May 18, 2014
By Keith Heumiller
Before moving to Sayreville, NJ, in 2010, the Greater Media Newspapers’ Circulation Department operated out of an aging building in nearby East Brunswick. Between its open truck bays and some holes in the warehouse walls, the building had developed a bit of a mouse problem.
When even a contracted rodent service didn’t work, Circulation Director Rich Klypka says the department turned to an unlikely source for a solution.
“Debbie Parana, our circulation manager, had a friend who suggested that we borrow her cat,” Klypka said. “The cat, Luna, was apparently a great mouser. So we borrowed Luna for a bit and, interestingly enough, we didn’t have a mouse problem anymore.”
Over time, Luna became a de facto employee of the Circulation Department. For years now she has stood guard over the warehouse, scanning it for intruders each day after the newspaper carriers leave and the bay doors are shut.
In recent years, however, Luna has had to share the spotlight with a few other furry felines. The same holes in the East Brunswick warehouse wall that let in the mice also let in a feral cat, who had a litter of four kittens beneath a decommissioned printing press in 2009.
Not wanting to send the kittens back out into the cold, the Circulation Department started networking with friends and relatives to find them homes. Within two weeks three of the four had been adopted.
Customer Service Representative Bonnie Elia had found a local family to adopt the fourth, but the kitten was returned when the family learned their son was allergic. Another woman then took the kitten home but discovered he didn’t get along with her older cat. Finally, Elia decided to take him herself.
“I figured it was meant to be,” she said. “His name is Rusty, and he’ll turn five in April. He does show a bit of his wild streak now and again, but he is just such a blast. I swear he thinks he’s a dog.”
Six months later the mother cat had another litter, and staffers found homes for all three kittens within 24 hours.
“I think everyone in the Circulation Department just loves cats,” said Klypka. “I was raised with dogs, but I’m a huge animal lover. Cats are just so interesting, with their behavior and the way they play and interact. And their skills, if you will, are just tremendous.”
One female cat, who had been living in a storage container a few lots away, showed up outside the office one day with her five newborn kittens.
“We just don’t want the kittens living outside in this kind of weather, so we asked around if people would want them,” Klypka said. “A couple people said they would, so we tried snagging a couple.”
The department took in three of the “tuxedo” kittens and have since found a home for one. The other two may have already found their forever home.
Now 11, Luna has been battling some health issues in recent years, including a number of tumors that had to be removed in 2011. When word got out about her difficulties, staffers throughout the Greater Media Newspapers division rallied to raise money for her treatment.
Her surgery was successful, and Luna fought bravely through a difficult recovery, ultimately returning to work and resuming her duties as warehouse watch-cat. In January, however, Luna was diagnosed with cancer.
Considering her age, the aggressiveness of the cancer, and the significant strain placed on her by the last operation, surgery is no longer an option.
As they try to make Luna’s remaining months as enjoyable as possible, department members say they are considering keeping the two new kittens around to fill the hole she leaves behind.
April 28, 2014
Keith Larson of 1110 WBT AM/FM, Charlotte, hopes the world will be inspired by a girl who left his audience spellbound a decade ago.
Larson recently released That Season of Hope, a book that chronicles the connection between Hope Stout, a 12-year-old girl who lost her battle with a rare bone cancer in January 2004; the playoff victory of the Carolina Panthers football team; and the radio interview on Larson’s show at WBT AM/FM that started a frenzy of donations to organizations that support families who are struggling with cancer.
“The story of this girl has been going on for 10 years,” said Jessica RoBards, Executive Assistant at Greater Media Charlotte. “Larson just published the book last summer, and it brought back a lot of memories and connection with the Panthers. It’s a back-and-forth inspirational story between the two.”
Larson’s relationship with the Stout family began in December 2003, when he brought Hope’s story and her final wish through Make-A-Wish Central & Western North Carolina to the attention of his listeners.
“She asked Make-A-Wish how many children were on their list, which was 155 at the time, and she said that her wish was to grant the wishes of the 155 children,” Larson said. “Here is this bright, uplifting voice of a 12-year-old girl who had been battling cancer for almost six months [at that point] and had been through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and surgeries, and yet, you hear her talk about not wanting a wish for herself, but wanting to help those other kids. It was a completely selfless conversation. Hope’s story is a very powerful one that grabs people.”
Within minutes of Larson’s interview with Hope, donations of all kinds poured in to raise the $1 million needed to grant the wishes of the 155 children. The Carolina Panthers got involved as well, donating four tickets to a Panthers playoff game that raised $15,000 in an hour at auction.
“A whole series of this kind of stuff went down in the course of four weeks, leading up to a big fundraising event called A Celebration of Hope,” Larson said, referring to a fundraiser in Hope’s honor that she did not live to see. “We exceeded the $1 million goal she set.”
A huge Panthers fan, Hope met two players who were battling cancer while she was struggling herself. She struck up a relationship with guard/tackle Kevin Donnalley, who now sits on the board of the foundation created in Hope’s memory. Larson noted that WBT AM/FM is currently the flagship station of the Carolina Panthers, but was not at the time of Hope’s phone call.
“She really grabbed [Donnalley] by the heart,” Larson said. “She would call him after every game and he went to her on Halloween to bring her Panthers stuff. Her family held season tickets forever, and they were finally able to go to a game in the fall when she was very sick.”
Since then, WBT AM/FM has organized an annual motorcycle ride called Keith’s Ride that benefits the March Forth with Hope Foundation, named in memory of the girl who inspired Larson a decade ago. The foundation provides financial assistance to families battling cancer or other life-threatening diseases. The fundraiser also assists other organizations that address the needs of ill and injured children.
“Each year, riders get to ride with a police escort through the city [of Charlotte] on a certain route, and any of the money that is raised from that ride goes toward the March Forth with Hope Foundation and a child who is alive and in need,” said RoBards, who is involved in organizing the fundraiser each year.
Every year before Christmas, Larson replays the 10-minute conversation he had with Hope to remind listeners of the outpouring of donations and encouragement that occurred after the original conversation played.
“Thousands of people have heard that conversation,” Larson said. “That conversation and recalling it is a large thing in itself. I always wanted to capture it in book form.”
With the help of WBT AM/FM and Greater Media Charlotte, the book has seen success. Since its release, That Season of Hope has broken into the top 25 sports books and the top 50 family and relationships books on Kindle.
“WBT put together a three-hour special about the book that aired on several Sundays,” Larson said. “What WBT did was above and beyond in the promotion of the book. … In those early weeks after the book came out, WBT’s support helped jump-start it on Amazon so that it would get noticed and show up in rankings. The support that WBT gave to it was a real material part of how well it’s done.”
And Larson won’t take home a single penny on sales. All proceeds from the book, published by Tate Publishing, will be donated to three charities: the Make-a-Wish Foundation; the Carolina Panthers’ Keep Pounding cancer foundation; and the Stout family’s March Forth with Hope Foundation.
“This is a permanent contribution,” Larson said. “For however long people buy this book, it will support these charities.”