The Dayton Daily News told the stories of several people who inspired others this year. Here’s a look at some of our favorites from 2022:
Earlier this year, Larry Connor, the founder and managing general partner of the Connor Group real estate firm in Miami Twp., local philanthropist, sports adventurist and an ardent backer of Dayton Flyers basketball piloted the first, all-private mission (called Axiom 1) to the International Space Station.
Last year he made three dives to the deepest depths of the planet’s oceans — going down 35,856 feet in the Marianna Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean.
For decades he has raced cars, off-road vehicles, planes, climbed some of the world’s tallest mountains and white water rafted around the globe.
This time, he and the four U.S. Air Force Pararescue jumpers he joined attempted to set two world records with their HALO (high altitude, low opening) jumps, or, as they’re otherwise called, military free falls.
At 72, he became the oldest person to complete a HALO jump.
Taking America by storm with intelligence, courage and grace, pop culture phenom Amy Schneider is grateful to have experienced a life-changing year thanks to her “Jeopardy!” superstardom.
In January the Dayton native and Chaminade Julienne graduate achieved a record-breaking winning streak that ended after 40 impressive games. Her historic run, ranking second all-time behind Ken Jennings for most consecutive wins, resulted in earnings of $1.3 million.
In November Schneider, a resident of Oakland, California, returned to the quiz show to compete in its Tournament of Champions, which assembled the top 21 players of 2022. Taped in Los Angeles in September, the best of seven tournament transpired over the course of six games. At the conclusion of Game 6, she won first place and the top prize of $250,000.
The first transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, Schneider, 43, recently reflected on her triumph as well as the importance of advocacy.
DeShona Pepper Robertson
Credit: Lisa Powell
Credit: Lisa Powell
As dance director at Stivers School for the Arts, DeShona Pepper Robertson’s curriculum is only the start of what her students are learning.
“They think I’m teaching dance, but it’s more than that,” she said.
What she also is offering is access to opportunities, such as the ones that led her to become a principal dancer with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
Robertson, 53, moved from Chicago to Dayton in 1992 to dance with DCDC, retiring in 2004 to take on a full-time role at Stivers. Part of Dayton Public Schools, Stivers accepts students in grades 7-12 via an audition process in a variety of art forms.
She teaches dance to nearly 100 students every day, also designing lesson plans and a curriculum that includes ballet, modern dance, choreography and more.
Kramer and Clayton Sell
Credit: Submitted Photos
Credit: Submitted Photos
As the two-night season finale of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” wrapped up, two Xenia natives were part of a top three finalist’s band.
Kramer Sell, a Nashville-based drummer, and his brother, Clayton Sell, are members of Drake Milligan’s band. Milligan, a Nashville-based country singer from Fort Worth, Texas, joined 10 other acts competing for the $1 million prize and a show in Las Vegas.
During the finale, the Sell brothers played in a special performance alongside country music artists Darius Rucker and Jon Pardi.
“Dream big and dream outside the box,” said Kramer “There is no road map to do this. Once you have all that positive energy in the gas tank, buckle down and put in the work.”
When Tipp City schools’ officials moved the student section because of fewer stadium seats this fall, it caused an outcry from parents and students.
Senior football player Gordon Haas didn’t like the angry response, so he got to work.
In a matter of days, Haas found a company from which he could rent bleachers for the students, worked with administrators on getting approvals and raised more than the $4,500 in a matter of hours, with more coming in during the following days.
Garry and Melanie Abfalter
Average parents can take their kids’ milestones for granted. That’s often not the case with medically fragile children, like many of those whom Garry and Melanie Abfalter foster.
One of the two kids that the Kettering couple are currently fostering is a 2-year-old who is blind, deaf and has cerebral palsy. Seeing him laugh and smile as the pair use basic sign language words is a reward like no other.
“That is like sunshine in the morning,” Melanie said.
The Abfalters first moved to the Dayton area in August 1977, and by the end of the year they had their first foster child placement. They haven’t kept track of the total number of kids they have fostered since then, but they estimate that it is more than 100. They also have four biological daughters and three adopted children.
Patterson Park’s softball fields used to sit empty in the summer. Now Trisha Greear sees those same fields full of life, with girls competing, siblings playing catch nearby and families spread out watching the games and practices.
“To me, it’s a dream come true,” said Greear, 45, of Oakwood.
As the former softball coach at Oakwood Junior High, she noticed that she often had to teach girls the basics, while the boys playing baseball already had those down. With the help and urging of another parent, she set to work starting a softball program at Patterson Park.
Dana Graham is the founder and creative director of Scripted in Black, a multidisciplinary creative collective. Others say she creates spaces for Black creatives that are not seen much in Dayton.
“Black and brown identities didn’t really have a socially forward and intentional creative space in the community, especially in the Dayton community, that was representative of our stories, who we are, how we operate, how we live,” she said. “I feel like the traditional creative spaces in the city didn’t do a great job of keeping us lifted and represented in the types of content of work that they were showcasing. I just felt that there was a need to tell our stories differently, actually in our communities at black-owned businesses that our community frequents, just right there in their face and not having them feel that it’s not affordable or welcoming.”
Scripted in Black, she said, helps the underground scene of Black creativity within cities to find their space, find their home and connect with other like-minded individuals and to be able to collaborate in a unique way that may not be mainstream.
The difference between life and death for a dog or cat could be as straightforward as a set of wheels.
“All they need is a ride,” Donna Ruff said.
The size of her car was limiting the number of animals she could save. So the Vandalia-area woman started Ruff Rescue Transport, purchased a van and began driving even more animals to rescue locations where they are more likely to be adopted. By doing so, Ruff and her organization aids in ending the euthanasia of dogs and cats by helping to find them homes.
Ruff founded the volunteer nonprofit in 2013 and has since transported close to 15,000 animals, she said. The numbers increase quickly when she moves litters of puppies or even multiple large dogs at a time.
Steve Wirick is no stranger to running. The retired engineer from Vandalia has raced in almost 150 marathons and ultramarathons.
What was new, however, was helping a fellow runner who is visually impaired.
“As much as I may have helped her, she opened my eyes, too,” said Wirick, 69.
Dee Char was connected with Wirick through a mutual friend when she wanted to take on trail racing. Char, who was born with a retinal degenerative disease, had run marathons and had completed a triathlon, but she needed assistance with running trails.
Rev. Ril Beatty
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
The Rev. Ril Beatty has a mantra when he works with youth: “There’s nothing broke that can’t be fixed,” he says.
So whatever needs repaired in a young person’s life, Beatty and the church that he founded are ready to help. Gettysburg Fishing Lake helps them do just that.
The lake is owned by WM waste management company but has been maintained by Beatty’s Mountain Top Ministries since 2007. The church not only has held a variety of programs, activities and events at the lake, but also has used it to introduce youth to new skills.
“We can accomplish the impossible if we truly believe,” he said.
Joni Sears has helped “raise” thousands of children in Germantown.
As secretary at Valley View Primary School for 30 years, Sears is the first person many parents interact with in the district. She handles kindergarten registration and daily student attendance.
When her youngest son was three, she joined a Mom’s Day Out program called Love is a Hug. The program eventually transformed into a preschool and daycare, and Sears worked there for nine years before moving to the primary school. Over the decades, Sears has watched as many of the children she registered for kindergarten graduate high school and have kids of their own.
“What’s so funny is a lot of the kids that I had at Love is a Hug have kids that have already gone through my building. It’s a cycle,” Sears said. “Not all of them, but a lot of them have decided to stay [in the district], and now I’m getting their kids.”
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Credit: JIM NOELKER
Fairborn resident Henry Harlow, 66, stays busy in myriad ways. He tends to thousands of headstones, footstones and grave sites at Dayton National Cemetery and other area cemeteries, connecting families to those sites and preparing care packages for homeless veterans.
In fact, as a volunteer for families searching for loved ones’ burial sites, Harlow — a retired Air Force master sergeant —has over the years uploaded 21,666 photographs of grave site to the web site findagrave.com.
Harlow says he counted every one, and he acknowledges that it’s a lot of work. But he isn’t complaining.
“I’ve absolutely been blessed,” the Fairborn resident said in an interview. “I always have something to do.”
Diapers are a “fundamental need” for babies, but for some families they are in short supply, Maggie Schneemann said.
Schneemann is helping to solve the problem by founding the Dayton Diaper Depot, a nonprofit group of volunteers that has distributed more than 46,000 diapers to babies in need since last September. The organization’s goal is to pass out 200,000 diapers this year.
Since it began in April 2021, Dayton Diaper Depot has distributed diapers largely through two food pantries and six high schools. The organization is actively looking to partner with other agencies in order to increase the number of children it serves, Schneemann said.
Distributing diapers boosts the comfort and health of babies, while also improving the economic conditions of their mothers, she said. The cost of diapers isn’t covered by resources such as the Women, Infants and Children program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and day cares often require diapers before children can be dropped off.
Keagan Miller takes his role as unit commander of the Miami Valley Young Marines of Huber Heights and Troy very seriously.
“He volunteers countless hours running the youth leadership program. He has been honored with numerous awards for his work including the Enrique Camarena Red Ribbon Award.” The Camarena award is in honor of Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent kidnapped and murdered in 1985 by the Mexican drug cartel. Miller’s award recognized his individual contributions.
“He volunteers countless hours running the youth leadership program. He has been honored with numerous awards for his work including the Enrique Camarena Red Ribbon Award,” said Andy Richardson who nominated Miller as Dayton Daily News Community Gem. The Camarena award is in honor of Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent kidnapped and murdered in 1985 by the Mexican drug cartel. Miller’s award recognized his individual contributions.
Miller’s work with Young Marines is all volunteer. “With the Young Marines, not only do I mentor but I also get to meet a lot of great people and mentors in the program,” he said.