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I heart New York

1 Jun

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During Rachel Beardsley’s first New York City half marathon, the route took runners through Central Park and Times Square and along the West Side Highway to Lower Manhattan.

“It was overwhelming,” Rachel remembers, now an eight NYC half marathon veteran. “To run through Times Square – they were playing Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York – I got misty-eyed.”

Rachel (’02 Spanish & political science) runs several days a week – often on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway near her high-rise apartment building in Lower Manhattan, sometimes across the Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Park or in Central Park, the most visited urban park in the United States.

Since she moved to New York in 2003, Rachel has also found a new passion: sailing. Her husband, Peter Beardsley, grew up sailing in New Rochelle, N.Y., and introduced Rachel to the sport. She’s now on the water with him for as many as 100 sailboat races each year.

Rachel and Peter met at Brooklyn Law School. Rachel practices immigration law with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, the world’s leading global corporate immigration law firm. She oversees as many as 850 foreign nationals at any given time, working with individuals and employers to obtain employment-based visas and green cards. The process is complex and sometimes takes years to complete.

Rachel says she loves the vibrancy of New York City.

“The city is so alive, and there is always something new to explore,” she says. “With so many people always out enjoying the city, I rarely feel alone. When I moved to New York, I wasn’t sure if I would make it here. I feel very lucky.”

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A rare vintage

26 Jul

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For a moment in time, Trent Preszler represented the most famous wine in America.

And in that moment, all the work and all the sweat to rebuild and transform Bedell Cellars from a little-known Long Island, N.Y., winery and vineyard to a world-class winemaking and event facility was worth it.

Bedell Cellars’ 2009 Merlot was chosen to be served at President Barack Obama’s January 2013 inauguration luncheon, along with a course of South Dakota bison. And suddenly all eyes were on the winery’s CEO.

Trent was interviewed by CBS and ABC news; he attended the inauguration as a guest of New York Sen. Charles Schumer; he even saw his wine on the table during television coverage of the inaugural luncheon.

Sales spiked. Cases flew out the door. The wine sold out in a week.

“The presidential inauguration luncheon was the culmination of 30 years of producing excellent Merlot,” Trent says.

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THAT TRENT PRESZLER WOULD be involved in a high-value agricultural product was the furthest thing from his mind when he came to Iowa State – and even when he graduated.

Trent grew up on a 10,000-acre cattle ranch in South Dakota.

“I came from no town in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “My parents lost the ranch in the 1980s farm crisis. I was determined not to go to ag school.”

Trent blossomed in an interdisciplinary studies program at Iowa State. He was in the honors program and was a freshman honors leader, vice president of LAS Council, director of legislative affairs for GSB, a member of President Martin Jischke’s VEISHEA review task force, and co-chair of the Lectures Program Institute on World Affairs. He played saxophone in the marching band, delivered the student speech at LAS commencement, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He was an intern one summer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

After graduating from Iowa State in 1998, he studied botany at the University of Edinburgh on a Rotary scholarship. In 1999 he moved to New York to pursue a master’s degree at Cornell University.

“I chose New York wine production for my thesis,” he says. “Until then, I had no interest in wine and grapes.”

But he was captivated by the field. He began to truly care about local wines.

After completing his thesis at Cornell, Trent was hired by the owner of Bedell Cellars, one of the most respected wineries in New York. He started in 2002 as the sales manager and was soon promoted to vice president of operations.

The winery is located on a former potato farm on some of the oldest farmland in America – and in what is currently the No. 1 agricultural county in the Northeast. When Trent joined the staff, the facilities were dismal. The owner wanted to “ramp up” not just the winemaking but the facilities themselves in order to entice the New York City wine-drinking population to drive to Long Island for the total experience.

Trent led the renovation of the historic potato barn (built in 1919) into a sleek, sophisticated tasting room; expanded the winemaking operation; restored the guest cottage; and hired new staff.

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IT WAS A TIME of intense personal and professional change for Trent. When he turned 30, he began to ask, “What’s next?” He felt like he’d done much of what he wanted to do for Bedell. What he really wanted was to get a Ph.D.

“I felt unfulfilled, like I hadn’t finished the journey,” he said.

The winery’s owner was supportive, so Trent went back to Cornell to pursue a doctoral degree in viticulture and enology, the study of wine and grapes.

After receiving the degree, Trent was named CEO of Bedell Cellars and made a partner. The winery continued to expand, with an outdoor grand tasting pavilion overlooking the vineyard.

Bedell has, indeed, become a destination. At 80 miles east of New York City, the drive to the North Fork of Long Island takes about two hours, and the journey from urban metropolis to farm country is transformative. Trent describes it as “coming out of a rabbit hole.” (He makes the trip two to three times a week from his apartment in Brooklyn that he shares with his husband, Nick O’Flaherty.)

During the busy seasons – summer and fall – 300-400 people travel to the winery for daily tastings, for which reservations are required. Trent says that winery visitors are Bedell’s bread and butter.

“Sixty to 70 percent of our wine is sold right here,” Trent said. The rest is shipped to customers or sold in New York restaurants.

The winery is turning heads. Wine Business Monthly has named Bedell one of the Top 10 Hottest Small Brands in the world. Bedell’s flagship red blend, Musée, received 91 points from Wine Spectator, the highest score the publication had ever awarded to a red wine from northeastern North America. Bedell was named one of the Top 25 Tasting Rooms in America by Wine Enthusiast.

And now, more about that famous presidential Merlot:

“Every vintage has its own soul,” Trent said. “Each vintage is affected by the weather, the people, the land, the grapes, the yeast, and the sun. The 2009 Merlot was a beautiful wine.”

Lost in space

10 Jun

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When Robert Antol was 10 years old, his parents bought him and his brother a cheap cardboard telescope. They viewed the moon, Jupiter, and Mars and thought, “Wow!” Bob was hooked. He soon graduated to a telescope “made of actual glass” and, as an adult, purchased a full-sized telescope with a tripod.

But the telescope was bulky and took time to set up in the yard each night – and it got downright cold during the winter. Bob yearned to have the telescope fixed permanently in an observatory, perhaps in a shed with a roll-off roof, or in a dome above the garage. In the end, Bob and his wife, Barb, went with the deluxe, only-in-your-dreams version: They extended their house, constructing an attached two-story octagonal tower topped with a 16-foot domed observatory.

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To say this is a cool toy is a huge understatement. This observatory is beyond cool. And Bob clearly likes nothing more than showing it off.

When Jim and I visited the observatory in the Antols’ home in Poughquag, N.Y., in early May, Bob cued the theme song to 2001: A Space Odyssey as he opened the metal, rotating roof. He showed us the 14.5-inch telescope mounted on a precision robotic mount. He showed us how, with the push of a few keys on his computer, the telescope automatically points to any object in the night sky.

Sun_2May2013Since it was daytime when we visited, Bob let us view the sun through his solar telescope. The telescope allowed us to see solar “prominences” (or flares) and the surface of the sun.

Had we been there at night, we could have potentially seen the rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the polar ice caps of Mars, or the intense shadows of the mountains on the stark landscape of the moon. Additionally, the powerful telescope in the Stargate 4173 at Grimaldi Tower (the observatory’s official name) will pull into view far-away galaxies and globular clusters, to which Bob refers to as “Star Trek moments.”

“When I saw the same objects with this telescope that I’d been viewing with my old telescope, I just about fell down,” he said.

Bob received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Iowa State in 1978, and three weeks after graduation he started to work at IBM in the state of New York. Thirty-five years later, he still works in the electronic design automation unit of IBM. Chips designed by his group are used in the Xbox and Wii game systems.

Someday, when he retires, Bob says he and Barb will have the luxury of spending long nights in the observatory, with no alarm clock waking them for work at 5 a.m.

“After a night of observing, I go downstairs with such peace and tranquility,” Bob says. “You just immerse yourself in the stars.”

It’s been eight years since the observatory was completed, and the Antols are still in awe.

“We are still surprised sometimes that we really did this thing.”

Beautiful music

31 May

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Professional musician Maureen Hurd Hause has had a frantic morning. She’s had to get her two daughters, Elena, 7, and Nora, 2, ready for their day. Then she’s driven from her home in West Orange, N.J., to meet Jim and me at Carnegie Deli in Midtown Manhattan. When she dashes in, she’s out of breath and smiling.

Maureen is always smiling.

The 1994 music grad has one of the sunniest dispositions I’ve ever encountered. After a cup of coffee and a quick chat, we head out onto the street where Jim takes pictures of Maureen playing her clarinet on the corner of 7th Avenue and 57th Street, with New Yorkers, tourists, and taxi drivers all around. With Jim at her feet, Maureen throws back her head and joyfully plays Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. And I feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie.

Now everyone is smiling.

Maureen grew up in tiny Ida Grove, Iowa. She began taking private clarinet lessons with ISU music professor Joseph Messenger during her freshman year of high school.

“It was 100 miles each way for three years,” Maureen remembers.

At Iowa State, Maureen was a member of the orchestra and wind ensemble and continued to study with Messenger.

“I had wonderful, amazing teachers in the Music Department,” she says.

She followed up her Iowa State degree with three graduate degrees from the Yale University School of Music. Today Maureen teaches clarinet in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, and she’s also a freelance musician in the New York City area.

The New York Times called one of Maureen’s performances at Carnegie Hall (not coincidentally right across the street from our meeting place at Carnegie Deli) “striking” and “vibrantly played.” She has performed with the American Symphony Orchestra, New York City Opera Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society.

She’s a classical clarinetist but loves Benny Goodman, and she’s recorded a number of CDs, including a solo CD.

“I tried to record things that hadn’t been recorded before,” she said, adding that some of the numbers were composed by her husband, Evan Hause.

As if playing on the streets of New York were not enough, Maureen happily agreed to play for us in Central Park, and, again, we drew a happy crowd.

New York and beyond

21 May

Jim and I managed to miss the Midwestern snowstorm in early May by traveling to New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, where we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather: It was warm, sunny, and bursting with spring color.

We also couldn’t have asked for nicer alumni. Everywhere we went, Iowa Staters went out of their way to make us feel at home in the Northeast.

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We flew into the Newark Liberty International Airport and rented a car. Our first two New Jersey alumni meetings were very near Philadelphia, so we stayed in Philly our first two nights and took advantage of all that city has to offer: historic architecture, parks and squares, and great food. We visited the Liberty Bell out of a sense of obligation but really preferred the Mural Arts Program (all over the city) and the creepy coolness of the Eastern State Penitentiary.

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We met our first alum on Day 2: Bing Howell. Bing (’03 MIS & international business) works for the New Jersey Department of Education in Camden, making a difference in one of the most challenging school districts in the country. I’ll tell you more about Bing (and some of the other alumni we met) in the coming weeks.

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Next we met Robi Polikar at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. Robi (MS ’95 electrical engr/biomedical engr; PhD ’00) was born in Istanbul and is currently a professor and department chair for the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. After meeting with Robi, I felt really proud to live in Ames – he said such nice things about his experience in Iowa and at Iowa State University.

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We left New Jersey behind us and headed next to the town of Poughquag, N.Y. Never heard of Poughquag? You can find it on the map near Poughkeepsie in the Mid-Hudson River Valley. Poughquag is home to Robert Antol (’78 mathematics), who has a crazy-cool space observatory built onto his home. Bob and his wife, Barb, not only let us play with his telescope but they also fed us New York-style pizza on their back patio. What a great day! (I love this photo Jim took of Bob and me in his observatory with the alien!)

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We set out for the state of Connecticut next, to meet with Ruth Fitzgerald (’71 history, MS ’74 urban & regional planning) in Hartford. Ruth is the founding principal of Fitzgerald & Halliday, a planning and environmental analysis firm that specializes in transportation and community planning projects. That’s Ruth above, working with her IT specialist, Howard Latimer.

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Just down the road in Wallingford, Conn., we met Ben Hahn (’98 electrical engineering), vice president of Sensor Switch. Ben took us on a fascinating tour of his firm, which manufactures occupancy sensors and network lighting control systems that provide energy savings. We probably embarrassed Ben with all the crazy things Jim had him do for photos (sorry, Ben!), but it was a really fun tour.

IMG_6351After our meeting with Ben, we spent the night in New Haven, home of Yale University. Jim and I both love to see other college campuses, so walking on Yale’s Old Campus and the New Haven Green was a real treat. We also ate some of the famous New Haven-style pizza.

The next day, we did what every red-blooded Iowan fears the most: We drove through New York City. Actually, not so much “through” as “around” the city, en route to the Newark airport to drop off our rental car. But still, we did drive in the Bronx and I was pretty nervous that we’d take a wrong turn and end up totally lost and have to pay for an extra day on our car and miss our connection with the car service that was scheduled to pick us up. I was worried for nothing, because we sailed through with only one teensie wrong turn, which the GPS fixed for us very quickly. We actually turned in our rental car almost an hour early.

The car service (which, I cannot stress enough, is such a better option than a taxi) picked us up and delivered us directly to our inn in Brooklyn that we had booked for the next few nights. From then on, we relied on public transportation and the kindness of ISU alumni to get us around the city. Oh, and lots of walking.

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I almost feel like this was “Part II” of this trip, because when we got into Brooklyn, everything changed. And not just because we were without a car. There’s just such a different vibe in the city. Brooklyn was a great (and considerably less expensive) place to stay – and it was easy to jump into the subway and get to Manhattan in less than 20 minutes. We were lucky to be in New York when we were: The trees were all in bloom, the weather was beautiful, and New Yorkers were just grooving on it everywhere we went.

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Our first meeting in New York City was with Rachel (Hollrah) Beardsley (’02 Spanish/political science) and her husband, Peter. The couple lives in lower Manhattan and can tell you lots of stories about surviving the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Rachel and Peter met as students at Brooklyn Law School and both are practicing attorneys. To say they were good sports about the photo shoot is putting it mildly; we had Rachel change clothes three times! She went running for us in Central Park; they took us sailing on Long Island Sound; she posed with the Statue of Liberty – and also with her cat. Most grueling photo shoot ever!

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The next morning, alumnus Trent Preszler  (’98 interdisciplinary studies) picked us up in his Chevy Volt and – after grabbing lattes and egg sandwiches and taking a quick peek at his Brooklyn apartment – took us with him on his 80-mile commute out to the north fork of Long Island. What a fascinating drive – from the city to the countryside to the New England-styled towns and wineries. Trent is CEO of Bedell Cellars winery and vineyards in Cutchogue – located in the prettiest setting you can imagine. Jim photographed Trent out in the vineyards and in the sophisticated tasting room, above.

Bedell Cellars wine had already made quite a name for itself through awards for its wines and its tasting room, but the winery’s most recent claim to fame happened just this year when its 2009 Merlot was chosen to be served at President Obama’s inauguration luncheon. Trent gave us a wonderful tour of not only the winery and vineyard but of the North Fork itself.

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The next morning we met Maureen Hurd Hause (’94 music) in Midtown Manhattan. Maureen is actually a New Jersey alum who teaches clarinet at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, but she often plays as a professional musician at Carnegie Hall, so our idea was to meet her there. The fact that the lower fourth of Carnegie Hall was covered in scaffolding didn’t deter Jim from photographing Maureen on the street corner in front of the building. We drew quite a crowd! Maureen was belting out Gershwin tunes, Jim was lying on the ground, and more than a few people photographed the goings-on with their iPhones.

And then our New York adventure came to an end, but not before having a picnic in Central Park.

Next up: North and South Dakota!