Here’s a look back at 2020 and my annual end-of-the-year “10 Most Intriguing People of the Year.”
Ashtyn Bennett: ‘Great just helping people in need’
For his 14th birthday, Ashtyn, a eighth-grade homeschool student in Middletown, asked for donations and used the $150 to purchase food for the homeless in Middletown.
He and several of his friends cooked 156 sliders and added bags of potato chips, snacks and bottled water to the meals. They passed them out to 78 homeless at the downtown City Bus Terminal, a popular place for the homeless to congregate.
Ashtyn said he originally considered buying fast-food meals, then realized he could serve more people if they prepared the meals. He also enjoyed talking to the homeless and hearing some of their stories. He said one man was thankful for a hot meal because he had a job interview the next day.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget and it was great doing it with my friends,” he said. “Great just helping people in need.”
Christa Carrero: ‘You can talk to an animal and not be judged’
Carrero, married with four biological daughters and one adopted daughter, recently opened a farm in Butler County she hopes “creates a safe, therapeutic environment to help vulnerable youth overcome fear, loss and trauma.”
The organization is called Healing Order Peace Encouragement (HOPE)-Full Pastures Therapeutic Farm and is located on six acres on Ross Hanover Road that used to be Baker Photography. The farm held its grand opening in September enrolled six children in the first month.
The children are given a tour of the farm and watched as they interact with the horses, cats, chickens, goats, ducks, turkeys, alpacas, a donkey and the trusty border collie, Parker. Then the children are partnered with an animal.
“You can talk to an animal and not be judged,” she said. “That animal will not tell your secrets. You can get so much more during those conversations than you can in a therapist room. We see this as a need.”
Brian Choi: ‘I’m their shepherd and I have to take care of the flock’
Choi, a native of Korea, was tasked with two difficult challenges this year: As a pastor leading an aging United Methodist congregation in Hamilton while dealing with the coronavirus and its impact on his services.
“We have to figure out how to move forward and create different ways to come together,” said Choi, 34.
Choi’s appointment this year as pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church concluded a journey that began in Korea with stops in Dayton, Fairborn, a small town in Kentucky, Cincinnati, Mason and finally in Hamilton, 6,722 miles from his birthplace.
“It’s surreal,” Choi said of landing his first pastor job in some placed called Butler County.
“I have to remind myself that I’m young, but I’m in a leadership position,” he said. “I’m their shepherd and I have to take care of the flock.”
Nicole Condrey: ‘He couldn’t kick the depression’
The first time I met Condrey, she was attending a Heroin Summit meeting at Atrium Medical Center and was accompanied by her service dog.
After she was elected Middletown’s mayor, we met at the Veterans Memorial at Woodside Cemetery. There we talked about how her husband, Chief Petty Officer Ron Condrey, 45, a 25-year Navy veteran, committed suicide on Sept. 3, 2018 with a gunshot wound to his chest despite her measures to defeat his mental illness.
Since her husband’s death, Condrey, 38, has recounted the years he struggled with depression caused by brain injuries. She has come to his conclusion: She did everything in her power to pull him out his suicidal state.
Condrey said her husband, a Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician and Master Naval Parachutist, conducted missions around the world during his 14 deployments. He sustained a variety of Traumatic Brain Injuries, she said.
“Tried to keep him out of that mental state that he never escaped,” she said. “He couldn’t kick the depression. I felt like I failed him in the end.”
Greyson Garland: ‘I can’t believe I just did it’
Greyson, who celebrated his 11th birthday last month, became the 13th youngest bowler to roll a perfect game when he did so at Eastern Lanes in Middletown on Dec. 5, according to the U.S. Bowling Congress record books.
“I can’t believe I just did it,” Greyson, a fifth-grader at Carlisle Elementary School, told his father, Eastern Lanes general manager Brian, numerous times.
His previous high game during a league was 224 and he carries a 171 average, 50 pins higher than most bowlers in the youth league.
He followed up his perfect game with a 165, 141 for a 606 series.
“The adrenaline wore off,” his father said with a smile.
Denorver “Dee” Garrett Jr.: ‘I went through hell’
Denorver “Dee” Garrett Jr. protested in Cincinnati following the May death of George Floyd and, days later, protested at the West Chester Clock Tower.
Garrett, 28, stood out because of his outfit and his outlook. He wore a Black Lives Matter muscle shirt, Army fatigue pants and boots and carried a large, wooden cross to the demonstration.
Those who knew Garrett 10 years ago probably didn’t believe what they’re reading. Soon after he graduated from Lakota East High School in 2010, Garrett and two 18-year-old Cincinnati men were indicted on aggravated robbery charges by a Butler County grand jury stemming from an attack in front of a Fairfield park.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in Lebanon Correctional Institution.
“My dreams were already crushed before I was born,” he said. “I went through hell.”
He plans to graduate from college in May with degrees in ministry and business. He hopes to enter the prison ministry and open a sober living facility.
Carson Grill: ‘I walked in there with a lot of energy’
Grill, appearing with his father on the “Shark Tank” in October, certainly didn’t act like a teenager.
“I walked in there with a lot of energy,” said Carson, 15, a freshman at Fenwick High School.
Carson and his father, Jason, pitched their idea for a paint-saving device and it was selected by Shark Blake Mycoski, founder of TOMS shoes. He agreed to invest $150,000 for 17.5 percent of their invention, Touch Up Cup, which keeps paint from becoming clumpy so it can remain fresh for more than 10 years.
Two days after the season premiere of the ABC show aired the Grills said they had received thousands of orders from around the world on their web site.
Billy Lamb: ‘Maybe somebody is protecting me’
Let’s just say talking to Lamb was one of the highlights of the year.
Lamb, who turned 100 this year, remembered the day she was about to board an ocean liner in Paris with her three young children, destined for another life they hoped would be better in the United States.
It was 1959, and she had visited the U.S. nine years earlier, but this was permanent.
“I wanted to come here,” she told me. “It’s a beautiful country, sir.”
This woman defied the longest of odds. As a single mother she became a successful businesswoman who raised her three children — two daughters Dominique and Maryline and son William — in Middletown and lived to be 100.
Lamb was asked what it’s like to turn 100.
“I believe in destiny,” said Lamb. “When my time here is done, I’ll be ready. I don’t feel that way yet. Maybe somebody is protecting me.”
Xander Roberts: ‘He’s a remarkable young man’
On Veterans Day, Roberts’ Eagle Scout project, refurbishing the veterans memorial at Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton was celebrated.
After seeing how the concrete at the memorial site was chipped and in need of a fresh coat of paint, Roberts, 17, a 2021 Hamilton High School graduate, put his plan in place.
After months of raising more than $11,000, installing the flag poles, repairing and painting the concrete stage and the concrete cannons and cannon balls, mulching the flower beds and planting shrubs, the memorial was dedicated.
“We couldn’t be more thankful,” Peters said. “He’s a remarkable young man.”
Dan Scherrer: ‘Never left. Never wanted to.’
When Scherrer, 70, retired this year from the AK Steel Research Center he ended a 79-year streak for the family at the center.
Scherrer started at the research center in August 1969 when he was a co-op student at the University of Cincinnati. He father and father-in-law also worked there.
Scherrer retired Jan. 10, 2020, the same day as his 50th wedding anniversary.
“Never left,” he said. “Never wanted to.”