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Monday, August 29, 2016

2nd Story Matters Features Stories of Trials, Triumphs and Laughter

Storytellers at the second installment of Story Matters, presented by Fort Thomas Matters. Photo by Mary Lou Keller.

On August 26 six storytellers shared their tales to a packed house at Fort Thomas Coffee for the second installment of Story Matters, presented by Fort Thomas Matters. Fort Thomas Police Officer Sean Donelan donated homemade wine.

The brainchild of Chuck Keller and Mark Collier (of Fort Thomas Matters), and Lori Valentine (owner of Fort Thomas Coffee), Story Matters, with a nod to Cincy Stories, strives to celebrate our residents and history through the age-old act of storytelling. Through these stories community members quickly get to the heart of the matter, revealing love, life, loss and their personal truths.

At this free event, open to the public, stories are recorded and archived, and will be presented during the city's sesquicentennial celebration in 2017.

Michael Clos. Photo by Mary Lou Keller.

Michael Clos, who grew up in a family of storytellers and now works at P&G, as a part-time adjunct professor at Thomas More College and as a standup comedian, humorously shared how life doesn't always go as planned—and why that's OK. "Always trust your instincts," Clos says, when telling about a cheetah encounter he had while working at a Skyline Chili kiosk in the The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. More nuggets of wisdom included: "Never be too proud to ask for help. Never stop learning. Foremost, I pray." Clos always talked about the importance of not being afraid of failure. "Every failed plan becomes a new plan," he says.

Shelly Schlarman Walsh. Photo by Mary Lou Keller.

Keller introduced Shelly Schlarman Walsh as a social worker, super mom and loyal friend. Walsh, who grew up in Fort Thomas, married her husband, a teacher, in 1997. Early in her marriage she held strong to this belief: "We're going to be a team." They had three children and she described her family as typical until October 2012, when her husband caught a cold. That cold quickly snowballed—there was an upper respiratory infection and bronchitis. Ultimately, an MRI revealed masses in the brain. "This community came together like I've never seen before," Walsh says. A benefit at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Fort Thomas, with music by her husband's musician friends, brought in more than 600 people. The Walsh family freezer was filled with food for weeks. "So much love came into our family," she says. Walsh's husband survived, and on the anniversary of his second brain surgery, the couple welcomed a fourth child. "I want to thank you as a community for all that you did," Walsh says. "We are all so lucky to be a part of this community."  

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Snezana Popaja Tenhundfeld. Photo by Mary Lou Keller. 

Snezana Popaja Tenhundfeld fled Bosnia as a war refugee at the age of 12. Her story began in the spring of 1992, when she recalls walking with her aunt and mother on a dark night, the starts bright. She says she remembers feeling so happy. A few hours later, bombs began to fall. The aftermath of the civil war between the Serbs, Croats and Muslims in the 1990s were hundreds of thousands of lives lost and millions of people displaced, Tenhundfeld says. Initially Tenhundfeld's family stayed put. "We had our family, we were together—that was what was important," she says. But eventually, it became too hard. "The fear kept us awake at night," she says. In 1994, the family fled to Serbia, hiding in a tiny village. They applied for a refugee visa and for nine months, "we relied on the mercy of others to help us through. We saw the goodness in others."

Tenhundfeld says that goodness was evident thousands of miles away in a church in Fort Thomas that wanted to adopt Tenhundfeld's family. "The help of others gave us hope," she says. In March 1995, Tenhundfeld and her family were relocated to Fort Thomas. She and her brother graduated Highlands High School, and now have college degrees, careers and children. "And we have you to hank for," Tenhundfeld says. "You are the reason why we're here." 

Justin Smith. Photo by Mary Lou Keller.

Keller introduced Justin Smith as "one of the quirkiest parents I know." Smith's humorous story, titled "Dreamcatcher," centered on one of parenting's biggest trials: trying to get a child to sleep through the night, alone. When describing his five-year-old's temperament whenever he left her upstairs, alone for the night, Smith says, "one day she might enjoy quiet solitude but not now," he says. "Now it was total abandonment." After months of books, blogs and the path of least resistance—sleeping upstairs with her—Smith decided to try and improve the situation with a homemade dreamcatcher, something he insisted on making himself—an idea his daughter doubted. "No one calls you on your crap like a 5-year-old," he says. "The would make the best life coaches." The dreamcatcher kit proved difficult, and Smith procrastinated. But eventually, he knew, as a father, he had to make good on his promise. So, he did. Smith's daughter slept through the night for two months, before it stopped working. "We're parents of children," Smith says. "We're wrong all the time." 

Teri Foltz. Photo by Mary Lou Keller. 

Former Highlands High School teacher Teri Foltz, who has reinvented herself as a successful playwright in retirement, talked about what it's like to be an introvert. As a teacher, she was riddled with anxiety, and through time she realized she was an introvert disguised as an extrovert. As part of her story Foltz reached out to fellow introverts who might recognize certain traits. "I only care to have conversations that matter," Foltz says. Two hours into a party, she's ready to leave. "I'm easily distracted by everything around me." Also, "I do not consider doing nothing unproductive." Introverts, she says, shut down after being out too long, have low blood pressure, have calendars that are "feast or famine," and are often writers. Working as a playwright has been ideal for Foltz. You can see her play, "The Faculty Lounge," at Village Players of Fort Thomas in October.

Former nurse Deb Reker, who many fondly call "Aunt Deb," shared a hilarious tale on the pitfalls of aging. She spoke of a hot, humid night in July when, due to have a hip replacement, she fell at her home on Wilbers Lane in Fort Thomas, wedging herself between her porch and air conditioner. Her dog, "whose Lassie days were over," she says, not only refused to bark for help, but peed on her and then slept on her. After a considerable amount of time, she noted a bright, blinding light and a voice that called her name. "It's got to be God!" she says. God, turns out, was a Fort Thomas policeman. To be successful in life, Reker says you need to pull on all your gifts—integrity, strength, faith, humor, and support from family and friends. And through it all, an element of humor can go a long way. "Laughter is the best medicine," Reker told me at intermission. "The cost is free and there are no side effects."

Fort Thomas Matters went live on Facebook with the event, and you can listen to all the stories here.

And be sure to join us for the next Story Matters, which will be held in October. Details will be posted here and here.

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