December 2012 Issue
December 2012 Digest
Santa's stand-in, winter's beauty, salamander research, dreams on ice.
Man for All Seasons
Once upon a time, Dennis Blanden was a construction-equipment operator. But for the past 35 years, the retired Grove City resident has been delighting kids of all ages. And it’s no wonder: He plays Santa Claus.
In fact, he’s as genuine a stand-in for the real Jolly Old Elf as someone can get. The beard and belly are his, and he has made a substantial investment in his costume.
“Kids will know you’re trying to trick them if you show up wearing athletic shoes,” he says with a smile.
Blanden initially stepped into the St. Nick role because a pal who played Santa Claus worried his grandkids were getting wise to who was under the beard. Blanden said his first, “What would you like for Christmas, little girl?” and was hooked. Since then, he’s attended professional Santa Claus training schools, including the renowned Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan, and dons his Santa Dennis duds for corporate events, private parties and in-home visits year-round.
This month, Blanden will be serving a second term as Official Santa Claus to the Governor’s Residence in Columbus, after being invited to “ho-ho-ho” at a Christmas party for Gov. John Kasich’s family and staff last year.
Next to being Santa at Macy’s department store or at the White House, Blanden says, being chosen for the governor’s party is the ultimate honor for an Ohio Santa Claus.
Santa Dennis has his own naughty-and-nice list he strictly adheres to, which includes not passing out candy canes because “they get stuck in my beard and some children can’t eat them.” But, he’s quick to add, kids are happy with “I Visited Santa” stickers.
“And if a young child who has come to see me is sleeping, don’t wake him up,” Blanden advises. “Just gently pass the child to me and I’ll cradle him or her carefully. It makes a really cute photograph.” — Jill Sell
For more information about Santa Dennis, visit SantaOhio.com.
They don’t wear tiny athletic shoes or sport sweatbands on their
foreheads. But the mole salamanders in the Ohio State University
laboratory where researcher Robert Denton studies the amphibian’s DNA do
work out on a treadmill made from a test tube. (Don’t worry, they are
unharmed and returned to the wild.)
Denton, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and
Organismal Biology, measures the salamander’s metabolic rate and
endurance. Although common in Ohio, the 4- to 5-inch-long salamanders
have unusual traits.
“Most of the time the all-female salamanders reproduce by cloning
themselves, so their offspring are all female, too,” says Denton. “But
sometimes they have sneaky sex and take sperm from males of other
salamander species, which gets contributed to their genetics.”
If that happened in humans, it would be like a person having DNA from
his or her human parents, but also from a gorilla, chimpanzee and an
orangutan, Denton explains. The scientist is investigating if whether or
not having DNA from multiple sources gives the salamander any
advantages. Related, far-reaching research can help scientists answer
questions about human aging and disease.
“In the United States, Ohio has the most documented [salamander] species
that contribute to this weird complex of animal breeding,” says Denton.
“That makes it more difficult to study, but also more interesting.”
Denton was the only Ohio-based researcher among 75 scientists to be
selected for this year’s international SciFund Challenge fundraising
campaign. SciFund provides funding from individuals — rather than
government agencies — interested in scientific research.
“It was really neat to have a personal connection to the people who
offered up their own dollars because they think what I am doing is
important,” says Denton. “These are artists and lawyers and their
families, not just scientists.”
In appreciation, Denton rewarded his donors with T-shirts, photos and
the right to name their adopted salamanders. Which explains why some
have monikers that include Glimmer Shine and Slimy. — JS
For more information, visit rddenton.blogspot.com.
Dreams on Ice
It’s two minutes to show time, and the little girl in white figure
skates looks terrified. Parker Pennington — the only skater to ever
claim U.S. National titles at the Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice and
Junior levels — bends down to her eye level and offers encouragement.
Pennington knows how she feels. The 28-year-old has been skating since
he was 3.
The youngster smiles and skates through the open curtain to the applause of her friends, family and the public.
For the past two years, Pennington has shared his love of ice skating
with children across northeast Ohio. The Westlake resident is executive
producer of Skate Dance Dream, a variety show that pairs youngsters with
the country’s best dancers and skaters. The show’s cast has included
Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” finalists Comfort Fedoke and
Ashley Valerio, plus World Team skaters Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner.
“I ask kids why they started skating and to remember how much they enjoy
it,” says Pennington. “We encourage the kids to be the best they can be
in dancing, skating and the real world.”
Participants attend rehearsals, workshops and meet-and-greets with the
stars. The show, complete with special lighting, music and costumes, is
different every time. Each production is tailor-made to fit the
experience, skills and number of young skaters and dancers.
“This is their moment,” says Pennington. “We hope to see kids here who want to become elite dancers or go on to the Olympics.”
But that’s just part of it.
“Competition will always be there for some of these kids,” he adds.
“Skate Dance Dream is sheer fun and it reinforces why they have been
practicing all those hours. And they all get to perform with their
heroes. We are here to inspire.”
Since its founding, Parker Pennington Productions has held Ohio shows in
Mentor, Gates Mills and Wooster. Next stop: The Clinton Arena in
Clinton, New York, on Dec. 8.
Pennington envisions taking his ice and dance extravaganza nationally
and even globally. “But right now,” he says, “it’s one glide at a time.”
Visit SkateDanceDream.com for more information.
Do you find yourself anticipating, with the wonder of childhood, the first downy flakes of the season? Winter’s robe has inspired artists of all media — from songwriter Irving Berlin to poet Robert Frost. It is no wonder that Ohio painters contribute to the winter genre with terrific examples of snowy town and countryside. From an appraiser’s perspective, any artistic element that adds sentiment and creates wide-ranging appeal improves the value of a painting. Recently, Garth’s sold two similar landscapes by well-loved Ohio artist Tella Kitchen in the same auction; the painting with snow outperformed the other by 300 percent! Whether you are a snowbird or snow bunny, warm up to the charm of wintry scenes by Ohio artists. — Amelia and Jeff Jeffers
“Ohio Finds” features fascinating objects brought to the attention of
Amelia and Jeff Jeffers, co-owners of Garth’s Auctioneers &
Appraisers, an international firm outside Columbus.
For more information about Ohio artists, visit garths.com/collecting.