ex-hippie aunt who knows the hemline that works for you and the color that definitely doesn’t. She remembers Harper’s Bazaar covers from 1992. And she’s using all those skills to make Wednesday’s PD the most coveted of the week.

It’s not her fault: “I grew up in Madison, Ohio, and my grandmother lived in Mentor, so every Saturday my mom would bring us to the mall to meet her. When all the salesgirls know you by name by the age of 16, that’s something.”

How she didn’t get her start: She broke two sewing machines in her seventh-grade home economics class. She was subsequently advised to take shop instead.

Low rise jeans: yes or no? “It depends on your body. I can’t do it — I have that muffin top spillover.” The most blasphemous trend she bowed to? “I’m such a trend girl — I’m getting better as I get older — I’m short, legs aren’t my thing. In the late ’80s, I would wear the really skintight leggings, long shirt, belted at the waist, like Bridget Fonda in ‘Singles.’ I did not look like Bridget Fonda.”

Proof that love is blind: When she met her husband, he was wearing an acrylic sweater with a reindeer stitched on it, old jeans and high tops. “It’s been a process,” she says. “I turn my back for a minute and it all goes downhill.”

What’s the most hideous thing she owns? “I bought this orange sequined miniskirt on eBay — I don’t know why. That’s when I didn’t realize how short 16 inches was. It’s ridiculous.” She also proudly admits to owning, and still attempting to wear, a pair of Sporto boots that she’s had since sixth grade. “I need to get a new lining for them,” she says completely unselfconsciously.

Michael Cardamone
Age: 33
Occupation: TV host

Why he’s interesting: He par-layed a spring 2004 stint as a hunk on the now-defunct NBC reality dating series “Average Joe” and weekly appearances during the season on WKYC’s late-morning talk show, “Studio 3,” into a gig co-hosting the show’s successor, “Good Company.”

Surprise!: Cardamone was not told he would be taping a reality dating show. “The producers did not give you specifics on what the show was about — all they said was that it was somewhere tropical. I had not been on a vacation in a while.”

How he went from being an “Average Joe” to “Good Company”: “Whenever [the producers] of ‘Studio 3’ needed a guest co-host, they would actually call me because I live and work right down the road from the station. When they decided they wanted to change to an hour format and revamp the show, they called me again.”

Which of the two shows is more like reality? Cardamone points out that “Average Joe” was heavily edited. “When they asked us a question, if they didn’t like our answer, they gave us words to answer it in a way they would like.” “Good Company” is live. “What happens, happens.”

On his co-host, morning talk show legend Fred Griffith: “He’s the hippest 76-year-old I know. He interviewed L’il Bow Wow, and he actually used the term ‘bling.’ ”

Is Cardamone a hunk? “No. I think I’m just very — I don’t want to say average. That would be a bad pun.”

Did being an “Average Joe” hunk help or hurt him with the ladies: “I don’t want to say it necessarily helped, but it’s definitely a conversation piece.”

Neil Chastain
Age: 36
Occupation: Percussionist, artistic director, recording producer

Why he’s interesting: He’s co-artistic director and music director of SAFMOD, the ultra-adventurous multimedia performance group that combines modern dance with original live music, theatrics and visual arts. He’s also a recording engineer, club DJ, electronic music composer and a drummer in several bands.

How many bands he’s in right now: Six: the Afrocubists, which plays Afro-Cuban music; the Aphrodesiatics, an acid-jazz band; Robert Ocasio’s Latin Jazz Project; Rumba y Cafe, a salsa band; the House of Blues’ Blues SchoolHouse band, which puts on educational performances for schoolkids three times a week; and Pureplex, the showcase for his electronic music, which features him plus a rotating lineup of musicians.

A typical week: “Every week is different, which I really love about my career.” The week we interviewed him, he taught lessons at Cleveland K-8 schools R.G. Jones and Clara Westropp, recorded a hip-hop band and a vocalist in his studio, played with the House of Blues educational band and the Latin Jazz Project, taught private percussion lessons, filled in as a drummer at the open-mike night at Cleveland Heights’ B-Side Lounge and did his regular DJ gig at Lava Lounge in Tremont.

What he plays at Lava Lounge on Thursdays: Funk, soul, Latin music, “electronic music with an organic flavor” and Afrobeat. “Anything that’s soulful, anything that’s funky, anything that’s got a really good human feel to it.”

What motivates him: “Reinventing myself. [It’s] not, ‘This is Neil, this is what Neil does.’ There’s another side you haven’t seen.”

Dr. Doris Evans
Age: 62
Occupation: Pediatrician, executive director of First Tee of Cleveland

Why she’s interesting: The lesson most of us learn from golf is: “Hey, look how far I can throw my club!” For Doris Evans and the First Tee of Cleveland, however, golf is so much more. Focusing simple life lessons around the golf experience, First Tee teaches young people strong values such as responsibility, honesty and confidence that help them grow into mature, responsible adults. Last year alone, 325 children ages 8 through 18 participated in the program, and with the building of a new 9-hole public course in Slavic Village, the future of First Tee looks anything but rough.

An example of a lesson learned: “We’ll have the kids line up around the green and each take turns hitting the ball. It’s a simple lesson about patience and interacting with others.”

How she got involved? Ex-Indian Andre Thornton, who was thinking about joining the Akron board of First Tee, approached her. Instead, they started the Cleveland chapter.

Why this is important to her? “I have vivid memories of the mentorships I received in my life. It’s really important to give back.”

The best lesson she ever learned from golf: “The ability to understand oneself and master your inner demons.”

The most satisfying part: “Watching these kids grow and develop. It’s truly amazing.”

Her best round ever: She shot a 77 at Sand Ridge Golf Club in Chardon a few years ago. It’s still the women’s record.

Ted Ginn Sr.
Age: 50
Occupation: Glenville High School football coach

Why he’s interesting: He’s known for his team’s on-field success, but Ginn is really looking to save lives. He recently had some of his players baptized and wants to start a charter school. He’s also survived cancer and has seen his son, Ted Ginn Jr., become a star at Ohio State in the last year.

On turning 50 in November: “I’m not 50; I’m half a hundred. Fifty don’t sound powerful.”

When will his school open? “It needs to open tomorrow! I’m trying for next year, but I guess I'm not that important. We can think about the lakefront, but what about our children?”

Why encourage his players to be baptized? “What sense does it make for kids to win the game and lose their souls?”

Just a football team? “What it appears to be is not what it is. It would appear that we’re just a football team. It’s an everyday process of saving these kids’ lives.”

His thoughts on Philadelphia Eagles troublemaking wide receiver Terrell Owens: “He’s just throwing money away. Now, he’s just acting a fool with money. He’s just a big fool.”

Why he can’t just watch his son play: “While everyone else is wanting him to score a touchdown, I’m looking to see if he’s blocking.”

Who’s faster, Sr. or Jr.? “I’m always faster. I can think faster. He’ll never be faster than me.”

James Frey
Age: 36
Occupation: Writer

Why he’s interesting: He began drinking at age 10 and didn’t stop till he woke up on a plane covered in blood at age 22, missing four teeth, nose broken and a hole in his cheek. He had no idea how he arrived on the plane or where he was headed. He got sober and stayed sober, then retold the experience in “A Million Little Pieces,” a recovery story so vivid that Oprah chose it for her book club. Along the way, he fell in love (a few times) and became friends with a mobster who takes center stage in Frey’s stranger-than-fiction second book, “My Friend Leonard.”

His life now: Born and raised in Shaker Heights, Frey lives in New York City with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. He has been sober for 13 years.

Is it still hard staying sober? “Not at all. You just get used to it.”

What he’ll tell his child about drugs and drinking: “Kids are going to do what they do. You tell them they’re a potential danger, [but] I think it’s natural for kids to experiment with drinking and drugs.”

On Cleveland: “It’s my hometown. I love it here.”

Proof: Frey visits at least twice a year (for the Browns and Indians openers) and says he considered buying a house in Shaker Heights last spring. He also plans to set a novel here, tentatively titled “Burning River Boy.”

Oprah: phony or fabulous? “She was awesome. A very impressive person, very genuine, very enthusiastic.”

His favorite book: “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

His baby’s favorite book: “Good-night Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown

Charlie Frye
Age: 24
Occupation: Cleveland Browns quarterback

Why he’s interesting: The former University of Akron quarterback was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2005. And his stellar preseason play lingered in fans’ heads, igniting them to chant, “Charlie, Charlie,” whenever starting quarterback Trent Dilfer failed to perform to their expectations during the regular season. In other words, he’s the future.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … no, it’s Charlie Frye: He used to wear a Superman T-shirt in high school and college for every game, but has since retired it to his closet. “I don’t know if it was a superstition, but I don’t wear it anymore.”

Would you like a large fry with that?: You could see the light bulb go off in McDonald’s executives’ heads. The commercial was a stroke of genius and a fan favorite. And for him, there were no lines to learn. “It was fun, my job was easy. I just had to laugh.”

His top three quarterbacks: Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino. “My dad would disagree with me. He would say Johnny Unitas.”

Orange and brown or [Akron’s] blue and gold: “I have to say orange and brown now, but blue and gold are nice, too.”

Where you ladies can find him: Dave and Buster’s, playing video games with his roommate, defensive back Brodney Pool Permanent autographs: “I’ve signed someone’s car with a Sharpie. I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ ”

Rafala Green
Age: 66
Occupation: Artist, activist, educator

Why she’s interesting: After getting married at age 16 and giving birth to seven children, Green decided to pursue art as a career. She began college at age 28, earned two degrees at Cuyahoga Community College and then decided to apply to New York’s Parsons School of Design — in person. She took a Greyhound to New York, presented herself to the school’s dean and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She not only got in, but received a full ride. Today, she’s a celebrated artist.

Her most notable work: Green’s Phillips Gateway project in Minneapolis, a public art commission, employed six professional artists supervising 86 paid teenage apprentices to build a park with two giant archways, a labyrinth and concrete benches covered in mosaics. The project, which took eight years to complete and cost more than $600,000, is the best example of Green’s philosophy that the creative process can and should be a vehicle for individual and collective empowerment.

What she absolutely refuses to do: Go to the mall. When Green was honored at Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People party, she made her own outfit by sewing together old jeans.

What’s new with her: Green is currently building a labyrinth outside The Hodge, the artist collective on East 74th Street where she resides.

What is it about her and labyrinths? Green loves labyrinths because they are walking meditations that can help people work out puzzles and set intentions. “It is a metaphor for your life. You can’t get to anything with a straight line.” She encourages everyone she meets to “take the journey” to the labyrinth’s center, a heart. After all, her winding path led to her heart’s desire.

Arthur Gugick
Age: 45
Occupation: Math teacher

Why he’s interesting: Last February, Gugick and his wife moved into a new house. To celebrate, they gave each other a little money to spend. His wife bought exercise equipment. He bought $800 worth of Legos. It wasn’t the beginning of his fascination with the little plastic blocks, and there’s no end in sight.

The genesis: Gugick got his first set in 1967 and never went through what he calls the dark ages — “that period of time when you stop playing with Legos around 15 and then rediscover them when you have kids.”

Feeding the habit: “When I ran out, I would go on play dates with my sons and trade Lego pieces with the other kids.” These days, he buys from the Web site

By the numbers: He estimates he’s used between 100,000 and 250,000 Legos on his creations. His replica of the Taj Mahal is 5 feet wide and comprises 15,000 pieces.

Hobby or obsession? “I’ve taken a second job to pay for my Lego habits. My dream is to go to work for the Lego people as a master builder.”

On the Lego shrine he’d like to build in the basement: “We have a 5-foot-tall space. We’re not sure of the logistics of it — people wouldn’t be able to stand. One idea was we could dig a trench, or people could sit on little scooters.”

So far, so good: Gugick won a blue ribbon at Brickfest (yes, it’s exactly what you think it is) for his re-creation of Lyndhurst Castle. Even better, “I got a trophy and about $400 in Lego merchandise and Lego cash.”

But, in a perfect world … “In my heart I wish I had won these awards for my math teaching, because I think my math teaching is as good as my Lego building is good. I really love being a math teacher.”

Caryn Groedel
Age: 47
Occupation: Lawyer

Why she’s interesting: This civil rights attorney and married Solon mother of three lasted 36 of 39 days and was one of the final five contestants remaining on the South Pacific island of Palau in the CBS “Survivor” series that aired early last year.

How she got the idea: Her 13-year-old daughter Isabel. “It was our favorite show — we’d watch it together. She downloaded the application, filled out as much as she could, videotaped me, and said, ‘All you need to do is send it in.’ ”

On being a wild woman: “It’s not that I like to rough it, but I can rough it without complaint. I sort of found it refreshing to not think about clothing or makeup or accessories or any of that.”

Her first food off the island: Pizza Survivor skills: “I was able to size up people from my experience before juries — I had a good sense of who I could trust and who I couldn’t trust. And I was able to be persuasive a couple of times in getting other people voted off when my head was on the chopping block.”

Most treasured item on the island: Socks given to her by a just-voted-off contestant.

Her greatest nemesis (other than the other contestants): “The rats. They weren’t poisonous, but they were bold. They would run all over us — they really weren’t afraid of us at all. And they were multiplying as we were throwing out husks from the coconuts and so forth.”

What she did with her prize money: Put in a patio.

Craig Hebebrand
Age: 46
Occupation: Civil engineer

Why he’s interesting: He’s spearheading the $860 million Innerbelt reconstruction project for the Ohio Department of Transportation. As such, he has the potential to become either the most-hated or loved man in Northeast Ohio.

When construction starts: Spring 2006

When it will end: 2015

This is big: Hebebrand says this is ODOT’s biggest project in the state since the construction of the original highway system.

But there are bigger: “The Big Dig” in Boston is a $15 billion project to tunnel the interstate underneath the city, with a boulevard on top.

Flashy he’s not: Hebebrand is on his third Toyota Corolla. He kept the first two for more than a decade each.

Road trips: “If I take a family vacation, I have to find a civil en-gine-ering landmark.” He claims this goes over well with his three children, ages 11, 14 and 16.

Top three civil engineering landmarks in the United States: 1. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel 2. Horseshoe Curve, a famous stretch of railway in Central Pennsyl-vania 3. Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant

He gets this a lot: “Where are the orange barrels going to be?” “What’s this going to do to my commute?” He says ODOT will do the best it can to avoid diverting traffic. Also, much of the work will be done at night or on weekends.

What you should focus on instead: The results. “This is going to open up downtown and make it much easier to get to events and to work.”

Joanna Hildebrand Craig
Age: 41
Occupation: Book editor

Why she’s interesting: She’s editor in chief of Kent State University Press, and she landed the rights to publish Ernest Hemingway’s last unreleased manuscript, “Under Kilimanjaro,” an autobiographical novel about his final safari in Kenya. It came out in September.

How she did it: She brought a book series called “Reading Hemingway” to KSU Press, then made a long-shot pitch to the Hemingway Society to publish a book of Hemingway’s letters. Some “Reading Hemingway” authors put in a good word for KSU, and it landed the novel instead.

What she likes about the novel: “There’s an intimacy in ‘Under Kilimanjaro’ that truly made me pay attention to him as the man. He’s older, he’s reflective, he has a great sense of humor. He’s fond of the people he’s with, and of Mary [his fourth wife]. He’s not the big white hunter.”

What she once wanted to be when she grew up: The U.S. ambassador to Sweden. She lived in Sweden as a student, speaks Swedish and still goes there on vacation. But she ultimately decided her “starry-eyed, optimistic view” of the world didn’t fit with U.S. foreign policy.

Three KSU Press books she wishes everyone would read:
1. “Congress From the Inside” by Sherrod Brown
2. “The Anthology of Western Reserve Literature,” a collection of Cleveland-area writing that includes literary stars such as Sher-wood Anderson and Langston Hughes
3. “Linking Rings” by James Robenalt; “history that’s a pleasure to read,” about Wil--liam Durbin, the colorful pol-itician and magician who helped turn Ohio Democratic and elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A non-KSU book she’s infatuated with right now: Robert Coles’ “How to Raise a Moral Child.” (Craig has two sons, ages 4 and 6, and a stepson who’s 23.)

Yohannes Haile-Selassie
Age: 45
Occupation: Curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Why he’s interesting: Most of us get excited when we discover a new recipe for macaroni and cheese. Imagine how you’d feel if you discovered a new species of human being. In 1997, on an excavation to his native country of Ethiopia, Haile-Selassie found dental and mandibular deposits that seemed to indicate a new subspecies of human evolution he called Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba. However, between 2001 and 2003, he found additional evidence to show that what he discovered wasn’t actually a subspecies but rather a whole new species of mankind, which he dubbed Ardipithecus kadabba.

On making his discovery: “In my field, it doesn’t get more exciting than that.”

How old is his human? Somewhere between 5.5 million and 5.8 million years old. He’s going back in January to dig more in an attempt to pinpoint the age.

His favorite place for fossils: Ethiopia. “Partly because it’s my home country. But also for geographical reasons, it’s ideal.”

The best part of what he does: “The enjoyment is being able to understand our origin and evolution.”

The worst part: “When it’s 120 degrees and the wind and sand are whipping at your face. But when you find something you can share with the world, it’s all worth it.”

The oldest thing in Cleveland: Cleveland actu-al-ly has fossils that are tens of millions of years old.

His favorite Indiana Jones movie: “I watched them all when I was young. I never think about having adventures like him when I’m digging though.”

Bakari Kitwana
Age: 39
Occupation: Hip-hop authority

Why he’s interesting: Hip-hop isn’t just music; it’s a culture, one Kitwana has been absorbing since he was a kid and breakdancers were doing their thing outside his sister’s place in the Bronx. His latest book, “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America,” portrays hip-hop as the most important development in race relations since the civil rights movement. He also co-founded the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in 2004.

His story: “The Rap on Gangsta Rap” was the first thing he ever wrote about hip-hop. After that he was recruited by The Source magazine, for which he interviewed Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and many other hip-hop stars.

Best Puffy story: Puff Daddy agreed to a photo shoot for The Source, but only if the magazine agreed to a long list of conditions, which included getting a huge tub and filling it with bubbles in Central Park. The magazine did everything he wanted, and he still didn’t show up.

First hip-hop group he loved: Sugarhill Gang

Why he lives in Westlake: He got married, and that was the farthest east his wife’s job allowed them to live. Also, it’s close to the airport, which is important when you lecture at between 40 and 50 college campuses across the country each year.

Not all hip-hop is for everybody: Kitwana monitors his 7-year-old son’s music. “I don’t want him listening to anything with profanity in it,” he says. “For kids that young, a lot of the older music made in the ’80s is more appropriate.”

Fred Nance
Age: 52
Occupation: Attorney

Why he’s interesting: There are high-profile attorneys. And then there are Mount Rushmore-sized high-profile attorneys. That would be Fred Nance, managing partner of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey. Ten years ago, he was then Mayor Michael White’s lead counsel in the fight to preserve the Browns name and colors. This summer, he was front and center as the city fought — and kept — a thousand government accounting jobs after being told they were going away. And later in the year, he defended this unknown 20-year-old named LeBron-something-or-other in a civil suit, helping to save the poor kid a few dollars.

How one goes about fighting the govern-ment? “It was a daunting task. When the people at the Pentagon make up the

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