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The Interview: Allison Russo

Representative / Healthcare Advocate / Mother Born in rural Mississippi and married to a combat veteran, Allison Russo has experienced much of the country as she’s moved from city to suburb, and even occasionally crossed the pond to live overseas. But now, quite intentionally, she’s chosen to live here, in the heart of The Heart [...]
Linda Lee Baird



Representative / Healthcare Advocate / Mother

Born in rural Mississippi and married to a combat veteran, Allison Russo has experienced much of the country as she’s moved from city to suburb, and even occasionally crossed the pond to live overseas. But now, quite intentionally, she’s chosen to live here, in the heart of The Heart of It All. “At the end of the day, people are pragmatic,” Russo said of Ohio. “I think that is our strength as a state. We have this really strong history of innovation and working hard.”

Now Russo will get the chance to leave her mark on her new home state as a state representative for Ohio House District 24: Upper Arlington, Hilliard, some of northwest Columbus, part of Clintonville, and several of the townships in southwestern Franklin County. But besides representing a geographical area of the state, Russo also represents working moms of young children: a demographic with historically low numbers among the members of the Ohio General Assembly, but a demographic with great economic influence and policy concerns. Not having held office before, Russo funneled her experience as a healthcare policy research director, her involvement in her children’s education, and her engagement in her community to launch her successful campaign.

With her campaign out of the way and her term in office not yet begun, Russo is taking a breather to get back to reading and binge-watching period dramas on Netflix. (You know, what the rest of us call “an evening at home.”) It’s a time for her to reflect on what has gone well, and to speculate what her (and Ohio’s) future may hold.

What made you decide to run?

Allison Russo: Running for office was never part of the plan, even though I’ve always had interest in policy. After the 2016 election. I thought I really needed to re-engage. As I started to become more engaged in what was going on at the state level—certainly what was going on nationally—I realized that there was a real need for people like me who came with some expertise and real-life perspective on many of these issues and how they impact people. This particular seat became open and I decided, well, it’s now or never…. Because of the population growth that we’ve had in Franklin County, the demographics have changed, so you have a lot of young people moving in new suburban areas. You saw districts like mine in this election cycle flip.

“At the end of the day, people are pragmatic, I think that is our strength as a state. We have this really strong history of innovation and working hard.”

Your campaign was very personal, talking about your kids, spouse and career. I’m interested to hear about that choice.

AR: I was very intent on running as myself and being as authentic as possible, because […] one, frankly I didn’t know any different, and two, as a woman, I have many different roles. I’m a mom, I’m a professional, I’m involved in my community. All of that is what made me the candidate that I am. And I think that’s what many women do. We connect with people, and making those connections opens us up to listening to different perspectives. So I just embraced that.

Authenticity and likability seems to be a general problem for women on the campaign trail. What could help?

AR: Part of being authentic was [that] I often had my kids in tow with me while we were knocking on doors and at campaign events. But you’re also very aware that you’re judged by a different set of standards. And it’s not just the physical part of it. It’s how you present yourself. It’s even your experiences because many of us who were women running for the first time, we didn’t have the typical politician experience. It was talking about that, and many times explaining our experiences and justifying why we were just as qualified as someone else who was running.

Is healthcare your passion? Where does that come from?

AR: I originally thought I might go into medicine, but then I studied public health—that’s my background—and kind of fell into the policy after working in public health as an epidemiologist for a couple of years […] I was working on chronic diseases, mostly, and working on some Medicare issues…. When I was in graduate school I did spend several months working with the county health department and we would go and do disease notifications, and it was during the beginning of hepatitis C […] that was really interesting because then you were seeing what keeps people from getting treatment and keeps them in these disease states. So that was a real interesting life experience for me.

You’re an evidence-based policymaker. How do we get people who are science-resistant to consider policies that are grounded in evidence?

AR: That’s tough. Some of it is just informing. There’s a lot that happens in policy that is sausage-making. I think part of that is just having voices at the table that bring some of that [experience] with them. I think it’s unusual for people like me […] who come from kind of these real research, science, evidence-based backgrounds to suddenly be at the table making the policy because usually we’re on the other end of it.

There was a lot said about this being the “Year of the Woman” in elected office. Do you feel like that occurred in Ohio?

AR: You certainly had many more women stepping up to run for these state offices, legislative offices than ever before […] I think that women, when they ran in Ohio, they did as well as men. With the new freshman class […] coming in, we are a 50/50 caucus.

What are some ways folks could get involved without running for office?

AR: Pay attention to what’s happening with your local city council, with your township council, certainly what’s going on at the statehouse. Attend your school board meeting, your city council meeting, a committee a hearing at the statehouse. Anyone can participate in those activities. Once they participate once or twice they realize that, “Hey, there’s opportunity here for me to participate, and to have a voice.” So much of policy that impacts our day to day lives happens at the state level and happens in our local governments, and I think it’s a little bit of a mystery to many people about how that works, so I would like to increase the transparency of the day-to-day happenings at the statehouse.

“Once they participate once or twice they realize that, ‘Hey, there’s opportunity here for me to participate, and to have a voice.’ ”

What are you looking forward to about this role?

AR: Building relationships. I think constituency services is going to be huge for me, and making sure that I stay very connected to the people who are in the district. But also building those relationships with my colleagues both within my caucus and across the aisle. I think people are very hungry for this General Assembly to work together and start to solve some of these big issues that Ohio is facing.

And for anyone who did want to run in 2020, any advice you would put out there?

AR: I would start with talking to people who are in elected office. That’s the very first thing that I started doing. In fact, I’d joke that if I ever write a book about running for office, it probably would be titled, “I Hope You Like Coffee,” because I participated in so many coffee meetings with people who are in elected office.

Allison Russo will be sworn in as State Representative on January 7. Follow her on social media at Russo4Ohio.

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas



Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff



HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox



Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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