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Monday, October 22, 2018

Clemson extends contract for Clements, recommends $1.5 million life insurance policy

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Tillman Hall at Clemson University.

Clemson University’s board unanimously approved a request to create a split-dollar life insurance policy for President James Clements by investing $300,000 over five years.

The board also approved a contract extension to November 2023.

Before the extension, Clements’ contract ended in February of 2022.

Clemson President James Clements | Photo provided by Clemson University

The life insurance compensation is pending approval by the Clemson University Foundation, which would invest the $1.5 million and receive a return on investment after the five-year period.

If Clements stays at the school for five years, he’ll be eligible to receive an annuity from the policy after retirement and benefits after death.

Clements’ salary of $901,330 won’t change, of which only $312,530 of his salary is paid by the state; the other $588,800 is paid by the foundation.

Clements was hired by the university in 2013 with a salary of $775,000.

Before board members took a vote at Friday’s meeting on the life insurance policy, member David Wilkins said the compensation committee recommended the benefits because of Clements’ performance, current market data, and the desire to give Clements an incentive to stay on for five more years.

“After President Clements’ excellent performance review at the close of our most recent fiscal year, the compensation committee was unanimously charged by the board of trustees to bring back a recommendation to enrich the president’s benefits package,” Wilkins said. “Based on our review of the market, this benefit I’ve outlined is reasonable.”

The board also approved letting the university use the Clemson paw trademark in “drink responsibly” advertisements with alcohol companies in a 7-2 vote, with board member Bill Smith abstaining and members Ronnie Lee and Bob Peeler voting against it.

Smith abstained from the vote because his son-in-law works for JMI, the marketing company Clemson’s athletics department would use to procure the advertisement partnerships.

The board also approved salary increases for:

  • Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Brian O’Rourke, from $255,028 to $305,000.
  • Vice President for Research Tanju Karanfil, from $278,091 to $320,000.
  • Dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences Anand Gramopadhye, from $300,148 to $350,000.
  • Dean of College of Education George Petersen, from $232,313 to $250,000.

Proud Mary Theatre Company brings LGBTQ+ voices to Upstate theater

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As a native of Spartanburg and a journalism major, Sandy Staggs didn’t really expect to start Proud Mary Theatre Company, South Carolina’s first and only nonprofit theater group dedicated to telling the stories of LGBTQ+ voices to the Upstate.

Staggs went to school in California and began writing as a film critic, but quickly moved into theater, as well. After 17 years in California, he came back to the Upstate and started Carolina Curtain Call, a site where he and other contributors write reviews of theater and performances in the Upstate.

While becoming more immersed in the theater community here, he realized a stark contrast between South Carolina’s and California’s theater scenes: what he describes as a lack of diversity.

“I felt like there was room for more diversity in the Greenville theater scene, and I found myself being attracted to more edgy stuff,” Staggs said.

“I thought, what if I just started one here to see how it went,” he said. “I started with a $1 domain name for the website, and luckily I had a lot of contacts from reviewing theater here that were very helpful.”

He started Proud Mary Theatre Company in the summer of 2017 with high hopes and no idea whether it would actually work. Staggs chose the season and selected a Pulitzer Prize-winning one-man show to start the year because, as he said, “I wanted something cheap, so how could you do better than a one-man show?”

“I Am My Own Wife” told the story of a transgender woman in Nazi Germany. As the company’s first production, it earned awards at the 10-state Southeastern Theatre Conference held in Mobile, Alabama, for best actor (Dave LaPage) and best director (Robert Fuson).

Now in the company’s second season, Staggs tries to ensure that each season is “balanced.”

“We try to keep a balanced season with a gay play, a lesbian play, a transgender play, and something special, whether it’s a classic, which there are plenty of classics, or a new play,” Staggs said.

This year’s season will kick off with “The Boys in the Band” and continue with “Blown Youth,” “Boy,” and “Fun Home.” While the shows are representative of the LGTBQ+ community, the cast isn’t always.

“Only half the cast is gay. Sexuality is never a consideration here,” Staggs said. “Everyone is welcome here, straight or gay or anything else.”

“Boys in the Band,” the opening production of the company’s 2018-19 season, has had the highest presale ticket sales of any Proud Mary production. While the show premiered on Broadway just this past summer, it has been off Broadway since 1968 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The show revolves around a group of gay men throwing a birthday party in New York City in the 1960s and focuses on what it was like to be gay and not yet “out” in this time period. The show is known for its portrayal of the lives of gay men without judgment during a time where the lifestyle was still widely unaccepted.

“It was the first time that gay people were seen on stage,” Staggs said. “I think people will have many different reactions to it. It is a very divisive play, the way that people were in 1968. They weren’t out and they couldn’t be out. It reads a lot differently today. It has a great cast and a lot of fun.”

The Proud Mary Theatre Company is only the second theater to do the show since its Broadway debut.

Staggs knew when starting Proud Mary that at times the company could face adversity. While he said the shows have seen overwhelming support for the most part, Staggs said he knows there’s a chance that someone will disagree.

One of the shows in the 2017-18 season sparked the most controversy. “Southern Baptist Sissies” takes a look at the experience of gay men growing up in a religious, Southern community. Staggs said he knew the title wasn’t exactly innocuous and might have ruffled some feathers, but he said the show itself does not have any more graphic or offensive content than some of the classics such as “Spring Awakening” or “The Rocky Horror Show.”

While comments on Facebook and other social media popped up, the most notable reaction came from an opinion piece published in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, ‘D.J. Horton: A Southern Baptist pastor to Southern Baptist sissies,’ written by a prominent local Baptist pastor.

The piece is respectful and well-researched, and Staggs was not necessarily offended by it.

“He wrote the column without seeing the show,” Staggs said, but he and the author went on to have coffee and further discuss the gap between the LGTBQ+ and Christian communities in the South.

“He got a lot of support and was very prominent in the Spartanburg Christian community. Those are the kinds of things that we encounter sometimes, but for the most part people are very supportive. We wouldn’t still be having shows if we weren’t well-supported,” Staggs said.

Staggs has also seen derogatory social media comments and seen businesses take down his flyers right after putting them up. Staggs says he knows that despite the adversity he has faced, the company has continued to gain more support.

“We are still working on securing our presence here. Some theaters and colleges have helped us out,” he says. “Converse College, University of South Carolina Upstate, Furman have been really helpful in loaning us costumes and set pieces, or renting their theaters to us very cheap. “Warehouse and Centre Stage have also been helpful in those ways. You have to understand that even though the theater community is seen as so liberal, there are still many people who are not supportive of our shows, at least yet.”

Staggs says that the most supportive presence has been the LGTBQ+ community in the Upstate through organizations such as Upstate Pride and PFLAG Spartanburg.

Staggs says he knows more challenges are to come, but with each show, Proud Mary Theatre Co. gains more support from the community. Show sales are at an all time high, and Staggs is regularly approached by actors wanting to be in the upcoming shows.

“If we weren’t doing these stories, they would not be told here,” Staggs says. “I think it’s important that the LGBTQ+ community should be represented on the stage and have a safe place like this to call home.”


If you go

  • What: “The Boys in the Band”
  • When: Oct. 26-Nov. 3
  • Where: Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and West Main Artists Co-Operative
  • Tickets: Starting at $15
  • Info: www.proudmarytheatre.com

In Our Community: Couture for a Cause, Annie Koelle mural project, and more

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The Gridley Club recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a mural by local artist Annie Koelle. Photo provided.

EDUCATION

The Chandler School holds annual campout at Table Rock

Students of The Chandler School recently had the opportunity to learn forest skills such as fishing, compass navigation, and Leave No Trace. The campout at Table Rock also allowed teachers to better understand students’ learning styles and how well they work together. The students did 8- and 15-mile hikes up to Pinnacle Mountain.

The Chandler School in Greenville serves 60 students in kindergarten through eighth grade who have dyslexia or other related language-based learning differences. The learning styles of the students vary, and students benefit from the small class size, specialized teaching techniques, and individualized curriculum.

CHARITY

American Cancer Society benefits from Bon Secours fundraiser

Couture for a Cause 2018 raised more than $45,000 for the Greenville chapter of the American Cancer Society. All funds raised will stay in Greenville to help local cancer patients and their families. Through such donations, the American Cancer Society funds cancer research, provides free rides to chemotherapy treatment, offers free places to stay, and operates a live 24/7 helpline.

This year’s best-in-show award went to designer Kate Zerndt and model Alicia Saha. The recycled runway competition features fashion made of recyclable/repurposed materials modeled by cancer survivors on the runway.

Couture for a Cause 2018 was presented by Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.

APPLICATIONS

Governor’s School now accepting applications

The South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities is accepting applications for 2019-20 residential high school and summer programs. South Carolinians in sixth through 11th grades are eligible to apply. The residential high school program is tuition-free, with available financial aid to cover meal plans and summer programs.

The school offers three summer programs for younger students. It is accepting rising eighth- and ninth-grade students into a new one-week summer program called Arts Odyssey. Academy is offered to rising 10th-grade students, and Summer Dance is for rising seventh- through 12th-grade students. The application period for summer programs runs through Jan. 4, 2019.

MURAL

Annie Koelle paints mural to honor The Gridley Club turning 100

The Gridley Club, a civic organization for women who live or have lived on Earle and James streets, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a mural by local artist Annie Koelle. The women’s club started in 1919 to help initiate The Stone School music program and push for more paved roads and sidewalks in the North Main neighborhood.

The Gridley Club offered seed money to The Stone Mural Project for the mural, and the city of Greenville Art in Public Places Commission matched the gift. The new mural, the sixth of seven pieces comprising the Stone Mural Project, lives on the east-facing wall of The Bohemian. Gene Berger, owner of the building, paid Koelle to continue the mural around the corner into the courtyard.

Painted on stucco, the 32-foot-long mural depicts generations of women in a Picasso style to represent their timelessness and the continuity of The Gridley Club. A garland of the South Carolina state flower and Koelle’s signature cobalt blue color are also key features of the mural.

“The murals going up on Stone Avenue are really indicative of the vibe of the surrounding neighborhoods,” John DeWorken, North Main Association president, said in a news release. “Public art is something we value as a community and our neighborhood businesses all want a mural now. We’re so thankful for the building owners who said yes at the onset of the project.”

atHome // A MIGHTY PUMPKIN: Family tradition sparks fall porch decor

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Lisa Tice is a well-respected portrait artist who has served as chairwoman of the Rose Ball Decorations Committee and the Poinsett Club Member’s Art Show Committee.

She has a reputation for beautiful, artistic design work, but she will be the first to tell you that when meeting new folks they often say, “Oh! You’re the pumpkin lady!”

It all started nearly 20 years ago when her creative father, Frank Richman, with help from her equally creative mother, decided to help their daughter decorate her home’s porch with a variety of the largest and most uniquely shaped pumpkins they could find. He journeyed north to a farmers market in Asheville, North Carolina, and found pumpkins that were large, larger, and largest — some of them hernia-inducing sized.

Some were striped; they were selected in a multitude of colors and textures. Thus began a tradition.

Her father passed away, but Tice, her family, and neighbors had come to expect and enjoy the pumpkins each autumn. Seeing her sadness at the thought of the tradition fading, her husband, Jeff, picked up and drove her to the market to continue what her father had begun.

Tice says it was quite a task getting the pumpkins into their car. Some are so large that a front-end loader must move them. She likes to leave the majority of the pumpkins uncarved so that they can be enjoyed beyond October. She does, however, pick one each year to turn into a unique beauty.

“I never know quite how it will turn out when I star,” Tice says. “I just do it freestyle.”

How to preserve a carved pumpkin

Once a pumpkin has been carved, it has a short life span — usually not more than a few days. Try these tips to extend the life of your pumpkin, post-carving.

  • Use your fingertips dipped in petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to coat the cut edges of your jack-o’-lantern. If the design is intricate, use a cotton swab.
  • During the day, keep your pumpkin out of direct sunlight.
  • Cover your pumpkin with a wet cloth during the day.
  • If you have room in your refrigerator, place your pumpkin in it overnight.
  • Place your pumpkin in a bucket of water overnight.
  • Add a teaspoon of bleach to a bucket of water and dip your pumpkin in it to inhibit mold growth.

Get your gourd:
Spots to shop for large and unusual pumpkins and gourds

Health: The fountain of youth is in your bedroom

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Are you looking for the fountain of youth? Dr. Jana Morse said it’s there for the taking every single night.

“Sleep really keeps you young,” said Morse, an internist at PartnerMD. “It keeps you feeling younger and looking younger. It’s beauty sleep and it’s smart sleep.”

Unfortunately, most people aren’t getting the seven to eight hours per night they need, and even if they try to get to bed early, falling and staying asleep can be a challenge, she said. Finding underlying reasons for sleep difficulties and following an effective sleep-hygiene plan can help people wake up looking, feeling, and functioning their best.

“The purpose of sleep is to empty what’s full and to fill what’s empty,” Morse said. “Sleep empties out waste products from the day’s metabolism and restocks the neurotransmitters for the next day’s work.”

In addition to feeling foggy and working inefficiently, lack of sleep can wreak havoc on health. Tired people become more stressed, are more prone to dementia, and are at greater risk for high blood pressure. Weight gain is common because “we feed fatigue, and we feed it junk,” Morse said.

The first clue that you need to reassess your sleep routine? If you sleep in much longer on weekends than on weekdays, you didn’t get enough sleep that week, Morse said.

Several techniques have been proven to help people ramp up their sleep and reap the benefits. Proper sleep hygiene starts several hours before bedtime.

  • Avoid heavy, carb-rich meals and exercise in the three to four hours before bedtime. “Carbohydrates in the evening really warm the body up, and you want to be cooling down,” she said.
  • Next is to prioritize sleep over screen time or even work. She often reminds people who work late at night that sleep makes them more efficient, which will allow them to do more work, and likely of a higher quality, the next day.
  • Following a routine can prime your body for sleep. “You can condition your body to expect to fall asleep, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Morse said. “Get a routine and stick to it.”
  • Going to bed at the same time every night, reading or doing another calming (screen-free) activity, and spraying a scent like lavender are all good options. She said the lavender may not actually help people fall asleep, but by spraying it before bed, the body begins to associate the scent with sleep.
  • The most crucial aspect, in her experience, is deep breathing, which not only helps people fall asleep but can improve sleep quality. She suggests breathing in for five seconds, and then out through the mouth for five seconds, which stimulates the vagus nerve, in turn releasing sleep hormones.
  • She also suggests scanning the body for tension, relaxing tight muscles, and thinking about relaxing memories.

If these tips don’t lead to improved sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective option, she said.

“We get into ruts of negative thoughts, and these practitioners can help get your brain out of ruts. They can help you retrain your brain so you can direct yourself out of it,” she said.

Medication should be used as a last resort, and ideally in the short term.

The benefits of sleep are worth the effort, said Morse, who once struggled with it before finding she had sleep apnea — despite not fitting the profile of the older, overweight man who typically has it. Addressing the problem has made a world of difference in her work and life.

“When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, you’re never getting the car in gear,” she said. “You’re just spinning your wheels. Now, I feel so much more energized.”

SC leaders visit Finland to study education system

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iStock.

Twenty-three education leaders and stakeholders from South Carolina left the state for Finland on Saturday to study what’s been regarded as one of the best education systems in the world.

In 2015, Finland ranked fourth in reading scores, fifth in science scores, and tied with Denmark for 12th in math scores. The United States tied for 24th in reading scores, 25th in science scores, and 40th in math.

The scores come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The test is administered to 15-year-olds in 73 countries every three years, with the most-recent data from 2015.

Furman University’s Riley Institute partnered with its Department of Education and the Public Education Partners to plan the trip for stakeholders to observe the Finnish education system.

Ansel Sanders, president and CEO of PEP, said the discussion started when Michael Svec, an education professor at Furman, took a group of students to Finland to observe the education system. Svec and Sanders, who also studied the Finland system in college, decided to gather a group from the community for another trip.

“The idea is really recruiting a cross-sector set of stakeholders in education to go learn as a delegation from a place that is doing some things from which we can learn,” Sanders said.

The demographics of Finland’s population are different from South Carolina’s — and Sanders said he doesn’t hope to cut and paste the country’s model — but he said the two systems do face some of the same issues, such as teacher pay, recruitment, and standardized testing.

“The way the Finnish define and resource and prioritize those things — that’s where the differences lie,” Sanders said.

Sanders said when he went to Finland in 2013, one educator told him that nearly everything they did was based on American research.

“This isn’t an overnight sensation — this is three decades of work in Finland that has begun to show a return on investment,” Sanders said.

The group will visit Helsinki and Oulu before returning on Oct. 21.

Among the group is Joy Grayson, board member with Greenville County Schools, Danny Merck, superintendent of Pickens County School District, and Laura Reynolds, dean of the University of South Carolina Upstate’s School of Education.

Spartanburg District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker, along with Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, and CEO of the S.C Council on Competitiveness Susie Shannon, will share takeaways at the Riley Institute’s WhatWorksSC event on Oct. 30 in Columbia.

SC scores drop on ACT test

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iStock.

Following the national trend, South Carolina scores dropped on the ACT for 2018 graduates.

The ACT is a timed, standardized test with a 36-point grading scale that was administered to all 11th-graders in South Carolina for the 2016-2018 graduating classes.

South Carolina’s average composite score fell from 18.7 to 18.3 this year, the composite score for Greenville County Schools fell from 19.4 to 18.7, and nationally, the composite score fell slightly from 21 to 20.8.

The benchmarks are intended to show a student’s readiness level for corresponding college courses. Most South Carolina student scores fell in the “Not Ready” range: Only 20 percent scored “Ready” in science, 24 percent in math, 30 percent in reading, and 42 percent in English.

In historically underserved subgroups, the scores were even worse — only 2 percent of African American students met the college readiness benchmark for all four subject areas.

The scores released by ACT Inc. on Tuesday are from the 2018 cohort of graduates, all of which were required to take the ACT their junior year in 2017. The 2019 graduates had the option of choosing between The ACT or SAT as 11th-graders this past spring after a change in state law.

In South Carolina, average ACT scores dropped significantly from 2015 to 2016, when the law started requiring all juniors to take the test. In 2015, South Carolina had an average ACT score of 20.4, which dropped to 18.5 in 2016. Greenville County Schools had an average score of 21.9 — above the national average of 21 — which dropped to 19.2 in 2016.

The scores after the law changed were more consistent from 2016 to 2017 — increasing by 0.2 points. From 2017 to 2018, scores decreased by 0.4 points statewide and three-quarters of a point in Greenville. Nationally, scores decreased by 0.2 points.

Jason McCreary, director of accountability and quality assurance with Greenville County Schools, said his theory is that something changed with the test to cause the drop.

“It’s going to be a wild phenomenon that 1,914,817 students did less well on average than the students last year,” McCreary said. “Just in statistics, that’s pretty odd that you would have that kind of fluctuation. So to me, the most obvious change would be that something occurred — either the difficulty level increased or there was something about the administration — that caused this change.”

But Ed Colby, senior director of public relations with ACT Inc., said there’s been a national downward trend in English and math scores for years, while science and reading scores have remained relatively static. In math, national scores are at a 14-year low.

“This is something that has been going on and continued this year,” Colby said.

In 2017, South Carolina students experience technical difficulties while taking the ACT where some students’ screen froze, but the timer for the test kept running. Colby said it stemmed from a national outage with the company’s server provider, Amazon Web Service, and was out of their control.

About 96 percent of South Carolina districts administering the test online reported technical difficulties.

A statement from ACT Inc. to school districts in May of 2017 said the issues might have impacted the students’ test-taking strategies and “compromised the validity of some student scores.”

Officials with ACT Inc. later said they stood by the scores reported for those students because the company allowed them to cancel their scores and re-take the test at no charge, but Superintendent Molly Spearman said in a statement at the time that the company should take more responsibility for the system failure, which she said resulted in some cancelled scores and “inaccurate score reporting.”

In a statement about the most recent scores released on Tuesday, the South Carolina Department of Education referenced the 2017 incident and said the majority of students took the test as a junior “when ACT’s state test administration was plagued with technical difficulties causing the company to issue a statement acknowledging some student scores may not be valid.”

But Colby reiterated the technical problems would not have impacted the scores, and he urged caution when looking at one year’s scores over another rather than the trend.

“That could be a one-year situation — we like to look for trends before we start thinking about, is there some trouble indicated here?” Colby said. “Certainly you don’t want to see scores go down, but it can happen from one year to another; you can see year-to-year changes that don’t necessarily reflect an overall trend.”

McCreary said he expects to see an increase in scores for the 2019 graduating class because students who did not want to take the test were not required.

“Our teachers and our students work hard — ACT for a long time has been a reflection of the classroom instruction — and it’s disappointing whenever you see that you didn’t hit the mark and were not increasing like we expect,” McCreary said. “That’s why it really causes us to pause and ask the question, if this is happening everywhere, then why? And what’s the common denominator?”

‘The Good Place’: Clemson professor imparts philosophical expertise to TV sitcom

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Todd May

Todd May has taught philosophy at Clemson University since 1991, but in 2017 he began tutoring a very special student: Mike Schur, creator of the NBC sitcom “The Good Place.”

“I got an email out of the blue,” May said, “and we wound up Skyping about half a dozen times.”

“I was doing a lot of amateur-level reading of these big philosophical ideas,” Schur told the Greenville Journal, “and began to feel like it would benefit the show to have someone actually teach me about these dense ideas.”

Now in its third season, “The Good Place” follows Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell), a woman who wakes up in what seems to be heaven. It turns out she died and was sent to the good place. Feeling unworthy, Eleanor begins studying ethics in hopes of convincing her heavenly guide, Michael (Ted Danson), that she deserves to stay and not be sent to the bad place. Over the course of the series, we find out that Michael is not what he seems and he joins Eleanor in studying moral philosophy.

And that’s where Todd May came in.

“One of the writers on staff, Dan Schofield, came across Todd’s book ‘Death,’ which deals with the ethics of immortality,” Schur said. “It happened to be exactly what we needed for a storyline involving Michael (an immortal demon) trying to learn about human ethics. I read the book, and loved it, and sent him an email.”

“I very much liked him and then came to respect his work and ‘The Good Place,’” May said. “What I do is basically help keep them philosophically honest at the edges.”

Along with his virtual consultations, May managed to spend a day with Schur and the show’s other writers last February.

“These people are good; they know philosophy,” May said. “For the third season there have been a couple times when they’ve sent me parts of scripts, asking, ‘Hey, did we get this right?’ and I help them get it more precise, because you don’t want philosophers walking around complaining about the show: ‘They didn’t really get this right.’”

One of those situations sticks out to Schur.

“We did an entire episode about Michael having an existential crisis — a term I was relatively sure was often misused in common parlance,” he said. “Todd talked to us for a couple hours about existentialism, so when we wrote the episode, we weren’t just blindly guessing at what it really meant, or what caused it.”

At the end of that episode, one character actually holds a copy of May’s book to the
camera, saying, “Now you should read ‘Death’ by philosopher Todd May.”

May was floored when he saw the broadcast.

“I’m sitting with my wife and our jaws just drop. Then I said, ‘I’m gonna wait 15 minutes and check my Amazon stats,’ and when I did, it was clicking in at a pretty good pace!”

The producers recently flew May back to Los Angeles to film what he calls philosophical accompaniments that will be shared on social media.

“They will be about three to five minutes each,” he said. “I’ll be talking some philosophy and they’ll splice in parts of the show. This is a way to get folks some philosophical background.”

May credits the sitcom with providing more than just laughs.

“It invites people to think morally,” he said. “It doesn’t tell people what to think, but it invites them in.”

While “The Good Place” remains a comedy first and foremost, May reports that his fellow philosophers are watching — and writing papers on it.

“The North American Sartre Society, based on Sartre the existentialist, are meeting on Oct. 27,” he said, “and the reason I know this is that they asked Mike Schur to come, and Mike said he would, but that he would also prefer that I be there. So we will be on a panel on ‘The Good Place’ at which three philosophical papers are going to be presented, relating ‘The Good Place’ to existentialism and to Sartre.”

Overall, May thinks of it as a very positive experience.

“I enjoy doing this because it’s Mike Schur, who’s a great guy, a brilliant comic writer, and just a lot of fun to be with. His writers — and I’ve only met them once — they’re way fun themselves,” he said. “These people are interesting, they’re very funny, they’re philosophically reflective, and in that sense it’s good to be with them.”

And as for the people he continues to spend the majority of his time with?

“The students think it’s kind of cool,” he said.

Inaugural NESS Fest kicks off Oct. 20 at Fluor Field

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Happy + Hale poke bowl | by Will Crooks

The NESS Fest, a new, two-day health and lifestyle festival, will run Oct. 20-21 at Fluor Field to promote healthy living via local fitness, wellness, and nutrition experts.

Dozens of local businesses and partners will represent the festival’s four pillars:

  • fitNESS: Four fitness stages with classes from various gyms, studios, and trainers, including Adrenaline Dance Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Barre 3, Burn Boot Camp, Club Pilates, CycleBar, The Flow Depot, Gold’s Gym, Greenville Gymnastics, Iron Tribe Fitness, The Junkyard, Maya Movement, Pure Barre, Southern Om, and Strong Mamas.
  • goodNESS: Cooking demos, meal-prep seminars, and healthy food and drinks from Blush Nutrition, Cocobowlz, Creative Living Wellness, Farm Fresh Fast, Feed & Seed, Grits & Groceries, Happy + Hale, Kuka Juice, Seedlings, Table 301, and more.
  • wellNESS: Workshops and demos hosted by Fuel Physio, GHS Cancer Institute, The Health Dare, Jay Haas Jr., Michelle M. Wilson M.D., Optimal Self MD, Upstate Continuum of Care and United Housing Connections, Upstate Esthetics, Upstate Spine & Sport, and other health professionals.
  • wholeNESS: Tools for achieving a full heart, mind, and soul connection from organizations like Canterbury Counseling Center, Design to Connect, Downtown Yoga Greenville at Studio 17, Generation Kid Strong, iTrust Wellness, and Sharp Brain Consulting.

“We’re creating an event to bring the community together and truly make a difference in people’s lives,” says Brenda Luginbill, CEO and founder of The NESS Fest. “Our ultimate goal is to inspire people to become the best versions of themselves by providing tools and resources that will last a lifetime.”

The lineup includes an activity station from Adidas; pound classes, using weighted drumsticks, from Anytime Fitness; parkour classes for kids from Greenville Gymnastics; and an innovative, high-intensity workout from The Junkyard, led by former Clemson linebacker and Carolina Panther Ben Boulware. Other highlights include interactive vendor booths and demos, live music stages, and sports activities for children, including a minicamp hosted by Greenville Triumph head coach John Harkes.

The full schedule is available through the Sched app, where guests can sign up for classes and seminars in advance. One-day tickets are $55 for adults and $10 for children ages 8-16. Children younger than 8 get in free. Two-day VIP tickets are also available for $100.

The NESS Fest will also offer stroller check-in, along with breastfeeding and diaper-changing stations, so families can attend and participate together. With proper ID, teachers and students get 50 percent off tickets using the promo code SCHOOL, and first responders, active military, and veterans can get free tickets with the code THANKYOU.

“There is something for absolutely everyone at The NESS Fest,” Luginbill says.

Visit thenessfest.com for more information, the full schedule, and tickets.

An alum from world-renowned The French Laundry joins Rick Erwin Dining Group

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Chef Josh Thomsen joins Rick Erwins Dining Group with decades of experience, including a two-year stint at The French Laundry. Photo by Will Crooks / Greenville Journal

There’s a relatively small group in the culinary world that can claim world-renowned chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry as a personal friend.

Yet one of those elite has brought his craft to Greenville to help launch the Rick Erwin Dining Group’s newest seafood restaurant in Haywood Mall with a planned early 2019 opening.

Chef Josh Thomsen, who has also taken the helm of Rick Erwin’s Eastside on Pelham Road, spent 1996-1998 learning in The French Laundry kitchen from Keller, who would win James Beard Foundation awards for Best California Chef and Best Chef in America during those years.

The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, with a three-star Michelin Guide rating it has maintained since 2007, has been the launch pad for some of the best chefs in country, and Keller’s humility and work ethic despite the fame is something his students carry with them.

“Back then there were only 13 people in the kitchen, and chef Thomas was 13, and he worked side by side with us,” Thomsen says. “He really, really became a mentor, and when I wrote a cookbook he wrote something on the back of it, so it’s a relationship to this day that I love and still carry a lot of information from him.”

The lessons he learned from Keller were as much about treating people well as they were about executing the perfect dish.

“To make sure that the guest gets what they want, it all starts in there,” Thomsen says, gesturing to the kitchen. “In the sense of coming in and saying hello to everybody and saying goodbye to everybody in the kitchen. I’m not willing to ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

Thomsen, who held the executive chef position at Asheville, North Carolina’s The Omni Grove Park Inn until he came to Greenville, worked his first day at RE Eastside in July. And he very quickly gave the menu a complete overhaul — only the company crab cake recipe remains.

The menu includes seven types of seafood and five meat options, along with flatbreads baked in the wood-burning pizza oven.

“Here at Eastside we try to have a little bit more balance of everything,” Thomsen says. “We’re a great neighborhood restaurant for people who live in our neighborhood on the eastside.”

Chef Josh Thomsen is serious about food, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Photo by Will Crooks / Greenville Journal

Balance is precisely why Thomsen made the career move he did.

“Working for Rick Erwin’s has given me what I’ve always been missing, which I think most chefs are missing, and that’s the balance of life,” he says.

All Rick Erwin Dining Group restaurants are closed on Sundays and major holidays. Thomsen, having worked extensively in the type of hospitality environment where the busiest days of the year were often holidays, says this newfound home life away from the kitchen has been exactly what he needed. He jokes that his two young sons asked if he lost his job because of how much more time he’s able to spend with them.

Thomsen’s resume includes most-recently the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, Florida, where as executive chef he oversaw four dining venues, 30,000 square feet of banquet space, and in-room dining for 300 guest rooms and a private club level. He also raised the property from a Forbes four-star/five diamond ranking to five-star/five-diamond status, a rating it held for the duration of his two-year service.

A New Jersey native, he previously spent three years as executive chef/partner of Agricola in Princeton, where he penned the cookbook “Agricola.” He also served four years as executive chef of Claremont Resort in Berkeley, California, where he was recognized as a “Rising Star Chef” by StarChefs.com in 2010.

Thomsen brings decades of experience to both RE Eastside and the new restaurant, for which he is currently in menu development, but makes it clear, he is not a one-man show and needs his team.

“The guys [in the kitchen] are hearing all the great things from the guests from all the changes that we’re doing, so it’s really working out, but again, just treating everybody like an equal,” he says. “Yeah, I’m the executive chef, but the bottom line is, everyone is just as important.”

Fisher Middle on modified dismissal after students report unknown man in area

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Fisher Middle School was briefly placed on lockdown just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday after students reported seeing a man park his car on campus and walk into a nearby wooded area, according to a released statement from Greenville County Schools.

“The students said the man was carrying an unknown object,” spokesperson Beth Brotherton said in the statement. “Police thoroughly searched the area and advised us it was okay to proceed with a modified dismissal.”

The school was dismissed shortly after with Greenville police officers present to assist.

“This is slowing down the dismissal process, but the safety of our students is always our top priority,” Brotherton said in the statement.

Cleveland Park master plan alternate designs expected next month

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Local landscape architecture and urban design firm MKSK is expected to have three design alternatives for a master plan for Greenville’s venerable Cleveland Park next month.

Public meetings are expected in December, and a final consensus plan will be sent to Greenville City Council by the end of January, said Tee Coker, a planner with MKSK who is working on the project.

The firm has been working on the plan since June.

The Cleveland Park master plan is the first phase of what will be a comprehensive look at the city’s parks and green spaces, said Mari Steinbach, Greenville’s parks and recreation director.

“Rather than start with the big picture, it made sense to start with a park as beloved as Cleveland Park,” she said. “By the time we get the Cleveland Park master plan finished, we’ll have more information about Unity Park [the $40 million park that is planned for the west side of downtown] and can start to talk about our parks as a comprehensive system.”

Cleveland Park is nearly a century old, and a lot has changed in Greenville since the park opened. Development has surrounded the park and the population has swelled, both in the city and in the Upstate.

The park, like Falls Park downtown, is a victim of its own popularity. On nice weekend days, even if there’s no special event in the park or at the zoo, it’s tough to find a parking spot. That leaves visitors trying to find a space anywhere they can, lined up on the streets that wind through the park and sometimes turning one of the park’s meadows into a makeshift parking lot. That has prompted complaints and an online petition by nearby residents to keep cars off the grass.

Public streets that are used by drivers as cut-throughs bisect the park, making it unique, said Darren Meyer, principal at MKSK. “A lot of great parks are bounded by streets, but this one has streets running through it.”

Meyer said downtown Greenville could serve as a precedent on how to make the park work for both pedestrians and motorists.

“Main Street has a tremendous amount of cars, but it is great for pedestrians,” he said.

At an open house designed to get public input on how Cleveland Park should change, some favored closing the roads to the public. Others did not. Some suggested a compromise, keeping the roads open during the week and shutting them down on weekends when the park faces increased pressure.

Among other suggestions from the open house:

  • Having golf carts to shuttle elderly park users from the parking lots to the picnic areas and restrooms.
  • Having a European-style playground with fewer pieces of playground equipment and more objects that promote imaginative play.
  • Formalizing the basketball court with a cover from rain and sun.
  • Moving the zoo to a bigger site west of its current location.
  • Having restrooms closer to the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
  • Adding pedestrian bridges to better connect the park on both sides of the river.

The master plan will look at how individual spaces in the park perform, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, how the continued expansion of the Swamp Rabbit Trail will affect the park, and the effects of the Reedy River on the park and the park’s effects on the Reedy’s water, Steinbach said.

“Cleveland Park has been treated as a park that happens to have a river through it, but the river is a fundamental part of the park. The waterway should be celebrated,” she said.

Five facts about Cleveland Park

The park opened in 1926 and is the largest green space in Greenville.

Fifty-seven percent of Cleveland Park is covered by tree canopy.

Almost half of the park is in the 100-year floodplain, which restricts what kind of structures can be built there.

The park once had a Girl Scout meeting place and a nine-hole golf course. It also at one time had a swimming pool and a skating rink.

The Greenville Zoo opened in 1960 with indigenous animals including bears, deer, bobcats, foxes, ducks, and prairie dogs. Next came monkeys and chimpanzees.

Small Plates with Ariel Turner

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Husk listens to the people

It’s been almost a year since Husk Greenville opened in the West End, making it the third of four locations for the much-lauded Southern restaurant from chef Sean Brock and David Howard of Neighborhood Dining Group. And in that time, there have been some changes — most notably that Brock did not re-up his contract with the dining group and is now listed as the founding chef and culinary advisor for Husk, rather than the executive chef. That bombshell in early August caused quite the turnover in the kitchen and front of house of all four Husk locations, including Charleston, Nashville, Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia.

But, despite that upheaval that could’ve stalled momentum for our location, Husk Greenville has listened to its growing customer base to institute a couple of changes designed to increase business.

The first is a construction project to create a multi-use private dining space on the second floor of the restaurant. Husk Greenville has continued to receive inquiries from local businesses and event planners eager to use the restaurant for private dining and meeting needs, and now they will have the ability to host larger groups in a more-private setting without requiring a whole floor or restaurant buy-out.

“As with any business, we continue to access the demands of our guests and respond accordingly — in this case, we’ve decided to proactively develop our private-dining offering so that we can meet the needs of the market. We offer private dining at all other Husk locations, so this addition is also a natural fit for our brand,” said a statement submitted by Husk Greenville’s public relations account manager, Skelly Stevens.

The second change impacts the menu — on Oct. 14, Husk rolled out a “Local’s Menu” similar to Restaurant Week format. The three-courses-for-$39 menu will be available for dinner Sundays-Wednesdays. So basically, if you want to know where to eat downtown on Sundays or Mondays, when many options are closed, this is a safe bet and won’t break the bank.

The Anchorage grows

So that title could be a terrible pun, except that it’s actually true. Christopher Miller of That Garden Guy and chef Gregory McPhee of The Anchorage announced that they have partnered to open Horseshoe Farm this fall on a 21-acre plot in Travelers Rest.

“From day one, Greg has been a huge supporter of local farms, and I’m honored to be able to work together to increase the quality and diversity of food he can use at the restaurant. I am inspired by what Greg does in the kitchen, and I hope that I will be able to provide similar inspiration out on the farm,” says Miller, who is involved in restaurant-farm projects throughout the Upstate.

Horseshoe Farm will mainly focus on contract farming for local restaurants, including The Anchorage. Future plans include developing collaborative dinners on the property, farmers market participation, and much more.

“To be able to partner with Chris on this project has me as excited as I’ve ever been,” McPhee says. “Not only will Horseshoe Farm increase the amount of crop diversity at The Anchorage, but it will bring a stronger connection between the cooks and service staff and the food they’re serving.”

Paul’s Picks: Three options for great music and theater this week

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The national tour of "Anastasia" arrives at the Peace Center on Oct. 23 for eight performances through Oct. 28. Pictured is Christy Altomare from the original Broadway cast. (Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Paul’s Picks of the Week: “Bluegrass and Jazz” (Greenville Chorale), “Anastasia” (Peace Center), and “Symphonic Hollywood” (Bob Jones University).

Why you should go: Great music! And some drama, too. This is what a world-class arts scene looks like: three big shows in Greenville, promising a great time for everyone. Let’s take them one by one.

Greenville Chorale

The Greenville Chorale usually spotlights such towering choral masterworks as Verdi’s Requiem. But imagine the 170 singers lending their talents to bluegrass and jazz. Well, you don’t have to imagine. For the first time ever, the chorus will apply its vocal might to bluegrass, following up that with a set of jazz pieces by the great Duke Ellington. “Come Away to the Skies: A High, Lonesome Mass” combines the traditional mass with Southern bluegrass.

The result is an expansive work with open harmonies that evoke the sunny landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Chorale will be joined by the Chuck Nation Bluegrass Band. Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts” employs electrifying jazz and spoken word to spread the good news.

For this work, the Chorale will collaborate with the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band. The Chorale’s longtime music director Bing Vick presides over the revels.

What to expect: Toe-tapping, swinging music shaking the Peace Center rafters.

If you go

  • What: Greenville Chorale Presents “Bluegrass and Big Band”
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Peace Center
  • Tickets: $20 to $40
  • Info: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org

“Anastasia”

The lavish musical based on the 1997 film takes the stage of the Peace Center on Tuesday for eight performances through Oct. 28.

This stage version about the unknown Princess Anastasia probes far more deeply than the animated film into the theme of revolution and its dear costs. The score, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, includes big, uptempo show-stoppers as well as some poignantly haunting ballads.

This production is the recently launched national tour. “Anastasia” opened on Broadway in April 2017 and continues to enjoy full houses.

What to expect: Romance, drama, and soaring melodies.

If you go

  • What: “Anastasia,” the musical
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Peace Center
  • Tickets: $35 to $95
  • Info: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org

The good news

Film scores are finally earning the respect they deserve. The Bob Jones University Symphony Orchestra will offer “Symphonic Hollywood” on Thursday, Oct. 25, in the Founders Memorial Amphitorium.

Two film-music veterans will join the orchestra: James Thatcher (French horn); and Richard Kaufman (conductor). BJU Conductor Michael Moore has chosen some great material, with an emphasis on John Williams — including music from “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List.”

Also included: Williams’ brilliant “Liberty Fanfare,” John Barry’s beautiful “Out of Africa” theme and Ennio Morricone’s sublime “Gabriel’s Oboe.” Several other composers will be represented as well. And there’s Rossini’s “William Tell” — Hi Ho Silver Away!

What to expect: Magnificent, rousing music.

If you go

  • What: “Symphonic Hollywood” featuring the Bob Jones University Symphonic Orchestra
  • When: 8 p.m. Oct. 25
  • Where: Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium at BJU
  • Tickets: $14 to $16
  • Info: 864-770-1372 or www.bju.edu/events/fine-arts

Free pre-concert talk

The Journal’s Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk with Chuck Nation of the Chuck Nation Bluegrass Band and Tish Oney with the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band. The talk takes place at 7 p.m. (one hour before the Greenville Chorale concert) at the Peace Center on Saturday. Write to Paul at paulhydeus@yahoo.com.

Library looks to purchase property to replace Pelham Road branch

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More than six months after opening a long-awaited branch in the Five Forks area of Simpsonville and a month into work to expand its Greer branch, the Greenville County Library System is now turning its attention to Pelham Road.

The Pelham Road branch opened in 1990 and is the library system’s oldest facility. It is also too small for the area it serves, is at capacity for programming, and doesn’t have room on the site to accommodate the significant expansion it needs.

“Pelham Road is the branch that has the greatest current and future need for expansion,” said Beverly James, the library system’s executive director.

The library system is considering buying property 1.5 miles from the current Pelham Road location. It is performing due diligence now and should know by mid-November whether the $4.85 million purchase will go through, James said. The library has enough money in its capital fund to cover the purchase, but would have to save money for a couple of years before any construction could begin, she said. But James noted that several potential sites for the recently opened Five Forks branch fell through before the library system bought the Sunnydale Drive and Woodruff Road property in 2013, two decades after a Woodruff Road branch was first talked about. Construction of that branch didn’t start until 2016, and the facility opened in March.

When the Pelham Road branch was built, it had no computers, said Greg Hester, the library’s operations manager. In addition, the branch’s collection could be enlarged if there were more space, he said.

The new Pelham Road branch would include additional conference and study space, separate space for teens, additional space for programs, and quiet rooms.

“Once upon a time, libraries were quiet places, but they’ve become noisy, busy, active places,” James said.

James said that while systemwide demand for print has declined over the last several years because of an increase in online availability, there is still a need for more library space.

The library fills a need for free meeting space for nonprofits; computers and computer classes; programming for children from babies to teenagers; adult classes; and access to the internet and free Wi-Fi, James said.

“We fill the gap between the digital haves and the digital have-nots,” she said.

The rise of digital probably has helped the library system with its space needs, Hester said. “If everything was still in print, we couldn’t fit it all in the building,” he said.

For those who doubt the need for more library space, James said she invites them to visit the children’s area of the Five Forks branch.

“We can’t keep books on the shelves in the children’s room,” she said. “To help meet the demand, instead of storing the children’s books from Greer during construction, we’ve put them in Five Forks.”

Library officials knew the Five Forks branch would be popular, but usage has exceeded their expectations, James said. The branch averages 4,400 visits per week and an average of 17,282 items borrowed per week.

The $4.99 million Greer branch expansion should be completed in fall 2019.

Greenville Library System by the numbers

1990

Year the Pelham Road branch opened, making it the oldest of the Greenville Library System’s facilities.

194,661

Visits to the Pelham Road branch during fiscal year 2018.

279,626

Items borrowed from the Pelham Road branch during fiscal year 2018.

483,913

Items borrowed from the Five Forks branch in the Simpsonville area since it opened on March 25.

44 percent

Increase in items borrowed from the Taylors branch each week since the Jean M. Smith branch in Greer closed in late July for renovation and expansion.

12,053

Square footage of the Pelham Road branch, about half the size it needs to be, according to a 2011 master library facilities study by Craig Gaulden Davis.

245

Average number of adult and children’s programs offered in library facilities per month.

Source: Greenville County Library System

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