The Daily Astorian | The Daily Astorian Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:48:55 -0400 en The Daily Astorian | Vicksburg filmmaker tackles tough subject in new film Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:02:42 -0400 VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) Vicksburg filmmaker Mike Gillis is at it again.

The owner of Raintree Pictures is currently filming his latest production, "When I Loved You."

The film is a Christian movie based on a screenplay written by Gillis and deals with the awkwardness of young love and a young woman who loses her faith due to tragic events in her life.

Filming is being done at various locations in and around Warren County, Gillis said.

Vicksburg native Cassidy Lampkin plays the lead role of Katie.

"It has been really fun, but being in the film has also required a lot of time and attention," Lampkin said.

The Warren Central High School cross-country and soccer player also said some of the scenes in the film have hit very close to home.

"The film deals with some of the things that I have had to deal with," Lampkin said.

Katie has to deal with the loss of someone she loved, "and it is just like some of the things I had to deal with when my brother died. It feels like Katie felt when I lost my brother," she said.

"When I Loved You" is Gillis' largest project to date, he said, with also the largest cast.

WCHS student Evan Cochran plays David, Katie's love interest.

Others cast in significant roles include Dotti-Kate McInnis, Glenda Arrendondo, Tabitha Bert and Jai Dobson, all of who are from Vicksburg, and Randy Stroud, who is formerly from the River City, but now lives in Madison.

There are a total of 12 speaking parts in the film, Gillis said, in addition to extras that come in and "mill around."

The film also features an original musical score.

Gillis said his interest in filmmaking goes back to his days at WCHS when he was a member of the dancing/singing group, Total Sound.

Warren Central High School drama teacher Barbara Sizemore had asked Gillis if he would be interested in trying out for the newly organized group, he said, and after making the cut found out he enjoyed the stage.

"I got the bug," Gillis said.

In 1977, his love of the stage expanded into an interest in photography and then from there videography.

However, it wasn't until about 10 years ago that making films took hold.

Gillis said he had been approached about shooting a drama a woman had put together, and after the film had been edited and the final version completed, he decided he wanted to be a filmmaker full time.

"So I got out of the private sector and started making films."

Gillis' last film, "Around The Next Corner," which was shot at the Highway 61 Coffeehouse two years ago, was a finalist for best drama short at the Tupelo Film Festival.

Gillis said his films are based on real life situations with an objective to spread God's message.

"If I can save one person I will feel complete."

Gillis said after his last film a man emailed him and told him that he had seen himself in the film, and it had changed his life.

"I felt like my job was done," Gillis said.

A premiere for "When I Loved You" is in the works, Gillis said, but the time and date have not yet been set.

For more information, visit Raintree Entertainment's Facebook page.


Information from: The Vicksburg Post,

Art and science promote awareness of coastal land loss Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:50:24 -0400 HAMMOND, La. (AP) A coastal landscaping photography course at LUMCON was the beginning of the merging of art and science in a short documentary called "Last Island" to help bring light to Louisiana's disappearing coast.

Gary Lafleur, an associate professor of biological sciences at Nicholls State University and biologist who helped with the course, said coastal scientists mostly talk to each other, and all of them understand what's going on coastally in south Louisiana. However, he wanted to increase public awareness, so he teamed up with then Nicholls art professor Dennis Sipiorski.

"A lot of times biologists don't get to hang out with artists, even though we are on the same campus," Lafleur said. "It's just not part of our normal day, and it takes a little bit of an extra step to kind of collaborate."

Sipiorski later went on to teach at Southeastern University. There, the duo of professors were joined by Ernest Milsted, an art professor at Southeastern and a Houma native.

Last year, Dylan Maras, a former student of Milsted and Sipiorki, and owner of White Donut Productions, and his friend Tom Nguyen, brought their drones out to the barrier islands in south Louisiana to film the three working together.

"You've got an artist's perspective from a professor, and then you have a biologist's perspective," said Maras. "It's really interesting for us with White Donut Productions as well to work with content that kind of shows perspectives through all these other artists that we collaborate with as well."

The goal of the film was to help bring awareness to not only the work they were doing but also to the need for coastal restoration in south Louisiana, Maras said.

Over the past few years, Maras said he has spent a lot of time in Houma and is really getting to know the local area.

"I'm realizing how many people survive on either the oil industry or fishing and just the area over there," Maras said. "If that's the case, then how many people can afford to move?"

When Maras found out about what the professors were working on in coastal Louisiana, he said he wanted to go with them one day out to the islands.

So the group headed out to Trinity Island, more commonly known by locals as the Last Island. Milsted said he wanted to get some drone footage "just to see what happens."

"What started out as simply taking a scouting trip, turned into Dylan and Tom really taking off from there and saying, 'well why don't we not only get the footage, but put together a little documentary about these trips to the island,'" Milsted said.

Last year, the three professors and Daniel Kariko, an art professor at East Carolina University and former Nicholls art student, were planning an exhibition of artwork at the Hammond Regional Art Center to present some of their work on coastal Louisiana. The title of their show was called "Last Island."

They decided that would be the ideal time to release the film.

"The short film become sort of a documentary on all of our work but also something to promote awareness about the coast and that sort of thing," Milsted said.


Information from: The Courier,

B. Smith's husband speaks on living with wife's Alzheimer's Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:20:58 -0400 WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) B. Smith doesn't know the day, or the month or the year.

Early-onset Alzheimer's disease has robbed the former restaurateur, model, author and TV host of such luxuries.

But her devastating 2013 diagnosis has created a national platform to address the disease that plagues an estimated 5.5 million Americans.

"The brain is the most important thing in the body, the least understood and the most taken for granted," said Smith's husband, Dan Gasby. "You can replace corneas, you can modify arteries, but the thing above your eyebrows you can't change."

Smith remained quiet throughout the interview recently, while her husband spoke on her behalf about her condition.

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior and once symptoms begin, there is no treatment.

Gasby also spoke at an event recently alongside his wife, highlighting Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's new Alzheimer's Center, funded by an $8.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The new center, one of 31 in the country, serves the Southeast, which has the highest rate of Alzheimer's in the country.

"(The center) places us on the cutting edge and allows us to help not only Winston-Salem but the entire region," said Suzanne Craft, director of the new center. "For us, it's a great opportunity to improve our knowledge about the disease and to translate that into better clinical care for patients and better education and assistance for families."

One of the focuses of the new center is research on early identification of Alzheimer's, Craft said. By the time a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the brain has already been deteriorating for 15 to 20 years.

Smith, 67, began suffering from memory problems years before her diagnosis, her husband said. She once froze for several seconds while being interviewed on the "Today Show," unprecedented for the experienced star, prompting a doctor's visit.

Doctors gave Smith a prescription for anti-depressants; later tests revealed Smith had early onset Alzheimer's.

"She looked at me and she says we're not going to hide, we're not going to let someone else define us," Gasby said of the day Smith was diagnosed. "We're going to tell our story."

Doctors explained that the progressive disease in the brain is like potholes in the road, so when neurons go astray when they try to send messages to other parts of the brain, causing behavioral fluctuations, Gasby said.

A few months after her diagnosis, Smith wandered away and was missing in New York City for a day before someone recognized her and she was safely returned home.

"It's tough," Gasby said. "She's the greatest thing that ever happened to me and it's tough watching this transition."

During her career, Smith wrote three cookbooks, founded three successful restaurants and launched a nationally syndicated TV show and a magazine. She had a successful home products line and is the only black woman to have her brand distributed exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond. She became in 1976 the second black model to be on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine, after Joli Jones in 1969.

The Pennsylvania native was a candy-striper in high school and spent much of her life helping battered women and children, which makes it harder to see this happen to someone so inherently good, her husband said.

The odds are against her, as two-thirds of people with the disease are women. Blacks are also two times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"The African-American community is the canary in the coal mine in America, so what happens to us usually ends up happening to the general population later," Gasby said. "Of all diseases, this is the most dramatic because this is the one that separates you from your humanness."

In their years of advocating for awareness, Gasby said he's seen a problem, especially in the black community, with people not wanting to talk about issues like cognitive degeneration or dementia.

He likened it to the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and found out his best friend had the disease years before and never told him about it.

"That's the problem we don't talk about the things that really matter," Gasby said. "We'll talk about what the Kardashians are doing, what's the latest thing on some meaningless reality show, but.the things you don't talk about are the ones that can kill you."

The couple co-authored a book "Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer's" and have partnered with the Brain Health Registry.

They said they hope to bring more awareness and incite more funding to a disease that will increasingly be a problem as people are living longer with modern technology and medicine.

Every 66 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association. And each of those victims will need an average of three caregivers, so that's about 40,000 lives changing each week because of Alzheimer's.

"If that was Ebola, it would be a pandemic. If that was Zika, we'd be nuking places with mosquito spray, so why aren't we doing more for Alzheimer's?" he said. "That's what bothers me so much."

Gasby said what scares him most is that in 10 or 20 years, nothing about the disease and its treatment will have changed. While other diseases, like cancer, have made strides in recent years, research is essential to help deconstruct Alzheimer's disease and find an effective treatment method.

He applauded the creation of the Wake Forest center in a state that ranks in the top 10 for Alzheimer's disease. The center will also look at under-served communities with the disease and explore how diet and exercise affect cognition.

Smith's diagnosis has taught him a lot of life lessons, Gasby said, and he plans to spend the rest of his life fighting alongside his wife for awareness and a cure.

"You learn time is precious and, that at the end of the day, you should do some good," Gasby said. "We got dealt a tough hand but we're going to play the hand for others, not just ourselves."


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal,

81-year-old organ repairman lives out dream in Iowa Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:50:42 -0400 BUFFALO, Iowa (AP) Perhaps the most striking thing about organ repair isn't the sight of lead alloy pipes reaching for the ceiling, nor the sheer number of antique switches, connections and keys involved in the puzzle but the craftsmanship of a builder's hand when it works in concert with the keen sense of a musician's ear to find that grand sound.

That, as it seems, is what caught the interest of Rod Levsen Sr., who made organ repair his livelihood in 1954.

"I've always been rather mechanically inclined," said Levsen.

The 81-year-old founded the Levsen Organ Company. He also who worked a night job as a groundskeeper at First Presbyterian Church in Davenport decades ago while attending Davenport High School.

"When I was at First Presbyterian Church, they had a nice, big, old pipe organ up there, a rather large one. When I finished working in the evening, I had all the keys. So I went up and I'd sit down and play the big organ and think, 'Oh boy, this is for me.'"

Years of studying piano as a boy combined with his experiences at the church found Levsen tuning pianos to save money for college after he graduated from high school. His mechanical interest and fascination with electronics lead him to do well with the work and "college never came."

After a decade as a sales and service representative for the Highland, Illinois-based Wick's Organ Company, Levsen branched out, building the company's plant in Buffalo, Iowa, in 1980. And he began building his own Levsen-brand organs.

"One of the things that I've always sort of had in the back of my mind I wanted to be able to create a service business that would help other people and churches," Levsen said, "to have a reliable, well known business that I could leave for my family. So, two of my sons work in our business and my grandson Chris is in the business now, and who knows where it goes from there."

Levsen spends much of his time in the office now, but the other two generations go where the work is.

"We have 215 churches that we tune and service for they're all over the country," Levsen said.

The market for church organs certainly isn't what it once was for the company.

"We've taken a beating because of the economic thing, and churches are having their problems," Levsen said.

With churches closing doors because of low attendance, an abundance of used organs depressed the market for new organ orders that made the Levsen business thrive in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Quad-City Times ( ) reported.

Business has changed, but it has not gone away. And even sales of used organs between churches create a role for Levsen to play.

"A sizeable organ takes a couple three or four days to take it apart then you have to move it to where its new place is, and then you also have to redesign it, usually, to fit in a new place and we do that," Levsen said.

One such job is at the Muscatine Art Center, the former mansion of Laura Musser and husband Edwin McColm. The mansion was built as a wedding gift from Laura's father, Peter Musser, a lumber baron.

As a singer, pianist and organist, Laura Musser studied music at Grant Seminary in Chicago and under Giovanni Sbriglia, an Italian opera singer in Paris, France. She was known to perform for parties and other gatherings and on local radio in Muscatine. Inspired by Musser's love for music, a music room and Estey organ, built by Estey Organ Company of Battleboro, Vermont, was added to the mansion in 1921.

In 1933, McColm met an untimely death. Musser remarried in 1938 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, with second husband, William T. Atkins.

Despite the move, she maintained ownership of the home, and would stop in whenever she was in Muscatine until her death in 1964 at the age of 87.

The Musser Mansion was gifted to the city in 1965 to become an art gallery and museum for Muscatine.

The mansion has been closed since February 2016 while it underwent remodeling.

"It's been a long haul for the staff," said Melanie Alexander, director of the Muscatine Art Center. "There has been a lot of behind the scenes work that people don't necessarily know about, moving exhibits in and out of storage."

Heating and air systems have been updated to control temperature and humidity for different exhibitions, the roof was replaced, the exterior trim painted, and damaged plaster in the music room was repaired. That's where Levsen became involved.

Levsen Organ Company removed the pipes of the organ to allow scaffolding to be installed while repairs were made to the plaster and the room was painted. During that work, the organ was cleaned and prepared to be reinstalled and tuned.

"We've been hearing Levsen tuning the organ as they've been installing it, but we haven't heard it truly played since it's been out," Alexander said. "It'll be exciting."

The work in the mansion will be completed by the end of April, and a public reception is being planned for Saturday, April 29.

With the work Levsen Organ Company is doing, it won't be long before we hear the Estey Organ playing again at the mansion and that is what it is all about to Rod Sr.

"I love to hear the grand organ play," Levsen said. "You know, when it's all over with, and know that you've had a part with that and know that you've had a part with an instrument that is going to serve that congregation for a hundred years or probably more, that never goes away."


Information from: Quad-City Times,

Oregon beats Kansas 74-60 to punch Final Four ticket Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:20:47 -0400 DAVE SKRETTA Press KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyler Dorsey poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and plucky Oregon ended Kansas’ romp through the NCAA Tournament with a 74-60 victory Saturday night that gave the Ducks their first Final Four trip in nearly 80 years.

Dylan Ennis added 12 points for the Ducks (33-5), who took the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed again, giving coach Dana Altman his first trip to the national semifinals.

They’ll face the winner of Sunday’s game between North Carolina and Kentucky in Glendale, Arizona.

Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), who had rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points. But their dream season ended with a thud just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right.

Star freshman Josh Jackson was mired in early foul trouble. Sharpshooting guard Devonte Graham never got on track. And the swagger that the Big 12 champs showed in humiliating Purdue in the Sweet 16 quickly became a distant memory on a night that belonged to the Pac-12 champions.

Altman had never been to the Final Four in 13 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. And the last time the Ducks were on the big stage, it was 1939 and the Tall Firs took home the title.

Jordan Bell added 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks for Oregon, while Jackson was held to 10 points for the Jayhawks in what was almost certainly his final college game.

The bus carrying the Ducks to Sprint Center on Saturday passed right by the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City, where thousands of Jayhawk fans were rallying hours before the tipoff.

In other words, they knew they were facing a de facto road game.

But the torrid shooting of Brooks, Ennis and Dorsey quickly riled up the small section of Oregon fans while deflating the rest of sold-out Sprint Center. And foul trouble that sent Jackson to the bench for much of the first half helped allow the Ducks carve out a comfortable lead.

Dorsey finished the half with back-to-back 3s, including a deep bank shot at the buzzer, as the Ducks pranced to their locker room relishing in a 44-33 advantage.

They kept right on dancing in the second half, beating the Jayhawks at their own game: Getting into transition, passing up good shots for better ones and knocking down 3-pointers.

The Ducks’ lead swelled to 55-37 when Brooks drilled another shot from the perimeter, creating the kind of hole Kansas has rarely faced. And the frustration was on the Jayhawks bench was only compounded every time Jackson or Graham tossed up a shot that clanked hollowly off the iron, their sense of desperation growing with every squandered opportunity.

Jackson didn’t score until midway through the second half. Graham was 0 for 6 beyond the arc.

The Jayhawks eventually began to whittle into the deficit, doing most of the work at the free-throw line, where they were in the bonus with 11 minutes to go. But the Ducks remained poised down the stretch, answering just enough times to keep the crowd from giving Kansas any extra juice.

When Svi Mykhailiuk scored to make it 64-55, Ennis answered with a driving basket. When Mykhailiuk buried a 3 from the corner to make it 66-60 with 2:49 left, Dorsey answered at the other end with another 3-pointer as the shot-clock expired to give Oregon some breathing room.

The Ducks never even bothered with free throws to put the game away.

Oregon wound up shooting 51 percent from the field and hit 11 of 25 from beyond the arc. It’s the kind of torrid shooting that has derailed the Jayhawks several times this season.

Kansas also lost in the regional semifinals a year ago, and the round has quickly become the biggest source of frustration for Jayhawks coach Bill Self. He even alluded to the problems on Friday, saying the round is “probably the hardest” in the entire tournament.

The Ducks are headed to the desert to play for a spot in the national championship.

More AP college basketball:

EXCHANGE: Student reads Braille in multi-state contest Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:31:26 -0400 MATTOON, Ill. (AP) L.T. Spears enjoys reading, however, it was his competitive edge that drove him to scan his fingers across 4,015 braille pages for a multi-state Braille reading contest earlier this year.

The Mattoon Middle School seventh-grader read numerous Braille-translated books with a few magazines sprinkled in to secure the top spot in the Great Lakes Braille Readers Are Leaders contest.

The contest spans eight states: Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. And of the contestants involved, Spears not only took the top spot in his middle-school grade category, but he read the most pages out of all of those in the contest spanning 13 grade levels.

L.T. said despite his efforts to read as many books as possible, he was still nervous when he got the call after the reading period ended.

"I thought (Lisa McDaniel) was joking," he said, describing the phone call he had with McDaniel, the EIASE teacher who tracked his pages.

L.T., a visually impaired student with Eastern Illinois Area Special Education (EIASE), has competed in the contest in years prior, managing to add 1,000 more pages each year, however, last year, he was just shy of nabbing first place.

L.T. read just a smidgen less than a competitor from Minnesota. Before this year's contest started, he was determined it would be different.

"Every year after the first year we will sit down before the contest and get a goal in mind of how many pages he would like to read, and he has always met and exceeded his goal every time," McDaniel said.

Usually, his goal is a page count, but this year was more focused. This year he was going to surpass the student in Minnesota.

"I just said I wanted to beat him," L.T. said.

The game plan was simple.

"I was just making sure I was reading a bunch of pages, as much as I could," he said.

By the end of the contest, he said, he read around 50 books.

Throughout those seven weeks, L.T. managed to glide through all of the pages of the Michael Vey series, much of the Series of Unfortunate Events books and other books he came across like "The War that Saved my Life" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

He stuck to the fiction he prefers that has a substantial amount of comedy and action. He mentioned any book with mystery or suspense often caught his attention as well.

The contest was not only a way to compete, though. Beyond the competition, L.T. said he loves to read. He just does not read as fervently outside of the contest.

He developed his love of books and reading in general from his mother, Gina Spears, who is blind and also an avid reader in Braille. L.T. said he found a love of books through her.

Gina Spears said she loves reading and L.T. just picked it up from her. She added it is a "close connection" the two have together. So, when he got the call that he surpassed everyone in the contest as well as in his category, Gina Spears said she was very proud.

"I was ecstatic," she said.

L.T. plans to read 5,000 pages next year, hoping to keep his streak going.

In another Braille contest, the Braille Challenge, this one specific to literacy skills, L.T. took first place in the junior varsity bracket for middle-schoolers. Two others apart of EIASE, Olivia Rios and Sidney Horn, competed as well. Olivia took first place in the apprentice bracket for second-graders.


Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier,


Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette,

Budget cuts under Trump could hit South Dakota hard Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:11:23 -0400 SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) Massive federal budget cuts proposed Thursday by President Donald Trump would be felt by South Dakotans across the state.

The Argus Leader ( ) reports that the president is proposing to eliminate dozens of programs that funnel millions of dollars into the state for things ranging from low-income heating assistance to medical research.

The budget is far from final and likely to undergo significant changes in Congress, but many in South Dakota are concerned about the impact the budget would have locally.

Here are some of the services on the chopping block in South Dakota:

Airports in Pierre, Watertown and Aberdeen would be forced to close if the president succeeds in eliminating the federal Essential Air Service program, which supports rural airports that don't have enough passengers to be self-sustaining.

Cutting the $175 million program isn't a new idea. President Barack Obama, who landed in Watertown in 2015 before a visit to Lake Area Technical Institute, suggested a cut during in his first term.

"Every president that comes in has tried to shut this down," said Watertown Regional Airport Manager Todd Syhre, whose airport offers 1,456 flights a year to Pierre and Denver.

The program doesn't require general taxpayer dollars and pays for itself through taxes and fees paid by airline passengers, collected and used for several purposes as part of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Sioux Falls Metro bus system would lose about $3 million in annual funding if Congress follows through on proposed cuts to the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, which provided a $1.1 million grant last year for renovations to the downtown bus depot.

Thousands of South Dakotans could be left in the cold if Congress agrees to defund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The $3.4 billion program helped keep the heat on last winter for 22,175 people in the state who fell behind on their energy bills.

People who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines can apply for help, which is paid directly to the utilities by the Department of Social Services.

Another program targeted by Trump for elimination, the $121 million Weatherization Assistance Program, offered insulation upgrades, duct work sealing and more to 186 other South Dakota families through grants through local aid agencies like Interlakes Community Action of Madison and Sioux Falls.

An energy auditor comes to a person's home, checks for leaks and offer fixes that would drive down heating bill costs thereafter.

President Obama proposed a cut to LIHEA as well, said David Gall, program administrator for South Dakota, but funding was ultimately restored.

The search for medical cures on South Dakota campuses would be scaled back if Trump's proposed $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health become reality.

The federal institutes funded millions of dollars' worth of research in the state last year, including $1.17 million in grants to South Dakota State University, $6.3 million for the University of South Dakota and another $12.7 million for Sanford Research.

Such grants help fund research that can eventually lead to creating, testing and refining treatments and cures. Years of research culminate in clinical trials, such as Sanford's recently announced trials to study the use of a patient's own stem cells to treat rotator cuff injuries.

"Clinical trials are what lead to modern medicine," said Cindy Morrison, chief marketing officer for Sanford Health. "When you think about chemotherapy, that was once a clinical trial. You get to clinical trials through research."

The Avera Institute for Genetics was founded with NIH grant money, according to Chief Scientific Officer Gareth Davies. The Avera Institute now has over 40 staff members working in 20,000 square feet. The funding supplements health system investment and private funding sources, Davies said, and helps fund the work of the Institute's partner organizations.

"It's always disappointing as a scientist when research funding isn't available, because medical research and breakthroughs save lives," Davies said.

Money from a federal program slated for elimination under Trump's budget helped pave the way for a new business park in northwestern Sioux Falls.

Foundation Park was a benefactor of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which pitched in $1.7 million last year to help build railroad tracks in and out of the future industrial park. The White House's budget proposal would eliminate the $221 million program entirely.

"Certainly having a park in Sioux Falls with rail access makes a park uniquely attractive to companies that have or need rail infrastructure," said Brent O'Neil, economic development manager for the city.

The city also received a $755,000 grant from the program to help develop an 80-acre research park, also to be located in northwestern Sioux Falls. The University of South Dakota Research District is a partnership between USD, City Hall and state officials. The federal funds will go toward infrastructure, including 2,800 feet of streets.

"Having those funds allows infrastructure to be put in that in turn can help support the growth and development of businesses," O'Neil said.

Arts programming from the SculptureWalk to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra could feel the squeeze if Trump succeeds in eliminating the National Endowments for the Arts.

The South Dakota Arts Council gets about half its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, using the money to pay for arts education throughout the state. All of the state council's federal funding $845,635 for 2017 would go toward grants for local groups, according to Director Patrick Baker.

The money supports nearly 500 programs a year throughout the state, including an artist in residence program in schools. Locally, they include the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Sioux Empire Community Theatre, Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society (which organizes Jazzfest) and SculptureWalk.

"An elimination of NEA funding would not necessarily mean complete elimination of any of our grant programs, but it would mean serious cutbacks across the board," Baker said.

The Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls Multicultural Center, the Bowden Youth Center and Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire would all be at risk of losing funding if Congress agrees to $3.6 billion in proposed cuts to Department of Education programs.

Those programs were among the recipients of nearly $11 million in federal funding for before and after school programs from the 21st Century Learning Centers Program, now on the chopping block. Other proposed cuts would hit programs for English language-learners and kids who don't have anywhere else to be, which troubles Sioux Falls Superintendent Brian Maher.

"Students who do not have English as a first language and need that work and care so that they can be assimilated into our schools and our culture would be at risk with a loss in funding," Maher said.

Also at risk: The Supporting Effective Instruction Grants program, which has offered nearly $11 million to the state for each of the last three years for teacher training and classroom size reduction.

A law office that assists low-income South Dakotans in civil cases like evictions, divorces, protection orders and collections would lose two-thirds of its funding under Trump's budget proposal.

East Dakota Legal Services in Sioux Falls is the only option for free legal aid in 33 South Dakota counties. The $396,000 it gets each year from the federal government helps it serves between 300 and 400 people a year, Director Doug Cummings said.

Clients can't make more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level and must have an immediate need for legal assistance, such as being served a subpoena or eviction notice. The agency turns down 75 percent of the people who need help. "We are reduced to being a legal emergency room," Cummings said.

President Ronald Reagan never put money in his budget for the Legal Services Corp., Cummings said, but boosters in Congress kept the agency afloat with continuing resolutions.

Funding has fluctuated through the years, but Cummings said legal aid has a long list of nonpartisan backers, from the American Bar Association to federal and state judges. Harriet Myers, an adviser to President George W. Bush, worked in legal aid and backed funding during her time in Washington, D.C.

Indigent funding for legal services is important to the integrity of the system as a whole, Cummings said.

"If you want your citizens to believe in your legal system, people have got to have access," Cummings said. "If you don't have access and people don't believe in it, you've failed."

The White House's proposed budget cuts would take away programs that have been around for decades to help families afford a roof over their head.

The city would lose about $1.1 million a year under the recommended slashes to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Les Kinstad, affordable housing manager for the city. It would also eliminate programs that create opportunities for low-income families and the homeless while fixing up and replacing some of the city's old housing stock.

"It's easy to say, 'well, just do away with a program,'" Kinstad said. "But it will have an impact on people."

Local nonprofit Affordable Housing Solutions is building 10 single family homes this year, including many in core neighborhoods downtown, with money from the Community Development Block Grants. Trump's budget would eliminate the program completely as part of a $3 billion cut in funding going to communities such as Sioux Falls.

AHS uses the block grants to help pay for single-family housing, sold to low-income families. The homes act as workforce housing for parents who have jobs but still struggle to afford the costs of raising a family. The federal program has been around for 42 years and has funded $150 billion in grants.

Also on the chopping block is the city's Homebuyers Assistance program, which offers low-interest loans to low- and moderate-income families. The city would also have to cut its Single-Family Rehabilitation program, which funds maintenance projects, and a program at Inter-Lakes Community Action helping homeless people find jobs and housing.

The nine television stations and 11 radio stations in the South Dakota Public Broadcasting system would struggle to offer local programming if Congress follows through with Trump's threat to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

SDPB gets about $1.66 million a year from CPB, which makes up 22 percent of its total annual budget. About half of the remaining funds come from the state; the remainder is made up though fundraising. The state funding pays largely for engineering and infrastructure needed to broadcast.

The CPB money pays for SDPB's subscriptions to national programs, but it also pays for local programming: High school activity broadcasts, live streaming of the South Dakota legislature, a 24/7 PBS Kids channel and educational programs online for use in local schools.

"I think sometimes when people say 'we don't need it,' they're not thinking through all the other services we do," SDPB Director Julie Overgaard said. "I don't think anybody else is going to come into South Dakota and cover the girls' basketball tournament, broadcast the Dignity statute dedication or stream the legislature. Those things would just go away."

Overgaard sees strong support for public broadcasting in Congress, where discussions of budget cuts have been a recurring theme for decades.

Rural home buyers and businesses could have a more difficult time borrowing money if Trump manages to eliminate a group of community development and neighborhood reinvestment programs.

Grow South Dakota, located in Sisseton, is one of more than 17 economic development agencies in the state that use the programs to offer loans to borrowers who might not otherwise qualify. The nonprofit has more than 650 active loans on the books, according to chief executive officer Marcia Erickson.

Her agency received $9.9 million in federal Community Development Financial Institution grants since 1999. In total, Grow South Dakota serves 10,000 South Dakotans a year. Other rural development agencies relying in part on the targeted programs include Interlakes Community Action of Madison and Sioux Falls, Dakota Resources of Renner and Rural Office of Community Services in Lake Andes.

"Without essential funding, residents in South Dakota will not have access to resources that have otherwise driven these programs throughout the state," Erickson said.

Lin VanHofwegen of Dakotas Resources said the cuts would leave "our country's most distressed communities without the tools needed to grow businesses, create jobs and sustain a thriving local economy."

Not every agency is facing the possibility of cuts under Trump's budget proposal. The Sioux Falls VA Health System provides care to former members of the military at its 98-bed medical center and clinics in Watertown, Aberdeen and elsewhere.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would get billions of dollars more under the president's plan, though local officials for the hospital aren't quite sure how it will affect them locally.

"We can't speculate on how we would spend it when we don't have it," said Shirley Redmond, a spokeswoman for the local VA. "We're always grateful for additional funding to provide care and benefits for veterans."

Money would go to improving both primary and specialized care for veterans, and continuing a program allowing veterans to choose between the VA and private hospitals. The Veterans Choice Program is slated to end in August.


Information from: Argus Leader,

North Dakota opens first high school radio station Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:50:55 -0400 LINTON, N.D. (AP) The state's first high school radio station, KLHS, went live last month in Linton, a town in Emmons County with a population of about 1,300 residents.

The online radio station is the brainchild of a local alternative education program supervisor with 30 years in the radio industry, working in the tri-state region as an on-air announcer and building and owning his own radio station in Langdon, which is still running.

Jay Schmaltz said he brought an idea to two new administrators: to start a radio station owned by the school and operated by students.

This station is not the first in the country. In fact, many high schools in other states have had radio stations dating back to the 1950s.

The Bismarck Tribune ( ) reports that KLHS broadcasts live online Monday through Friday morning from the campus of Linton High School. Four students all females are enrolled in the radio journalism class, and they play music from the '60s, '70s and '80s, read the weather and do school announcements.

Schmaltz calls it a work in progress but said he hopes the station will expand to allow the students to write for broadcast and do interviews.

"At some time in the next year, we will be a full-fledged radio station to the point of where we'll have local news, local sports," Schmaltz said.

Radio stations are bleak in Linton. The closest stations come out of Bismarck and Mobridge, S.D. KLHS, since going online Feb. 13, has become a sort of defacto community station.

"We're not being served here," Schmaltz said. "I feel this can serve a purpose for the public and also for the school. I think this is something that the community needs."

Schmaltz approached Linton Public School Superintendent Paul Keeney and the high school's principal, Michael Schirado, with the proposal last summer.

But he said they wondered: Would any high school students even want to get involved? And how could they get school credit?

"I had never heard of it before," said Schirado, who is in his first year as principal of the school. "It seemed like a really great idea, and it just needed some guidance and push to make it happen."

Schmaltz said they found out they could make the station a credited course for students through a radio journalism course offered through the North Dakota Continued Distance Education, an accredited virtual school.

They went to the school board and asked for about $3,000 for equipment. Schmaltz, who expected to get about $1,000, said he was surprised when the entire request was granted.

Schmaltz credits the superintendent and Schirado for helping start the station.

"They are very gung-ho, very innovative. They're looking for that niche that the other schools aren't doing but that we can provide for our students here," he said.

Four interested students enrolled in the radio class Hannah Schumacher, Raanne Schiermeister, Tiffany Smith, and Kailee Horner and started working at the station, with Schmaltz on the controls.

Each day, the students do their coursework online and switch 30-minute shifts broadcasting online.

The station is online, because it was faster than having to go through sometimes several years' worth of "hoops to jump through" with the Federal Communications Commission to obtain a radio license. The station also is featured on cable access channel 22 for BEK TV.

The four students work for an hour out of a makeshift studio built by the Linton High School shop class in Schmaltz's classroom.

"Nothing great, but it will suffice for now," he said. "We have long-term plans that this will grow."

The radio station has helped improve the students' communication skills, Schmaltz said. Smith, a student in the class, agrees.

"You have to slow down a lot (on the radio)," said Smith, a junior at Linton High School.

Smith said she took the class to learn something new. Through the class, she's learned how to operate radio equipment, stick to a time schedule and read the weather. She plans to continue in the class next school year.

Schmaltz said he hopes the class will expand in the fall with a more permanent studio and production facility. And perhaps in the near future it might turn into an over-the-air radio station. An "educational station," of course, Schmaltz said.

"That's what it would be, if it was anything. It wouldn't be commercial; it'd be educational because I want it to stay here. I want it to remain in the school, and I want it to be run by the students," he said.

"The sky's the limit. I think we want to approach everything with that kind of a mindset," said Schirado, adding he hopes the student-run station can collaborate with other classes, such as English and history.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune,

Georgia park has colorful history tied to aviation Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:21:47 -0400 ROME, Ga. (AP) Pop singer Cher had a huge hit in 1989 with "If I Could Turn Back Time." It's something 88-year-old Bobby Garrard has been doing a lot in recent months.

When the city of Rome decided to name its newest property at the intersection of Redmond Circle and Lavender Drive Garrard Park, it brought back flashes of an idyllic barnstorming era for Garrard, the lone surviving child of Dr. John Lucious Garrard, who owned the former General Electric property nearly a century ago.

The property was a farm way back and home to Rome's first airport. Bobby remembers the primary runway was laid out on an east-west axis, a secondary runway ran north-south. His father bought an old de Havilland double-wing plane and Robert Stroop, from Maryland, flew it to Rome and ended up staying, marrying one of Bobby's sisters.

Bobby recalls Stroop and his father barnstorming on weekends, taking people up for Saturday flights for $1 or $2.

"I used to sell tickets when I was a little boy," Bobby said. They even made night flights where people would line the runway with their cars and turn on the lights to provide lighting of the runway for the aircraft to return safely.

Back in those days, Stroop would fly his father-in-law and others to Athens to see University of Georgia football games.

When the Works Progress Administration came along in the 1930s, the federal agency agreed to put chert down on the dirt runway. But the WPA crews could not work on private property, so his father deeded the land to the city of Rome for $1. The deal contained one caveat, if it ever ceased to be used as an airport, the property would revert back to the family.

Bobby recalls that his only brother, John Garrard, may have been the youngest person in Georgia to get a pilot's license, at the age of 16.

"John was quite a flier," Bobby said.

Many of the Stroop descendants still live in the Rome area as well. Much of the family, both the Garrard side and the Stroop side actually spent much of their childhood on the south side of the West Rome site, closer to the old Central of Georgia railroad tracks. Mary Sue Stroop Gilleland recalls walking from her home on the side of Old Airport Road up to the hangar to watch her dad work on plans.

"I flew with him," she said. "He could do anything with an airplane."

Gilleland said she would give anything if the family could locate her father's pilot's license, which was approved and signed by Orville Wright.

"I heard (the family) may have given it to a museum but we haven't been able to find any trace of it," she said.

The GE deal

"The GE negotiations were real secretive," Bobby recalls.

He was 25 when the deal was done and said GE initially took an option on 20 acres at $1,000 an acre. Sometime later they came back and said they wanted the entire tract, approximately 157 acres, but wanted to pay $750 an acre.

"I told dad that was a pretty big cut, but things in Rome was kind of tough back then and he said people needed jobs, so he agreed to the sale," Bobby said.

The deal was closed for $118,350.

As things turned out, both Bobby and his older brother went to work for GE and retired from the Rome plant.

The Garrard family has an even more contemporary link to the property. One of Dr. Garrard's daughters, Dorothy, married Russell Flewellyn Mitchell and that union produced Martin H. "Buddy" Mitchell, who served on the Rome City Commission for 17 years, from 1974-1991, the last eight of those as chairman.

After the GE plant closed, negotiations started almost immediately to return a portion of the acreage to the city. When the deal was finally completed, TRED Trails for Recreation and Economic Development took the lead in developing a network of trails on close to 60 acres closest to the intersection of Redmond Circle and Lavender Drive.

Gilleland called Dr. Garrard "Big Daddy" and said her side of the Garrard family was thrilled to learn the park would be named after him.

"It means the world to me and all of my siblings," she said.

"When they said they were going to build a park, I said it would be nice if they named it after the doctor, we always referred to him as 'the doctor,'" Bobby said. "When they decided to name it after my daddy it was wonderful because the property was mostly still intact and it's going to preserve a lot of memories from here on out."


Information from: Rome News-Tribune,

West Ada parents ensure daughter's legacy Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:10:17 -0400 EAGLE, Idaho (AP) In 2015, three years after the death of their 16-year-old daughter, Heidi and Ted Hill met the woman who received their youngest child's heart.

The Washington woman, now 35, had a stethoscope at her house and allowed the couple to listen to the heartbeat.

"It was joyful. It wasn't sad at all," recalled Heidi Hill, who has since become an active organ donation advocate. "It wasn't emotionally overwhelming at all. It was pretty cool."

Their daughter, Shauna Hill, suffered critical injuries in a December 2012 collision in Eagle. She was on life support for 10 days.

Shauna's liver saved the life of a mother of five, now 52, who also lives in Washington.

"We share Christmas cards, and her children have written me thank-you letters," Heidi Hill said.

Her kidneys were donated to two elderly grandfathers. Her pancreas was donated for islet cells, clusters which produce vital hormones, including insulin.

The chaplain at the hospital where Shauna died told the Hills that it's very common for parents who've lost a child to end up divorced. They beat the odds, they said, by channeling their grief into action promoting organ donation, highway improvements, new equipment for rescue personnel and a law to help veterans transfer their education benefits that would otherwise be lost when a family member dies.

Heidi Hill has spoken publicly about organ donation for the Idaho Transportation Department and is an advocate for Donate Life, Yes Idaho and the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank. She is helping other families, including friends, with the organ donation process.

"Many people have lost children under far worse circumstances," Heidi Hill said. "We have been humbled to meet parents who have survived the loss of a child and who have helped us find our way from darkness."


The Hills' story was thrust back into the news last week, when U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, introduced a bill that would allow veterans such as Ted Hill, a retired Navy captain, to transfer education benefits from one child to another after retirement. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Ted Hill's GI Bill benefits were assigned to Shauna, a top-flight student who aspired to attend Stanford University and then law school. After her death, the Hills were told they couldn't transfer the benefits to another daughter, Haley.

"Congressman Labrador took a real personal interest in helping our family," Ted Hill said. "He really reached out. ... His staff and himself really, really pushed hard to make this happen."

Haley went to college on a soccer scholarship the year that Shauna died and has since graduated with a teaching degree from Eastern Oregon University. Now she's in graduate school, studying English literature and student teaching. She'd like to go to Oxford University this summer.

If the federal legislation passes, the Hills hope to be reimbursed $100,000 to cover Haley's graduate school education.


The Hills helped the Eagle Fire Department acquire new crash extrication equipment by asking the public to donate in their daughter's memory to the department, starting with a sizable donation of their own.

Ted Hill pored over crash details obsessively and then lobbied state highway officials for safety improvements, including a traffic signal at the intersection and a lower speed limit. He met with several state and local officials before delivering a petition to ITD containing a couple of thousand signatures.

"I got on their case a little," he said.

Since 2011, there have been seven crashes and one death, Shauna's at Idaho 16 and Floating Feather, according to ITD data. Four crashes happened between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and six of them involved drivers between the ages of 16 and 18.

ITD and the Ada County Highway District did a safety audit of the intersection after Shauna's death. The agency decided a signal wasn't warranted there.

But a signal is planned, possibly later this year, for just up the road at the intersection of Beacon Light and Idaho 16. That is considered a worse intersection for crashes both for their frequency and severity, according to ITD. It will create gaps in traffic, reducing the wait time for cars entering the highway at Floating Feather and improving safety at both intersections, according to state transportation officials.

Ada County Highway District added rumble strips to both sides of Floating Feather to alert motorists to the intersection, and ITD reduced the speed on Idaho 16 from 65 mph to 55 mph.

Ted Hill created and maintains a roadside memorial for his daughter. He's pleased with other safety improvements in the area by ACHD since his daughter's death, including new streetlights and a reorientation of the stop line on Floating Feather to be right on the highway, instead of set back. Craig Quintana, a spokesman for ACHD, said having the line closer to the highway allows motorists to better gauge the speed of oncoming traffic.


Shauna Hill was an animal lover. Her parents continue to care for her pets, including an 11-year-old schnauzer and a hermit crab.

There's also a new family member. The Hills, both in their 50s, have adopted a baby boy, Elliott, from a relative. They've been raising him since he was born last April.

"We watched him being born," Heidi said. "We have resources we didn't have when we were young."

Ted Hill works as a commercial pilot. He's considering studying for his second master's degree in homeland security.

Heidi, a physical education/health teacher, is training for a half-marathon. She said she hopes to one day write a book about her daughter and about surviving the loss of a child.


Information from: Idaho Statesman,

Volunteers' compassion helps grieving parents in Idaho Wed, 22 Mar 2017 07:40:25 -0400 BURLEY, Idaho (AP) Weak afternoon sun trickled through a window onto Amanda Harris as her thumb stroked the cool, slick glass of a photo frame cradled against her chest.

The photo is of her tiny son.

"This is all I have of him," the Paul woman said. Photos, hand- and footprints, a minuscule diaper and a white gown adorned with a yellow duck. "These things are some of my most prized possessions."

Born much too soon at 21 weeks' gestation on Aug. 3, 2012 Michael Allen did not survive. But he was real.

He weighed 9 ounces. He was 10 inches long. He waved his hands at his mom when the doctor performed the last ultrasound screening.

There's no joyful celebration for families of the 20 or 30 south-central Idaho babies each year who are stillborn or die shortly after birth. Instead, most hospitals offer infant-loss programs spearheaded by nurses, staffers and volunteers who understand these parents' pain.

They sew tiny clothing, make blankets and hats, paint memento boxes and help families take the first and last photos of their children.

They offer compassion and the gift of a few precious hours.

"I was able to have seven hours with him before the mortuary took him," Harris said. "Eternity is not long enough to spend with your child, let alone seven hours."


A miniature white gown with tiny beadwork lay atop Wendy Peterson's sewing workbench as she turned an infant boy's outfit made from the same satin right-side out.

The backs of the clothing would have Velcro closures, because the infant bodies that will wear them are fragile and can't withstand a lot of manipulation.

"They don't make any patterns for boys," Peterson said, showing the tiny tuxedo she styled. The vest would be finished with buttons. A dapper bow tie would complete the ensemble.

The luxurious material? Harris' wedding dress.

After Harris lost her son, she donated the dress to Cassia Regional Hospital's infant-loss program to be made into layettes for perinatal deaths. Nurses and volunteers eagerly took up the cause and began working on them.

Harris' donation snowballed spurring others to donate their wedding dresses.

Peterson, a registered nurse at Cassia Regional's birth center, expects to get four outfits from Harris' dress, mostly for boys and all with individual designs.

"We don't have any outfits for the boys," she said.

Peterson has experience sewing clothing for her six children, then 12 grandchildren but the clothing was never this small.

No one makes it this small, she said. And doll clothes aren't really appropriate for a baby's last outfit.

Dolls in varying sizes sit against her windowsill to serve as fitting models. As she sews, her mind sometimes wanders to the little ones who will use them.

"I think about the different families I've seen and how hard it was on them," Peterson said.

Society has come a long way in the past 60 years with acknowledging a family's grief after the loss of a baby, Peterson said. Sometimes mothers didn't get to see their babies after they died, let alone hold them.

Now parents decide whether they want to see and hold the bodies and how much time they want to spend. And nurses make sure parents have photos and mementos for later, even if they think they don't want to see the baby.

Everything that can be done to soften this time for parents, Peterson said, is worth it.

"It's the hardest part of labor and delivery," she said. "It's mostly a happy place."


Six years ago, Declo mother Kara Ramsey and her husband, Matt, lost Braxton Heward at five months' gestation. A routine checkup showed no heartbeat.

The loss catapulted Ramsey into the uncharted. Still reeling from the news, she and her husband were hit with questions about what they wanted to do after Braxton's stillbirth.

"I just felt like I was in a whirlwind, and I didn't know the answers," Ramsey said.

When Braxton arrived looking pink and perfect, they were able to spend time with him before the mortuary took him.

Nurses encourage parents to capture those moments after a stillbirth, said Sally Edgar, a registered nurse who oversees the infant-loss program at Cassia Regional. "We always encourage those things because you can't go back afterwards."

The Ramseys buried their son in a small fiberglass casket, placed on top of his grandfather's casket during a simple, sweet ceremony.

"I felt such a sense of release," Ramsey said. But her grief lingered.

"I think it is the loneliest kind of grieving because nobody had bonded with the baby yet but me," Ramsey said. Expectant mothers start making a connection with the being growing inside long before it becomes a reality for others. "I felt so lost and alone and kept asking myself, 'Is this normal?'"

As her grief lingered for years, Ramsey reached out to the hospital and spearheaded the grief support group that Harris eventually joined.

"It's a group that I would have never chosen for myself," Ramsey said, the words heavy in her throat.


Harris lost an ectopic pregnancy before losing Michael, so she and her husband, Joseph, were cautious about feeling joyful too soon. But after the 12-week mark, she allowed herself to feel excitement.

"I thought I was fine and I was having a healthy baby," Harris said. "I didn't even know what a stillbirth was."

When Harris started bleeding and cramping, an ultrasound showed Michael moving and waving his fists. But an infection threatened Harris' life, and she was told Michael had stopped growing at 18 weeks. The doctor said the baby would not live.

Harris could still feel him moving, and in desperation the couple called other hospitals, only to hear the same grim message.

"I still had hope," she said. "I was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best."

A nurse who had experienced a stillbirth explained to the couple what their son would look like so they wouldn't be shocked by his appearance and darkened skin.

Soon, as Harris cleaned up she felt Michael's tiny head and then his body slipped into her waiting palm.

"It's something I cherish," she said. "Other mothers are there to pick up their children and comfort them when they fall. The only time my son fell and needed me to catch him, I was there."

She saw a pulse on Michael, but the nurse told her it was only from the umbilical cord. Harris wasn't so sure.

"I was scared to touch him because his skin was so thin I thought it would tear," she said. "I talked to him and told him I loved him and his heart stopped beating."

The nurse took Michael's body and made impressions of his hands and feet.

Many mothers plan what their babies will wear home from the hospital, but the Harris family had no clothing to fit this boy.

"When they brought him back wearing the layette it was like there was a light around him," Harris said. "He deserved to have something beautiful to wear."

The clothing helped her look at her child and come to terms with the death. The Harrises examined Michael's hands and features, etching them into their hearts.

The hospital gave them a tiny box holding a bear, a blanket and a camera, and they took photos during the hours they spent cradling and touching Michael's body.

"I don't know the color of his eyes or who he looks like or who he would have been, but I do know what I have right here," Harris said, touching the tiny clothing he wore. "It helps keep his memory alive and lets other people know him."

Afterward, she bought a bear to hug to ease the ache in her empty arms and a stuffed donkey for 10-year-old son Zane, who still sleeps with it.

For months she couldn't bear to go to a store because seeing baby clothes or hearing a crying infant caused waves of grief. Food tasted different, and colors seemed muted.

"If you imagine the mess after an earthquake, that's what I felt like inside," she said.

Though surrounded by supportive family, Harris felt isolated.

"Maybe people tend to stay away because they just don't know what to say," she said. "I felt like he didn't exist to the rest of the world."

Instead of comforting, well-meaning remarks often stung.

"Don't tell someone to move on or that they can have more children," Harris said. "And don't tell them at least you have this other child."

And don't just turn your head away, she said.

"Say my child's name."


Grief after a loss like Harris' is completely normal, said licensed professional counselor Jeanette Bern, owner of Aspenwood Counseling in Burley.

"They were an active part of your life and part of everything you chose to do," Bern said. Not only do parents lose the physical child, they lose their dream of that child.

"You lose that future," she said.

While spending time with the deceased child is right for some parents, Bern said, for others it could produce post-traumatic stress disorder. Hospitals with infant-loss programs must be cautious to make sure it's the parents' wishes.

Grief after a baby's death, like all grief, has no timetable and is cyclical. People move in and out of the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Grief, Bern said, can be triggered years later by the sight of another child.

"Grief doesn't ever really go away," she said, "you just learn to cope with it."

After the loss of her son, Ramsey sought a day that felt normal only to discover it didn't exist.

"You have to find the new normal," she said.

If loved ones are dealing with grief, listen to them and validate their feelings, Bern said; hear their pain without judging them. Those searching for comfort after a child's death should seek out a counselor or someone they don't know well who is willing to sit and really listen.

South-central Idaho hospitals also offer counseling and clergy visits to families who lose babies.

The first time Harris attended a grief support group after her son's death she felt angry that she even had a reason to be there. Over time, she realized the participants understood her loss through the windows of their own grief.

"Even though every story of loss is different I realized we are all grieving in our own way and it made me stronger," she said. "When you experience the loss of a child you have to let it hurt, bleed. You have to experience the rawness of it, then you can be ready to heal."


Four years after losing her son, Harris wanted to do something in Michael's memory.

"I don't want his memory," she said, "to be just another sad story of a child lost."

In October she and her husband made baked goods, held a fundraiser and donated $450 to the hospital for purchasing stuffed bears for its memory boxes. And she donated the wedding dress collecting dust in her closet.

Harris hopes to continue raising money to purchase a CuddleCot to donate to the hospital. The refrigerated bassinet allows families to spend more time with a baby's body.

"I knew I wanted to help this program because they helped me, no questions asked," Harris said. "Maybe I can help another mom whose heart is shattered in a million pieces."


Information from: The Times-News,

Today in History Mon, 13 Mar 2017 08:50:19 -0400 Today in History

Today is Saturday, March 25, the 84th day of 2017. There are 281 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On March 25, 1947, a coal-dust explosion inside the Centralia Coal Co. Mine No. 5 in Washington County, Illinois, claimed 111 lives; 31 men survived.

On this date:

In 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots.

In 1776, Gen. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, was awarded the first Congressional Gold Medal by the Continental Congress.

In 1865, during the Civil War, Confederate forces attacked Fort Stedman in Virginia but were forced to withdraw because of counterattacking Union troops.

In 1911, 146 people, mostly young female immigrants, were killed when fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York.

In 1924, the Second Hellenic Republic was proclaimed in Greece.

In 1931, in the so-called "Scottsboro Boys" case, nine young black men were taken off a train in Alabama, accused of raping two white women; after years of convictions, death sentences and imprisonment, the nine were eventually vindicated.

In 1957, a signing ceremony was held for the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community.

In 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 people to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery after a five-day march from Selma to protest the denial of voting rights to blacks. Later that day, civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, a white Detroit homemaker, was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klansmen.

In 1975, King Faisal (FY'-suhl) of Saudi Arabia was shot to death by a nephew with a history of mental illness. (The nephew was beheaded in June 1975.)

In 1987, the Supreme Court, in Johnson v. Transportation Agency, ruled 6-3 that an employer could promote a woman over an arguably more-qualified man to help get women into higher-ranking jobs.

In 1990, 87 people, most of them Honduran and Dominican immigrants, were killed when fire raced through an illegal social club in New York City.

In 1996, an 81-day standoff by the anti-government Freemen began at a ranch near Jordan, Montana.

Ten years ago: Iran announced it was partially suspending cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, citing what it called "illegal and bullying" Security Council sanctions imposed on the country for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (SEE'-dee oold shayk ahb-duh-LAH'-hee) won Mauritania's first free presidential election in a runoff.

Five years ago: President Barack Obama arrived in South Korea, where he visited the Demilitarized Zone separating the South from the communist North, telling American troops stationed nearby they were protectors of "freedom's frontier." Pope Benedict XVI, on his first trip to Latin America, urged Mexicans to wield their faith against drug violence, poverty and other ills, celebrating Mass before a sea of worshippers in Silao.

One year ago: A suicide bomber believed to be a teenager blew himself up in a soccer stadium south of the Iraqi capital, killing 29 people and wounding 60. The Rolling Stones unleashed two hours of thundering rock and roll on an ecstatic crowd of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors in Havana; the free concert came two days after President Barack Obama concluded his historic visit to Cuba.

Today's Birthdays: Movie reviewer Gene Shalit is 91. Former astronaut James Lovell is 89. Feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem is 83. Singer Anita Bryant is 77. Singer Aretha Franklin is 75. Actor Paul Michael Glaser is 74. Singer Elton John is 70. Actress Bonnie Bedelia is 69. Actress-comedian Mary Gross is 64. Actor James McDaniel is 59. Former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is 59. Movie producer Amy Pascal is 59. Rock musician Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet) is 57. Actress Brenda Strong is 57. Actor Fred Goss is 56. Actor-writer-director John Stockwell is 56. Actress Marcia Cross is 55. Author Kate DiCamillo is 53. Actress Lisa Gay Hamilton is 53. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker is 52. Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Glavine is 51. TV personality Ben Mankiewicz is 50. Olympic bronze medal figure skater Debi Thomas is 50. Actor Laz Alonso is 46. Singer Melanie Blatt (All Saints) is 42. Actor Domenick Lombardozzi is 41. Actor Lee Pace is 38. Actor Sean Faris is 35. Comedian/actor Alex Moffat ("Saturday Night Live") is 35. Auto racer Danica Patrick is 35. Actress-singer Katharine McPhee is 33. Singer Jason Castro is 30. Rapper Big Sean is 29. Rap DJ/producer Ryan Lewis is 29. Actor Matthew Beard is 28. Actress-singer Aly (AKA Alyson) Michalka (mish-AL'-kah) is 28. Actor Kiowa Gordon is 27. Actress Seychelle Gabriel is 26.

Thought for Today: "In every person, even in such as appear most reckless, there is an inherent desire to attain balance." Jakob (YAH'-kawb) Wassermann, German author (1873-1934).

In One Ear: Map quest Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:30:31 -0400 Often this column contains stories from the 1880s and 1890s with Astoria street names both familiar and unfamiliar. Astorian Fred White took the Ear to task, and rightly so, about the configuration of the downtown streets being different then than now. So the question became: How different?

The answers are in “Whitney’s Map of Astoria” courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection online, where there is a detailed street map of 1890 Astoria (; to see it compared to present-day Astoria, go to A detail of the map is shown.

In 1890, Astoria was composed of several districts. Working east, the westernmost district was Taylor, which went from Smith’s Point to roughly between the current Flavel and Hume streets. Next, the McClure district covered about the present-day Second to 14th streets; the Shiveley district was from 14th Street to about the 32nd to 33rd street area; Adair was from about 33rd Street to around Nimitz Drive; Alderbrook was from between 46th and 47th streets to around 53rd Street; and Van Duesen & Brown covered 53rd Street to what’s now known as North Tongue Point. And those are just the north waterfront areas.

Each district had its own street naming system, creating quite a maze of confusion. For example, Taylor has Third through Seventh streets running northwest to southeast; McClure has First through 13th streets running east and west; and Shiveley has numbered streets running north and south. You get the idea.

Fortunately, the city grid was eventually consolidated and renumbered, probably after the 1922 fire. Happily, there are no longer four or five (or more) different Fourth Streets, but it’s still fun to see Astoria as it was then.

— Elleda Wilson

Draft plan released to reform ODOT in wake of $1 million evaluation Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:24:55 -0400 PARIS ACHENCapital Bureau SALEM — The state’s administrative agency has laid out a draft plan for reforming weaknesses at the Oregon Department of Transportation, but deadlines for the reforms lag behind legislators’ schedule for approving a transportation package.

The draft recommendations by the Department of Administrative Services are based on the findings of an independent consultant’s management review of the agency, finalized Feb. 1.

The state paid New York-based McKinsey & Co. $1 million to evaluate the performance of ODOT before lawmakers consider approving hundreds of millions of dollars in new transportation funding later this session. The revenue to pay for projects would likely come largely from a hike in the state’s gas tax and registration fees.

Gov. Kate Brown ordered the review to help allay some lawmakers’ concerns the agency wasn’t prepared to handle the new projects efficiently and effectively.

The consultants concluded there is an unclear governance structure for ODOT and the Oregon Transportation Commission, which sets policy for the agency. The agency also lacks a strategic vision for the future and accountability measures, the consultants found.

In its draft, DAS recommended that the governor and Legislature convene a work group to clarify the governance structure and report back Nov. 1.

ODOT should seek the expertise of a management consulting company to develop a management plan for the agency that would define structure, roles and measurements for success.

The agency also should seek out a consulting company to address waste in its fleet and facilities programs and convene procurement experts from other state agencies to review potential improvements for contracting.

Other recommendations ask for a communications plan, align legislative standards with the realities of the agency’s operations and ask the secretary of state to conduct an audit specifically on ODOT’s management of funds in the highway program.

Finally, DAS recommends conducting another management review to identify the progress of any changes.

The draft recommendations by DAS were released to the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Friday, March 24, in response to a public records request.

The finalized recommendations are scheduled to be released next week, March 27-31, said DAS spokesman Matt Shelby. The records were submitted to the OTC and ODOT earlier this month. The commission and agency have been asked to give feedback on the recommendations by Monday, March 27, Shelby said.

The first of several work products recommended in the draft plan wouldn’t be due until Nov. 1, months after the state Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

Lawmakers on a legislative committee crafting the transportation package say they plan to move forward with their own ODOT reforms. The co-chairs of the Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization formed an accountability subgroup to look at such issues.

“When we decided to go with the accountability group, we kind of put aside what the executive department was doing and said, we are going to do what we think needs to be done from a legislative perspective for accountability and transparency,” said committee Co-Chairman Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield.

Rep. Alan Olson, R-Albany, who heads the accountability subgroup, said he would consider the draft plan in a separate set of recommendations he plans to present to the full, 14-member transportation package committee April 3.

His recommendations are likely going to include suggestions for changing or clarifying ODOT’s governance structure and other accountability measures.

Olson said he is particularly interested in an idea to provide a website to the public where they can track the progress of transportation packages and whether the projects are on schedule and on budget.

Couple suspected of murder denied bail Fri, 24 Mar 2017 16:25:16 -0400 Jack Heffernan A couple accused of murdering a Newport man in Clatsop County last year will not be allowed to post bail and leave the county jail prior to their trials.

Circuit Court Judge Cindee Matyas ruled at a pretrial release hearing Friday that there was sufficient evidence Christian Wilkins, 37, and Adeena Copell, 40, may have murdered Howard Vinge, 71, last September.

An autopsy indicated Vinge suffered skull fractures from being hit with an object multiple times on the back and side of his head. The couple allegedly dumped his body off U.S. Highway 30 about 3 miles east of Astoria and stole his white 1993 Allegro Bay motor home with a dark maroon 1991 Lincoln Continental attached on a trailer. Days after abandoning the trailer just east of Seaside on U.S. Highway 26, the couple was found traveling in the Lincoln in northern Arizona.

Wilkins’ former employer had contacted police after the body was found to say the couple may have been involved in Vinge’s death. The Sheriff’s Office was able to use Vinge’s stolen cellphone along with credit card purchases to track the couple as they traveled to Junction City, northwest Nevada and then south to Arizona.

They are being charged with murder, second-degree abuse of a corpse and two counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle. Copell is also facing a hindering prosecution charge.

The District Attorney’s Office, represented by District Attorney Josh Marquis and Deputy District Attorney Beau Peterson, called two witnesses during the hearing: Sheriff’s Office Detective Ryan Humphrey and Seaside Police Sgt. Guy Knight. They also played a roughly 10-minute recording of an interrogation between Copell and the two investigators shortly after the couple’s arrest.

Copell indicated in the recording that Wilkins had beaten Vinge to death with a piece of beach wood following an argument on Sept. 27 while they were inside Vinge’s motor home. The couple had been homeless before Vinge allowed them to live with him in the motor home for more than a month. The couple apparently was concerned that Vinge would soon ask Copell to leave the motor home and find housing elsewhere.

Copell said she was sitting in the driver’s seat of the motor home and Vinge was laying on a bench at the time of the alleged murder.

“I had a little lamp light, and I didn’t think he was going to do it. Oh, god,” Copell, crying, told investigators.

Copell sobbed into her shirt Friday while the recording played. Meanwhile, Wilkins, who sat with his lawyer in a jury box, repeatedly glared at her with a confused look on his face.

Copell then admitted in the recording to helping Wilkins clean the inside of the motor home following the incident. Witnesses also told the Sheriff’s Office that they saw Copell burning items that belonged to Vinge. The Sheriff’s Office was able to recover some of the burned items and also located blood spatter and human tissue in the motor home.

The recording was the second of three statements from Copell that the District Attorney’s Office filed as evidence. In her initial statement, Copell said Vinge was still alive when they left him in the motor home. The third, an intercepted note from Copell to Wilkins while they were in jail, seemed to instruct Wilkins to tell investigators that both had killed Vinge out of self defense.

Wilkins and his lawyers, meanwhile, did not make any statements during the hearing.

Wilkins’ and Copell’s trials are scheduled for November and December.

AP Top News at 2:49 p.m. EDT Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:50:14 -0400 Trump campaign chair offers to talk to House panel on RussiaTrump approves Keystone XL, calling it 'great day' for jobsLondon attacker was cheerful, joking on eve of rampageSpacewalking astronauts prep station for new parking spotZoo plan for baby hippo: More independence, nix lap naps]]> Detroit art gallery to relocate exhibits Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:50:50 -0400 DETROIT (AP) An art gallery aimed at fixing Detroit's urban decay is moving to another location after the nonprofit that owns it couldn't afford to buy the building.

The Heidelberg Project's Midtown Gallery had also served as the administrative headquarters, meeting space and studio space for over eight years. A three-day farewell event for the gallery is this weekend, the Detroit Free Press ( ) reported.

City records show the building was sold in December for nearly $1.2 million to a company that plans to turn the property into residential and office space.

Heidelberg Project founder Tyree Guyton announced in August that the nonprofit would dismantle its art exhibits in an east-side neighborhood to rebuild in an undecided location. Guyton said the deconstruction is the first step toward embedding arts and culture into a new neighborhood.

"The deconstruction of the physical site is ongoing," spokesman Dan Lijana said. "The art is being carefully packed away and stored. Tyree continues to get inquiries from galleries around the United States and the world about his work."

The Heidelberg Project, founded in 1986, was originally designed as a creative response to blight and decay in the neighborhood Guyton grew up in. The nonprofit draws an estimated 200,000 visitors annually from around the world.

In 2013, homes decorated by Guyton were targets of 12 arson fires, and six have burned down since.

"The Heidelberg Project is Detroit's own," president Jenenne Whitfield said. "It is an example of our city's rich legacy of innovation and originality. We will bring the same funky, welcoming and innovative vibe to a new neighborhood and help make that community the next hot spot in our city."


Information from: Detroit Free Press,

Zaha scores as Ivory Coast beats struggling Russia Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:41:10 -0400 KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) Fine solo goals from Wilfried Zaha and Jonathan Kodjia gave the Ivory Coast a 2-0 friendly win over struggling Russia on Friday.

Kodjia gave the Ivorians the lead in the 30th minute, cutting in from the left flank before hitting the ball hard into the top-right corner.

In the 70th, Zaha made it 2-0 when he dribbled past all three of Russia's center-backs and scored with a calm finish.

For Russia, defeat continues a poor run of form a year out from its home World Cup. The Russians have now won just two of their last 12 games, with losses to Costa Rica and even Qatar also marring their recent record.

Russia created few clear chances in Friday's game, though the nervy Ivorian keeper Sylvain Gbohouo came close to gifting the hosts a goal when he spilled Alexander Yerokhin's long shot in the 75th. At the other end, Russia's new captain Igor Akinfeev produced an acrobatic one-handed save to keep out Giovanni Sio's curling free-kick.

New Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots, whose appointment was announced Tuesday, wasn't in charge for the game. Instead of the ex-Belgium coach, assistant Ibrahim Kamara oversaw the win.

Mindy Kaling's Newark joke leads to dinner with Cory Booker Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:40:13 -0400 NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A joke about Newark, New Jersey, on Fox's "The Mindy Project" led to dinner plans between U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and star Mindy Kaling.

Her character joked after hearing that Booker had come to her colleague's event that "I guess anything to get out of Newark, huh?"

Booker tweeted "Ouch!" at Kaling on Thursday. He added that he still loved her, though.

She responded that if her character "shades" it, "it means we know it's cool," and said the love was mutual. Booker then asked her to dinner in Newark.

She asked for a train schedule, which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey quickly sent her.

Booker called Kaling "Lyft worthy" and promised to send one.

Booker's spokesman says the date hasn't yet been scheduled.

Mindy Kaling's Newark joke leads to dinner with Cory Booker Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:40:35 -0400 NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A joke about Newark, New Jersey, on Fox's "The Mindy Project" led to dinner plans between U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and star Mindy Kaling.

Her character joked after hearing that Booker had come to her colleague's event that "I guess anything to get out of Newark, huh?"

Booker tweeted "Ouch!" at Kaling on Thursday. He added that he still loved her, though.

She responded that if her character "shades" it, "it means we know it's cool," and said the love was mutual. Booker then asked her to dinner in Newark.

She asked for a train schedule, which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey quickly sent her.

Booker called Kaling "Lyft worthy" and promised to send one.

Booker's spokesman says the date hasn't yet been scheduled.

AP Top Entertainment News at 2:39 p.m. EDT Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:40:35 -0400 Barry Manilow joins concert to help human rights groupsComing for you: Who is Kendrick talking about in new song?Katy Perry, Maroon 5 to perform at Wango Tango radio concertAmy Schumer drops out as Barbie in film based on dollSao Paulo street art debate over what makes cities livable]]> APNewsBreak: Polling changes could confuse Kansas voters Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:40:26 -0400 WICHITA, Kan. (AP) More than 36,000 registered voters in Kansas are being asked to cast their ballots at new polling stations during the nation's first congressional election since President Donald Trump's November victory, prompting concerns that confusion could suppress turnout.

The April 11 special election will fill a vacancy in south-central Kansas' 4th District that was created when Trump chose former Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo as his CIA director.

Nine polling sites affecting 36,417 registered voters across 50 precincts will be moved for the special election in Sedgwick County, which includes the state's largest city of Wichita, the county's election office told The Associated Press.

The election falls during Holy Week, the annual Christian observance leading up to Easter Sunday. Many polling locations are in churches, so some were unavailable on short notice for the special election.

The polling site changes have raised concerns among the congressional campaigns and voting rights advocates because some of the precincts are located in low-income or minority districts where transportation may be difficult. Special elections are already typically low turnout affairs.

"It happens over and over again and it confuses voters ... primarily some inner-city or people with disabilities or senior citizens and a lot of them don't drive," said state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who has introduced a bill that would require Kansas election offices to mail registered voters a notification 30 days prior to a change in their voting location.

An analysis of registered voters in affected precincts shows the impact crosses party lines: 15,282 Republicans, 7,885 Democrats, 12,915 unaffiliated voters, and 345 Libertarians.

The changes for the upcoming congressional election come on top of about 25,000 voters in Sedgwick County affected in November's general election last year when voting locations for 60 precincts were moved, said Carole Neal, co-president for The League of Women Voters in Kansas. Three of the polling sites that were moved for the last election are again being moved for the upcoming special election.

"We are not moving them just because we feel like it," said Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman. "It is because the site is no longer available, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it."

In addition to calendar conflicts at the church sites, one polling location was lost because a building was being torn down and another when the space was repurposed for a battered women's shelter, she said.

Election officials mailed notices of the voting site changes along with an application for a mail-in ballot about two weeks ago to voters affected by eight of those moves, Lehman said.

But election officials are still scrambling to find a new voting location for a ninth polling site after the Wichita church which had previously agreed to host it pulled out at the last minute.

Campaign officials for Republican Ron Estes said in an emailed statement that they are recommending people vote by advanced ballot to ensure there is no confusion about polling locations. Applications for advanced ballots can be found on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's website.

Democrat James Thompson's campaign manager said in an emailed statement that Kobach's "continued strategy of voter disempowerment was designed to primarily target poor and minority voters."

AP Top U.S. News at 2:38 p.m. EDT Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:40:14 -0400 House sets risky health care vote after Trump demands itArkansas inmates make longshot bid to avoid double executionMaryland high school thrust into immigration debateAPNewsBreak: Polling changes could confuse Kansas votersJurors convict Missouri mother of poisoning 9-year-old sonUtah man killed in London attack was hit on bridge]]> Police fatally shoot man threatening kids with butcher knife Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:30:21 -0400 BALTIMORE (AP) A SWAT officer fatally shot a man who was threatening two young children with a butcher knife in a Baltimore home, police said Friday.

A 39-year-old homeless man had spent the night with relatives at the house, but early Friday morning the family called police to report that he was holding a knife to the a 1-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl, police spokesman T.J. Smith said at a news conference. Smith said relatives told officers arriving at the home that the man was on drugs and had barricaded himself inside a bedroom with the children. Patrol officers who initially responded called in the SWAT team.

Officers demanded that the man drop the knife, but instead he threatened the children and held the knife to their bodies, Smith said. A SWAT officer fired at least once, killing the man, he said. The children weren't injured.

"As a last resort, deadly force had to be used," Smith said. "This was not a scenario where less lethal (force) was an option, because if it didn't go right, we could be standing here talking about an injured or deceased 4- or 1-year-old."

The officers involved were wearing body cameras and they were activated, but Smith said he didn't know when the video might be released.

Smith didn't release the names or races of the officer or the man. The officer, a 14-year veteran of the department, is on routine administrative duty, he said.

E!'s 'The Arrangement' evokes Cruise and Holmes comparisons Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:30:57 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) "The Arrangement" may remind viewers of rumors about the effect of Scientology on the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

The drama series, which airs Sunday on E! Entertainment, stars Christine Evangelista as Megan Morrison, an up-and-coming actress who meets A-list actor Kyle West (Josh Henderson) on an audition. He's instantly smitten, and a lunch date leads to an overnight in Mexico.

Everything seems to be progressing until Kyle offers Megan a marriage contract arranged by his self-help group, The Institute of the Higher Mind. She's offered an Insta-relationship and the money and perks of being with one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

"When I first read the script I was very intrigued by the premise and it caused me to ask myself what I would do and I found that to be interesting," Evangelista said.

"I also liked how this young girl, her life, changes overnight and she's faced with situations and decisions and tests and is she able to endure them, and I think it posed a lot of moral questions ... for her and I thought that was very interesting. In one way her life changes in a very exciting way overnight. With the other it's like at what cost? What's the expense? And it definitely comes at a price."

That price includes the glare of the spotlight, jealous friends and a loss of freedom, thanks to Kyle's self-help group.

"The Institute helps "people find what's been holding them back, search for their own happiness," Evangelista said. "How they go about that is in a very manipulative way. It sort of makes people almost ... a prisoner to them."

Evangelista, who appeared on "The Walking Dead," is aware of comparisons to Scientology and Cruise and Holmes, who divorced in 2012 after five years of marriage, but emphasizes that the show is fiction.

"Of course we want people to be intrigued by what we're doing, but The Institute is a totally fictionalized group," she said. "These are fictional characters. Megan is a waitress when we meet her. You know that's not really like anyone we know.

"People want to know what happens behind closed doors and behind the curtain in Hollywood and it's intriguing."

And Henderson, who plays West, fits the bill of a charming, complex mega-star.

"He is a wonderful guy, very charismatic and I think that's what Megan sees," Evangelista said. "They have this undeniable chemistry between the two of them and I think that's what she's looking at."