The Big Idea Issue

. January 11, 2017.
2017 Big Idea Issue

We could call this the Passion List. These eleven individuals exude passion when they explain their chosen focus. We chatted up an assortment of folks — specialists in health, business and activism — not

ing their importance for Northwest Ohio’s community wellness. And once we got to know them, we wanted to introduce them to you!

Sarah Skow



“The people who are the greatest asset in this town are ones who have energy and ideas that they’ve shared.”

A Toledo native who was born in Washington D.C. (that she technically has no birth state is her go-to trivia icebreaker), Sarah Skow is just a lawyer in the same way that the Pacific Ocean is just a body of water. With involvement in numerous charitable activities, it’s impressive that Skow finds time to serve the law. A lawyer for over 10 years and a partner in the law firm of Spengler Nathanson, she also puts in time with The Board of Trustees of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo (incoming president), the Children’s Theater Workshop (president), a mentor at Mom’s House Sisters-in-Law Mentoring Program, The University of Toledo College of Law Dean’s Advisory Council, The University of Toledo Law Alumni Association Board of Governors, ABLE/LAWO Board of Directors, the ABLE/LAWO Emerging Leaders Council and the Walbridge Park Advisory Board.

She serves on the Toledo Bar Association’s Board of Trustees and Pro Bono Advisory Board, in addition to her service on many other TBA Committees. Sarah is a Past President of the Toledo Jr. Bar Association, Past President of the Toledo Women’s Bar Association, and is a Barrister in the American Inns of Court. In 2016, Sarah was appointed to serve on the U.S. Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel, Northern District of Ohio. “The people who are the greatest asset in this town are ones who have this energy and these ideas that they’ve shared,” Skow said, candidly, perhaps not realizing how she personifies those ideals. “You can have an impact beyond what your day-to-day routine is and that’s really fulfilling for me.” Oh, and in case you thought she wasn’t quite busy enough, she’s also started a grassroots effort called Fight Homelessness. Period. that collects feminine hygiene products for low-income and homeless women.

Tony Rasczyk &Sally Binard

[ Heart and Soul – Activists ]

Tony Rascyk & Sally Binard - Heart & Soul

Tony Rascyk & Sally Binard – Heart & Soul

“I had a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and to bring an awareness to them and other types of mental illness, we decided to do a fundraiser,” explains Tony Rasczyk, who with his business partner (and neighbor) Sally Binard started the annual Heart and Soul fundraiser. That was 13 years ago, and the event has grown ever since. Pairing dinner and entertainment, the fundraiser typically draws 300 people at $40 a head. Plus additional sponsorships, Rasczyk estimates that the event brought in $25,000 last year for mental health organizations including Harbor, the Wernert Center and Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital. Since beginning in 2003, the effort has collected over $300,000 in total.

Donating their time for the fundraiser, Rasczyk runs Consign-it! Home Interiors, an upscale resale shop and Binard has occupied board positions for Prevent Blindness, David’s House and Planned Parenthood, among others. A grassroots organization, much of the help for the fundraisers comes not only from the boards and workers of beneficiaries like the Wernert Center, but also from people with mental illnesses who receive help from these treatment centers. “We have 45 volunteers at each event and those all come from the agencies (served by the Wernert Center),” Binard said. The next Heart and Soul event is scheduled for February 4, go to to find out how you can get involved.

Dave Ball


Dave Ball

“ If I wouldn’t have done that, I’m 100 percent sure that the building would have been torn down.” -Dave Ball

Many buildings in downtown Toledo receiving a facelift, have Dave Ball’s influence in some way. The developer bought his first building downtown in 1985 and has been connected to development in the area ever since. “We really care about downtown’s success; if downtown succeeds, the whole region will succeed, it’s that critical,” said Ball, a Toledo native. Responsible for the Gardner Building, the Ohio Building, the Woolworth and Osterman Buildings, the whole Durty Bird corner, the Hylant Building and the land where the parking garage sits between Superior and St. Clair, recently Ball acquired the former Greyhound bus station and the adjoining Pythian Castle. “When I was a young guy in the business, Portside was successful. Not really understanding the development process (at that point), I thought we’d arrived. I thought Toledo was already there,” Ball recalls. “As I got more experienced, I realized it wasn’t the case, these projects were funded by Monopoly money.” Since then, he’s been concerned with developing based on the needs of the community, taking on meaningful projects.

The project that he’s most proud of is the Toledo Edison Steam Plant. “I owned it for 10 years, I did all the environmental remediation, I did all the engineering, did all the site work, did all the historical applications and got through all that with the park service. I paid $600,000 and babysat it before Promedica came to the table. If I wouldn’t have done that, I’m 100 percent sure that the building would have been torn down and we wouldn’t be having this discussion about Promedica downtown.” Ball has been working hard for decades to make this city great again and there’s no arguing with that.

Dani Fuller



“We all have crazy stories to tell.” Dani Fuller – RIVER CENTER FOUNDATION

The Creative Director for the River Center Foundation, an organization that raises money for eating disorder awareness and advocacy, Dani Fuller had been directly impacted by eating issues growing up. “I am tall and I come from a very petite family. It could be very destructive. I felt very large, the biggest person in the room. I felt not loveable; I internalized it in so many different ways. I spent a good amount of my life trying to fit into something smaller.” That led to her making self-acceptance her life’s work.

Moving from Chicago, Fuller, a true artist who got her MFA in illustration, cofounded the Red Bird Arts District a year ago, with an eye towards art as a means to enriching lives, both aesthetically and mentally. The River Center Gallery she started (5679 Main St.) benefits numerous individuals and causes. The money raised through the selling of artwork (some pieces come from artists with disabilities) goes directly towards helping the Foundation. “The concept is that we’re all art, we’re all creative beings,” said Fuller. “It’s diluting the idea that your stigma is your eating disorder, your stigma is your mental illness, it’s embracing that we’re all on life journeys. It’s a celebration, which is bett er than just being a gallery or just raising money for eating disorders. We all have crazy stories to tell.”

Mike Ferner



“This movement needed someone to turn it up to 11 and start getting in people’s faces”

The quintessential life-long activist, Mike Ferner has lately been beating the drum to get some traction on the cleanup of Lake Erie. Polluted by runoff from farm fertilizers, the Lake affects both the health and livelihood of many who live around it. Through the efforts of Ferner’s group, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and others, NW Ohio is seeing some traction as Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and others are acting on preserving the waters. Ferner would be the first to tell you that there is a long way to go yet, but his connection to the Lake is palpable. “The Lake’s been a big part of our lives. We don’t go fishing or anything, but we really enjoy it,” he said.

Ferner, a local to NW Ohio, grew up working on a farm in Berkey, which gave him an awareness of the environmental issues that would be his central focus. From there, he went into the Navy and got out as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. An activism stint trying to block aircraft carriers from going to war zones lead Ferner to champion more causes including anti-nuclear power and worker’s rights as a union organizer. He’s been a city councilman (‘89 and ‘91), ran for the mayor’s seat multiple times, author and National President of Veteran’s For Peace. Ferner’s wife eventually told him, “Why don’t you just do writing and activism full-time and forget about finding something that pays?” Officially taking retirement at age 62, Ferner has spent the last four or so years as a full-time activist, with his focus being an impairment designation for Lake Erie. Ferner explains, “This movement needed someone to turn it up to 11 and start getting in people’s faces and naming names and not being quiet and polite about it. And so that’s what we’ve done.”

Dr. Anne Ruch


Anne Ruch - SEWHOPE

“Why am I flying 3,000 miles to take care of disadvantaged people, when I can do it in my own community?”

“You can’t just try to educate a kid if you don’t provide them with nutrition. And if the mom didn’t have prenatal care, they’re not equipped to go to school when they’re 6- years- old,” is the founding idea behind SewHope, a poverty aid organization started by OB/GYN Dr. Anne Ruch (though she’s quick to defer the credit). “We went to Guatemala in 1998 with our church, St. Paul’s Lutheran in Maumee, and when we were there, I was just really shocked at the level of poverty I’d never seen before. I’m a doctor and I thought, ‘Oh I’ll just come here once in awhile and do doctor stuff. Pretty soon, I realized you can’t do much going to another country for a week or two.” Starting SewHope in 2006, Ruch has focused on one area of Guatemala specifically, the Peten. “We’ve been doing that for a number of years and we’ve had tremendous support from a number of people in Toledo. It’s grown over the years and we now have a big health and education center there.”

Ruch had an epiphany: “Why am I flying 3,000 miles to take care of disadvantaged people, when I can do it in my own community?” She began volunteering downtown at Lifeline Ministries, a medical bus that parks across from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library every Saturday morning. There, she found the same poverty, right in the Glass City. Keeping with her generous spirit, she teamed with Promedica to put in a clinic downtown, at 1736 Broadway (in the old South End Library building). The Toledo Health Center opens in May, but the good doctor is already seeing patients— at the church next door.

Kevin Spitler

[ Toledo Hemp Center – Business/Health ]

Kevin Spitler - Toledo Hemp Center

“The Toledo Hemp Center has become a senior citizen haven.”

Kevin Spitler sat down to talk with a cup of coffee that was 75 percent coffee bean, 25 percent roasted hemp seed. He clearly believes in his products and their ability to help people. “In that hemp seed, you get all your protein, calcium, iron, and all the other essentials, but it also has your Omegas— Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory,” he said, providing a pharmaceutical education in the benefits of what some misperceive as just a marijuana derivative. To be fair, Spitler started out with a medical marijuana dispensary in Michigan, but he moved back to Ohio, which had not legalized medical marijuana, to take care of his ailing mother. He opened the Toledo Hemp Center (815 Phillips Ave.), offering over 300 hemp products including nutrition options and a lot of CBD (non-psychotropic) products. “It’s a lot like medical marijuana but you can’t get high from it,” Spitler says, which is important for his client base, much of which caters to elderly folks looking for herbal pain relief that avoids the high. “The Toledo Hemp Center has become a senior citizen haven.”

Spitler sees himself as a sort of advocate for the hemp industry, working tirelessly to overcome the stigma of buzzwords like marijuana and THC attached to hemp products. “Grandma can get the kids topicals and not have to worry about the kid getting high,” Spitler said. “It’s helping these kids with autism, seizures, cancer patients— all the way down to just anxiety and depression.” Fighting the good fight is Spitler’s calling. And if you’re a medical practitioner interested in becoming more hands-on with cannabis (or a patient who wants to become more savvy), the Toledo Hemp Center is working with The Medical Cannabis Institute to help nurses and doctors get accredited certification through online cannabinoid care coursework.

Keith Instone & Stuart Bertsch

[ Tech Toledo – Business ]

Keith Instone & Stuart Bertsch - Tech Toledo

“Back when we started, there wasn’t a tech ecosystem in Toledo,” said Stuart Bertsch.

“We’ve been corralling grass roots efforts around technology, design and entrepreneurship that have bubbled up over the last few years,” said Instone (pictured at left), one half of this omnipresent duo that has their hands on much of Toledo’s tech/startup scene. Their mission is to make Toledo better through the use of technology. It’s an exciting idea for a town better known for its blue-collar workmanship, and with Bertsch (pictured at right) and Instone’s (pictured at left) volunteer organization hard at work, they have made cutting-edge concepts, like the Pitch and Pour, a reality.

“Back when we started, there wasn’t a tech ecosystem in Toledo. The idea was to bring these (tech-savvy) people together in one room and share what’s happening, that was the original idea,” said Bertsch (pictured at right).

“It evolved to helping our existing companies get better at tech,” added Instone. “The Andersons is a prototypical local company. If they get better at tech, they’re going to be able to compete better in a global market. So when we started bringing these people together, and The Andersons needed some of those software developers, we could easily identify them.”

Their biggest work to date? Bringing the TechHire Initiative to Toledo. An innovative program launched by the White House’s Technology Officer, TechHire connects the Glass City to a pipeline of 20 other selected tech cities, which will facilitate tech jobs in Toledo as well as training for those jobs. This provides an opportunity to offer good, local computer and technology-immersed careers because of the hard work by Tech Toledo. That’s pretty much the definition of community spirit.

Andrew Newby

[ President, Toledo Spirits – Business ]

Andrew Newby - Toledo Spirits

“Whiskey is the ultimate slow food”

Started with the goal of applying a “brewery attitude” to a whiskey company, Andrew Newby and his cofounders Dustin Wade and Lukas Kummer, decided a career in spirits was only natural for the Toledo-based entrepreneurs. “In Northwest Ohio, we’ve got grain, we’ve got water and we’ve got glass,” Newby said. “The best thing you can do with those three things is make whiskey.” An understatement, Toledo Spirits is actually innovating with a new spin on an ancient practice. Distilling their premier brand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in small batches allows them to experiment with formulas and flavors, playing with tastes and aging to hone each batch into something unique. “It’s the ultimate slow food,” Newby said. “You’ve got to make something and wait a while to see if it’s good or not.”

Distillation itself isn’t hard, “Making good whiskey isn’t our challenge,” Newby admitted. “How do you start this company and create a consistent product that people like, that is our challenge. To supplement the entry into the alcoholic beverages market, Newby owns another company, Avatar, a marketing technology firm he started in 1997, which is his primary business right now. “It is my first love from a business perspective.” But with the release of Toledo Spirits’ latest innovation, a strawberry-flavored vodka called Heart of Glass, Newby may be tempted to share his affection.