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Explore Aurora • 2016


RECORD PUBLISHING CO. A locally owned media company 330.541.9400 ON THE COVER Police Officer Dale Riley with police dog, Nero photo by: Amanda Woolf Cover Design by Kerry Sheppard Layout Design by Malissa Vernon

ExplorE AurorA • 2016


New K-9 helps Aurora Police Department track illegal drugs by APRIL HELMS | SPECIAL PRODUCTS EDITOR Photos by AMANDA WOOLF The two officers were looking for contraband in a parking lot. After a quick command, one of the officers lowered his head and sniffed around a car. At the back driver’s side wheel he suddenly sat down and looked at the other officer, who showered the first one with heaps of praise. “Good boy, such a good boy!” the second officer encouraged while the first one danced around and played with his favorite rubber toy, big brown eyes alight and tail wagging. The Aurora Police Department recently welcomed a new, fourfooted member to its ranks. K-9 Nero is a 2-year-old German Shepherd who has been trained to sniff out five types of drugs — marijuana, meth, cocaine and crack, heroin and Ecstasy — said Officer Dale Riley, who is Nero’s handler. The above described scenario was a part of Nero’s training, done after about a week and a half of vacation time. Marijuana, concealed in a box, was planted near the back wheel of a vehicle in the police station parking lot. “You can see, he was right back on it,” Riley said proudly. “He didn’t miss a beat.” Nero also is capable of finding tossed-aside weapons and people. Nero comes to Aurora from the Czech Republic, and was trained by Excel K-9 Services Inc. in Hiram, Riley said, describing his new four-footed partner as “super curious” and “nosy.” Getting Nero for the police department was an effort involving several individuals and groups, most notably the Rotary Club of Aurora, which was instrumental in helping secure the department’s first K-9 officer Sayro. According to treasurer Ron Echelberry, the Rotary raised $4,800 from the annual Taste of the Western Reserve event in 2015. The event raises funds for a non-profit group or cause. In addition, the Rotary used $3,500 of a $5,000 grant from the Roethlisberger Foundation for the remaining purchase price, and $1,500 for other items such as a Redman suit — which an officer wears while training the dog — collars and leads. Kathi Grandillo, president elect of Rotary, said Nero has already made several public appearances. “He came to a City Council meeting and a Rotary meeting,” Grandillo said. “He’s very cute, but he’s scary looking. He’s a sweetheart, but not a dog you’d want to mess with.” In addition, other entities have provided services or supplies to help support Nero. The Aurora Veterinary Clinic has donated vet services for Nero’s care, Pet Supplies Plus has donated all of Nero’s food and Keith E. Huston from Village Veterinary Clinic in Mayfield Village donated a bulletproof vest. Riley, who has been with the Aurora Police Department nearly nine years, said the six-week training started Oct. 5, 2015. “We’ve been on the road since Nov. 15,” he noted. Nero lives at Riley’s home with his wife and two children, who are 4 and 6.


ExplorE AurorA • 2016

Rotary Foundation Liason Roger Cram, Police Officer Dale Riley with police dog, Nero, and Rotary President George Schumacher


“They love him,” Riley said. “He’s a happy, quiet dog. We are lucky to have such a good, well-mannered and quiet dog. But when it’s time, he loves to work.” But Nero wouldn’t call what he does “work,” Riley added. To the German Shepherd, it’s more like play. When they are training, Riley always gives Nero his toy to play with once he has accomplished his goal. Riley reinforces his training with Nero every other Tuesday. “I don’t give him his toy when we’re actually working, though,” Riley said. “Otherwise, he would just sit down [Nero’s trained signal that he has found something] whenever he wanted to play with his toy. He’s smart.” Nero never gets food treats, Riley added. Because Nero came from the Czech Republic, Riley had to learn the basic commands that Nero learned, which are in Czech. “I don’t speak the language, otherwise,” he said. As well as patrolling the streets of Aurora, Nero is a frequent visitor at the schools, Riley said. “The kids love him, and he’s really good with them,” he added. Riley said having a K-9 on the staff “is an amazing value” to the community. “Dogs can smell miniscule amounts of drugs,” Riley said. “They also can track suspects for a lot longer and further out than a human officer can. “A couple of months ago, we had a suspect run away. Nero brought us to him a couple blocks away. Also, if someone tosses a gun or knives or drugs, Nero can track those more easily and more safely.” Riley called Nero “a great public relations tool. I’ve met many people, and kids love him, he loves kids. We’ll have 30 kids run up to pet him in the schools. While we are out, people will stop to ask about Nero.”

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AURORA TOWN HALL 330-562-6131 130 S. Chillicothe Road AURORA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE & VISITORS BUREAU 330-562-3355 9 E Garfield Rd .• Suite 101 AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT 330-562-8181 100 S. Aurora Road AURORA FIRE DEPARTMENT 330-562-7171 Station 1: 65 W. Pioneer Trail Station 2: 1049 N. Aurora Road AURORA CITY SCHOOLS 330-562-6106 102 E. Garfield Road AURORA MEMORIAL LIBRARY 330-562-6502 115 E. Pioneer Trail AURORA COMMUNITY THEATRE 330-562-1818 115 E. Pioneer Trail AURORA HISTORICAL SOCIETY 330-995-3336 115 E. Pioneer Trail ROTARY CLUB OF AURORA 216-952-8850 THE AURORA STUDY CLUB 330-562-6261

ExplorE AurorA • 2016


Explore Aurora • 2016



A shiny new van has become a critical part of the lives of some of the city’s senior citizens and residents with disabilities who are in need of transportation. The senior van will be the main tool of the newly established Aurora Transportation Program. It will provide transportation to doctor and similar appointments within about a 25-mile radius of the city. Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin, who spearheaded the project, believes it is “a much-needed service for our residents. “Over the last two years, a number of residents have asked about the possibility of getting some transportation options, particularly for those who do not drive,” she explained. “The problem for Aurorans seeking public transportation assistance is that the PARTA program does not transport outside of Portage County to specific appointments, and many of our residents have medical appointments outside of the county.” Womer Benjamin viewed this as “an important need, especially given the demographics in our community. I was determined to work to create a pilot transportation program. City Council agreed to fund it this year.” A 2016 Ford Transit 150 van was purchased in mid-March at a cost of about $44,000 following the approval of City Council. Parks-Rec Director Jim Kraus also believes it will be a valuable service. “Because many hospitals and doctors used by our residents are located outside of Portage County, our residents did not have a transportation option if they do not drive,” he said. Council member Scott Wolf said by providing handicap accessible van service, “We allow our seniors who can’t drive, or may no longer feel comfortable driving, to get back some of their independence while at the same time insuring they have a safe and reliable means of getting back and forth to their care givers.” The Aurora Transportation Program is one of numerous services offered by the city to its residents. Womer Benjamin said Aurora, as “an increasingly desirable residential community, prides itself on offering a high level and variety of services to its residents. “For instance, police and fire not only provide excellent emergency services, but they also provide support to EMS patients’ loved ones, open inadvertently locked car doors and provide an e-commerce safety zone at the Aurora Police Department, among other things,” she said. “All departments are geared toward constituent service and helping residents solve problems that arise. “As mayor, I think we have an obligation to serve the public with the best services at the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “We also listen to what residents need and want in their community and develop new programs accordingly.”


ExplorE AurorA • 2016

Another new program this year is the city’s sidewalk transitional assistance repair (STAR) program that will help residents financially with sidewalk repairs and rehabilitation. The city will pay up to 50 percent of the property owner’s cost for work on sidewalks that cross their property. City Council set aside $50,000 in the 2016 budget for the program. Council member Denny Kovach said the program enables residents to receive help to repair sidewalks “that they normally may not have a priority to fix. It is a program that benefits all.” Normally, the financial burden for such repairs falls on homeowners. “We decided to help encourage such repairs through this cost-sharing program,” Womer Benjamin said. She said Council member Harold Hatridge was particularly responsible for lobbying for the program. “About two years ago, I received complaints about sidewalks that were being damaged from trees that were planted in the tree lawns, among other problems,” Hatridge said. “I approached the mayor and her administration to see what we could do to help these citizens repair their sidewalks. Being proactive to this situation, the mayor suggested that we create the STAR program. “By fixing their sidewalks, the homeowners increase the safety factor and aesthetics of their home.”

Clean and well-maintained septic systems are important for the safety of residents who are not part of the Aurora sanitary system, Womer Benjamin said, and noted the city offers septic cleaning and disposal at a cost of $180. “This is generally less expensive than outside contractors would charge,” she said. Service Director John Trew said the program helps to keep the city compliant with NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) regulations. To enter the septic cleaning program, residents need to complete an application that is available on the city’s website or at the service center in the water and sewer utilities department, Trew said. Once the application is on file, the service can be scheduled by calling 330-995-9116.

ExplorE AurorA • 2016


The CHIP [Community Housing Improvement] program provides low-interest loans to qualifying Portage County residents for needed home improvements, Womer Benjamin said. “The program enables qualifying residents to upgrade their homes and help prevent neighborhood blight in our community,” she added. Council member Jim Vaca believes it is “a great program that has been utilized by several dozen residents in my ward. I believe in this program, but there needs to be more information provided to the citizens of the city so they can take advantage of it.” The program is managed by Neighborhood Development Services, Inc., in Ravenna. Through the program, homeowners can receive grants and loans of up to $10,000 for repairs and up to $40,000 for a rehabilitation. To qualify for this program, the homeowner must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income as established by HUD, they must occupy the home and be current on their property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Any resident interested should go to the website at www.ndsohio. org or call 330-297-6400.


Aurora offers special assistance programs for low-income and elderly residents who meet income qualifications, Womer Benjamin said. Trew said qualifying residents can receive their trash / recycling service at no cost, a water / sewer discount of 20 percent and free snow removal based on a total household income of $19,000 or less. “The program provides assistance to our residents in need,” he said. Council President George Horvat said the snow removal program was instituted by former Mayor Lynn McGill in 2003. “It has proven to be a very successful program,” Horvat said. “Although it is only being utilized by less than 30 people, it is still a program that really helps people in the winter.” Residents who meet the income guidelines and who are age 60 years or older can receive free snow removal, as can medically or physically handicapped residents who meet the income guidelines. The program begins each year on July 1 and runs through June 30 of the following year. An application must be filed each year with documentation showing proof of income. Applications are available on the city’s website or by calling 330-562-6131.

Aurora’s leaf collection program operates in the fall to clear residents’ leaves deposited at the curb. “While the program is a big convenience to residents, it also helps to promote lawn maintenance and contributes to the attractiveness of our community,” Womer Benjamin said. Trew said during the collection season, it is the city’s priority to direct the service department resources to this operation. “Unlike some cities, we do not limit our pick-ups to once a month or a set schedule,” he said. “Our crews perform a continuous sweep of the city at a speed dictated by the volume of leaves raked to the curb. In this manner, we are able to service residents as often as possible and more frequently during the season.” Last year, leaf pickup began on Oct. 19. Residents are asked to rake loose leaves to the curb. Those wishing to bag leaves before the pick-up begins may do so and contact the service department at 330-995-9116 when bags are at the curb. Trew stressed the importance of keeping storm sewers clear of debris, adding that leaves, grass and brush debris can cover the inlets and block water from flowing into them.

As a result of the brush and leaf pickup, double-shredded mulch, humus, wood chips and compost are available to residents at no charge. Piles of the material are located at the Audubon parking lot near 896 East Pioneer Trail, just east of Page Road. Trew said the service department works throughout the year collecting and processing the brush and leaves into “high-quality hardwood mulch and leaf compost.” “This is an additional residential benefit,” Womer Benjamin said. Council member Amy McDougald believes services like leaf pick-


Aurora’s brush pickup program helps residents dispose of seasonal and storm-related debris, “keeping our community’s yards and neighborhoods looking neat,” Womer Benjamin said. “The program also helps to keep such debris from collecting in sewers and stormwater ditches, potentially blocking drainage systems.” Trew said the city recently modified the program to include collections from April through October because of the conflict with the city’s leaf collection program. “The November [brush pick-up] collection was challenging our resources because of the high demand for leaf collection at that point in the season,” he said. “Our leaf collection equipment was negatively impacted by brush intermingled with leaves.” Aside from the convenience for residents, Trew said the program offers environmental benefits.

“All of the brush collected is processed into a high-quality, doubleground mulch for use, rather than being disposed of with other solid waste into landfills,” he said.


ExplorE AurorA • 2016

up, brush pickup and free mulch “are provided by the city while still maintaining reasonable tax rates. The services are reasons why Aurora is such a great city.” Residents must provide their own labor and equipment. No loading equipment is allowed. The mulch and humus usually are available after May 1 and will be replenished as needed until the supply is exhausted. This program is intended for individual residential use and not available to contractors.

The community gardens are located at the former Margaret Harmon farm at 1157 Page Road. “The primary purpose is to provide residents with an opportunity to garden, which they might not be able to do where they currently live,” Kraus said. “The community garden also enables residents to share ideas and techniques about gardening and help build relationships and a sense of community.” The program, which has been in existence since 2010, will be open to non-residents again this year. The cost is $10 per plot per season for residents and $20 for non-residents. Residents have priority over non-residents. Each plot is 10 feet by 20 feet. The garden is set up with two side-by-side plots with aisles on either side, so there is always an aisle next to each plot. There will be 213 total plots in 2016, and 112 were rented as of late April. The entire grounds take up 1.36 acres.

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Several organizations offer support to those who need assistance by APRIL HELMS | SPECIAL PRODUCTS EDITOR If an Aurora resident finds himself or herself in need, there are many agencies ready to step in to offer a hand. Food 2 Share’s goal is to keep the food pantries stocked for those in need — even during periods where donations are slow, said Bruce Harris, the executive director for Food 2 Share. “If you are a food pantry, there are two times you will run out of food,” Harris said. “Summer is the worst time. School is out. Families go out of town, people travel. But the number of people needing food is the same.” The way Food 2 Share works to combat this summer sustenance slump is through its Fill a Bag, Feed a Family food collection, Harris said. In late April, Food 2 Share distributed about 5,000 bags to area resident so they could fill them with nonperishable food and other necessities such as toilet paper, diapers and laundry soap. The bags are left on the porches of the residents on a select day, where they are picked up and brought to a warehouse for sorting and storage, Harris said. The food is then distributed through the Volunteers of America’s Aurora Food Pantry. Last year, 22,000 pounds of food was collected. “That was the first time we did not run out of food during the summer,” Harris said. The second hard time is between January and April, according to Harris. Here, Food 2 Share turns to the area’s business community for assistance. “We work with 10 or 11 corporations in Aurora,” Harris said. “They run internal food drives.” These businesses are asked to host the food drives during the lean winter and early spring months. Foods often requested include beef stew, peanut butter, pasta and canned fruit, Harris said. But donations of nonfood items are welcome as well. “People who are on food stamps can’t use them on things like toilet paper, diapers or dish soap,” he said. “You still need these things, especially if you have kids.” Harris said he would eventually like to see Food 2 Share spread throughout Portage County.

456 S. Chillicothe Road Any family finding itself wondering what to put on the table on Thanksgiving can have a meal with help from Hope Lutheran Church. The Rev. Powell Woods said the church partners with Volunteers of America to provide a full Thanksgiving meal to families who sign up through VOA. “We pay for them from our church budget,” Woods said. “We have 30 to 40 families come in for a meal, and they are given a turkey to take home.” For details on Volunteers of America, call 440-717-1500 or visit online. Contact: Patty Harrington, Senior Coordinator, Aurora Parks and Recreation, 330-995-9148


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Explore Aurora • 2016


Last year, 12 civic groups, along with many individuals and families, came out in force to tackle fall raking for area senior citizens and others who need help. Amy McDougald, who spearheaded this endeavor two years ago, called it a “citywide cooperative.” “We try to focus on seniors, particularly seniors who have trouble affording someone to do the work for them,” she said. “It was my brainchild. I knew there was some leaf raking in the city, but I wanted to bring people together.” Last year, around 120 people raked the leaves for about 50 seniors, she said. The first year “was such fun,” McDougald said. The Rotary Club of Aurora provided food and a vehicle for transport. The second year, she said, was “even bigger and better.” “Aurora is such a great city,” McDougald said. “If you ask for people to come out, they will.” McDougald said the next community leaf raking will probably be around late October or early November, as in the previous two years. The day will depend on other things going on during those months, plus the cooperation of Mother Nature, she added.

From this event, 25 percent of the profits go to benefit an area charity, generally in Portage County. From the 2015 event, the Women’s Guild gave $2,250 each to the Center of Hope, a Portage County agency that provides hot meals to those in need of one, and the UH Hospice Program at the former Robinson Memorial Hospital. This year, Nutcracker Sweets will raise funds for the Center of Hope and for Freedom House, which, according to information found at the Family and Community Services Inc. website, is a shelter for homeless veterans. Agencies that have benefited from the Nutcracker Sweets event in the past include Safer Futures, Habitat for Humanity, Miller Community House, HESS, Safe Path-Portage County, and Coleman Foundation’s Center of Excellence for Children. Because of the timing of the event, those attending the show can find items for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, French said. A benefit for crafters is that the Women’s Guild and the youth with the church will help with set up and tear down, she added. In addition, volunteers with the church will take lunch to the crafters and even sit at the booth if an artisan needs to step away for a break. Admission cost for the show is $6 for adults; children under 12 are free.

146 South Chillicothe Road; Several area nonprofit groups have been the beneficiary from a sweet event hosted by the Women’s Guild at the Church in Aurora. The Nutcracker Sweets, usually scheduled for October, is an arts and crafts show that has been around for 35 years. Each year, artisans and crafters sell items ranging from jewelry and pottery to painting and photography. “Some people come for the crafts, some people come for the food,” said Muriel French, who organizes the event along with her husband Peter. “Our food is one of the highlights.” Food offerings include homemade pies and soups, as well as bakery items. “New this year will be a chef who cooks gluten free,” she said. “He will sell gluten free cupcakes and muffins.”

Students in the Aurora schools learn more than reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. The district also has several avenues for its pupils to give back to the community. “We have multiple groups or organizations where students have the opportunity to participate in service,” said Dr. Paul Milcetich, the principal at Aurora High School. “We have a Service Learning class students are able to take for a semester and also clubs, such as NHS and Key Club, which involved students in service projects continuously throughout the year. “This year, Service Learning volunteered time and did a collection for homeless shelters. NHS sponsored a Veterans’ Day breakfast for community veterans at AHS and also ran the Aurora for Others fundraiser around the holidays. “Key Club also participated in service events, such as the Rake and

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Run, and then also ran fundraisers to help worthy causes, most recently raising money for people in Flint, Mich.” The Veterans’ Day event was launched this year, Milcetich said. The Aurora For Others program “has been present for a number of years and is a tradition.” “Service is valuable to our students as they are able to participate in a cause that benefits others and develop characteristics that will serve them their entire lives,” Milcetich said. “We are lucky to have resources in our community, but it important to have perspective on concerns in our nation and the global community. “We talk about nurturing our students’ roots while they are at AHS by providing them with a well rounded experience that provides opportunities to critically think, solve problems, communicate, collaborate, etc. which are typically associated with 21st Century skills. “At the same time, it is equally important we create the opportunity for students to develop empathy and compassion, while sacrificing and providing service. “This other part of our curriculum plays in important role in developing the “whole” students versus solely focusing on one area.” Harmon Middle School Principal Mark Abramovich said the school participates in numerous community activities. Highlights include Tech-Tuesdays, where students assist residents on how to use their technological devices; collecting clothes, toiletries and toys for two orphanages in El Salvador; hosting a bake sale to sponsor Honor Flight trips for veterans; nursing home visits; and planting pinwheels at the police station for child abuse awareness. Abramovich said such activities “builds character, keeps kids humble and appreciative, teaches responsibility and how to interact with adults as they become one themselves.”


Needy residents look to Volunteers of America, Altman for assistance by JACOB RUNNELS | REPORTER It’s June 27, 1981, and it is the opening of Sue and Dennis Altman’s first business venture: a thrift store in Aurora. The 28-year-old Sue was able to get a budget from her boss at the Volunteers of America to find a building for her store, but she was stumped on where the two could set up shop. At least she knew the chief executive officer, which happens to be Dennis’ mother. “Sue, why don’t we set up a thrift shop in Aurora?” Dennis asked the skeptical Sue. She didn’t have much faith in the idea; she was only with the VOA for two years (October 1979 to be exact). But with Dennis’s connections involving his parents being colonels (when they used to give ranks) and his grandparents being ordained ministers (the VOA also gave religious titles), what could go wrong? They searched everywhere in the area — from Mantua to Solon and Hudson to Streetsboro — but some places were too expensive. However, after a drive through Aurora along the street she lived on, she came across a building on the southwest corner of Moneta Avenue and North Aurora Road with signs in the windows that said “for lease.” The former commercial building faces Geauga Lake Amusement Park. After an agreement with the landlord, Sue and Dennis started up more than just one of the smallest thrift stores in Ohio.


They started a place where needy families could get some cereal or peanut butter to keep their cupboards stocked just a little longer. They started a place where families who lost their homes to fires could start over with the things they once took for granted, such as dishes or beds. They started a place where people could even talk about what’s on their mind to an open ear. “It’s more one-on-one here and there’s more communication,” Sue said. “Maybe they had a death in their family, maybe they’re depressed [or maybe] things aren’t right today and they wanna see a happy face. I’m out here a lot; I’ve talked to a lot of them.” The VOA Food Pantry and Thrift Store in Aurora has helped the community for nearly 35 years by not only selling clothes and other items at cheap prices, but by giving residents the things they need to survive. “A lot of people can’t afford this stuff,” Altman said. “Any way you can help them is something we try to do.” Sue wants to “find you something to eat on, something you can sit on and something you can sleep on.” The VOA is an organization based around religion where, according to its website, it “provides services that are designed locally to address specific community

needs.” The website also states its services have helped more than 12,000 people in Greater Ohio and more than 2 million people in America. Altman has a staff of about seven people, some volunteers and others paid by the VOA. These people help load a smorgasbord of household objects — from bed frames to filing cabinets and even board games — onto trucks to ship to needy families or other VOA stores. They also help disperse food to those in need from their food pantry, which is also connected to the warehouse. Ashley Cumberledge started out as a volunteer through community service and, once her service hours were up, Sue offered her a fulltime paid job. “It’s not a job everybody can do,” Ashley said. “I feel it’s a rewarding job. We do a lot here to help a lot of people.” From helping around the thrift store to operating in the warehouse on truck day — which she said is every day — she helps decide what goes in the warehouse, what

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gets stored into other trucks and what gets sent to other stores. She also helps give people food from the pantry. A labyrinth of metal and plastic shelves comprise the pantry, stocked with plenty of dry foods like spaghetti noodles and peanut butter. Years ago, the maze used to be only five shelves near the office room, but thanks to a renovation of the warehouse, Sue now has her own “hole in the wall” to store food. The shelves also have unusual things like travel-sized soaps and shampoo bottles. Since she needs to allocate her funding toward food, she asks people who go on vacations to donate their extra toiletries. People who would like to request food can do so once a month, and Sue is known for giving out food on Thanksgiving and Christmas, though now she gives gift cards on Thanksgiving so she has more food to deliver people on Christmas. “With the food cupboard the way it is now, I’m very proud of Nancy Malyk, volunteer; Sue Altman, store what I have here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful program. We have a manager; and Sandi Post, volunteer. lot of volunteers who are here helping and that’s how I got here.” Photo by: Lisa Scalfaro It’s 1987 and it’s nearing Christmastime. A couple of years before, a woman from the Church of Aurora helped Sue establish the food cupboard that gave the church a way to help needy people without having to go to the church itself. Later on, the Church in Aurora wanted to work At the end of 2014, Sue was honored by the Aurora Chamber of with the young combination thrift store / food cupCommerce as its citizen of the year. board with a new way to give: the Caring Tree. “Those who know Sue will tell you she is a loving, humble person, The idea was simple: have a way for families to leads by example, works harder than anyone and never expects acsign up and Sue could deliver them food and Christknowledgement or accolades,” said Aurora Chamber Executive Dimas gifts. There were only seven families to deliver rector Laura Holman back then. to that year, but Sue didn’t know she would help out Most of all, Holman said Altman makes people feel valued. more than 130 more families in the future. “Sue does all that she can to be sure that every family members Eventually, Sue got help from Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the amount of food being given out and of those she serves does not go without a Christmas gift,” added Jim families being served increased. Maulis, owner of Graphics by Design and a Church in Aurora memThen her neighbors moved away and offered her ber. their space to be used as a warehouse and food panAnd Maulis said Bruce Harris, a lifelong Aurora resident who has try, which led to more opportunities for Sue to exbeen instrumental in food collection programs in the area over the plore. year, cannot speak highly enough about Altman and what she has In the recent past, Sue has given out 60 to 80 done for the community. pounds of food at a time. Now, because of a food shortage in March, the food pantry is able to give out 40 to 50 pounds. She makes do with enough gift cards and city funds to help supply the pantry with more food. “It gets a little scary because we have to start giving less food,” she said. “We’re still giving food, but we don’t have much because we don’t have the variety now.” Food drives take place occasionally to teplenish her stock. There also are people who give donations and will go out on shopping sprees to help fill the shelves. In the winter of 1998 while Sue was opening her store for the day, she was greeted by a young family of three which has been living in a garage for a while. They asked her for help. She didn’t have the space for all three people, but she had enough for their 10-year-old daughter, the same age as Sue’s daughter at the time. “You know what, I’ll let your child stay with me,” she said to them. “But you guys are going to have to [make do] the best way you can.” After a few months, Sue helped the couple find jobs. They had to ride a bike to Solon, but they raised enough money for a security deposit toward their new place in Twinsburg. Nowadays, Sue still helps those in serious need, such as people whose houses have burned down and they have nothing else to their names. She used to help people with beds, but then Portage County had a problem with bed bugs. She still offers people bed frames and other necessities. At the end of the day, Sue is proud of what she offers to the community. Even though she works 60 hours each week with only one day off, she loves what she does to help. She was first inspired by her dad, who often would help blind people cross the street, and she enjoys how her attitude toward helping the needy has carried on to reflect upon the thrift store and food pantry.

ExplorE AurorA • 2016

Sue Altman and David Thorn, owner of Thorn Creek Winery & Gardens


Coach helps players prepare for real world by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Photos by ROBERT J. LUCAS At Aurora High School, football players do more than practice and play on Friday nights. They are student athletes who volunteer within the community. Those things are important to varsity football head coach Bob Mihalik, who is in his 15th season at the helm of the gridders. “We obviously stress ‘student’ before ‘athlete’ in Aurora,” he said. “Aurora is a top school district in the state, and our students are expected to perform very well in the class room. It takes a lot of intelligence and perseverance to earn an ‘A’ and our players spend a lot of time studying. “What we’re here for is to get the students ready for the real world,” he said. “We tell them that football will end someday, but life will go on, and we’re here to help them succeed in life.” Mihalik said the football staff hands out T-shirts to the top grade-point average achievers each grading period “to recognize their hard work. When we emphasize academics, that’s what their parents are doing, as well. So it starts to sink in.” In addition, football players volunteer in the city. Mihalik said they planned to take part in the “Fill a Bag, Feed a Family” food drive in early May, in addition to reading to elementary school students while wearing football jerseys and putting on a youth football camp in the summer. “Our players learn the importance of giving back, that’s for sure,” he said. Every Thursday night during the football season, the team has a pre-game dinner for players, coaches and cheerleaders. Mihalik said Mazzulo’s Market, Doogan’s of Aurora and Station 43 Tavern / Restaurant are three of the biggest contributors, adding that many eateries have donated food. “Our football mom’s club does a great job of planning those dinners each week,” he said. “Sometimes, the food is donated or given to us at a low cost, and sometimes it is homemade.”

In February, a merger took place between the city’s youth tackle and flag football leagues, resulting in the current Aurora Youth Football Association. “The last couple of years, with concussion scares [in pro football], more and more kids have chosen not to play or delay playing football,” Mihalik said. Now, only flag football is offered to prek i n d e r garten, kindergarten and grades 1-2 in Aurora.


ExplorE AurorA • 2016

Mihalik said grades 3 and 4 can play either one, and starting with grades 5 and 6, every youngster will be funneled into tackle football. Phil Quinn, who is in charge of the program, “has done a great job of combining the two leagues,” Mihalik said. “We’re hoping to have 300 kids involved next fall. We’ll have clinics on how to block and tackle to promote safety. “When you see the finished product on Friday nights in the fall, it starts a long time before that in our youth league,” he said. “Our varsity football program’s success took hold once the students went through the cycle of youth and middle school football. “When these little kids start playing, it gives them a goal that they’ll want to play in that atmosphere on Friday Head Coach nights — and also to behave the right way and do their best in school,” he said. “That will allow them to play on Friday nights.” Mihalik said football is “an event” in Aurora on Friday nights. “We are very fortunate,” he said. “You have little kids, elementary and middle school students there. Our student section is unbelievable. Parents still come back to support the program along with senior citizens and alumni. It’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of.”

When he isn’t coaching football, Mihalik is a work study coordinator at Aurora High School, a job he took over two years ago after Ken Mitroff retired. Mihalik teaches two classes at the high school called “connections for success” that are part of the work study program. “They learn life and job skills in the work study class, then they take English, science, math and social studies, then they get jobs in the community in the afternoon,” he said. In the afternoons, Mihalik checks out the job sites to make sure the students are working well. He also teaches a high school transition class for ninth-graders. At Harmon Middle School, Mihalik teaches “connections eight,” a life skills class where students work on things like relationships, time management, goal setting, being proactive, being good communicators and taking responsibility for their actions. Previously a high school English teacher for 24 years, including 11 years at Lakewood High School, Mihalik believes he can reach a lot of students. “Sometimes, I miss discussing literature and helping students become better writers,” he said. “But now I’m helping students in a different way. It probably has more of an impact than the role I played as an English teacher.”

Board of Education President Gerald Kohanski believes Mihalik “represents everything that is right about high school athletics. “This very unassuming man has built an outstanding football program over the past 15 years while instilling excellent sportsmanship and high values in the players he coaches,” Kohanski said. “He is also an excellent educator and teacher who has helped many students. There is no one I respect more as a person. Aurora is very fortunate to have him coaching and teaching our children.” Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli said most people don’t know


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ExplorE AurorA • 2016


that Mihalik is just as gifted as an educator and teacher as he is as a football coach. “The same character traits and skills serve him well in both roles,” he said. “I love the saying: ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ “With Bob, his students and his football players see his compassion and commitment to them as individuals, and this builds a deep trust. This trust enables Bob to push his students and players to levels that they would not ordinarily get to. “Another amazing quality is that when Bob is working with a student or athlete, you would not know if it is a division I prospect or a third-string player or the top student in his class or a student that may not graduate. His dedication to all students is truly extraordinary.” Athletic Director Paul Powers said Aurora is “very fortunate to have Bob on our team. His football program serves as a role model on how young coaches should build a program. Under Bob’s leadership, he has built a program that is respected around the state.”

Mihalik was a three-sport athlete at Eastlake North High School and played football at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pa. He was an assistant football coach for 11 years at Lakewood High School in addition to coaching freshman / junior varsity baseball. His big break in coaching came when he was hired in Aurora 15 years ago for his first high school head coaching position. “We’ve had support from the administration,” he said, citing former Superintendent Russ Bennett and current Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli. “Russ said you can have a strong academic program and an extra curricular program, too. “Russ promoted extracurricular activities. Pat does, too. The Board of Education provides the opportunities, facilities and resources. “There’s no doubt we have a great home field advantage,” he said of the 26-game home winning streak that ended in the first round of the playoffs last fall. “We know the fans have been the difference in many of our wins over the years.”


Mihalik is quick to give credit to those around him for helping to make Aurora football what it is today — a program that has qualified for the state playoffs for the last 11 seasons. The assistant coaches include defensive coordinator Brian Wervey, who Mihalik called “the head coach of the defense,” defensive backs / running backs coach John Calcei and offensive line coach Victor Ricketts along with junior varsity coaches Nick Kukarola (offense) and Jay Price (defense). “They work seven days a week from August through the end of the season,” he said. “There is a lot of hard work and sacrifice that goes into it. Whenever I get a ‘coach of the year’ honor, it should be a ‘coaching staff of the year’ award. It’s not me alone, that’s for sure.” In addition, Mihalik saluted the coaches’ wives including his wife, Debbie. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without our wives,” he said. “Some of our coaches have younger kids. Our wives are so understanding.” Mihalik’s son Matt, a 2013 Aurora graduate, was a wide receiver on the football team in addition to playing basketball and baseball. Today, he is a junior at Bowling Green State University where he is a student assistant on the football team. Daughter Meghan, an AHS junior, plays soccer and runs track.

Mihalik said many of his former players have gone on to play at the college division II and III levels, “but a lot also have played in Division I.” One that stands out to Mihalik is Adam Bellamy, an offensive and defensive lineman from the 2008 Aurora state championship team who went to Ohio State University. “Adam was our first big Division I guy,” he said. “That put us on the map with recruiters.” Another that stands out to Mihalik is Anthony Melchiori, who went on to become a punter for four years at Kent State University. “Part of our job is to help match our players with schools where they can fit in socially, academically and can play football,” he said. Mihalik said last year Aurora had 122 college visits from recruiters from the three divisions combined. Mihalik said Aurora has had about a dozen players in Division I in the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences, “but I’m just as proud of the Division II and III players. They’re playing for the love of the game, not for full scholarships.”


ExplorE AurorA • 2016

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Football players Montana Nietert lifting weights and Michael Dudziak spotting. (both students are juniors)



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ExplorE AurorA • 2016

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ExplorE AurorA • 2016


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Explore Aurora • 2016

Explore Aurora 2016  

Explore Aurora 2016

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