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The sweet life

31 May


When you listen to Mark Ballard talk about his premiere line of brownies and blondies, you can’t help but think these treats are not just special but way-out-of-the-ordinary special.

When Mark (’84 family services; MS ’86 professional studies in education) and his partner, Tom Finney, started their own business in 2005, they knew they had to do it better than anyone else.

“Nobody had done brownies and blondies in a great way,” Mark explains. So he and Tom did research: Who makes the best brownies?

“We ate brownies from New York to San Francisco,” he says.

The result was Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, a brownie and blondie boutique bakery in Columbus, Ohio.

Mark, co-founder and co-CEO of the company, said they focused on creating a “premium product with premium packaging, promotion, and people.” Each batch of “blondes and brunettes” is made by hand by an executive chef and his assistants, using top-quality ingredients including eggs and butter from a local farm. The treats are cut into three-inch rounds and sold in stores or shipped fresh “door to door in 24.” Flavors include campfire s’mores, chai spiced, cinnamon, rich mint, caramel, peanut butter, cherry almond, and more.

Sugardaddy’s has been featured by more than 50 national media outlets, including the Food Network, Today Show, Ellen, InStyle, Midwest Living, and the Washington Post. But Mark says it was the winning “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay” appearance on the Food Network that gained the company the most attention and made the Tahiti Blonde Sweetie a national superstar.

“At first, it was easier to get national endorsements than local ones,” Mark said. But that’s changed, and now Sugardaddy’s has been named a “best local treat” and has expanded to three stores in Columbus.

“Our goal is to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth,” says Mark. “We make a complete dessert in a three-inch round.”

Note: After 10 years as owner of Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, Mark Ballard announced in late 2013 that he and his partner had sold the Sugardaddy’s brand and business to a couple in Columbus, Ohio.

Wrestling with faith

6 Aug

06-28-13 CARR IMG_5094

Nate Carr (’85 sociology) grew up in a big family with big dreams. Nate was the eleventh of 16 children (he jokes that his parents embraced the notion of “be fruitful and multiply,” and he’s grateful they didn’t stop after having 10 kids.) Five of those kids, including Nate, became All-American wrestlers (an NCAA record), and two competed in the Olympics.

As a wrestler for Iowa State, Nate won three individual national championships (1981-83). He won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul, Korea, Olympics, outscoring his opponents 67-7. He was inducted into Iowa State’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

Nate’s wrestling career has continued, as an assistant wrestling coach at West Virginia University, as head of youth wrestling at Team Prodigy, as a wrestling coach at Jones County, Ga., High School, and at camps and clinics across the country. He currently manages, with his wife, Linda, his own wrestling clinic, Carr Wrestling Club near their home in Centerville, Ohio. Their oldest son, Nate Jr., was an outstanding wrestler at Iowa State.

Nate joined the ministry when his family lived in Georgia, and he draws parallels between being a pastor and being a coach.

“My life’s mission is to produce champions in this life and for all eternity,” he says.

He worked with inmates as a prison minister and has spent much of his career working with youth. He performed the weddings of many of his athletes.

“I always threatened them that if they didn’t act right, I could put them in a headlock,” he jokes.

Nate continues to stay in shape – he rides his bike and lifts weights every morning – and to minister to young athletes at every opportunity.

“I’m a professional encourager,” he says, adding that when he works with youth he always focuses on the positive, not the negative. “Having someone who encourages you is huge. You can learn from your mistakes and use that as a catalyst to take you to the top.”

The last of the east

9 Jul


Our VISIONS Across America trip to Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia (the last of the eastern states!) will be remembered for its unique sounds and smells: A jet engine, fresh-baked brownies, a professional football team’s locker room, hot asphalt, wet sheep, and an impromptu living-room banjo concert.

Alumni in these three states are an eclectic bunch. We met folks in big cities, suburbs, and small towns. All had great stories to share.



We started with a daylong drive to Indianapolis to meet with two alumni in that capital city. The first was Dr. Douglas McKeag (’68 zoology), professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He’s also the founding director of the IU Center for Sports Medicine and has been on the sidelines as the team physician for a number of university and professional sports teams. We met Doug at the impressive Lucas Oil Stadium on the south side of downtown Indianapolis; after some wrangling with the facilities folks, Jim was allowed to photograph Doug on the concourse and even in the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room. Pretty cool!


Later that day – after lunch in a downtown Indianapolis eatery and a quick peek at the excellent Indianapolis Museum of Art – we were treated to a toe-tapping banjo/fiddle concert at the home of Donald Somers (’58 ag journalism), accompanied by his friend, Bill Banker.

06-27-13-IMG_4719In an email to me, Don described himself as a “rabid banjo enthusiast,” and that was pretty obvious once I saw his music room filled with banjos (above) and learned that he had more banjos in the closet and under the bed…a real banjo explosion. Don played in a bluegrass band in Milwaukee, Wis., but he now plays “old-time clawhammer style” every week with friends near Indianapolis. He even treated Jim and me to a banjo rendition of the Iowa State fight song!



Continuing east the next day, we dropped in on Nate Carr (’85 sociology), one of Iowa State’s most outstanding wrestlers of all time. Nate was busy working with a group of young wrestlers at Troy Christian School just north of Dayton at a Carr Wrestling Club summer camp, but he took time out to visit with us. Nate’s a husband (he met his wife, Linda, at Iowa State), father of seven children (oldest son Nate Jr. wrestled for Iowa State and graduated in 2012), coach, minister, Olympic medalist – and just a super nice guy. We got to meet Linda as well as their youngest son, 14-year-old David.


Our next stop was hands-down the sweetest experience we’ve had on our VISIONS Across America travels. I think I may have gained a few pounds, and I certainly got my sweet tooth satisfied – all thanks to Mark Ballard (’84 family services; MS ’86 professional studies in education). Mark is co-founder and co-CEO of Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, a brownie and blondie boutique bakery in Columbus. These are not your ordinary treats…they are decadent and amazing. Believe me, I tried a lot of different flavors (caramel, peanut butter, and toasted coconut with cashews, to name a few) and I could very easily work my way through the rest of the menu (cherry almond, nutty blonde, campfire s’mores, chai spiced, cinnamon, rich mint, and more) – all hand crafted in small batches and sold fresh the day they’re made. Mark is a master marketer and businessman, and he’s taken Sugardaddy’s way beyond a typical local bakery: His company has received national attention from the Food Network, Ellen DeGeneres, InStyle magazine, and many others. You can visit Sugardaddy’s three locations in Columbus or order on the Web.


Morgantown, W.V., is home to the newest member of the Big 12: West Virginia University. We met two alumni in Morgantown and also took a tour of WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center, one of the nicest alumni facilities I’ve seen. (Join us there this fall for a football tailgate!)


Our first alumni visit was with Michael Clow (’78 naval science). We met him at the Morgantown Municipal Airport, where he is director. It was a hot day – way too hot to be photographing someone on the tarmac, if you ask me. But Michael spent the last decade-plus in Florida, so he was used to the heat, and Jim will do anything to get a great shot. (I preferred sitting in the air-conditioned pilots’ lounge.)


We woke the next morning to stormy skies and steady rain. This was not a good thing, because our travels took us to Susan Elkin (’70 applied art), owner of Cobun Creek Farm. Susan has 38 lovely acres, a flock of Coopworth sheep, geese, chickens, peacocks, angora goats, a house full of purebred Maine Coon cats, and a couple of Great Pyrenees (the polar bear of dog breeds) to guard the sheep. By the time we left, we were both wet from the rain, muddy from the sheep, and I was covered with cat hair (my own fault, I’ll admit). Susan’s place is like a real-life petting zoo.


I’ll be writing more about each of these alumni and posting some of their stories in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the big countdown is really on: 39 states completed and just 11 more to go! Next up is Nebraska, the Cornhusker State (and a super quick drive from Ames!)