Racing for hope
December marks Elizabeth “Betsy” Alexander’s ‘98 (PhD) fifth year of being cancer free. The upbeat breast cancer survivor is an inspiration to most everyone she meets — and also to countless people she never met.
Alexander, an author and assistant professor of history at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, is a poster woman for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s first national ad campaign for the Komen Race for the Cure® series. The ad has appeared in such prominent publications as Ladies Home Journal, O Magazine, Health Magazine, Prevention, More and Redbook. It has been running for about a year and will continue for another 12 months.
“The reception to the ad has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Komen spokeswoman Jill Smits. “It seems to really resonate, strike a chord with people because it is so personal and yet really positive in its messaging.”
When Komen officials were brainstorming for their first national campaign, they found a photo they really liked from one of the races. But they didn’t know the woman in the picture or if she was still a survivor. Plus the pic was in black and white – not color. Alexander’s daughter – Lauren Lawhon, who worked for Komen at the time – saw the picture and said it looked a lot like her mom.
“The people there said, ‘Well, would your mom do it?’ And she said, ‘Oh yeah, sure she would,” Alexander recalled.
One of the things that made Alexander appealing for the project was her hair – or lack of it. While most women get their hair back after finishing treatments, she did not. Alexander – who ultimately underwent three surgeries and almost 10 months of chemotherapy – has some hair, but it is very thin. Yet it’s something she takes in stride: “That’s just something I have to live with.” (She also developed some heart complications during treatment, but fortunately her heart is back to normal now.)
So Alexander got together with several other survivors and trekked to NorthPark Mall for a photo shoot, with the chosen shot featuring a group of women with Alexander in the center.
She downplays her role as the “face” of breast cancer survivors, admitting that the spotlight is a little embarrassing. “The important thing about it is the slogan they have used. It says that we can live without our hair. We can live without our breasts. But we cannot live without our hope for a cure,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful slogan. I thought that was just marvelous because I can live without my hair and I can live without my left breast. But I really want to do everything that I can to make sure that other women don’t have to do this. I have two daughters and a granddaughter, and I don’t want them to have to have breast cancer.”
Alexander is certainly doing her part. In addition to the ad, she is a regular participant in Race for the Cure® and she has done some speaking for Komen – and was even honored as one of the keynote speakers at the June national conference in Washington, D.C.
“And I do pretty much whatever they ask me to do,” Alexander added. “If they need something, I’ll do it.”
Baby book boom
When Susanna Stroud Maples ‘91 became a mom in 2002, she sought the perfect baby book – a unique, high-quality book to tell the story of her and her husband’s adopted baby boy.
Instead she found uninspiring books with immunization charts, dental records and other pages so detailed she knew she would never fill them out. A little research told her she wasn’t alone, and the market was ripe for a new brand of baby book. So she began creating her own, with plans of marketing to masses of busy mommies online.
“I included things that I wanted to read in my baby book, but I scaled down and shortened them,” she said. “They’re so general and open-ended that parents can go back and fill them out when their child is 3 or 5.”
With 15 years of sales and management experience – including working with two venture capital startups during the dot-com boom – Maples knew what it took to launch a business, and she had lots of family and friends cheering her on. In July, she left an executive position to focus on her baby books.
With beautiful illustrations, easy-to-answer questions and plenty of room for photos, The Baby Book Boutique
(www.thebabybookboutique.com) offers books specifically for pregnancy, domestic adoptions, international adoptions, Gladney Center adoptions, twins and triplets.
Maples has been spotlighted by several prominent publications. She won a DICE (Distinction, Innovation, Creative, Excellence) award and sold out in Texas to targeted, high-end retail distributors at the Dallas International Gift and Home Accessories Market. Bloomingdale’s spotted her at a New York show and cut a deal to stock her books by Christmas. Mexico retailers are talking about Spanish translations, and Focus on the Family is interested in the books for its ministry in Europe, she said. Yet Maples hasn’t even begun promoting Internet sales – her initial distribution channel.
“It’s grown so fast and it’s been so well received that I’m going to have to add a full staff,” Maples said, noting that TCU MBA students who used her business for a supply chain class project are interested in coming on board.
And baby books are just the beginning. Plans are already in the works for similar books for debutantes, summer camp and sororities, among others.
A matter of virtue
Most every parent wants to instill virtue in his or her child, and one Frog-turned-mom has crafted a way to effectively teach it. Jenifer (Jenny) Molohon Mahler ‘77 (MM ‘84) – author, musician, composer and mother of four – combines her musical gifts, 20 years of home-school teaching and passion for growing children in the ways of Christ into a curriculum emphasizing character development. Started a few years ago, “Conquering by Virtue” is a multi-sensory, hands-on program featuring scrapbooking, skits, poetry and original music by Mahler that teaches children about 12 virtues. Kids learn about the virtues from a biblical perspective and then create a scrapbook using photos of themselves demonstrating each virtue.
The program (www.virtuousconquerors.com) has been very well received, with Mahler receiving orders nationwide from Sunday Schools, homeschoolers, scrapbookers and groups such as scout troops. Christian Book Distributors (CBD) also carries her books. Scrapbook of Virtues Volume 1 is for elementary school ages to adult, while Volume 2 is designed for junior high kids to adults.
“My goal is to teach children to think biblically so that any area of their lives will have access to wisdom and discernment at any time,” she said, explaining that she uses the “Principle Approach,” which teaches people to think and reason from the scriptures; as well as relies on Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which used scriptures to see how God used words.
Long term, Mahler would like to see Virtuous Conquerors as a retreat ground with ropes and obstacle courses where kids can exhibit the virtues as photographers capture the action for their scrapbooks.
Framing a new venture
You can’t keep a good Frog down, and Tobin Peterson ‘94 is proof. He’s quick to point out that he’s never been fired or asked to resign. But he’s had a few spills on the proverbial corporate ladder. “I’ve had a lot of bad luck,” admits the Oklahoma resident, who has been laid-off five times.
After layoff No. 5, Peterson was loading lumber at Lowe’s “just to pay the bills,” and came home feeling pretty down. But when daughter Maison, then 4, showed him the pictures she had colored for him, his face lit up – as did the light bulb in his entrepreneurial spirit. “They were so beautiful I didn’t want to just put them on the refrigerator. They were masterpieces,” he recalled.
He wanted to make a special frame for them. Something kid-friendly but sophisticated enough that adults would want to hang it up. The result was something of a frame masterpiece – a magnetic, glass-free frame that loads from the front and can even double as a dry erase or magnetic memo board. Showcasing 8-by-10 or smaller masterpieces in an ornate gold, museum-style casing, the frame makes changing out artwork or holiday photos, well, child’s play.
Peterson patented his frame, found a manufacturer in the Philippines and set his sights on e-commerce giant QVC, which officially launched “My Masterpiece” Sept. 2.
The reception for the frames, which retail for less than $25, has been “very, very strong,” Peterson said. “We sold out on QVC and we’re in talks with them to do it again.”
Also in the works are additional colors – black, blue, mahogany, pink, silver and white – as well as frames to showcase works as large as 12-by-12, such as scrapbook pages.
And down the road, there may even be a TCU purple in the mix. “I sure would like to have a TCU-colored frame,” Peterson said. “I’m passionate about my school and I would love to do something to give back.”
For information, go to www.mymasterpieceonline.com
Frog of all trades
When Craig Merrell ‘74 was slogging through dental school, he didn’t think that by age 53 he’d not only be a dental surgeon but also a scuba dive master, skydiver, motorcyclist, black belt, body guard, private security officer, model, actor and graduate of a police academy.
He says it’s a combination of restlessness and wanting to fulfill unmet needs. “I live in a really crummy neighborhood, I’ve witnessed a lot of crime, and I decided I wanted to try to lower the numbers a little bit.” So Merrell completed private security training, then the police academy. Now when he sees a crime in progress, he doesn’t have to call 911 and wait for the cavalry. “I am the cavalry,” he says. “I get a chance to have a direct impact. It makes me feel good and it’s exciting.”
As the oldest member of his police academy class, he kept his under-30 colleagues on their toes when he set a new course record for the police driving practical exam and won the class shoot-out at the gun range. Think you’ve seen him before? Merrill has been the face of Libby’s Juicy Juice and Radio Shack, and he has appeared in ads in Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, the The Wall Street Journal and The Dallas Morning News. He’s also a Mensa member and in the Triple Nine Society, the 99.9 percentile. Clever boy.