Xavier Magazine

Youthful Perspective

Bobby Whitman once had to hide his youth when seeking clients for his company. No more, now that he’s reached the ripe old age of 24.

The 2006 graduate co-founded a web site design company while studying at Xavier. He and co-founder Matt Dopkiss, a Miami University student at the time, turned heads with their youthfulness.

“We would walk into a business meeting with potential clients,” says Whitman, “and they would glance at us like, ‘Are these guys for real? Can they really get the job done?’ We always tried to avoid the age question because we were still in college. But now, we’re pretty much getting past that. We have a very strong portfolio, so we let that speak for us. We say, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing this four years, we’re doing this full-time and we have all these employees. We can get the job done.’ ”

At age 24, Whitman and Dopkiss—who were chums at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, and shared a keen interest in web sites—have more than 200 clients at their Columbus-based DynamIt Technologies, a web engineering, design and development firm.

“In sales meetings, we’ll talk about how we don’t really know what it’s like to not have the Internet,” says Whitman. “For instance, we were in college when Facebook started and we know everything it’s about and how to leverage it for business. It’s not just about using these things, but how a business can benefit from not only what is already out there but how a business can build from what is out there. Because we’re young, it’s natural for us to understand the technologies.”

With a staff of six people—all in their 20s—and three full-time subcontractors, Whitman and Dopkiss are planning expansion. “We’re having discussions about where we want to be a year from now,” Whitman says. “We want to grow, but not explode. We want to control our growth.”

Xavier Magazine

The Wedding Planner

Al Bischoff, S.J., always felt drawn to work with young people. After graduating from Xavier in 1949, he was ordained in 1956, earned a Master of Education at Xavier in 1958 and entered the Jesuit order in 1979. He returned to Xavier three times, and each time found himself working in Campus Ministry or as a residence hall minister, putting him in close contact with students as a spiritual advisor.

Over the years, Bischoff endeared himself to hundreds of students, who fondly call him “Father B.” Many came back after graduation with the ultimate request—to preside over their marriage ceremony. He’s prepared about 125 couples at Xavier. It used to be about 20 a year, but now, at age 82, he restricts it to about five. His newest rules: no more out-of-state weddings, and only at Bellarmine Chapel.

“I felt more and more that my whole spiritual outlook and background was Jesuit, and I did my best working with young people. As a Jesuit novitiate, I learned the Spiritual Exercises, which was satisfying in that I felt I was at home. I became involved with young people and that’s where I think my calling has always been.”

“When I returned to Xavier in 1998, a great part of my work in the parish was [and is] preparing couples for marriage. It’s important to see where God is in their life and prepare them for marriage. I’ve only had one situation where it didn’t go right, and then they didn’t get married.”

“About 75 percent of the couples married at Bellarmine choose me. Usually there’s a relationship—I knew them as a student, in the residence halls or they came to my 4:00 p.m. Mass. Recently I had a couple who wanted to get married in a park because they weren’t sure if they were Catholic anymore. I had known them as students. So I said let’s talk about that and in the end, they came to me and decided they were Catholic at the core and they wanted a wedding in the church.”

“So many ask me to marry them because the bond is there. There is a spiritual relationship. One of the things I say is that a wedding is not theater or something you do, it’s a relationship that you celebrate.”

“I don’t have a canned sermon. I have a private rehearsal with the couple, I take them to dinner to get to know them in a social setting, then I go to the rehearsal dinner and get to know the family. It helps me in preaching so it’s not just couple No. 62 coming down the aisle.”

“I used to travel to do weddings, but that changed about five years ago. There were too many requests. I’ve been invited to Montana and other places, and they say we’ll put you up in a nice hotel. One couple offered lobster dinners. But I just can’t be going everywhere.”

“I put about seven hours on average into each marriage, but I really think about the conversations we have. They’re on my mind and in my prayers, and in some sense I fall in love with them and feel committed to them because they’re part of my prayer life. I see marriage as a crucial point in their life with their faith. I say to the couple, it’s a commitment in good times and bad. That’s what love is.”

Xavier Magazine

The Main Spark

Each January, the number of visitors to the web site nearly doubles.

“People make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and that’s when our numbers increase between 50 and 100 percent,” says Dave Heilmann, a 2003 MBA graduate and the company’s chief executive officer.

SparkPeople offers a variety of ways to lose weight and “live healthy.” And its offerings are so popular it’s the fifth biggest health web site in the world with 100 million page views and 3 million visitors a month. The web site presents a lot of information in a friendly way.

“We try to keep things positive,” says Heilmann. “Sometimes, losing weight can be sort of a negative experience if you’re just depriving yourself. So we try to make it kind of fun and positive to make it a better experience. We find that leads to a program you’ll ultimately stick to.”

SparkPeople offers diets, calorie counters, meal plans, fitness programs and exercises. Web site visitors can also join online “communities,” sort of like a Weight Watchers version of Facebook or MySpace, where dieters can get support and motivation from others.

“People join teams and write logs,” says Heilmann. “Our community is there for support.” SparkPeople also offers localized web sites in 50 cities that makes it easy for local people to meet and support each other.

SparkPeople was started in 2001 by several people who worked at and began as a goal-setting site. When a lot of visitors’ goals involved living healthier lives, the site morphed into a fitness and nutrition center. The site at one time was a paid subscription site, but is now completely free.

The company is headquartered in Cincinnati with 25 employees and makes a profit through advertisers that promote healthy foods and fitness products.

“We know we’re helping millions of people change their lives for the better,” says Heilmann. “We receive amazing success stories every day. People lose weight, lower their cholesterol and are able to spend more time with their kids and grandkids—lots of things like that. We feel we’re making a pretty big impact on people’s lives.”

Xavier Magazine

The Challenge to Men

Danny Abramowicz was one of the biggest names ever produced by the Xavier football program and went on to become an All-Pro receiver in the National Football League. So he knows a thing or two about hanging on to what’s important. And he figures one of the biggest problems in our society is that men have let go of their spirituality. “I think men have dropped the ball as spiritual heads of families,” he says.

Recently, however, the namesake of Danny Abramowicz Ministry—an outreach to Catholic men—was fumbling for ideas on how to get men interested in spirituality. “I wondered what we can do to touch men in a way without making it seem like we’re preaching at them,” he says. “If you start preaching at guys, they’re gone.”

To find the answer, he turned to what was a big part of his own life: sports. After graduating from Xavier in 1967, Abramowicz went on to a brilliant career with the New Orleans Saints where he was the NFL’s leading receiver in 1969. “Men, in general, love sports,” he says. “Some of the most popular TV shows are ‘Sports Center’ and ‘NFL Today.’ ” So, when the EWTN Global Catholic TV Network asked Abramowicz to host a program aimed at men, he began imagining what it could be and what it could look like. “I wanted to get more men watching EWTN because you don’t hear men say, ‘Let’s get a six-pack and sit down and watch EWTN tonight,’ ” he says. “I prayed and the Lord said, ‘Why don’t you use a Sports Center-type set?’ ”

The end result: Abramowicz now populates a flashy set on “Crossing the Goal,” a panel show with a “team” that includes Curtis Martin, the founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Peter Herbeck, the vice president of Renewal Ministries, and Brian Patrick, a Cincinnati broadcast veteran.

The fast-paced TV program—which airs several times each week and is also available on the Internet at—features the quartet discussing modern-day problems that confront men. The show begins with “The Kickoff” where a topic is introduced, then comes “The Game Plan” with ideas about how to handle problems. Next is “The Red Zone” where panelists personalize the issues, and it all leads to “The End Zone” where male viewers are challenged to take action.“We bring up issues that make guys squirm in their shoes a little bit,” says Abramowicz. “The idea is to wake guys up. I see so much indifference in men that they don’t even think about the spiritual part of their lives. We challenge men in sports and academics, so why don’t we challenge them in the spiritual realm?”

Abramowicz, 63, is also author of the book Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint. He says his passion for infusing spirituality in men stems from a time when he “chose the wrong road” and got back on track with the help of a Jesuit priest. “When I turned to the Lord,” he says, “I turned all the way.”

Xavier Magazine

Manatees Revisited

Six years after starting his research into the ways of the shy, elusive manatee, professor of biology Chuck Grossman is diving into waves of new discoveries. This year, he and his students are analyzing the animals’ high-frequency squeaks and squawks with 24-hour-a-day recordings. The sounds travel live through a transponder in their tank at the Cincinnati Zoo to computers in the biology lab via Internet cables.

“We have more than 3,000 recorded squeaks, and it’s very clear the animals are generating all different kinds of sounds,” says Grossman, director of the Midwest Manatee Research Project. “But we don’t know what they’re saying. It’s like a code we’re trying to break. We know the females talk to their babies, and the babies talk back. But we want to learn when they make sounds, what time do they make them, what is their Circadian rhythm.”

Researchers still aren’t sure how the manatees make their sounds. Moving air is certainly part of it, but the structures involved are still under investigation, Grossman says. But that is work for another day. The final goal is to protect the animals from dangerous speed boats, which they don’t seem to hear.

Xavier Magazine

Long Distance Learning

It takes a lot of schooling to become a physician, so why would a young doctor start studying for a Master of Business Administration degree? For Dr. Kurt Demel, it was a natural. “I am the type that likes going to school and learning things,” he says.

Demel decided to augment his medical school training with an MBA from Xavier. “One thing that medical school really doesn’t train you for is the business aspect of medicine,” he says. “Physicians are often left out of the discussion in terms of the business portion of medicine. I felt it was important to grasp business concepts, and that’s what propelled me to enter the Xavier MBA program.”

That was five years ago. In the midst of Demel’s MBA studies, he won a fellowship in oncology at Brown University in Providence, R.I. “I wasn’t able to keep attending MBA classes locally, but was able to work out some eloquent plans with Xavier for web-based studies,” he says. “I knew it was going to take me longer to get an MBA than the average student, but that didn’t bother me. It’s given me extra knowledge and I’ve learned the language of business. When you go into a board room, you have that extra security knowing you’re not going to get bamboozled.”

Two years ago, Demel began work at a clinic in Minneapolis-St. Paul and started teaching at the University of Minnesota medical school. He also finished his Xavier web-based MBA work and graduated in 2008. “I really praise the Xavier MBA program for being so accommodating to my situation,” he says.

Demel’s expertise is researching cancer survivorship issues. “This is a burgeoning field because we’re now dealing with about 12 million cancer survivors in the United States,” he says. “Two or three decades ago, we unfortunately weren’t able to talk about survivors of cancer as we are today. The research I’m doing deals with the emotional and psychological issues faced by cancer survivors. For instance, survivors wonder if their cancer is going to come back because having one form of cancer puts you at a higher risk of developing a second cancer. It’s a new field and I love it. You really get to know your patients because you’re seeing them over weeks and months. You form very intense relationships, not only with patients, but also with their families.”

Xavier Magazine

Life and Half-Life

In November 2007, Terry Toepker went to his doctor for a routine physical. Within minutes of diagnosing a heart fibrillation, the doctor packed him off to see a cardiologist, who ordered up two days of stress tests to check for a blocked artery. During the tests, Toepker was injected with 25 millicuries of Technetium-99, a radioactive isotope used so a gamma camera could take pictures of his heart. He was amazed—not only by the pictures but also by the fact that radioactive material was floating around in his heart. So the retired chairman of the physics department with a PhD in nuclear engineering did what any good physics professor with a PhD in nuclear engineering would do: He turned himself into an experiment. “I was radioactive,” he says. “Why not do something with it?”

After the second day’s test, he grabbed the Geiger meter from Xavier’s physics lab and held it to his chest, recording a Gamma ray reading that was off the charts—more than 20,000 counts per second. Knowing the physical half-life—the time it takes for half the atoms of a radioactive substance to dissipate—is 6.01 hours for Technetium, Toepker wondered how long it would take for the isotope to disappear from his body. So he set up a test. His experiment lasted 28 hours and took place on his kitchen table. Every two hours, he took a reading, placing the Geiger meter against his chest and writing down the results. After six hours, the readings had fallen, but by slightly more than half. Then the decline accelerated and by the end of the experiment, Toepker’s body had lost 98 percent of the isotope.

Using scientific formulas, he calculated his biological half-life was 5.43 hours. Combining that with the known natural half-life of the isotope of 6.01 hours, he concluded the actual half-life was 2.85 hours. Toepker wrote up his findings for a report—titled “Life and Half Life” and including a line graph—he’s submitting for publication in a science journal this winter. When asked why he did it, Toepker just shrugs. “It’s the whimsy of a physicist,” he says. “If you’ve got lemon, make lemonade.”

Xavier Magazine

King Revival

Cincinnati’s legendary King Records may get a new lease on life, thanks in part to Xavier’s Department of Art. The University and the art faculty are exploring a partnership with the Evanston Community Council and its Flavor of Art Studio, Evanston businesses, Ultrasuede recording studio and Steed Hammond Paul architects that would create a new facility—called King Records—on Montgomery Road in neighboring Evanston. The new facility would include a memorial to King, a working recording studio with a community education component, and a new home and expanded programming for Flavor of Art, which serves Evanston with programs for young and old.

Assistant professor of art Kelly Phelps is the studio’s lead instructor, and the new facility could serve as a training site for Xavier art and art education majors. The initial exploratory event took place Sept. 11 with a reception attended by local musicians, public officials, potential funders, Xavier administrators and faculty, and students from management and entrepreneurship professor Tim Kloppenborg’s project management course, who are assisting with the effort.

Once the largest independent record company in the United States with a list of stars that included Freddy King, Little Willie John and James Brown, King was located at 1540 Brewster Ave., one block south of campus.


Xavier Magazine

Home of Hope

Some cancer patients travel great distances for treatment in Cincinnati. Now, thanks to the Musekamp family, they can feel a little closer to home. 

In October, George Musekamp III donated $1 million to the American Cancer Society for the creation of the Musekamp Family Hope Lodge in neighboring Avondale. Supporting the Society is a family tradition that he and his children are proud to continue.

“When I was dating my wife more than 30 years ago, my mother-in-law  was running the local office of the American Cancer Society,” says Musekamp. “She inspired me to be a part of it, and the society has been a big part of our family ever since.”

After graduating from Xavier, Musekamp became a successful investment banker in New York. He then returned home to start his own company, Plaza Investments, which is connected to several buildings throughout Cincinnati.

His expertise in turning rescued properties into local treasures—and his passion for helping families fight cancer—helped to build this home away from home.

“It’s a beautiful stone building and a very friendly place. People get together to cook meals, share stories and enjoy having someone to talk to in a familiar place. It’s nice to give someone a sense of ‘coming home’ while they’re undergoing treatment. And it’s a great way to give back to the community.”

Xavier Magazine

Family Focus

Ironically, the 2001 Cincinnati race riots—in which African Americans vented their anger against police—confirmed to police officer Albert Brown that his way of encouraging young blacks and police to get along was working.

Since 1992, Brown had been using entertainment and educational computer programs at a community center as a way to prompt kids to get along with police. “When I started the program, kids were throwing rocks at police cars,” notes Brown. “But, kids have a tendency to mimic people they like. By me participating with them in Computer Cops Class, they learned to like me. I knew that if you kept bringing up a stimulus—in this case, police and police uniforms and police cars—that it could be generalized to other police officers. Anyway, that was the theory. The true test came with the riots in 2001.

“During the riots, I worked the streets out in Millvale. We did not have one incident related to the riots. It was like two different sides of the world. That was my ultimate confirmation.”

Brown is now retired after 27 years as a police officer, but he’s still working with computers, kids, police and people throughout Greater Cincinnati. He’s executive director of the Mallory Center for Community Development, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for all residents, with a focus on youngsters and their families.

Brown says he loves helping people and the reason he’s able to do it is because of encouragement from Xavier. When he was 25 and working at the post office, a Xavier professor became his mentor and helped him earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1974, which led to a master’s degree in corrections in 1982. In 2008, Brown became the first African American to earn a PhD in philosophy at the University of Cincinnati.

“Without the attention and patience of the Jesuits and nuns at Xavier, I never would have gotten through,” says Brown. “Xavier took time with me. They had patience with me and they helped me in every way possible.”