Kaise Stephan – Swimmer, English Channel and Cancer Fundraiser (Part 1 of 3)

By Admin | December 12, 2008 at 1:51 am


Where are you from?

I am a resident of Sydney, Australia.

Originally born in London, England, lived in Amman Jordan for ten years before travelling down under to Australia. We love it here. It is a great place to live and enjoy opportunities that life can offer.

My parents are of Iraqi descent, we are Assyrians – the Christian minority of Iraq.

Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?

I went to college (University) in Macquarie University graduating with a Bachelor of Economics with Honors majoring in Actuarial Studies.

What has been your career path from college to now?

I worked in a number of general insurance firms in Australia over a ten year period, until settling with Munich Reinsurance. I have been with Munich Reinsurance for seven years now and my current role is the Appointed Actuary for Australia and New Zealand.

When did you start swimming?

I started swimming when my mum put me in the water at the age of six months in England. I started training for swimming from the age of seven in Jordan. Continued to swim in Australia.

Did you have a competitive swimming career?

Yes and no. Although, I participated in a number of swimming competitions in Jordan (National team) and Australia (NSW state competititions), I never turned into a professional full time swimmer. I was not fast enough, although I did notice that I had good endurance!!

Do you come from a family of swimmers?

No. Neither of my parents were competitive swimmers, although their love of water and swimming for the health and other benefits had an impact on me.

When did you decide to swim the English Channel?

In late 2005, my twelve year old cousin Mark was diagnosed with leukemia and was treated with Ccemotherapy at Sydney’s Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW).

At the time when I was visiting him, I saw life and death ebb and flow and I witnessed his courage in the face of suffering. I also saw other kids and families.

Lastly, I witnessed the great love and support from the doctors and nurses. That was it, I decided to dedicate something very big towards this circumstance.

I decided to swim the English Channel – the Everest of swimming – and dedicate that to Mark, other kids in his circumstance, and to fundraise for CHW cancer research team.

Forty years ago, only one in four kids survived cancer. Now, it is three in four, thanks to research. So, I thought if I can raise more funds and help research we can increase that even more, save that one more child.

Did you think about starting out with a smaller, more manageable swim?

The English Channel, representing a 35km stretch – 50km with tides – in 15C temperature water, with an expected 12-15 hours of nonstop swimming and one of busiest shipping lanes in the world, (with) jellyfish and sewage sounded scary, but that was not going to stop me.

When did you actually start to train for the Channel swim?

So God help me, I started my journey. I started to wake up at 4:30 am every day for two and a half years for daily intensive training before work, lunch swims, afternoon swims, weekend swims. In the pool, ocean and rivers. During winter for cold water training. During night time for dark training.

It was such a challenge to balance swimming, work, family – including a ten month old son. It was a daily test for me for two and a half years, I did not break. A parallel fight to my cousin’s.

Did you use some of the funds raised through your charity to meet your training and travel expenses?

Channel Crossing For Life (CCFL) as it came to be called became an official fundraising campaign of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead with full tax deductibility status. All funds raised dollar for dollar went to the hospital. I met all admin and logistical costs of this attempt.

We have raised to date $130,000 in under 12 months, aim to raise $200,000 so CHW can start its 2-3 year research project. So, the first physical and mental battle may have been won, but I cannot rest for too long as the funds still need to be raised till we reach our target.

How long did it take you to swim across the English Channel?

July 13, 2008 was the day of the attempt. I made it in 12 hours and 30 minutes .

Aren’t there easier and less personally strenuous ways to raise money in the fight against pediatric cancer?

I could have chosen to fundraise for cancer research in other ways, although, this was a vow. I intended it to be a parallel fight.

In the same way that my cousin was undergoing a challenge in life and trying to fight with his will and thoughts through the chemotherapy treatment, I was to struggle for two and a half years in preparing for this “Everest” of swimming and face my fears and challenges on the day of the swim itself.

Copyright 2008

Topics: Athletes, English Channel Swimmers, Fundraisers | Comments Off on Kaise Stephan – Swimmer, English Channel and Cancer Fundraiser (Part 1 of 3)

Susan Yoho – Director, Grave Creek Indian Burial Mound Historic Site

By Admin | November 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Susan Yoho is the cultural facilities manager at the Grave Creek Indian Burial Mound in Moundsville, West Virginia. We recently visited the burial mound and had a chance to speak with her.

Where are you from?

New Orleans, Louisiana.

Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?

Tulane University, Finance.

What has been your career path from college to now?

Computer Programmer/Systems Analysis with large D.C. Construction Company; accountant with Marriott Corp.; State Superintendent/Conservation Officer when Grave Creek was a State Park and now Cultural Facility Manager.

How many visitors a year do you get from the Grave Creek mound?

Numbers are down to maybe 10,000 per year. The highest years were under the State Park System, more than 50,000 (when we had a) national advertising budget.

When was the Grave Creek mound constructed and by what people?

The mound was constructed in two stages between 250 – 150 B.C. by the Woodland period of man.

Can you describe the active archaeololgy program that is underway at the site?

The curation and re-boxing of (the) West Virginia artifact collection in the Collection Facility.

There are many Indian burial mounds in the Ohio Valley. What makes Grave Creek special or worth visiting over other sites?

No, there are no longer many mounds in the Ohio Valley; they were destroyed as “progress was made”. Grave Creek is the largest burial mound of it’s kind and one of a few mound treasures of the ancient past.

Copyright 2008

Topics: Directors | No Comments »

Clay Bennett – Editorial Cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Part 3 of 3)

By Admin | November 12, 2008 at 7:32 pm


How has the Internet affected editorial cartooning?

The internet has had a huge impact on our profession.

Its most profound impact on editorial cartoonists has probably been in the delivery of our work. A drawing that used to take several days by snail mail, or a day (and no small expense) by FedEx to deliver, now arrives immediately, inexpensively, and digitally perfect via e-mail
or an FTP site.

In a profession that depends on the timeliness of their product’s arrival, this is no small accomplishment. The internet’s economic and creative impact on our profession, however, has been far less profound.

Economically, the web has been a wash for most of us. We might get a few more reprints and certainly more readers from our exposure on the web, but it hasn’t yet become a marketplace that can provide many of us with a living wage.

Creatively, the internet has proven to be less than revolutionary, too. There are a few among us who get it: cartoonists who understand that you have to exploit the features that are unique to this platform – sound and movement – to make an impact on the web.

In fact, many of them have abandoned print journalism entirely, staking their claim in the digital frontier with animated editorial cartoons. But for most of us, static cartoons are still the industry standard, and the internet has served as little more than an impetus to add some color to our work.

How do you actually draw your cartoons? What medium did you start with and what do you do now?

In the past, I would draw pencil sketches very lightly on Bristol Board and then ink right over those lines with a brush and India Ink.

Now, I draw my line art on tracing paper using a felt marker. The advantage in using tracing paper is that refining the elements within the drawing, or its overall composition is much easier and faster to achieve.

Usually, I’ll go through four or five of these preliminary drawings before the line art is complete. Once I’ve got the line art looking good, I’ll scan the drawing into a PhotoShop document where I’ll add the tones/color, the shadows, highlights, labels, borders and captions if needed.

A finished cartoon takes many hours to complete. Depending on the complexity of the drawing, it could take as few as two to three hours or as many as ten to twelve.

What were you doing when you found out that you won the Pulitzer?

I was awaiting the results.

The date and time of the Pulitzer Prize announcements is well known. Most years, the finalists in the various categories are public knowledge too.

Knowing I was one of the three finalists for the editorial cartooning prize in 2002, I was waiting for the verdict in the office of my editor at The Christian Science Monitor.

My wife had come down to the newsroom, so we both watched nervously as my editor kept an eye on the AP wire as the winners names were released.

Editorial cartooning is one of the last categories announced, so the wait was excruciating.

I should tell you, that I had been a nominated finalists the three years prior to 2002, so I was well acquainted with seeing it slip through my fingers. I was probably expecting the same as I stood there awaiting the verdict.

But that wasn’t the case this time. When the editorial cartooning category was finally announced, it was my name. So, I hugged my editor and my wife – in that order, I’m often reminded – and was whisked out to the newsroom to celebrate with my colleagues at The Monitor.

Which of your many awards has meant the most to you professionally? Personally?

Journalism awards are awarded for different beats and by different groups, so they’re all special in their own way.

The Overseas Press Club award, for instance, recognizes the best coverage of foreign issues and events, while the Robert F. Kennedy Award goes to outstanding journalism on issues concerning the underprivileged of society.

Some awards are judged by editors and writers, while others are given out by fellow cartoonists.

Professionally, I’d have to say that The Pulitzer Prize probably means the most. It’s one of the oldest and most recognized of the awards in journalism. Reflecting that, it’s often said once you win a Pulitzer, you know the first three words of your obituary.

Personally, I’d have to say that the ‘Ink Bottle Award’ means the most to me. It’s the award given out by the AAEC (Association of Editorial Cartoonists) to a member of the organization for service to both the association in particular and our profession in general.

It means so much to me because the AAEC has meant so much to me over the years. I’ve had many peaks and valleys in my career, but no matter where I was along the way, my fellow cartoonists have always been there for me.

Their friendship and support has always meant the world to me, so getting the ‘ink bottle’ made me think that I may have paid back at least bit of the huge debt I owe them all.

How do you develop ideas for your cartoons? Do you find you have trouble turning off your “cartooning” brain, for instance, when you are watching football or on Christmas morning?

I don’t ever want to turn off the cartooning part of my brain. Cartoons are everywhere, just waiting to be found. If I’m not looking for them constantly, I might miss a really good one.

As for conceptualizing cartoon ideas, well, they come to you in many ways. Sometimes an idea will hit you like a bolt of lightning, other times, most times, the idea is produced through long hours of playing with different images, or turning different phrases.

This process is very difficult to explain because it’s so abstract in nature. Some cartoons are a product of inspiration, some are the product of perspiration. The trick to good cartooning is to make the latter look like the former.

If you weren’t a cartoonist, what would you be doing professionally?

I don’t know. This is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I suppose I might be a reporter, or maybe a teacher.

What two pieces of advice would you give to someone who wanted to become an editorial cartoonist?

My first bit of advice would be to think again. There just aren’t that many career opportunities in this line of work. That being said, this advice won’t discourage anyone who’s REALLY a cartoonist.

Cartooning is not a choice, it’s a madness that you can’t repress. That being the case, I would encourage any budding cartoonists to study and learn animation. The future of journalism is online, so being skilled at using the elements that the internet has to offer -sound and motion – might well improve one’s chance of gainful employment.

Please click here to read Part 2 of Clay Bennett’s interview.
Please click here to read Part 1 of Clay Bennett’s interview.

Copyright 2008

Topics: Artists, Pulitzer Winners and Finalists | No Comments »

Clay Bennett – Editorial Cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Part 2 of 3)

By Admin | November 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm


How old were you when you drew your first cartoon and what was it about?

I have no idea what my first cartoon was about, or where it is today. I’ve been a cartoonist as long as I can remember, so my first cartoon was probably drawn when I was 4 or 5 years old.

Why do you think you became an editorial cartoonist?

Cartooning was always a passion of mine, so pursuing some career in cartooning was a given. The desire to become an ‘editorial’ cartoonist developed as my passion for politics started to blossom.

For me, this came around the age of 14. Now, that may sound very young to some folks, but it really wasn’t unusual in my family. The Bennett’s are a passionate and opinionated lot.

With a family dynamic more like the McLaughlin Group than the Brady Bunch, debate and argument were commonplace in our house.

Every night at the dinner table, I would watch the debates unfold. My two older sister, both liberals, would take on our dad, a career army officer and staunch Republican.

It was always the same, my sisters would argue from their hearts, while my dad would argue from his head.

Even though I agreed with my sisters views, I always admired my old man’s ability to support his positions with facts, figures, and anecdotal evidence.

I learned a lot from both sides. I learned compassion and understanding from one side, logic and reasoning from the other.

I tried my best over the years to incorporate both lessons: to express views more like those of my sisters, but to argue their virtues with the analytical skill of my dad.

What is your all-time favorite cartoon that you have drawn?

I can’t say. If you estimate that I draw 250 cartoons a year, and multiply that by almost 30 years I’ve been a cartoonist, you’d come up with about… um… er, well a whole lot of cartoons.

To pick one cartoon above all the rest as my favorite would be tough. It’s like picking your favorite son or daughter.

Who is your favorite cartoonist?

My favorite cartoonist is Argentina’s Quino (Joaquin Salvador Lavardo). In my humble opinion, he is a god among cartooning mortals. His work is a true testament to the universal nature of cartooning.

He hails from another continent, speaks a foreign language and is the product of a different culture, but still communicates masterfully with this insular American through his unique and inventive visual storytelling.

Technically, he’s not an editorial cartoonist, but in my mind, no cartoonist captures the politics of the human condition better than does Quino.

Who has been the seminal cartoonist in this century? Charles Schulz?

Charles Schulz would be a good guess. That’s really a tough one, though, because there are many cartoonists who have produced important and influential work in different cartooning disciplines.

Editorial cartoonists might list Herblock, Mauldin, or Oliphant as the most seminal cartoonist of the past 100 years, animators might point to Walt Disney, Tex Avery, or Chuck Jones as being the most influential, but Stan Lee or Will Eisner might make the list if your talking comic books.

There are so many different forms of cartooning and so many great cartoonists, it’s impossible to elevate one above the rest.

Has any editor or paper ever called you in and said, “Whoa there, cowboy, tone it down?”

Although I don’t believe I’ve ever been called ‘cowboy’, I’ve certainly been told to ‘tone it down’.

Newspapers that subscribe to my work will never do that. They’ll just refuse to run the cartoon, or cancel their subscription.

The newspaper for which you work is different. That paper has a great stake in you, the work you produce, and what tone and positions your work expresses.

So, yes, I’ve been told, many times, by various employers over the years, to tone it down.

My current newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has been great on this particular issue.

The publisher here understands the nature of editorial cartooning, he understands that creativity is best achieved the more freely it’s exercised. He also understands that I’ve been at this for a very long time.

He realizes that I value my freedom enough to exercise it responsibly. I have yet to be told what to draw, what to say, or how to say it. There were many reasons I took this job, but the editorial freedom I was promised was probably the single-most important of them.

So far, the paper has made good on that promise. I can only hope that never changes.

How do you work? Do you have a favorite place, or time or method that you use to draw?

I’m always working to a degree, but most of the real work I do in creating a cartoon is done in my newsroom office. I do have a method, but if I told you what it was, I’d have to kill you.

How many cartoons do you draw in a week?

Five. They appear in the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday editions of the paper.

Do you let your wife or a colleague critique your cartoons before you hand them in?

Sometimes, but it’s not really a critique, and it comes long before I hand in the cartoon. If I’m sure about the cartoon and the idea behind it, I usually don’t need any validation at all. I’ll just draw it up and hand it in.

But if I’m insecure about a cartoon, if I’m worried that the idea isn’t coming across, or if the cartoon’s point is not apparent, I’ll show it to a few people in the newsroom to see what they think. It’s like my own little focus group.

I can easily lose my enthusiasm for a cartoon if it doesn’t get a good reception from this test audience.

Copyright 2008

Topics: Artists, Pulitzer Winners and Finalists | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »