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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Finding More to read

I made an early morning run to the grocery store yesterday because we were out of coffee. I consider my timing fortuitous (an amazing thing considering my lack of caffeine). The newsstand must have been freshly stocked with July issues so of course I picked up a few for "research."

In my bag was More magazine. Three things attracted me to the combined July/August issue: the magazine's heft or "thunk factor" of 260 pages (signifying healthy ad revenue, hence an advertising-worthy readership); the cover photo of actress Holly Hunter looking positively fabulous at age 49; and the cover blips, which stood in stark contrast to say Glamour:

"Act your age: Over 40 and loving every minute"
"Summer style from classic to cutting edge: Real women test the trends"
"Uncautionary Tales: 18 women prove it's never too late to start a business, take up rock climbing ... or run away to Greece with your hairdresser"
"Hormonal weight gain: How to beat it"
"City of Dreams: The best place on earth to reinvent yourself"
"Beach books with a brain"

Last night I sat on my patio after dinner and read this thing from cover to cover. Cannot even remember the last time I was compelled by a magazine to do that. It was filled with great shorts and meaningful content and, more than anything else, the story of real women.

Positively loved the feature on San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the women who shed their American burdens to live and thrive there. The piece on women entrepreneurs reminded me of one of the last business pieces I co-wrote as a full-time employee. The More piece even featured Cleveland's own Carol Latham, of Thermagon. There was even more Cleveland with a book excerpt of Connie Schultz's "...and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man."

Smartness saturated each page — smart stories, smart women, smart ideas, smart writing, smart design. Love it, now I want to write for it, which is a good thing considering the women I find interesting subjects for stories tend to above the 20-35 age demographic of most women's magazines.

Back to pitching.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Odds and ends

Just a few minutes of breathing room today, so I've got to keep to a few short topics.

Seeking a Web designer
In the interest of ratcheting up my marketing efforts, I'm actively seeking a Web designer for my Web site. I'm looking for a clean, professional site with pages for bio, articles, books, blog, news, contact. Most of the copy is written; however, I'm also looking for suggestions on how best to feature articles (some of which are not available as links).

I would like to be able to update frequently (and cheaply, if possible). If you can help, please contact me at wendyhoke(at)oh(dot)rr(dot)com and reference Web designer in the subject line.

Evaluating new magazine markets
Yesterday's New York Times had an article about a start-up independent magazine called Organize. An interesting idea for a niche audience. The Times referenced Ready Made as an example of another independent pub with a niche market that was eventually purchased last fall by Meredith.

However, as Erik Sherman writes today, there are warning signs that this venture is under-funded and at risk from inexperienced hands. It's also unclear from writer guidelines whether the pub intends to pay for editorial submissions. Not a good sign of quality. Bottom line for writers: Proceed with caution.

I dream of Africa
Whenever I read articles like this, I feel so depressed at my inability to tackle such assignments. I've not yet read The Vanity Fair package, but I'm always amazed by the shortcuts news organizations will take in covering the world. How do you write intelligently about a continent without hearing from the people who live there?

Narrative magazine seeking help
I'm a big fan of Narrative magazine, and have occasionally shared some of its stories here. Today I received an e-mail asking for donations to help keep this independent magazine committed to bringing great literature online going strong. Check it out and then consider making a tax-deductible donation.

What I covet
The iPhone is so dang cool!!! You've got to check out NYT's David Pogue's multimedia piece to see its functionality. Just showed my kids and they agree -- it's a must-have piece of technology.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In one word, what's the story about?

Slapped on the wall above my desk and in direct line of sight when I gaze up from my laptop screen is a golden-yellow Post-It note with the words: Select, Focus, Reduce.

Coming off two big writing deadlines in which I've had to compress a year's worth of reporting into a combined 4,500 words of narrative, these three words have been my guide and my editor—a constant check on my writing.

Any writer worth his or her salt will tell you that it's much harder to write short than long. For this project, it almost seemed impossible. But I took a different approach this year. I first relied on my memory. What were the most important themes to emerge this year? Who were the strongest characters? What scenes were foremost in my mind?

While I could fashion a list and an outline with answers to those questions, an overarching theme eluded me on my first story. But as I started to think about the links between the answers I had in front of me, the theme emerged. Everything about this year and this project involves change. So I decided that I would explore:

-- the struggle to change
-- the power to change
-- one individual's ability to effect change
-- the need to change

This is the first time I've approached a writing assignment this way, to whittle an entire narrative down to one word, or, as Chip Scanlan wrote this week one theme. His Chip on Your Your Shoulder column provided a great example of how one photograph of Mississippi lawmen from the Civil Rights era could lead to an entire book about legacies. The author had a wise editor who came up with the one-word theme. The column was perfectly timed to help in my own work. Here's Scanlan with some writerly food for thought this Friday morning:
The best (themes) resonate. They reflect universal qualities and truths about what it means to be human. They connect the domains journalists spend their time in, such as law enforcement, politics, education, with news audiences. Every domain has its own jargon, mores and rules. A theme lays down a bridge between consumers and the news they need to function as citizens in a democracy.

It's a fortunate writer who gets to work with an editor like Jonathan Segal, one who understands that a single word holds the promise of an entire book. But you can give yourself, or another writer, that same a gift: a compass that points to the north star and helps you navigate journeys that lead to places where the best stories are found. Try it.

Working on a story? What's it really about? In one word.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My favorite animated character... Carl Wheezer from Nickelodeon's, "Jimmy Neutron." While chilling during lunch today, the boys flipped to Nick for a dose of Carl, who was heard to tell his class:

"...And that's why you should never feed llamas pancakes."

I mean seriously, who thinks of this stuff? I love it! If you don't think Carl is a pop culture phenom, then check out his Wiki page. There's way more depth to this character than the lead.

It's not just what Carl says, but his inflection that makes him hilarious.

No truer words...

"I'm more afraid of being in a bubble than I am of wide-open spaces." — Mariane Pearl, wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl in Newsweek

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Little Sparrow

Here's hoping La Vie En Rose comes to theaters in Cleveland.

Settling into another summer

There's typically such a whirlwind of activity that accompanies the end of a school year that it takes a few weeks to settle into something resembling a routine.

We're getting there ... slowly.

My work schedule has been hectic with several big writing deadlines and lots of pitching. But, as I've done in the past, I hit my desk at 6 a.m. and try to finish up by 1.

Two out of my three boys were grounded for the first weekend. One for being tardy for dinner (I know that's harsh, but I need to lay down the law right out of the gate.), the other for a solo adventure to catch frogs from a retention basin at a nearby park. Although it sounds as if it was a harmless little-boy adventure, I'm afraid I panicked at the thought of him either A) being abducted from a secluded park; or B) falling headfirst into the rather large retention basin.

I'm not anti-park and I do allow him to play at one closer to our house, but this one is isolated and there are always contractor vans parked in the lot with dudes probably (harmlessly) eating lunch. My protective Mama Bear instinct just doesn't want to chance it with my little guy.

So expectations for checking in, arriving home in time for dinner (I'm a huge proponent of family dinner time.) and being responsible for chores and things have been clearly set and, so far, followed.

My older two boys have been hounding me about cell phones. Ryan had one until he was pushed into a friend's pool in early May with his cell in his pocket. Of course it's toast. But I told him I wanted to see his year-end report card before we talked new phone. Plus I was utterly agitated at the teenager expectation that all things, regardless of cost, get instantly replaced.

Report cards arrived this week and everything looks good. Now I can deliver on my promise of a new phone or phones. Patrick is something of a nomad this summer, cruising around with his posse on his bike. He's good about telling me where he's going, but not always about where he will end up. So now I'm thinking I may get him a phone as well.

All of these events — kids being grounded, replacing phones, waiting for good grades, etc. — illustrate the challenges of sticking to your guns as a parent. Dan was out of town the first weekend of summer, so I was flying solo. It is certainly a huge pain the neck for me to have two grounded boys sulking around the house.

It would have been easier for me to un-ground them and let them play. And the cell phone issue? Let's just say Ryan not having the phone is more of a pain for me than it is for him, especially given his sports schedule. But I wanted him to know I was serious about ending the school year academically strong.

Point made.

Now if only I can get them to remember to shut the bathroom door when I'm on the phone in my office across the hall...

Latest UB story: Missionary returns from Cambodia

It's not available online, but here's my latest story from Friday's Catholic Universe Bulletin.

Missioner returns from sharing Christ's light in Cambodia
By Wendy A. Hoke

ROCKY RIVER — Shortly after John Pahls, a computer technician at Rocky River Public Library, returned from a two-year mission in Cambodia last August, he found himself in a Dollar General store near tears.

Among its well-stocked shelves were so many things that were desperately needed yet so expensive and nearly impossible to come by in Cambodia—dental floss, hydrogen peroxide, Epsom salts, laundry detergent—all available for $1.

Although he’s now back to working in the stately yet modern Rocky River Public Library instead of a rudimentary Learning Resource Center in Phnom Penh, Pahls holds both places close to his heart.

A parishioner at St. Patrick Church on Bridge Avenue, it was that church’s work of service to the poor and marginalized people on Cleveland's Near West Side that inspired Pahls to work with Maryknoll lay Missionary.

“I was energized by living in that area and seeing how the church is a witness for Christ in the community," he said. "I was inspired by that witness and foreign missionary work seemed like a natural extension for me."

Originally from Cincinnati, the 44-year-old had traveled extensively in the past, but saw this as the chance to move from tourist to “part of” a foreign community. “I chose Cambodia mostly because the team working in Asia was very dynamic and I liked the projects.”

With his master’s degree in library science and his years spent working at the Rocky River Public Library, Pahls had the opportunity to put his education and work experience to good use.

“We had a small Learning Resource Center to help children living in orphanages and group homes to study,” he said. Although his work was primarily with tutors and teachers, he occasionally stepped into the classroom, teaching math and later English.

Preparation for the two-year assignment included intensive study of the Cambodia language of Khmer.

“The children would tease me about my accent. I found I could understand what people would say and could understand words, but it took much longer to understand concepts,” he said.

Before arriving in Cambodia, Pahls admitted that he had a preconceived idea of working in solidarity with others on an equal footing. Cambodia’s culture, however, is based on hierarchy. To them, he was, “Older Brother.”

“They viewed me more as someone in a position of power who could help them,” he said. “I became more of a caretaker and a provider, which is not the role I had imagined.”

Being a witness for Christ on a grand scale was difficult in Cambodia. The effects of the violent communist-inspired Khmer Rouge still linger 30 years later and churches are typically associated with foreign influences such as the French and Vietnamese.

All missionary orders are registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), even though they are also engaged in liturgical ministry.

“The government supports NGOs because we are doing a lot of the social service and education that it is supposed to provide,” Pahls said.

In Battambang, the northwest province and former Khmer Rouge stronghold until as late as 1997, where Pahls also worked, the liturgical work is focused on the youth. By providing scholarships, education and involving a new generation in the work of the church, “There is hope this will set the stage for subsequent generations,” said Pahls.

Learning to live with the threat of constant danger is something to which everyone must adapt, he added. “You go through the inevitable questions of why am I here?” he said.

It takes a concerted effort not to focus on the macro and instead to focus on the people, “the little part where we can be a source of light.”

He smiled and remembered a saying his sister had told him: “It’s easier to wear a slipper then to try and carpet the whole world.” While he was gone, he kept in touch via e-mail with his colleagues at Rocky River Library and welcomed the chance to work with them again upon his return.

Pahls said he misses his Cambodian friends and says he would like to go back to Cambodia and deepen his experience there. For now, he is using his Asian experience to help work with Burmese refugees brought to Cleveland through the diocesan Migration and Refugee Services office.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Paper Cuts

Kudos to the New York Times for its new book blog Paper Cuts. Dwight Garner, senior editor of The Book Review, has done a great job (in only a week of posting) bringing in a mix of the newsy, the gossipy and the offbeat of the book world.

Friday's post has a great photo of the now old New York Times building and a bit about the book review office's move. He also dredges up some terrific archival stuff, such as original ads promoting specific books and authors.

I'm adding to the link list here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Transparency also means sharing what we don't know

Great article from Poynter Institute's Butch Ward on journalists' need to share not only what they know, but also what they don't know.
Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, in their book, "The Elements of Journalism," argue that journalists who are seeking renewed credibility should embrace the concept of transparency -- a willingness to share with the reader more information about how we know what we say we know.

And a willingness to say what we don't know.

"If journalists are truth seekers," the authors write, "it must follow that they be honest and truthful with their audiences, too -- that they be truth presenters. If nothing else, this responsibility requires that journalists be as open and honest with audiences as they can about what they know and what they don't."

Think about it: When you include in a story the questions that remain to be answered, you signal that the search for the truth is unfinished -- and needs to continue. You also reduce the chance that the reader or viewer will come up with their own list of unanswered questions. And you head off any criticism of your work as careless, shallow or biased by acknowledging that it is incomplete.

If our goal is to prove something beyond doubt, we need to keep reporting until we possess that proof -- or we decide to quit trying and kill the story.

But if our goal is to provoke debate, promote serious discussion, shine a light on a situation that deserves further examination, let's tell our readers and viewers about the work that remains to be done.

Odds are, we'll be more credible for it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Review: "What You Have Left"

Maybe I have this perverted need to read about other people's misery. I'm thinking that's the only reason why I would recommend reading Will Allison's What You Have Left (Free Press; June 5, 2007).

This is not an upbeat story and yet it feels very breezy. It's the kind of dark study of human nature that always pulls me in close.

Using various points of view, it's the story of Holly Greer, her father Wylie and her husband Lyle. Tragically, Wylie's wife, a NASCAR hobby driver, is killed during a water skiing accident. A bereft and drifting Wylie leaves 5-year-old Holly with his father-in-law Cal and promises that he will return soon.

He doesn't and Holly grows up on Cal's farm outside of Columbia, S.C., without her mother or father.

The story quickly shifts from Holly's early loss to her grandfather's Alzheimer's diagnosis and his decision, after watching his own father deteriorate, to take his life when the disease starts to progress.

Holly leaves college to be with Cal, who decides to spend what time he has left renovating the old farmhouse for Holly. He hires Lyle to do the work and forms a quick friendship with the contractor. In a little bit of matchmaking by Cal, Holly and Lyle fall in love.

But just when Holly thinks she's talked Cal out of taking his own life, he swallows a bunch of pills. She is left bereft and alone again and strikes out on a path of near self-destruction as she tries to track down her long-lost father. She gets very close, but Lyle and Wylie see to it that the long-awaited reunion doesn't happen—yet.

While I've not experienced loss to Holly's depths, I do recognize my own loner streak in her. And maybe that's why I turned page after page of her story.
My mother's accident happened on the day after the Fourth of July. The night before, she and my father had hosted their annual cookout, a big bash that involved a bonfire, several coolers of Schlitz, roman candles, and loud music from the eight-track player in my father's Firebird, which he parked near the lake's edge. While the grown-ups drank and danced the shag, I wandered along the moonlit bank until I found myself staring up at a neighbor's tree house. On a sagging platform that jutted out over the water, I sat watching the party, indistinct figures moving in the firelight. It had been maybe ten minutes when my mother noticed I was missing. After she checked the house, she stood at the end of the dock and called my name. There was real fear in her voice, and it sent a shiver through me. I climbed down and ran to her as fast as I could, calling out all the way, I'm coming, I'm coming.

Holly's fears of abandonment cause her to drink too much, smoke too much, drive recklessly, gamble uncontrollably, flee from the one who loves her most and all the while you can't help but feel that she's justified in some of the behavior.

The story drifts off about two-thirds into the book when it details the misery of an ordinary marriage—lack of sexual intimacy, one person working too hard, the other not as much, a mother giving her children her all while neglecting her husband, a husband who can't seem to articulate his needs beyond the sexual, a desperate night in which he comes close to sleeping with a prostitute and a pathetic attempt at two people trying to quit smoking.

It would all be so depressing were it not so ordinary.

While Holly claims to have given up on finding her father, Lyle persists and locates him via the magic of Google racing at a track in Indianapolis. Holly is moved to send him a letter thanking him for the pithy amount of financial support he had sent over the years. She writes to request back payment of child support to the tune of $28,800, which would be placed in a college savings fund for her daughter, Claire.

Wylie is thrilled to hear from her after so many years and invites her and Claire to visit.
That night, against my better judgment, I told Claire to pack a suitcase, we were going to Indianapolis.

Lyle frowned. "Don't take the bait."

"It's not bait," I said. "It's a bluff. And I'm calling it."

Only it's not a bluff or bait. Her father has a disease, brought on by a lifetime of excessive drinking and a wicked seizure, that has impaired his short-term memory. He records everything with a video camera so he doesn't forget. And he doesn't want to forget meeting his daughter and granddaughter for the first time.

The meeting is bittersweet and you can't help feeling as if Wylie is trying to make up for Holly's lost childhood by giving so much love and attention to Claire.

The title's inspiration comes early in the book when Cal recites one of his favorite Hubert Humphrey lines to Holly's eternal exasperation: "My friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts; it's what you do with what you have left."

What they have left is so little, but the story leaves you with the sense that maybe little is all they need to build something bigger—and hopefully better.


Author Will Allison will be reading from "What You Have Left" from 3-5 p.m. on Monday, June 25th at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights. His visit is sponsored by Appletree Books.

Allison has Cleveland roots, having moved here when he was a sophomore in high school. One of his early acknowledgments is to writer Mary Grimm, who is also an English professor at Case.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Face in the stars

When You are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

My favorite poem in honor of the 142nd birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"My" pet peeve

Several years ago I was talking to a dynamic young student journalist who had this incredibly annoying habit of referring to everyone on her school paper's staff as "my reporters," "my copyeditors" or "my photographers." It was the "my" thing that really grated on my nerves.

I doubt she even realized she was saying this, but I found it patronizing and a not-so-subtle play for power.

The reason I bring this up is that on some of the freelance forums to which I subscribe, there are freelancers who describe "my editor" at various national pubs as if they worked with them exclusively. I see it as their not-so-subtle way of grabbing for power when in reality freelancers have little power in that relationship.

Having spent nine years of my life as a magazine editor working with freelancers, I am keenly aware that the power lies with the editor. If someone was a pain the neck, I just didn't hire them again.

Bearing that lopsided dynamic in mind, I prefer to refer to a magazine editor as "the editor I've worked with" as opposed to "my editor."

The exception to this rule is if you are on staff or have an ongoing contractual arrangement with a specific editor — as in "my" book editor.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SPJ outs secret senator

SPJ leaders have been working tirelessly to bring to light the initiator of a secret hold on legislation that has bipartisan support, was approved by the House and had unanimous support of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Visit the link above to learn how you get speak out on this measure.

I'll let Charles N. Davis, associate professor of Journalism Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism and executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, tell you the story. His op-ed was picked by 165 publications.

Bill seeks to shed light but ends up in the dark
By Charles N. Davis

Congress, apparently content to explore ever new depths in public disapproval, is on the verge of having a single member derail the most meaningful reform in years of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

How, you ask, when overwhelming majorities support the legislation in both the House and Senate?

The secret hold, of course. Ever heard of the secret hold? It's a beauty -- a real relic of the stuffed shirts of yesteryear, smoke-filled rooms and fat cats with stogies guffawing over the latest bamboozle of the taxpaying schmucks.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation's largest journalism-advocacy organization, used the power of the blogosphere to find out whose legislative bludgeon was buried in the back of open government. We called every senator, one by one, until at last Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., came blinking and grimacing into the sunlight and admitted it was he who placed a secret hold . . . on a bill that addresses secrecy in government. You can't make this stuff up.

Sen. Kyl -- this year's Secrecy Champion -- has several as-yet-unstated objections to the Freedom of Information Reform Act, a bill that would improve one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and hold elected officials accountable.

The bill has plenty of bipartisan support. It is the product of tireless work by many open government and press freedom groups and fine legislative craftsmanship by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The House in March approved a version of the bill, with 80 Republicans joining 228 Democrats for a 308-117 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee then unanimously sent the measure to the full Senate.

In your civics book, this would be the moment where our senators hold a public debate on the merits and demerits of the legislation and then vote.

But no, not when senators, using an archaic parliamentarian parlor trick, can stop a bill dead in its tracks merely by telling their party's Senate leader or secretary that they wish to place a hold on the bill. That's when Sen. Kyl, who routinely charts a brave course on the immigration debate and can often be counted on to reason rather than bloviate, slipped in the hold.

The practice of honoring secret holds has no basis in law and has no support in Senate rules. It's a good-ol'-boy creation and another of the seemingly endless perks of the Senate.

Tear down the whole argument in favor of secret holds, and it comes down to cowardice.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who discloses his holds as a matter of practice, introduced an amendment in 2006 to force all senators to identify themselves when placing a hold on a bill. That proposal has gone nowhere fast. Surprised?

Go Cavs!

Mikey is pulling out all his Cavs jerseys this week. He's got every color except for the old-style orange. Thank God tomorrow is the last day of school because I'd be hard-pressed to get this young fan into bed before the game is over.

Been listening to national media discussion of the finals. Either no one outside of Cleveland and San Antonio will be watching, or else people will be watching LeBron. Either way, I thought this was an interesting statement from NBA commissioner in today's NY Times. A refreshing change after listening to Sir Charles for the past two months.

"LeBron is beyond a highlight reel,” said Commissioner David Stern in acknowledging that there is a certain subtlety to James’s brilliance.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wild, cool sounds of nature

Today's Christian Science Monitor had this story on bioacoustician Bernie Krause and his 40-year effort to record sounds in nature.

Now you can hear his sounds archived at through a free download from Google Earth. Here's a bit about the California-based nonprofit from its Web site:

Our worldwide collection represents over 3,500 hours of wild soundscapes and nearly 15,000 species. The mission: To help connect people to the wild by preserving, presenting, and protecting the voice of the natural world.

Check it out and show your kids!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Latest UB story: The church and the environment

Here's a link to Friday's Catholic Universe Bulletin with my latest story on Oblate Father Darrell Rupiper and his Eco-Mission at St. Anthony of Padua in Fairport Harbor.

Oblate priest presses on to preserve God's creation
By Wendy A. Hoke
FAIRPORT HARBOR- In the tiny lakeside town of Fairport Harbor, a quiet revolution is taking place.

Parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Church are engaged in an Eco-Mission led by one of the Catholic Church’s leading voices on environmentalism.

“My hope is that this becomes the primary issue of the church,” said Oblate Father Darrell Rupiper, who travels across the country from his home in Chicago preaching about the threats to Earth. St. Anthony is his 55th Eco-Mission.

A combination of preaching and teaching, Father Rupiper’s Eco-Missions embody both the spiritual and practical. Father Rupiper will preach at St. Anthony’s Masses this weekend, concluding a three-week visit to Lake County.

He preaches about preserving what God has created. His goal for those participating is two-fold—growing individual souls and saving the planet.

Through his homilies, school visits and weeknight lectures, the Oblate priest builds individual awareness of the link between the natural world and individual spiritual well being. Early during his visit parishioners were given a list of 26 practical suggestions for improving the environment and were asked to commit to at least one that they would then share publicly at the offertory.

In this final weekend individuals move together as a parish to make a difference in the environment.

Father Peter Mihalic, St. Anthony’s pastor, said parishioners are sensitive to environmental issues. Fairport Harbor’s history was tied to the Diamond Shamrock plant, which is now a brownfield, an area filled with pollutants. The twin cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant are clearly visible from the beach.

But it is also a place of great natural beauty with the Grand River feeding into Lake Erie. “Our parish has always been involved in social justice issues. We want to preserve our gifts here,” Father Mihalic said.

Through the connections of one parishioner, Father Rupiper makes this his first Ohio visit.

Parishioners were prepped in advance of the mission, watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and other films to increase awareness.

“Nature is first and foremost a place where the human meets the divine,” Father Rupiper said.

But what happens when humans are detached from nature? They lose the sense of the divine and our connection to it through nature, Father Rupiper said. And now humanity is at a point of crisis.

“Al Gore said if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together. Now we have to go fast, together. Politicians are paralyzed by this issue,” he told parishioners on May 21 during an evening program, “so we have to do it.”

The next day, Father Rupiper soaked up the sun on the rectory patio. He acknowledged that he must be careful in the sun because he’s already paid the price, pointing out a scar from cancer. But the weather is warm and beautiful and he’s a child of the outdoors.

“I lived on a farm in Iowa so we were dealing with nature at all times,” he said. He spent several years working in Brazil on behalf of the most marginalized of that society. It filled him with a sense of purpose, of fighting for the “little ones.”

But his ecological epiphany occurred during a visit with Passionist Father Thomas Berry. “He said that the Earth itself is in danger, that we are closing off life systems. The Earth as a living organism is withering. That struck me and got me started.”

In response, Father Rupiper devised the Eco-Mission about three and a half years ago. He said he is the only priest in the United States doing this.

In his 70 years, he has had a colorful history of protests, arrests, negotiations and service. Today he is one of 1,000 people trained in Al Gore’s army of volunteers sharing the message of global climate change and the need for immediate action.

The action goes beyond politics and science, and that is also part of Father Rupiper’s message. “Pope John Paul II said, ‘The idea of an ecological vocation has become an urgent moral responsibility in today’s world,’” he said.

While the church may be slow to react, after visiting 55 parishes, Father Rupiper said the response from parishioners has been positive.

For more information on Eco-Missions, call Father Darrell Rupiper at 773-493-8917 or e-mail

Father Rupiper’s 26 practical suggestions for preserving the environment can be found at

Hoke is a freelance writer.