Cool people doing cool things

issue 01 | winter 2024
Backpack and binoculars

In a digital age, Mary Ladky ’81 still operates by the book in her approach to childhood literacy.

“There’s evidence to support the belief that physical books still matter quite a bit to young kids,” Ladky said.

That’s why the longtime educator became the executive director of the Children’s Book Bank of Canada seven years ago. The nonprofit provides free books and literacy support to children in high-needs neighborhoods across Toronto.

From its two locations, six full-time employees and 30 volunteers give away about 140,000 “gently used” books a year.

“The goal is for kids to build up their personal libraries,” Ladky said. “Studies show home libraries with at least 80 books have a significant effect on literacy later in life.”

Running the charitable operation is Ladky’s way of giving back for valuable advice she received at Denison. The Milwaukee native described herself as an “indifferent student” until former English professor Tony Stoneburner encouraged her to study abroad in Ireland as a junior.

After majoring in English and history at Denison, she earned a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish literature at University College Dublin.

“Professor Stoneburner’s advice changed the whole course of my life,” she said.

Ladky taught at Trent University in Ontario before becoming a principal at the Linden School in Toronto.

Now, she’s trying to inspire young students to become lifelong readers. The book bank distributes books and hosts storytime programs at the two shops.

“We are trying to develop that interest and curiosity at a young age,” she said.

Not long after graduation, Manny Horsford ’13 traveled to Madagascar with the Peace Corps, falling in love with a woman and a country.

He took one with him and vowed to return for the other.

Horsford and his fiancée, Angela, are back in Madagascar, helping run a luxury eco-lodge in a rural seaside community adjacent to the country’s largest rainforest and national park. The couple helps manage a staff of about 50 workers while overseeing the guest experience, food and beverage, and private charter logistics. The region is so remote it’s accessible only by boat.

“I don’t know where to begin,” Horsford said, “but I fell head over heels for Madagascar almost immediately after landing in the capital of Antananarivo for the first time in February 2016.”

He credits his time at Denison for helping develop his spirit of adventure. Horsford, a U.S. Virgin Islands native, has traveled the world, working in Italy, China, and Thailand before spending five years in Denver.

“I have Denison to thank for giving me the confidence to embark on this nontraditional career path I’m on,” Horsford said. “I embrace the unknown and follow my curiosities wherever they might lead.”

After their 27-month Peace Corps stint, Horsford and Angela knew they would return to Madagascar. They figured it would be for a long visit, not a job opportunity But when the Masoala Forest Lodge offered to hire them as managers, the couple said goodbye to Denver and returned to the country where they met.

“Madagascar is considered one of the poorest nations on the planet, and while that may be true from an economic perspective, I’ve been so moved and inspired by the generosity of the Malagasy people,” Horsford said. “They value the intangibles — love, friendship, family, cultural traditions, storytelling — in ways I wish were more prominent in the U.S. and the Western world.”

If you were an employer looking for job candidates with a wide array of skills and experiences, the LinkedIn page of Scott Roberts ’00 would blow you away.

He’s worked in corporate America and academia. He’s studied the behaviors of people, dolphins, and chimps. He’s taught a course called the Psychology of Evil, volunteered as a firefighter and EMT, and ran a business that sold T-shirts of reversed images for self-affirmation.

Roberts’ resume is so long and in-depth it should come with CliffsNotes.

“I thrive on feeling like I’ve mastered or accomplished something that I didn’t think I could do, so for me I’m always pushing myself to find things outside of my comfort zone,” Roberts said. “If I’m not challenged, I’m stagnant, and at that point, I have only myself to blame for being bored.”

Currently, Roberts is senior manager at Capital One, leading a team that collaborates with executives to define learning outcomes, develop strategic goals, and recommend appropriate change management solutions.

He spent 11 years at the University of Maryland in a variety of positions, including as an assistant dean and the director of undergraduate studies in the psychology department. Roberts also worked in Hawaii at a dolphin research facility and, as an undergraduate, conducted an independent study at the now-shuttered Ohio State University Chimp Research Center.

Along the way, he’s enjoyed side hustles involving photography and graphic design.

“I have a great deal of energy that needs an outlet, and sometimes the best way to balance out a long day is to stay up even later and create something,” he said.

Roberts, who earned a degree in psychology at Denison, credits his professors for sharpening his approach to research and application.

“In so many ways, that inspired me to embrace being a lifelong learner,” he said, “and it gave me the confidence that I could do anything if I committed to the process.”

After purchasing a 1782 New England farmhouse, Alison Hardy ’81 recalls feeling the draft that seeped through the ancient windows, some of which were painted shut and rotting in spots.

The easy solution was to buy replacements, but Hardy wasn’t sold on the idea. She and her husband didn’t move into a 200-year-old home to start adding windows that didn’t fit the antique aesthetic.

Hardy borrowed woodworking tools and read reference books on window restoration. It took her several months, but she repaired her windows and discovered her calling in the process.

After years in the textile industry, she quit her job and founded Window Woman of New England in 2003.

“If human hands can make these windows, human hands can repair them,” Hardy said.

Over the past 20 years, she has gone from a one-woman operation to a 14-person team that serves north Boston and southern New Hampshire.

In a 5,000-square-foot workshop, her team repairs and restores about 1,500 windows a year. Her business has been featured on the home improvement TV show This Old House seven times.

Hardy could not have picked a better region of the country to launch her business. She said nearly half of the houses in her hometown of Amesbury, Massachusetts, were built before 1960.

Her team has restored plenty of windows dating to the 18th century. Hardy believes the craftsmanship that went into older windows is far superior to what’s on the market today. Older homes also have lots of specialty windows that come in unusual shapes and sizes that would be difficult and costly to replace.

“We are about restoring and repairing, but not replacing,” Hardy said. “It’s very labor intensive, but we get to see the fruits of our work every day.”

Published December 2023
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