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.
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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.
Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.
Alex Fischer looks towards the future of Columbus.
Alex Fischer is the most connected person in Columbus you’re unlikely to have heard of. Unless, that is, you dig beyond headlines and comb through the fine print of nearly any article discussing Columbus’ economic future, its business community, or even the recent campaign to keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio’s capital city.
To the engaged eye, Fischer—President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization of 75 CEOs in Central Ohio—is everywhere, a ubiquitous presence at the intersection of city and state politics, economic development, and civic life. For the Tennessee-born-and- raised Fischer—whose versatile career includes stints in city planning, business, public policy, and the nonprofit sector— leadership means possessing the skill set to anticipate what is necessary for success, prompt action from others, or if needed, deliver it himself.
Such versatility and incisiveness is perhaps the trademark
quality of an urban planner, and it’s no surprise that Fischer
sought this interdisciplinary training from a young age.
Fischer came to appreciate the urban planning space as a
high school student in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leading his
peers in an effort to prevent the demolition of Hazel Path, an old
Antebellum home in town. Through that fight, Fischer quickly
learned the power of public protest and collective action.
“One individual didn’t change that development, but I think I
participated in the dialogue that went from tearing down [Hazel
Path] to preserving it and allowing development to occur,” he
said. “In my hometown it’s still held up as a really good example
of quality development that also had a historic preservation bent
to it. And I can point to that and say, ‘Hey, I think I made a little
bit of a difference.’”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Fischer spent his early career involved in a variety of business and charitable endeavors in Knoxville. The principals with whom he came into contact in those years shaped his understanding of cross-sector leadership.
“Tennessee has a tradition
of public servants coming out of
the business world, so I saw a lot
of examples of business leaders
interrupting their careers for public
service,” Fischer explains. “At a
young age, I got to know multi-
billionaires on the community side
of their passions, not the business
side, and so those all influenced
me to realize that now in this
organization of 75 CEOs, that there’s
a real opportunity for business
leaders to use the strength of their
businesses and their leadership for
the betterment of their community.”
After several years in private industry, Fischer transitioned into the public sector, serving as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development before rising to the role of Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff to Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in the early 2000s.
It was, perhaps, a bit of a surprise that the man with deep
Tennessee roots, business connections, and a role at the pinnacle
of local policymaking would transition to a similar position in
Ohio. But that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Fischer
moved to Columbus to begin a position as the Senior Vice
President for Business and Economic Development at Battelle,
the Columbus-based scientific research and development firm.
Fischer acknowledges the transition to Ohio was a little
odd—“because I was so deeply rooted in the ideals of what we’re
doing in Columbus in a different state and different cities.”
He soon found his way to the epicenter of Columbus’ civic and business life—he now serves as a Trustee of The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital—and developed an appreciation for the city’s unique professional culture.
“In the process [of moving], I found things in Columbus that
I realized I had never experienced before. I’d never experienced
the level of collaboration. The level of tolerance and acceptance
in this city is pretty phenomenal in contrast to some other places
that I’ve lived,” Fischer explains. “What’s so motivating [about
working in Columbus] is this being such a perfect place to do
the work. By that I mean this culture: the scale of the city, the
collaborative nature, the Midwestern values, the fact that we
have four seasons. All the ingredients exist here.”
At the helm of the Partnership, Fischer has vast capacity
and bandwidth to influence the Columbus economy in the
near-term while rallying leaders across multiple sectors behind
an aspirational vision for the future. Columbus 2020, the city’s
economic development plan for this decade, launched roughly
10 years ago and allowed Fischer a
vehicle with which to implement
his vision. He decided early on that
the project would shoot for the
”[Columbus 2020] was a very
ambitious set of goals. All the
analysis said we couldn’t meet the
goals but it’s like, “OK, so what?
Let’s go for it,” Fischer laughs. “And
if we happen to miss the goals but
in the process do some really great
things, I don’t think anybody will
complain. Well, we surpassed all
the goals and it’s really interesting
to have been accountable for it from
the start until now.”
In addition to the obvious economic development successes in Columbus—the ongoing redevelopment of Downtown, recruitment of healthy corporations, and expansion across the 11-county Central Ohio metropolitan area— the region has benefitted from unexpected windfalls, such as the economic growth driven by data centers for big tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Fischer attributes Columbus’ successful branding efforts and continued growth to multiple factors, most specifically a uniquely collaborative culture among Partnership members and public officials, and an explicit focus on the recruitment of civic- minded companies and workers.
“I think it’s all about culture. I was not thinking this way 10 or 20 years ago. I think the future of the Partnership, the future of Columbus, is you keep preserving and teaching culture. That doesn’t mean that it has to be done exactly the same way— inevitably, it won’t because things are changing so fast. One of our cultural aspects that I’m proud of is that we’re comfortable in that very fast-changing environment [...] Continuing to evolve that culture by not just taking it for granted is really important. I think it could slip away if it’s not being
Columbus also stands out nationally in
what Fischer calls “the talent war” as the home
to approximately 150,000 college students,
many of whom will be relied upon to remain in
Central Ohio and continue the city’s economic
“The fierce competition for workforce is
where we’re going to be leading the country
[...] There’s less of a hierarchy in Columbus for
people who want to get involved and make an
To be sure, Columbus’ traditional selling
points remain part of the equation as the
Partnership sells Central Ohio to potential
“It still really does matter that we’re in
the center of the U.S. population, we’re a day’s
drive from anywhere, a great quality of life,
a great cost of living. We’re not congested,
despite challenges with the commute. All of
that adds up. Increasingly, though, it’s about
talent. Companies are moving where they can
get the talent. And Columbus is a city that is
recruiting the talent.”
The rebrand of Columbus’ economic
development organization from Columbus
2020 to One Columbus coincides with the
birth of a much greater ambition, of a future
in which Columbus will be able to stand
alone as a city, when the suffix ‘Ohio’ will be
redundant and obsolete. Fischer is well aware
that sustained growth will require more of the
discipline and urgency that permitted success
Specifically, he stresses the importance
the Partnership places on regional master
planning throughout Central Ohio, coupled
with what he calls “a relentless drive to the
“No one should assume we’re going to
continue to grow. That was the attitude 20 years
ago. The last 10-15 years we have consciously
built an infrastructure—of Columbus 2020,
now One Columbus—of enabling that growth.
There’s a science to it and we can never forget
that,” he said.
“Our role is to make sure that we are continuing to grow, at the same time, can we do the best possible job of anywhere in the country at ensuring that the rising tide raises every single boat in a harbor? And can we defy the national trend of a growing economic divide?”
Learn more about the Columbus
Partnership at columbuspartnership.com
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
“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
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.
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
“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
“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.