Meet the Ultimate Outsiders – Tom and Rosalie Franek

Regardless of the weather, our cover couple, Rosalie and Tom Franek of Hiram, find plenty to do outside throughout the year.

Well-known throughout the running community in Northeast Ohio and beyond, they’ve coached hundreds of athletes. Physical fitness is important to the Franeks. They live what they believe — and a big part of their time is spent outdoors during Northeast Ohio’s long winters.

Ages: Tom, 53, Rosalie, 54.

Married: 30 years.

What they do: Rosalie is a licensed massage therapist and owns Right Path Massage & Fitness, LLC ( in Hiram. Tom teaches horticulture and arboriculture at Kent Roosevelt High School and is a certified arborist and owner of Butternut Hill Farm, a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm.

Favorite outdoor winter activities: For both, it’s cross-country skiing, ice skating, running, mountain biking and hiking.

Favorite places to explore outdoors in the winter: Backyard trails around their farm and in Hiram Township and village, Chapin Forest and Girdled Road Reservation (Lake Metroparks).


How do you stay fit the rest of the year?

We run, mountain and road bike, hike, cut and carry wood, dig trees, sheer trees, plant and maintain the garden, push a wheelbarrow, etc.

We do two days per week of functional arm, leg and core strength. We stretch and use a foam roller daily and get regular therapeutic massage. We truly believe that one of the keys of maintaining fitness, weight and energy levels throughout the years is not only to “exercise” regularly, but to pick leisure, recreational and social activities that keep you moving.

Tell us about your kids. Fitness runs in the family, right?

Bridget, 30, is a women’s distance coach at the University of Akron.

Josh, 27, is a Sherwin-Williams store manager in Baltimore, Maryland.

Both competed in track and cross country in high school and college, along with other sports.

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These Four Volunteers Bring Joy to Kids Throughout NEO

Not The Beatles


A Girl Scout leader, a Polar Express elf and a couple who takes their dog, Molly, to visit sick children.

Tina Collins, Michael Babbitt and the Freys — Brent and Dot — are rock stars to kids throughout Northeast Ohio.

Whether they’re on a train, at camp or next to a hospital bed, these four have parlayed the remarkable power of volunteerism into service that’s both fulfilling and fun.

In many ways, Michael, Tina, Brent and Dot are like thousands of other 50-and-older Northeast Ohio residents who share their time and talents. Volunteering is important to them, and children hold a special place in their hearts.


Christmas Spirit

Michael’s sparkling eyes and outgoing personality seem custom-made for his role as an elf-reader on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s annual Polar Express. He looks quite comfortable in his outrageously oversized Christmas hat and red shoes with toes that curl elaborately upward.

His elf job is riding the train with hundreds of excited children as they travel through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the North Pole. He’ll ride on 14 trains between Nov. 11 and Dec. 21.

“There’s a role for everyone,” Michael says. “Some just want to serve hot chocolate, others write name tags and seat people.”

But all dress up in some fashion and ride the train or stand along the platform greeting children arriving at the North Pole.

No experience? No costume? No problem. “Volunteer once and you will become an expert,” Michael says.  While most volunteers supply their own attire, Polar Express organizers have tunics to lend to North Pole elves.


Girl Power

Tina got involved with Girl Scouts when she was a girl, and then again when her daughters were young. She liked it so much that she has stayed with Scouting for two decades and counting, volunteering as an outdoor trainer and most recently as leader of high school girls in Troop 90146 out of Northfield.

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Cleveland Triathletes

Look Who’s Tri-ing

Local Athletes Compete on Land and In Water


By Stacy Rhea




Swimming, biking, running.

The sport of triathlon is when an athlete does all three in one long, grueling race. It’s not just for the young and buff. Watch any triathlon and you’ll see a wave of 50-plus athletes mixed in — and they’re not in the back of the pack.


The length of each portion of a triathlon varies. Sometimes the swimming portion is in a lake or the ocean. Biking is the longest section — 50 or more miles is not uncommon. Distances for the running portion are shorter, but still tough because they come at the end of the triathlon. Ironman triathlons tend to be considerably longer than conventional triathlons.


So why would anyone want to do it? Meet three Northeast Ohio triathletes and find out why one type of competition isn’t enough — they want all three.




Barb Thomas: 61
Residents: Broadview Heights
First Triathlon: 2012, Fairport Harbor


Sports have been part of Barb Thomas life since she was a child. Her mother played semi-pro softball and her father was a track star, so its no wonder Thomas is a lifelong athlete. At 14, Thomas won the YWCA nationals.

Later, as a mother of four, Thomas supported and coached her children in a variety of activities. One of Thomas fondest memories is when her daughter and son competed in the USAT Nationals with her. Her daughter won a national title in her age group.


A High Point:

Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Sunshine Coast, Australia, September 2016. She finished 13th in her age group.


Thomas Advice for a Newbie:

Start out slow. Keep moving and just go out and have fun.

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Veterans and Dogs: A Match Made in Cleveland




Dogs, Veterans and a Match Made in Cleveland



When U.S. Army veteran Frank DeLorenzo learned there was a three-year wait to get a medically prescribed service dog from an out-of-state organization, he and his wife Jeniffer began doing research that became life-changing for many veterans.


With the help of dog trainers, they adopted a puppy and began working with her to become Frank’s service dog.


Frank’s position as the Army Wounded Warrior advocate at the Wade Park Veterans Administration campus in Cleveland led doctors and other veterans to ask about his service dog. The couple worked with other veterans to help train their dogs, and the organization grew from that need.


The DeLorenzos co-founded Wags 4 Warriors in 2011 to help veterans who have been affected by their combat experiences that challenge them every day. Service dogs help with anxiety or focus issues, giving the veteran a reminder of where he or she is and that all is calm.


The group is a nonprofit agency that accepts tax-deductible donations to help with the adoption, veterinary care, training and equipment expenses.


“We didn’t want to see families struggle the way we did,” Jen says. “We wanted to make sure that if there was something we could do to help a veteran, we would. We quickly realized there was a huge need here in Ohio. We wanted to help veterans without causing them any financial burden or strain.”


Wags is the only organization in Ohio that does this free of charge for veterans.


As of 2017, the program has helped rescue more than 350 dogs and warriors.


“Ninety percent of these canines are rescues from shelters,” Frank says. “We have had approximately 50 or more Vietnam veterans and another 50 or more ages 50-plus in the program.”


Recently the program moved into a new training facility in Broadview Heights.

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Celebrating the Future – Grads Find New Opportunities, Fun in College

Adults returning to or beginning college late life is a growing trend throughout the country. Juggling work, family and other commitments while attending college part time — often, one class at a time — requires dogged perseverance. They might get tired. They might get frustrated. They don’t quit.

Judi Kostos and Nick Pykus are two such people. So-called “nontraditional students,” they are among a select group of committed adults who are earning college degrees decades after graduating high school. Here are their stories:


Seven years ago, Judi Kostos’ grandson, Robert, needed help with his fourth grade math homework. Kostos was stumped. She couldn’t do it. The increasingly complicated problems and “new” techniques for solving them were just too tough.

Kostos helps take care of her five grandchildren after school. A full-time stay-at-home mom and grandmother of five, she was frustrated she couldn’t help with math homework. Kostos knew this was only the first of many math challenges, so she enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus in Parma.

Kostos was 50 when she started at Tri-C seven years ago. The Brook Park native’s first class was in medical technology because she wanted to better understand her aging parents’ medical treatments.

“The scariest part was taking the entrance test because it had been so long since I’d been in school,” Kostos admits. “I was nervous the first day, but the staff was so friendly. The students didn’t make me feel old. I made a lot of friends.”


Kostos, like most older college students, had a lot of responsibilities outside the classroom. She makes dinner for her mom, Ruth Marzec, every night. She continues to help care for her grandchildren — now six months to 15 years old — and she’s been married for 39 years to her husband, Kent.

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On A Roll – Bakery Owners Discovery Every Job Creates Opportunity

Debbi and Rick Sands’ lives are busy and fulfilling with a dose of fun thrown in to keep things interesting. Their jobs suit their interests and abilities.

Married for 37 years, the affable couple raised and launched two kids.

Rewarding? Sure.

Chance? Maybe.

The Sandses are a good example of people who have the confidence — and faith — to make mid-life career shifts. They’ve parlayed past jobs, current goals and an ongoing optimism into lives that work not only for themselves but for others, too.


Rick Sands is the kind of guy who doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. He gives off a mellow vibe that’s both unexpected and appealing — a vintage Volkswagen bus-owning sort of guy. In fact, he did have one, but sold it awhile back.

Rick and his wife, Debbi, own Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow in Summit County. Both worked hard to grow the popular franchise bakery into a must-visit stop for local bread lovers. These days, Rick is likely to be the one floating between the front counter and the ovens, offering up conversation and bread to customers. Baking bread and being a small business owner seems like a long way from his years working in warehouses and running forklifts.

Debbi, with an accounting and bookkeeping background, manages the bakery’s finances. More than a decade ago she transitioned away from daily bakery operations to focus on her own midlife career change: working as a Christian counselor.

Anyone who needs a nudge to make a mid-life job or career change would do well to take a lesson from the Sandses. They’ve been open to opportunities, willing to take risks and determined to make their work reach beyond the borders of Summit County.

Debbi grew up in Mentor and graduated from Lakeland Community College with an associate degree in business the same year she married Rick.

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Called to Serve – Elaine Geller Finds Meaningful Service Through the NCJW/Cleveland

In 2003, Elaine Geller moved back to Cleveland after many years in California. Her husband had recently died and she had just retired from her position as a vice president of the Federal Reserve System. She was looking for a meaningful, supportive community to get involved in, and she found it in the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland.

Geller liked that she did not have to “put in her time” before she could start making a difference. NCJW has more than 18 community service projects with which she could immediately start volunteering. She also liked that though the organization is inspired by Jewish values, its mission is to help improve the lives of all women, children and families throughout Cleveland.


Elaine Geller is the embodiment of the Jewish philosophy to “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” She’s been NCJW/Cleveland’s vice president of finance and treasury (four years), and recording secretary (two years), among other work. In recent years, Geller has felt that her responsibility as a NCJW/Cleveland volunteer extends beyond the community in front of her, to the wider community in which she lives.

This ideal drove her to learn about — and then lead — the Stop Human Trafficking committee two years ago, the first Jewish Cleveland organization aimed at advocating for and protecting trafficking victims, a $32 billion annual criminal industry.

Each year an estimated 1,078 Ohio children become victims, and 3,016 more are at risk.


Geller and her committee drive to local hotels monthly to drop off pictures of missing children, to distribute posters listing signs to look for to identify trafficking victims, and to hand out free soap — labeled with the human trafficking hotline — to cleaning and hotel staff.

Geller and her committee have spoken to more than a dozen local organizations and businesses about human trafficking.

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Unseen Battle Scars – With Veterans: Ask, Don’t Judge

Each week, veterans — many with minds upended by both seen and unseen battle scars — enter Dr. Walter Knake’s Beachwood office.

A welcoming flame glows from an electric fireplace. An Oriental rug blankets the floor. Propped everywhere are stuffed animals. The vibe is cozy and soothing. Except for the American and military flags in a corner and a large bulletin board packed with medals, patriotic badges and pins, the clinical psychologist’s office could be the den in a suburban home.


Each Nov. 11, Americans honor military veterans. Knake treats the ones who rarely feel honored or respected; much of their energy is consumed by the psychological effects of their military service.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one issue. Others may be dealing with traumatic brain injuries or relationship issues, alcoholism, drug addiction or a combination of problems. About 70 percent of Knake’s patients are combat veterans who hear about his practice through word of mouth.

An average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Aging veterans are the most vulnerable; 65 percent who died from suicide were 50 or older. Veterans made up 18 percent of all suicide deaths, according to most recently available statistics, but comprised just 8.5 percent of the county’s population.

Battlefield trauma and its long-term emotional consequences aren’t new. From the time people have fought wars, many carried the effects into middle and old age. Today’s PTSD was yesterday’s battle fatigue, shell shock or war neuroses.

As America continues losing its World War II and Korean War veterans, those who served in Vietnam are filling Knake’s appointment book. When people approach their 60s and 70s, most become increasingly reflective and have more time to think. For veterans, their thoughts often turn to their war experiences, he says.

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