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A portrait of Father Daniel Reehil

Unplugged and on fire: Alumni profile

4:29 PM  Jun 15th, 2018
by Michael Dunekacke

Father Daniel Reehil ’87 will tell you his path to priesthood wasn’t necessarily a pretty one.

“Me and my classmates, we are a part of the first generation to be constantly bombarded by images and sounds,” Reehil said.  “Living in all that noise is the biggest threat to people’s faith in 2018.”

In the late ’90s, Reehil was in the thick of the noise. He was working as a sales director for a major public relations firm on Wall Street, but he was depressed and suffering from the same nightmare every night.

A friend asked him to go with her to the town of Medjugorje, a popular site of Catholic pilgrimage, because she was nervous about traveling to Bosnia alone. Reehil happened to be renting a villa in Italy just across the Adriatic Sea from Medjugorje at the time, and he thought, how different could it be?

“I thought it would be like a vacation,” Reehil said. “It wasn’t. There were no hotels there at that time. You stayed in the homes of the people who lived there.

There were certainly no TVs or anything like that. In fact, there wasn’t even a whole lot of heat.”

But there was definitely a lot of faith. Every day the entire town (a couple of thousand people) attended Mass together.

“It inspired me to go to confession for the first time in 20 years. When I was finished, the priest told me he thought I was being called. Frankly, I thought he hadn’t understood my English that well.”

Twenty years later, as pastor of St. Edward Parish in Nashville, Tennessee, Reehil is fired up about fighting the noise.

“People tell me that they don’t know how to pray,” said Reehil. “Well, first you have to unplug for at least 20 minutes. Prayer needs to be all consuming. Contemplative. I wish everyone could share in that.”

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Champion for respect, compassion

9:37 AM  Jun 6th, 2018
by Gita Balakrishnan

On April 4, 2018, eyes will turn to Memphis, Tennessee, to remember the tragic event that occurred 50 years prior and the legacy left by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., known as our nation’s great peacemaker. It occurred at the Lorraine Motel, now the location of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Terri Lee Freeman ’81 is president of the museum in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and youngest daughter. Freeman said she believes our country is at a pivotal point in history, and change is on the horizon. 

“The legacy that Dr. King left us compels us to work with those people who are not necessarily of the same mindset and to communicate with those people and find a way to stem some of the personal biases we have. Because ultimately, it’s about creating human relationships,” Freeman said.

The communication major, who previously served as the president of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (aka Greater Washington Community Foundation), said she feels the country is more polarized than it’s ever been and worries that people are becoming rigid and inflexible in not wanting to understand opposing viewpoints or ideals.

She said she hopes her work at the museum helps visitors gain insight into another time in history when the nation was at odds with itself, to emphasize how important it is that people learn to work together, with respect and compassion, to achieve positive social change.

“I think that what is happening right now, both politically and culturally in this country, is not just a moment. I do believe it’s a movement,” she said.

Yet, as she looks at millennials and centennials, she said she is inspired.

“These young people are really engaged. They are a lot more informed about what’s going on than I was at their age. So, I’m optimistic.”

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Pioneer to the planets

1:21 PM  May 31st, 2018
by Gita Balakrishnan

For 30 years, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft toward then past Jupiter, sending Earth information about what lies in and
b
eyond our solar system. It could only do so because of the plutonium-238 nuclear battery powering its scientific
instruments.

Bernard Kokenge ’61 received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UD in 1961 and his doctorate in chemistry from Ohio University in 1966. He then began his career as a research chemist with Monsanto Research Corp. at Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio.

He began work on improving plutonium nuclear fuels for space application and received a patent on an improved plutonium-238 fuel form in 1972.  That fuel has been used in nuclear batteries for several NASA missions including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn.

“These nuclear heat source batteries were an integral part of many spacecrafts. Think of them as an on-board electrical utility — kind of like a mini DP&L in space,” Kokenge said, refering to Dayton’s local power company.

Kokenge worked at Mound for more than 20 years in high-level management positions in charge of the research, fabrication and delivery of these nuclear heat source packages to the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA.  He left in 1986 as the associate director of Mound Laboratory.

He now works as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Labor on classifying chemicals used by workers at the various U.S. government nuclear sites from the early 1940s to the
present.

Kokenge said he appreciates the solid education he received at UD, the encouragement of its professors and the support of his wife, Joy, throughout his career.

Somewhere, an estimated 10 billion miles away, Pioneer 10 is still floating, heading out of our solar system. And inside is a capsule that holds the names of all the people, including Kokenge, involved with its mission.

Proof that a Flyer’s impact can truly be out of this world.

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Learning your options

2:38 PM  May 22nd, 2018
by Erin Frey ’18

As the opioid epidemic sweeps across the nation, estate attorney Kelli E. Brown ’93 sees the anxiety of clients who have children addicted to drugs or alcohol.

As Brown continues to see the number of clients with this problem increasing, she’s realized that parents struggle with knowing how to responsibly divide their estate since an addicted child may not handle a large amount of wealth appropriately.

“More and more, middle and wealthy families have adult children that are struggling with addiction issues. They come to me and I tell them there are so many things they can do,” Brown said. However, it’s the ones who do not have estate planning who Brown worries about.

In 2017, Brown wrote Estate Planning When You Have an Addicted Child to help explain to parents how they could decide in a responsible way to keep addicted children in the will or to exclude them.

Some of those options include placing assets in a trust, designating early on who gets personal property and finding a responsible person to be in charge even if he/she is not a relative.

After taking a media law class with Judge James Brogan while at UD, Brown knew she wanted to go to law school. Brown attended Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University followed by the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where she earned a Master of Laws in estate planning.

Brown has been practicing trusts and estate law for 21 years.  She is currently a partner at Goldberg Simpson LLC, a law firm in Louisville, Kentucky, where she is the chair of the trusts and estates department.

The purpose of my book is to provide information to the average person who may have a loved one struggling with addiction. I want them to have the resources they need to make good decisions. They need to know there are many options,” Brown said.

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A refuge from illness

2:00 PM  Apr 20th, 2018
by Molly Blake ’96

Katharine Conway ’01 doesn’t wear a white physician’s coat or scrubs when she treats patients at Wright State Physicians Health Center in Fairborn, Ohio. She said she wants them to feel at ease and “have space to tell their story without feeling intimidated.”

After all, many of the men, women and children she works with are refugees from Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and are
facing what Conway calls “the trifecta of illnesses.”  These include chronic conditions like diabetes, infectious diseases and mental illness.

The patients have fled their home countries and yet they bring incredible resilience and deep culture to Ohio cities according to Conway. She admits, however, that treating refugees is a challenge for the U.S. health care system and health care workers. That’s why, at Wright State University where Conway teaches and overseas the Global Health curriculum program, medical students spend several weeks studying and working in places like Swaziland, Peru and Malawi.

By training medical students in global health care initiatives, Conway said, “I’m trying to connect the dots with training abroad and how to use that knowledge to improve health care.”

We need to make global health care local,” said Conway, who believes that by meeting refugees’ health care needs more effectively, health care professsionals will help refugees become “our newest neighbors, to work and live independently in the community.”

Conway graduated with a degree in biology and was one of the first UD students to graduate with a minor in human rights. Conway said she didn’t want to go to UD. She only agreed, while on the area college tour circuit, to stop and visit the campus to appease her mother.

When they arrived on campus, “It was classic UD,” Conway said. “I fell in love.

“I really learned how to build a valuable life and serve my community too.

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From records to Rottweilers

1:27 PM  Apr 10th, 2018
by Jeaneen Parsons

Since her days as a disc jockey at WVUD while a student, Patty Spitler ’76 has been in the communication business. After graduation, she broke the “vinyl ceiling” as one of the first female morning DJs in the country at a time when that coveted time slot was dominated by men.

The communication major eventually moved from radio to TV, anchoring news and entertainment programs at WISH–TV in Indianapolis. In 2005, a severe hearing loss caused Spitler to change her career path.

“I was depressed when I lost my hearing but decided to take what I knew and learn to adapt,” she said.

After that, her career literally went to the dogs. Actually, pets of all kinds. As host and producer of the nationally syndicated PetPalsTV, she reaches 8 million animal-loving households weekly with programming that promotes responsible pet ownership, tells heartwarming stories and offers advice from experts on animal-related topics. As the boss, she selects the co-hosts — like her dogs Mabel and Stewie, her constant companions.

Spitler’s new lifestyle program, “Great Day TV with Patty Spitler,” airs in Indiana markets including Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, with plans for the show to be more widely distributed. As an independent producer, Spitler has control over content and can advocate for issues close to her heart.

“Hearing loss and mental distress — I’ve suffered from both and had to hide that doing the news,” Spitler said. “Now I can offer hope and support. I don’t have to hide my disability, and it’s
a great stress reliever to be open.”

Spitler sits on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is an advocate and spokesperson for Hearing Indiana, an organization that focuses primarily on children’s auditory health.

Over the years, Spitler has developed a philosophy to deal with setbacks and loss: “I’m busy. I’m relevant. I’m happy. You don’t have to be like everyone else — you make yourself happy by doing what you love.”

We’ll bark to that.

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Being the solution

10:51 AM  Jan 2nd, 2018
by Gita Balakrishnan

In the summer of 2011, Jessica Davis ’14 was in the middle of Africa on the back of a safari truck, sitting next to a rhinoceros she had just sedated. The transport could have been due to the animal needing to be dehorned to protect it from poachers. Maybe it was because another preserve requested more rhinos. Or maybe, the animal was just sick.

Regardless of the reason, Davis spent one month in Africa trying to protect African wildlife. At the time, she wanted to study wildlife medicine.

But, on her plane ride home, Davis realized she wanted to do more. She recognized the animals she wanted to protect were suffering because of social, environmental and political policies she had no control over.

“I realized I wanted to be the ultimate solution to the problem. I wanted to know why was the first domino even tipped? I don’t want to be these animals’ last line of defense, and that’s what I was in Africa. I want to be their first,” Davis said.

When she arrived back at home in Indianapolis, she knew sustainability was really the solution she was looking for. She went on to receive her master’s in biology from UD with a concentration in ecology.

“Sustainability is not my job. It is my ethos,” she said. “It permeates every decision I make.”

In 2015, Davis became the director of sustainability at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where she teaches sustainability courses, handles operational sustainability and engages the campus and Indianapolis community.

Her interests include ecology, sustainability, environmental policy, and restoration of the human-nature relationship.

“The reason I am passionate about this is because I view sustainability as an intergenerational obligation. What we do today will have a big impact on those that come after us. If we do not change our trajectory now, future generations will be forced to bear the cost of today’s decision,” she said.

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Taking center stage

10:51 AM  
by Lauren Caggiano ’07

Some people spend their whole lives waiting for their dreams to happen. Others make it happen. Through his business, Broadway_Buzz, Bryan Campione ’05 builds social marketing platforms and provides event planning services for entertainers.

And he’s getting noticed.

In 2015 and 2016, he was recognized by IBM as part of the #GameChangersIBM platform for his work in social media on Broadway.  A man of many talents, he also keeps busy producing new theatrical and musical initiatives.

The common theme in his work is one of art for the sake of expression and as an agent of change. In his words: “What I get to do … is take people outside their normal lives for an hour or two and invite them into a world that breaks their norm and reflect inward on whatever that may be.”

Speaking of reflection, Campione said among his greatest achievements have been building and directing Rock n’ Roll Debauchery, a theatrical rock experience that involves singers, dancers, aerialists, video graphics and more throughout the city. Performers come from Broadway, American Idol, Cirque Du Soleil, So You Think You Can Dance, TV, film and more.

Campione, who majored in French at UD, said the work stokes his creative fire. “This is what I love — collaborating and working on exciting projects like this with people from across the gamut of the arts world,” he said.

He said the backdrop of a vibrant big city keeps him energized. In his spare time, he enjoys dining out at the city’s diverse establishments, spending time outdoors and taking in live music. New York has a feel of its own, and Campione absorbs the constant excitement in both work and play.

“It allows working here to be an exciting adventure every day,” he said, “because just like on a Broadway stage, no two shows or
days are the same.”

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Community close to home

11:33 AM  Dec 19th, 2017
by Gita Balakrishnan

A.J. Ferguson ’12 sees Dayton changing. It’s in the way college students are volunteering. It’s in the words of excitement he hears on the streets from other professionals.

“Even 10 years ago, people would tell UD students to not go past Brown Street,” Ferguson said. “But now, when I talk to students, they are aware that something cool is happening. I’m no longer hearing people say that Dayton is this scary, dying city.”

As the director of UpDayton, Ferguson says the positive shift in the perception of the city he calls home is indicative of volunteer efforts, investments and programs that are pouring into downtown revitalization projects.

The nonprofit began in 2008 and is part of those efforts by helping find ways to keep talented individuals in the area.

“Our goal is to inspire and empower Daytonians to create the community they want,” he said. “There’s far more depth and meaning to creating the community you want to live in rather than just moving to one that sounds cool.”

Ferguson got involved in the organization while still a UD student, when he attended the UpDayton Summit in 2012. From there, he volunteered to head an on-campus club GoDayton, which encouraged UD students to leave the “UD bubble” and explore the city.

And although Ferguson’s degree is in mechanical engineering, his full-time position merges his  other passions while at UD: sustainability, River Stewards and Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.

“UD is creating the kind of leaders that our world needs right now,” he said. “No matter your career field, everyone can be involved in their community and be a voice for the common good. Because otherwise, other voices win out.”

If his years at UpDayton and UD have taught him anything, he says it is the power of the individual.

“I believe more than ever that our city needs you to show up,” he said. “I’ve seen it. Anyone can make a difference.”

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A whole new world

10:54 AM  Dec 4th, 2017
by Cari Zahn ’18

Kristi Gillespie ’93 spends her time creating worlds.

Picture a kingdom of 10,000 people. There are royals, peasants and people dressed in medieval armor, ready for combat. Tents line a giant field, glowing with string lights in the Pennsylvania night. People run rampant in giant wooden castles and reenact their own storylines.

This is the Pennsic War, a live action roleplay event held by the Society for Creative Anachronism. Gillespie was first introduced to the Society in college, and though her time served in the Navy drew her away from such activities, she was reintroduced to role playing when she met her wife and reentered the fantastical worlds of seven different groups.

One thing Gillespie finds most appealing is the inclusivity it provides. As a disabled veteran, Gillespie isn’t able to participate in the combative events but said there is so much else to do within these worlds, such as blacksmithing, leatherworking and cooking.

“It’s an escape from reality,” Gillespie said. “You get to be somebody else. You don’t have the baggage of your daily life for the weekend.”

Gillespie has published one book, titled Gultar, the Gentle Giant, and is in the process of writing another. She uses her writing skills to craft weekend-long live-action events with 80 or 90 different storylines. She’s running an event this October and working to make it even more inclusive by designing characters for transgender and nonbinary people, an idea she picked up at a new Harry Potter-inspired event she attended last year.

While being a famous author and turning her books into movies are among Gillespie’s dreams, for now, she said she is content creating worlds for people to entertain and be entertained by.

“I’m happy just making other people happy at this point,” Gillespie said. “I’ve lived a really full life. I’ve done almost everything I’ve ever wanted to do in life.”

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