You meet and write about hundreds of people a year in this business, and the majority of them blend together.
But some stories, and the people who tell them, stick with you.
They make what I call my “Most Intriguing People of the Year.”
I remember the day I left a Middletown home after interviewing retired Middletown detective Fred Shuemake and Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake, who had just lost their daughter, Alison “Allie” Shuemake, 18, to heroin. They opened their house and wanted to tell their story in hopes of stopping the tragedy from ripping apart another family.
After taking a few steps out of the house, I turned to Nick Graham, who videotaped the interview and took photos, and almost in unison, we said: “Wow!”
Now, every time I write about heroin, I pray for the Shuemakes.
Here are my “Most Intriguing People” of 2015 in alphabetical order:
‘I treated her like a queen’
Eric Sexton wanted to tell what happened on Sept. 13, so I met him at the corner of Central Avenue and Baltimore Street, where he alleged his fiance was kidnapped.
He said that his fiance, Lindsay Bogan, 30, got into a silver Dodge Durango and was never seen again. He said Lindsay, the mother of their baby daughter, wasn’t a prostitute, though later, he was charged with promoting prostitution by Middletown police.
“We had so many plans together,” Sexton said before his arrest. “She was the happiest she had ever been. I treated her like a queen. You can’t treat anyone better than I treated her. We were together for three years, the most amazing three years of my life.”
Sexton, 48, was indicted by a Butler County grand jury for promoting prostitution. He is housed in the Butler County Jail in lieu of a $50,00 bond. He is scheduled to have his pre-trail hearing Mondayjan4 in Butler County Common Pleas Court, and his trial is set to begin Wednesdayjan6.
Middletown police have said they have searched extensively for Bogan and followed every lead. Bogan’s father and grandmother said they haven’t talked to her and her father believes she’s dead.
‘She can’t wait for this to open’
Pastor Clark Helvey devoted months this year making sure that Elley’s Hope Playground Park, a handicapped accessible structure at Lefferson Park, opened on time.
His inspiration was the park’s namesake. Every week, usually at Berachah Church, Helvey, pastor of missions and outreach, saw Elley Ferrell, who was born with spina bifida. She is the daughter of Pastor Lamar Ferrell, of Berachah Church, and his wife, Maryanne, who started Elley’s Hope approximately five years ago after their daughter was hospitalized.
Elley, 13, a seventh-grader at Middletown Middle School, never had an opportunity to be on a playground.
But on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, after the ribbon was cut, Elley, and other children with disabilities, played on the swings, merry-go-round and slide.
“I want this finished for her,” Helvey said days before the ribbon-cutting. “Elley never has been able to play on a playground and she’s 13 years old. She’s a teenager, a time when most kids are finished with playgrounds. But she has missed all of this and she can’t wait for this to open.”
‘I walked away from death row a free man’
After 20 years in prison — 17 on Ohio’s death row — 90 minutes was all that stood between Derrick Jamison and death.
He was that close to being killed, silenced by lethal injection, and his body, like the truth, buried forever.
Jamison, a Cincinnati native who lives in Middletown, would have been remembered for his horrendous crime, and as another Ohio death row inmate killed since the state instituted the death penalty in 1999.
Instead, Jamison, 54, was cleared of robbing a Cincinnati bar and killing the bartender after additional evidence was brought forward. In 2005, he became the ninth Ohio death row inmate exonerated and the 119th in the United States.
He was sentenced to death on Oct. 25, 1985, and 20 years to the day later, he was released from prison, a free man. He recently moved from his hometown to a Middletown home. He calls himself “a Middie.” He’s receiving financial and case management assistance from Freedom Community Development Corp., a Middletown non-profit agency, and hopes to speak to youth and church groups about his prison experience. He’s also writing a book and hopes to find part-time employment.
“Oct. 25, my worst day, became my best day on this earth,” he said. “I walked away from death row a free man, an innocent man.”
Then he added: “It’s like a miracle happened to me. I watched so many of those guys get murdered.”
‘I know how to handle everything’
The last time we saw Charles “Chip” Otten he was being run out of town after completing his sixth season as Middletown High School’s head football coach.
Middie fans said Otten couldn’t coach, wasn’t a winner and needed to be replaced, and after a 26-34 record, few outside the Otten house probably would have disagreed.
He later served as an assistant at Coldwater High School, and after head coach John Reed died from cancer, was named head coach. He just completed his sixth season as head coach at Coldwater and led the Cavaliers to their sixth straight Division V state championship game and fourth state championship. In those six seasons under Otten, the Cavaliers are 79-11, pushing his 12-year career coaching record to 105-45, a .700 winning percentage.
So what happened between Middletown and Coldwater, just an 80-mile drive? How did Otten go from Mike Shula to Vince Lombardi?
Part of it, he said, is his maturity. He was 35 when he was named the Middies head coach. He’s 55 now.
“There has been a lot of growth,” he said. “I know how to handle everything I guess.”
‘People don’t think I look 100’
Marlie Senf doesn’t look or act like she’s 100.
For the last 34 years, since the Middletown woman was diagnosed with osteoporosis, and her doctor, Omer Hurlburt Jr. told her to take up swimming, she has swam every day at the Middletown YMCA.
“She’s the best advertisement for us,” said Pam Drake, a longtime aquatic instructor and lifeguard at the Middletown Y. “She shows what the water can do to the mind, body and soul.”
Besides her five-days-a-week exercise program, Senf credits her upbringing and diet that resulted from growing up on a farm in Eastern Ohio, and her heredity for allowing her to reach 100.
And how old does she feel?
“Fifty,” she said. “I feel pretty good. People don’t think I look 100 and that’s good.”
‘I believe she is guiding Scott’
A Madison Twp. father turned tragedy into triumph and in the process saved two lives before burying his daughter.
After 2-year-old Kinsley Kinner was killed, allegedly at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, her father, Scott Senft, donated her lungs and liver to two boys. Now the family is hoping Kinsley’s memory is kept alive through the two boys who received her lungs and liver, said her grandmother, Heidi Morgan, of Dayton.
“I believe she is speaking through Scott if that makes sense,” Morgan said. “I believe she is guiding Scott.”
She said the decision to donate Kinsley’s organs was made by her son without consulting family members.
“We are thrilled with that decision,” said Morgan, who lost her only grandchild. “Those boys are alive because of Kinsley and we hope they live long lives. It’s great to know that a part of Kinsley is still out there.”
Morgan said Kinsley’s heart was supposed to be donated to another boy on a waiting list, but the organ was too damaged. She said the boy did receive a heart transplant.
‘Every wonderful thing’
The first time I heard Darryle Short speak during a United Way breakfast, I knew I had to interview him.
We sat down in the office at Sojourner Recovery Services in Hamilton, and for more about an hour, he told his amazing story from being homeless to his journey of being sober for 18 years.
He said that on Dec. 27, 1997 he was hiding from the winter weather under the West Middletown bridge — a hideout for the homeless — with all his possessions: a trash bag full of clothes and a 19-inch cable ready TV in case he could watch ESPN where he spent the night.
He closed his eyes for a second, then a large TV appeared on an I-beam under the bridge. His life flashed before him.
It was the G version of his R-rated life.
“Every wonderful thing that ever happened to me,” Short explained. “Not the trauma, nor the abuse, none of that.”
He eventually reconnected with his mother and stepfather, earned his GED at Middletown High School, and paid off the $77,000 in child support he owed in Butler, Warren and Preble counties. He works as director of staff development at Sojourner, the same place where he became sober, met and married his wife, and started as a resident assistant.
‘We exhausted every avenue’
For more than an hour, Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake sat at her kitchen table and talked about her daughter, whose life was cut short by heroin. The kitchen counter was covered with family photos, academic certificates and her 20114 Marshall High School diploma, all memories of Alison “Allie” Shuemake, 18, who was found dead in her apartment with her boyfriend, Luther Combs, 31, of Kentucky.
When Alison’s obituary appeared in the Journal-News, it said she died of a heroin overdose. Her parents said they hope that bold statement saves the lives of others and keep parents from feeling their pain.
Alison attended Middletown High School, then finished at Marshall. She graduated last December, completing a trip that drugs nearly detoured.
“It had been such a struggle to get her there,” her mother said. When her daughter graduated, “there was hope for the future. Now she had that pass to the world.”
Now her parents are left with only memories and lots of questions about why their daughter — a talented singer, athlete and band member who worked two jobs — couldn’t beat the addictions that eventually killed her. They said Alison had been in rehab and appeared to be clean for the past several months.
“She pushed away from her friends and the activities she loved so much and school she was so good at,” her mother said. “We tried everything. We exhausted every avenue. We tried counseling, we tried rehab. We have prayed so much I wonder if God is tired of listening.”
“She pretended she was happy. And she pretended she liked the smoking and the drinking, but it didn’t make her happy. She could see all the things she lost,” Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake said. “Her doctors fought for her. Her counselors fought for her. We don’t think she meant to die. She felt invincible like 18-year-olds are supposed to feel.”
‘She has a piece of my heart’
Alexis Taylor is far more mature than her age.
Alexis, a sophomore at Middletown High School, asked her best friend Marty Ary to homecoming, even though he hasn’t talked since he was severely handicapped 13 years ago after nearly drowning in an above ground swimming pool.
Marty’s parents, Martin and Krissy Ary, were told their son’s medical condition never would improve, he’d never show any signs of life.
Those doctors should have been sitting in the Ary house when Alexis walked in, stood in front of Marty’s wheelchair and held a handmade sign that read: “Marty Will You Roll To Homecoming With Me?”
Marty hasn’t spoken since the accident, but that didn’t stop him from giving Alexis an answer. No incident could steal the twinkle in his eyes.
“He’s my best friend,” she said. “Sometimes we just hold hands.”
His mother added: “She keeps a good eye on him. She is so special to all of us. She has a piece of my heart.”
After the love story appeared in the Journal-News, a horse and carriage company donated its services so Alexis and Marty could ride to the dance in style.
‘I came here to do a job’
It’s funny sometimes how the little decisions we make shape the rest of our lives, and the lives of everyone around us.
It was July 1972, and Mae Velde — fresh from graduating one month earlier from Franklin High School — applied for a kitchen job at Frisch’s on Germantown Road. She figured she’d work there for six months like the other high school kids, then move on to another job, maybe one more promising.
Luckily for Velde, and those who requested her as a waitress since Nixon was in the White House, she never moved on until she retired in 2015 after 43 years.
“I came here to do a job,” said Velde, 62. “But I don’t see these people as my customers; they are my family. It’s hard to put it all into words, 43 years. I never realized I touched so many lives. I didn’t realize all those years I was going above and beyond.”
By the flattery written on Velde’s Facebook page, the long line of customers waiting for one of her tables to open, or by the flower arrangements and retirement cards sitting on the Frisch’s counter, there’s no doubt that the Big Boy took a back seat to the Little Girl.
Velde said she was humbled, but not embarrassed by the attention. She got emotional too.
“Millions and millions of tears,” she said. “It started two weeks ago and I have cried every day since. Somebody has made me cry.”