Saturday Radio Diary

Todd McMillen

Jan 31, 2015

Todd McMillen was 22 years old with a degree in graphic design and working for Witmark Catalog store in Grand Rapids.  “I was on a photo shoot,” he says, “and we were shooting a toaster—and suddenly I said, ‘I can’t photograph toasters the rest of my life.”

He thought about an art gallery but decided a picture framing shop might provide a better income—so he bought one in Traverse City.  “I drove up with stars in my eyes and found out I had a competitor on every block.  My Grampa gave me fifty dollars out of his wallet to put in the till—and I still have it.”

Kathryn Holl

Jan 17, 2015

Kathryn Holl was teaching school in New York when her father became ill with a brain hemorrhage.  “For six weeks the surgeon kept wanting to do more,” she recalls. “Then they released Dad into hospice care and it was all about love.”

As a result, Kathryn wanted to learn about death and dying—and ultimately completed a degree as a licensed professional counselor in holistic studies through Western Michigan University.  Today, she is the Grief Support Services Manager for Hospice of Michigan.

“I do bereavement follow-up with families,” she says.  “I’m so honored that they let me in at such a vulnerable time. Grief is transformational.  Anyone who has gone through loss has an empathy they didn’t have before.”

She has created a program called Memories on the Manitou.  “I worked with Traverse Tall Ships to create a memorial service on the bay.  Participants tell me, ‘This makes me realize I’m not alone, that this is normal.’”

“It is difficult,” Kathryn admits, “carrying the sadness.  But I can do this because I know they will move through it and I can accompany them.  When you take food to a bereaved person, take it on a glass plate—so you have to go back.”

Chris Cornell

Jan 3, 2015

“The accounting stereotype is someone without a whole lot of personality,” Chris Cornell says, “but I love the people.”  Chris also loves math and accounting.  “To me it’s a puzzle and my job is to put it all together so the numbers balance.”

A graduate of Baker College, Chris became a Certified Public Accountant in 2006 and started his own company, Cornell-Szasz CPAs, PLLC, in Traverse City in 2010.  “I like the freedom of being my own boss,” he says.

It’s also true that when you’re the boss, the buck—and the balance sheet—stops with you.  After buying a second accounting business in Cadillac last year, he’s been working most evenings and weekends.

“Getting to know the clients is my first priority,” Chris says.  “My product isn’t a piece of paper but what’s in my head, my knowledge and experience.  If they don’t trust me, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Many of his clients are small businesses.  “Entrepreneurs usually have some kind of dream,” Chris says, “something they love to do.  But they might not know much about running a business, about the numbers.  I try to get them to do what makes them happy and let me do the accounting.”

After Christmas Let-Down

Dec 27, 2014

The days after Christmas were always difficult for me as a child.  Not because Christmas was over but because my mother was depressed that Christmas was over.  I was actually a little relieved because anticipation can be exhausting.

My mom, however, loved the anticipation and the preparations that went with it—decorating the house, baking cookies, shopping for gifts, wrapping gifts.  All this activity seemed to give her a sense of purpose that was suddenly missing on December 26.

Beth Clute

Dec 20, 2014

“I’ve been an animal person from Day One,” Beth Clute says.  “I grew up outside the city and dogs were my friends.  I’m horribly allergic to cats, doesn’t matter.”

Today, Beth is a Licensed Veterinary Technician at the Clarke-Everett Dog and Cat Hospital.  “My job is my calling,” she says.  A Vet Tech can do everything except diagnosis, surgery and prescriptions, she explains.

Being Known

Dec 13, 2014

For several years now, I’ve been trying to simplify Christmas in our family—without much success.  I would especially like to reduce gift-giving to a minimum.  “We don’t really need more stuff,” I repeat. “It’s about being together.”

People agree with me in principle and keep on shopping.  Especially my daughter who shops year round for this favorite holiday.  “Could we just do one gift per person?” I negotiate and she shakes her head.  “Maybe next year.”

Loss for Words

Nov 29, 2014

This past year has been a hard one for me, with the loss of three cats in nine months.  When the third one died, I was in despair—not only about cats but about loss itself.  The cumulative effects.

I was grateful for the kindness of family and friends.  Some weeks went by however, before I heard from a granddaughter who is going to school in Mississippi.  “I was at a loss for words,” she wrote.  “I didn’t know what to say.”  She is not alone, of course.  I’ve felt the same and what I’ve learned---by getting it wrong more than once—is that it’s okay to be at a loss for words.  It’s not okay to be silent.

Tell someone you’re at a loss for words.  If you know the person (or the pet) who has died, share a memory.  If you don’t know them, ask.  “Tell me about your mom.”  Or, if you’re writing to someone, you can say, “Your mom must have been a special person because you’ve turned out so well.” 

Nobody said it was easy, for the giver or the receiver of sympathy.  But even if you’re at a loss for words, you can say something healing.

Horse Chestnut Tree

Nov 24, 2014

When I was growing up, our family went to visit Grampa Anderson every Sunday afternoon.  He lived alone in a fusty old house on the other side of town and didn’t have much to entertain young children—so my brother and I played outdoors.

There was a horse chestnut tree in Grampa’s backyard and in the fall we could find dozens of chestnuts buried in the grass.  Bob and I collected them like treasures—so smooth and glossy, shining red and gold and brown.

Great Blue Heron

Nov 17, 2014

On a bright fall day, my husband and I are canoeing the Betsie River.  Our favorite stretch is the flooded area above the Grass Lake dam which was created as a habitat for waterfowl.

We steer between high walls of cattails—against a strong wind.  My head is down in fierce concentration but when I glance up, I see how the cattails are dancing.  They bow and sway with such grace, I stop cursing the wind and celebrate this perfect partnership.

High above the river in a dead pine tree, we see two bald eagles—watching us as we watch them.  Further on, we notice a fresh beaver lodge and stare at the swirling water, hoping to see a neat brown head appear.  Oh, there he is.  No, he’s gone.

Suddenly a great blue heron leaps out of the reeds and soars over the river.  We meet him again and again as we paddle around each turn.  He is always standing on a muskrat house—and each time we glide a little closer before he jumps into the sky.  I wish he could trust us enough to stay—to have a conversation.  And then I realize that this is what we’re having.

Elon Cameron

Nov 8, 2014

Elon Cameron studied photography, printmaking and bookbinding at the Art Institute of Chicago but wasn’t sure that was her life work.  “I had a longing for a career calling but I didn’t know what it was,” she says.

Feline Presence

Oct 25, 2014

I lasted about six weeks after my cat died.  Although I still miss her (and will always miss her), I needed another cat in my life.  In my house, on the windowsill, on my lap.  So, before I headed out to the Cherryland Humane Society, I asked a friend who’s a Vet Tech for some tips.  I thought she’d tell me stuff about bright eyes and a shiny coat. 

Instead, she said one word:  Personality.  Thus it was that I picked a calico stray.  There was something about her intelligent face that spoke to me.

When you step back from pet ownership, you notice it’s kind of a strange idea—the way we bring animals who are very different from ourselves into our houses.  The way we want them to be human and admire them for the ways they’re not.

My cat seems to have little interest in being a person and who can blame her?  She can leap onto the refrigerator in a single bound, fall asleep in an instant and wake up just as fast.  In my next life, in fact, I might prefer to be a cat.  Agile, affectionate, independent, inscrutable.  My next nine lives.

Tom Power

Oct 18, 2014

Tom Power started thinking about being a judge when he spent a summer as a volunteer court clerk.  “I came to appreciate the efforts made to help people resolve their disputes,” he says.  Today, Tom is a judge for the Michigan 13th Circuit Court—a job he’s held for 21 years.


Oct 11, 2014

While I was in a doctor’s waiting room the other day, a tall man walked in—a handsome man with gray hair and a carefully-tended comb-over.  My first thought was to feel sorry for him, not that he was bald but that he needed to hide his baldness.

But my next thought was that we all have comb overs—every single one of us.  We are all hiding some kind of defect—visible or invisible, real or imagined—that we work very hard every day to disguise.

Gregg Smith

Oct 4, 2014

“It’s about telling stories,” Gregg Smith says, describing his work as a partner in a communications and marketing firm.  “We raise public awareness of an organization—which is challenging because there are so many forms of media.”   

Media is something Gregg knows well because he grew up in a newspaper family in Boyne City—and managed the business for years.  Even now, he is passionate about newspapers.  

“They are the community watchdog,” he says, “keeping a finger on the pulse of everything that should be of public interest.  Today people have so many sources of information, yet they are less informed.”

Informing and engaging people is still Gregg’s passion and now he and his wife, Dee, run the Lawton Gallagher Group.  “Our goal is to build visibility for the client,” he says, “through communications initiatives, multi-media, advertising, social media, websites—all of it.”

“We select clients who have a cause that resonates with us,” he says.  “Success is measured by statistics and also by feedback from the community.”

“We do things quietly,” he adds, “and try to over-deliver.  My dad said you need to be as accessible to the town vagrant as to the mayor.  If you call me, I’ll answer the phone.”

Long & Short of Pencils

Sep 27, 2014

There’s an old coffee mug on my desk full of pencils.  Long pencils with full erasers, waiting to be selected.  Short pencils with used-up erasers, waiting to be retired.  But the pencils that interest me most are the variants.  The long pencils with worn-out erasers.  The short pencils with un-used erasers.  They remind me of people I know.

People who, like long pencils with worn-out erasers, don’t say much and, even so, are constantly correcting themselves.  Second-guessing and apologizing.  I want to reassure them that their contribution is valuable, that no disclaimers are necessary.

Maybe they grew up with a critical parent or teacher who made them reluctant to speak their minds.  I had a father like that.  Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by the short pencils with un-used erasers—people who never hesitate to speak up, no matter what the topic.  Who never seem to doubt the rightness of their opinions, even when a review might have been beneficial.  Sometimes I envy people with this much confidence—to go through life without erasing anything! 

I reach for a pencil and select a long one with a full eraser.  Starting over, again.