The best part of freelance writing has to be the amazing people you meet along the way. Some might play a small part in a bigger story you’re working on, others deserve a story all their own if you can find the right editor and publication.
Sandy Mermelstein - Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida
While working on a travel story in St. Petersburg, Florida, I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy Mermelstein at the Florida Holocaust Museum. I’d been to both the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., so when I found out there was a Holocaust Museum in Florida, I had to include it in my story.
Sandy has the title of Tour Director, but her parents actually founded the Florida Holocaust Museum. And while the Museum’s main goal is to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany’s mass extermination of 6 million Jews, as well as other minority groups, it does much more than that. It takes the lessons from one of the most brutal times in world history, and uses it to address a problem very prevalent in our society today – that of bullying.
Mermelstein uses several different methods, including the use of sock puppets, to teach children to embrace differences. The simple, yet visual approach, features a green-eyed puppet interacting with a brown-eyed puppet. She believes we should encourage children to stand-up for others, when others are singled out for the things that make them different.
“What we talk about when we talk to student groups and to teachers is the importance of being an upstander. We all see things in our daily lives that we remain silent about and we encourage people to speak out, even if it involves something as simple as jokes at another’s expense.”
There’s a longer, more valuable story regarding those efforts and I’ll look for the opportunity to write it.
If you’ve ever visited Louisville and not made it to Cave Hill Cemetery – you’ve missed out! It’s one of the city’s most spectacular attractions and many people don’t even know it exists.
Lee Squires - Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky
Superintendent Lee Squires has spent the past forty years turning this Victorian-era rural cemetery into one of the finest arboretums in the county. He’s a warm and wonderful character who also deserves his own story. He can’t pass a tree or a plot or a monument without sharing some historical anecdote. On a short tour by car through a small portion of the winding sixteen miles of tree line, he pointed out a massive 160 year old Gingko Tree, the burial site of KFC Founder Colonel Harland Sanders, and the Palace of Versailles-inspired Satterwhite “Temple of Love” Memorial, and more.
“That’s the plot President Zachary Taylor picked out for himself, but then changed his mind when they refused to change the name of the cemetery.” (Taylor is buried at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery about six miles up the road.)
Squires has supervised every change or addition to the landscape over the past four decades and his love for the cemetery shines through when he tells you about it. To appreciate his incredible legacy, however, you really have to visit Cave Hill.
Country Music Great Charley Pride
Last year, while working on a story on Darius Rucker, I needed people to interview regarding Rucker’s successful transition from lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish to that of a Country Music solo artist. The year before his song, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” had become the first song by an African American to reach the top 20 charts since Charley Pride had done it many years ago. My son suggested, “Why not try to interview Charley Pride?”
Okay, why not? I called his office in Texas, got his manager, and within minutes was talking to Country Music Legend Charley Pride! Very, very cool.
He was awesome, too – so kind and so gracious. He took a tremendous amount of time with me, answering my questions even though he knew I was doing a story on another artist. I learned that Charley Pride, who has been recording and touring for more than 40 years, has a mind-blowing memory, pays attention to astrological signs (he knew Darius Rucker was a “Taurus the Bull”), and maintains a very busy schedule that takes him all over the country and all over the world playing to packed houses. What a charming man.
I am fortunate to be able to say – the list goes on and on. For now, however, I have other stories to write. And quite likely, more amazing people to meet along the way.